Rocks, water and old rope

A few weeks ago I visited Elie and Earlsferry with my friend Ruth, for an afternoon’s beach-walking and raking about in the tide-line (rocks + water + old rope = fun!).

Ship's rope             Rope tangle

We harvested a bit of massive ship’s rope made of natural fibre, we’re not sure what. Sisal? Hemp? Jute? Very long and strong fibres anyway. We also collected a lot of polypropylene rope, net and fankled fishing line, to keep it away from birds and animals – and for up-cycling.

We knew there was a word for taking apart old ropes to re-use the fibres but couldn’t remember it. Ruth emailed me later – it’s called “picking oakum”. A job carried out in the past by adults and children in workhouses and jails, and much more unpleasant than what we were doing. The rope they picked apart was covered in tar. The recovered fibres were used for caulking between ships’ planks and decking, to keep them water-tight.


Here’s my first attempt at up-cycling ships’ rope fibres, made for my daughter’s birthday this time:

natural fibre ship's rope, polypropylene rope, baker's twine, beeswax
natural fibre ship’s rope, polypropylene rope, baker’s twine, beeswax

It’s a small basket this one, about 11cm across.

I like the colours. They remind me of something…

Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed booby, photographed by Calum Hendry/Gemma Wadey in Isla de Plata, Ecuador 2011

9 thoughts on “Rocks, water and old rope

  1. Looks great. Amazing what you can do with some old rope – and safeguarding the wildlife at the same time. Loving the colours.


  2. Another pretty basket – and an interesting and informative post. I’ve never heard of ‘picking oakum’. Wish I could have been with you two at Elie. I had my first holiday there aged one year – apparently I wouldn’t walk on the sand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. fabulous work. and by the way Magdalena Abakhanowicz collected ropes from the harbour near her in Poland and did the unpicking thing. I wonder what the Polish word is!! She then dyed the fibres and made large suspended sculptures

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love it! I keep putting my hands together to make an 11 cm basket – what a wonderful wee size! Maybe it’s a booby basket? The WiFi is not working well here, or I’d post online.

    How did you get on with the Alloa application? I’ve been wondering if it was going to work out for you.

    A trip to Skye will be good. If you and Alan want to extend or precede the get together with Anne, just let me know – I’m sure we can work something out for travelling etc.

    I’m now in the Lakes, near Keswick. It’s still beautiful but not sure weather is going to be so good over the weekend. Hope you’ve been able to make the most of the sunshine.

    Ruth x

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

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