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Bondage Rope Types

02nd March, 2016

Bondage Rope Types

02nd March, 2016

Deciding which rope is for you is like choosing between a pale lager and a hand crafted artisan beer. Your choices are almost endless and it still boils down to your personal palate. With so many choices, you may find yourself getting frustrated and spending way to many fun tickets on rope. No matter which you choose, natural or synthetic, both can be used for rope bondage. When deciding on which rope is right for you, it will come down to that particular ropes properties. Some aspects of certain rope will lend itself to certain situations while other can be a deterrent. I personally use jute rope for most of my shibari, with Hempex used for support lines and photoshoots involving water.

Let this be a guide to help you make an informed decision when purchasing your bondage rope.

Making your choices simple

You have four factors to consider when choosing your rope: length, diameter, strength, and fiber. Once you answer all three of these, you can make an educated decision on your first rope. — Or you may click the back button and fire blindly. —  We'll start with the most interesting aspect of rope, Fiber. Selecting the fiber of your rope may just be the most important decision you make when selecting your rope. Fiber will determine what properties your rope will have. From the look, strength, and even the smell are all relative to the fiber. While learning shibari, you'll likely meet riggers that have a difference preference than you. You may prefer hemp, while other may prefer jute, nylon, or MFP. That doesn't make your choice wrong.

When comparing natural with synthetic, you will see it is normally twisted instead of braided. For the purist, twisted is preferred since it leaves aesthetically pleasing marks and it's preferred in Japan. While some natural fibers are stronger than others (Jute, hemp, and linen being the highest), you'll never be able to find a load rating. This means during suspension bondage conditions, natural rope has an unknown breaking point. Here are just some of the natural fiber choices you have.

Natrual Fibers

Jute

It is made of the shiny vegetable fibers found in the phloem (skin) of plants from the genus Corchorus. It's fibers are long and naturally strong. Jutes production around the world is only second to cotton and is considered one of the most affordable natural fibers. Raw jute is the industrial term for jute. The color is usually a light blonde and when conditioned it takes on golden luster hue. Jute is lighter, stronger, and of course has a different smell than hemp. Jute is considered a purist rope. It is the most commonly used rope in Japan for kinbaku. It use to be very difficult to find in the west since it could only be imported. Now with the digital age upon us, you can now easily get jute rope from specialty stores on the web.

Raw jute rope starts out very stiff, making it popular with sadomasochists who enjoy adding a little discomfort to their play. Raw jute also lends itself well to decorative knots since the firmness helps keep the knots shape. Just is also extremely popular with photographers. Conditioned jute has a beautiful sheen that makes it pop on camera. If you travel a lot, jute will help your bags stay under weight since the fibers weigh close to nothing. 8 hanks of 8 meter rope weight just over a pound. Older conditioned jute that has been well cared for will have a higher weight. This is from all the oils that the natural ropes pick up from the human body. Depending on the weave of used in making jute rope, it can be made extremely durable. Tighter weaves lasting longer than loosely spun. When purchasing jute, you always want to ask about the weave. Jute with loose weaves need to be replaced yearly, if not sooner. Careful tension is important when using jute, it does not have the same grip as hemp. Jute is also not recommend for bondage that will include liquid. When jute drys it shrinks. If you happen to get it wet, stretch it out and place it under tension while it completely drys. This will keep jute rope from shrinking.

Hemp

As you would guess hemp comes from various strains of industrial Cannabis Sativa plants. Hemp should not be confused with other Cannabis plants as it does not contain any THC, the active ingredient in recreational Cannabis plants. Hemp produces a strong, reasonably soft rope, with a higher friction rate than jute making knots very secure. Conditioning hemp by boiling, washing, and oiling results in a soft rope perfect for bondage, while untreated it is fairly rough. Hemp is far more common in the west than Jute as it is easier to obtain. One of the reasons hemp is so popular in the west is do to its delightful earthy smell. A combination of its smell and softness makes its popular with bottoms that prefer more sensual restraint in their play. Well treated hemp glides through the fingers and is exceptionally soft on the skin.

