Living in a shelter with only fire and lamps for lighting, not to mention the short days, winter can be quite dark. Cordage is the perfect skill to work during the winter months. The same is true if you’re living in a house. No matter the weather, you can still sit and make cordage, if you’re lucky, by a nice fireplace!

When things are busier during the other seasons, it’s difficult to find the time to make the cordage you need for projects, construction, bow strings and all the other needs you’ll have for rope and string. In the winter, when you’re not active, you’ll spend much of your time near your fire to keep warm and you might as well keep your hands busy. I always find making cordage rather meditative, so it fits very well with the spiritual and physical quieting of winter.

Ideally, you’ve gathered many materials already, but if not, it’s not too late to get some of the plant fibers such as dogbane, nettles (they’re dry now so there’s no sting) milkweed, or any other plant that grows in your area. You can also get inner bark, even though it’s not the ideal season. Whether you think it’s good or not, try all kinds of things. Some may not be strong, but you don’t always need strong. If you don’t have gathered materials, anything like raffia, jute or corn husks work for practice. If you don’t know how to make cordage, this is a great little video that provides instruction.

Once you’d tried one thing, start experimenting. How strong are the different types of fiber? Don’t be afraid to break a few by pulling as hard as you can. It’s the only way to learn…and better now than when you need it to work. What fibers are strong enough and hold up to the friction of the bow drill? Which fibers would be strong enough with a very thin string for fishing?

One thing you’ll quickly learn is just how long it takes to make usable amounts of cordage. When I finish a piece, I wrap it around a small length of a branch, creating a ball of cordage. I’ll add other pieces as they’re completed. I also keep several sticks with different sizes or strengths of cordage, just like you have rope, string and thread in your house.

Cordage is an important skill. Even in modern living we use lots of string and rope. In primitive living, you’ll use even more. So start twisting and have fun!