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