A unique characteristic of hemp fiber is the ability to bend far more than other natural fibers. With this and its added friction rate allows for complicated ties or patterns over the body without worrying to much about tension since hemp will fold itself around the contours of the skin. This allows you to use less knots, reducing the complexity of your tie. Hemp rope is washable and can even be placed in the dryer. It will need to be stretched after every wash. Only wash hemp when it becomes soiled or dirty since it becomes weaker after every wash. When hemp is used for elaborate knots, the rope will flatten against each other since its so soft. This causes decorative knots to lose their shape. In this instance, Jute would be preferred for these knots. Hemp is also Jutes husky cousin. The fibers have a higher density, adding to its overall weight and strength. In photography, hemp does not have the same luster as jute, it comes across dull and flat. To make hemp “shine” it needs to be properly lit for the camera. Being a natural fiber and the process of being cultivated and formed in to rope, hemp is more expensive than synthetic rope.

Linen

Popular with the ketogenic diet, the flax plant is used to create Linen rope (Linum usitatissimum). Similar in texture and feel as hemp, it tends to be softer and bulkier, and has very little smell. You will not find very many practitioners using Linen. For the same price you could purchase hemp or jute rope.

Cotton

Another natural fiber commonly found in retail stores is cotton. Unlike other natural rope, does to its relative short fibers, it is commonly braided rather than twisted. Whether you find braided or twisted cotton, neither is as strong as hemp or jute. Cotton also has a much lower rate of friction making it hard to secure knots. Since cotton has such a low friction rate, rope burns are more common. Cotton is not suitable for suspensions since it will stretch under tension causing knots to tighten or slip.

Manilla, sisal, coir

These types are commonly found in your retail box stores and are not suitable for rope bondage. The fibers are thicker, splinter easily, extremely scratchy, and create very bulky hard to secure knots.

Synthetic Fibers

Yes these man made fibers can be used for rope bondage. They have many qualities that make them more suitable for certain types of bondage. They are not affected by rot, mildew, and most chemicals. Since they will not rot, they can easily be stored wet or dry. Though I still recommend drying them out before any type of storage. The life expectancy from synthetic far exceeds natural fiber and is far more cost effective than their hemp or jute.

Nylon

A popular synthetic rope used for bondage is Nylon. It is popular do to its low cost and smooth texture making it soft on the skin. It also feels cool to the touch on hot summer days. It can be made to be extremely strong while being very easy to work with. When using Nylon, you'll have to double up on your knots and wraps in order to keep rope work firmly in place compared to natural fiber rope. A truly great advantage of Nylon is that its a synthetic and does not react to water so it won't shrink. You can find Nylon rope in twisted form yet it is more commonly found braided. It is also easy to dye with a wide array of colors to choose from.

Nylon fiber shines even more than Jute making it popular with photographers. Not only is Nylon cheap being an oil based product, like all plastics its extremely durable, resistant to rot, marine growth, and other chemicals allowing it to last much longer than other natural fiber ropes. Unlike hemp, Nylon will not flatten at all and will maintain its shape when creating decorative knots. Another downside to low friction, it does not much have tooth making tension based shibari bondage a lot harder to perform since Nylon tends to slide all over the place. Nylon is much more elastic than natural fibers and can absurd shock loads that would normally break other natural fibers.

Polyester

This oil based product is very similar to Nylon except Polyester has less stretch and more resistance to ultraviolet degradation from sunlight. Its other characteristic are the same as Nylon and normally only found in its braided form.

Multifilament Polypropylene

Used for many applications, Multifilament Polypropylene (MFP) is widely available and normally found in mountain climbing ropes. It is strong, lightweight, buoyant, resistant to rot, mildew, petroleum products, and chemicals. The downside, it's very stiff, rough against the skin, and doesn't hold knots very well making it unsuitable for bondage.

Parachute cord

Possibly the strongest rope by weight is Parachute cord. Also known as Paracord, it is reasonably soft and holds knots well. Do to its extremely small diameter, it is not suitable for traditional bondage. It is highly sought after for decorative bondage, male genital bondage, and facial bondage.

Hempex®

This polypropylene synthetic is the ultimate in synthetic rope for bondage. Hempex® looks and feels just like hemp and has none of the down falls you find in natural fiber rope. It was initially manufactured as replacement rope for historic boats and is heavily used in the yachting industry. You can see it on the ships in all four (soon to be five) blockbuster movies Pirates of the Caribbean. — It's my uber secret clutch suspension line. — Hempex® makes a great replacement to natural ropes do to its long life expectancy. It feels extremely similar to Hemp with the weight of Jute and can be found in 3-strand, 4-strand, and bolt (long lay) twisted, or even 8-strand braided. Keeping with shibari ascetics, the 3-strand 4 or 6mm is the best alternative (no 5mm) to natural hemp or jute. Since it is synthetic, it is wonderful for outside water bondage since it will not rot, shrink, resistant to mildew, and marine growth. It is extremely strong with a linear breaking load of 1100 lbs! That's 110 lbs. per line in the shibari land! No longer do you have to worry about the 30-40 lbs. ratings of natural fiber rope during your suspensions and from a distance no one would even know you're using synthetic.

Strength and Diameter

These two go hand in hand. These factors should always be considered when selecting rope. Natural fiber ropes will never carry a breaking strength rating. Only synthetic ropes will have any kind of rating attached to them. Natural fiber ropes will only have anecdotal estimates and can not be relied upon. Studies have shown that 6mm Jute has a breaking strength of 300 lbs. while 6mm hemp has a breaking strength of 400 lbs. Which is far less than 6mm MFP at 1100 lbs and 1200 lbs. for Nylon. Relying on these numbers would only invite death to your door. Those natural fiber numbers are approximations and those synthetic numbers do not include wear and tear. There are a number of other factors that will lower the strength of your rope. Conditioning, momentum, and any number of other factors that would cause the rope to deteriorate.

Most practitioners calculate their safe working load by dividing the breaking strength by a factor of 10. This brings Jute down to a dismal 30 lbs and Hemp to 40 lbs. You may find yourself being pessimistic when considering natural fiber when contemplating going in to a suspension. Synthetic sounds so much safer with its higher load rating. When performing suspensions, typical rule is doubling over our rope from the hard point. This in essence doubles our safe working load and we also have additional support lines to help distribute the weight of our rope bottom. Outside of some fairly extreme and dodgy suspensions, mathematically the working load exceeds our bottoms weight. Still you should be aware of this when hoisting your bunny in to the air.

The preferred diameter for rope bondage is 5-8mm with larger diameters for heavier bottoms and muscular males. Diameter should be selected by maneuverability, handling, safety, and lastly comfort. By increasing the diameter of your rope, also increase its strength. Some even prefer larger diameter when selecting natural fiber ropes and much smaller with synthetics. Practitioners that use thicker rope also observe a greater surface area on the skin reducing pressure points, leading to longer more sustainable rope sessions. Thicker rope does have its downsides. It's not user friendly when creating complicated patterns and does lend itself well with hand or face bondage where precision is a factor.

Choosing a thicker ropes means it will weight more making handling cumbersome at times. 8mm hemp and jute are still often chosen as support lines, especially for a rigger on a limited budget. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have 4mm rope which compromises strength, surface area for lighter and more flexible rope. Many rope bondage practitioners still choose 5mm jute over 6mm for its handling experience in light of its limited strength.

Length

Selecting a length of twisted rope largely depends on what you want to do and to whom your perform with. The Japanese measure their rope by ones full arm span multiplied by four. The usually equates to 7 and 8 meters or between 23 and 27 ft. With the rope double over, this allows drawing of the rope through with two hand motions. Their system works well considering the petite Japanese bodies they end up tying. In western culture, we're naturally larger human beings. Many North American riggers found their ropes consistently coming up short by a foot or two finishing their ties. Wester riggers tend to employ 30ft. ropes with 15 ft. spares to help compensate for this issue while accommodating larger body types. Some even carry a single 50 ft. strand to accommodate larger body types. Japanese ropes often have knotted ends so they may be easily joined together when the tie requires additional rope to complete. While westerners prefer to whip their ends to keep rope from jamming during a session. It has also been found to be safer during suspensions when something goes wrong. Being able to draw the rope out quickly without knotted end jamming greatly reduces the time to get someone down.

Time for the conclusion

With your brain cells smashed with bucket loads of delicious cordage, you now get to decide which variables best suite your bondage needs. — And you don't have to pick just one. — My bag is filled with natural jute rope, a few colorful synthetics, and the mighty beast that is Hempex®. I would much rather have more than I need than not enough. Sit down in your plush captains chair, pour yourself some caffein enriched magma, and ask yourself what cordage is right for you and your rope bottom.