How to make Nettle String

Did you know Nettles have a fibrous stem, which can be used to make string and cord? Tamara Jewell shows us how to make Nettle string without getting stung!

What you will need:

A pair of gloves.

Secateurs, loppers or a knife to harvest your nettles.

Nettles harvested from mid-summer onwards when stems have grown to full height (1m +).

How to do it:

Harvest a bunch of nettle stems cutting low to the base.

Wearing gloves, remove the leaves from the stems by holding the base and running your other hand along towards the tip. Repeat action to rub the stinging hairs from the stalk. You should then be able to handle stems gloveless.

Gently flatten the nettle by squeezing between your fingers or by using a stick like a rolling pin on a hard surface.

To extract fibres from the outside of the nettle split the stem open all the way along using your thumb nail, and you will reveal the woody pith on the inside. Flatten out the nettle and bend the stem in the middle until the pith breaks upwards.

Encourage pith to lift away from fibres in the middle and lay those fibres across your index finger. Put your thumb on the top of fibre and pull down to separate the pith from the fibre. Repeat this action in both directions from the centre.

nettle1

Tear these fibres into 3 or 4 thinner strands. These could be used as they are but to create a stronger cordage you will need to dry your fibres first, because they do shrink a lot, so leave them in the sun for a few hours before you start.
When you are ready, you may find it easier to wet your hands or rehydrate your fibres a little by dunking them in water briefly.
Take a couple of fibres and twist them together. (For a thicker string use more fibres).
You will need to add in more fibres later down the line, so it’s best to start slightly offset from the middle point of strand length so that you don’t need to join new fibres on both sides at the same point. Staggering the joins will make for a stronger chord.

Method 1.

You then make an eye or small loop, by holding the fibre in both hands (approximately 3cm apart) and twisting fibres in opposite directions.

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Pinch the eye in one hand and twist the strand that is furthest away from you, twisting away from yourself.

Whilst keeping this twisted, now bring that strand towards you, over the other strand, and repeat the process with the other strand. Roll to the right, then cross over to the left. Keep pinching the chord where the two strands meet as you continue this process.

You might find this plaiting method easier if you hook the eye onto something to create some resistance.

As you continue you start to see the fibres tapering off towards the end, so before you get to the point where you run out of fibres, find another strand of a similar thickness. Lay the tapered end next to the strand that is thinning the most – clamp it in where you are already pinching the chord at the point where the existing strands meet, and twist in the new fibre. You want to aim to make each strand of equal thickness to make a nice strong chord.

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Continue as before until you have the length you want. Then tie a knot in it to stop it unravelling.    

Method 2

Create your eye as in method 1 and then pinch this between your thumb and forefinger. Then roll both strands at the same time, in the same direction, away from you on your thigh. At the end of the roll, hold the strands in place on your thigh and let go of the eye.

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You will see the cord starting to twist, so you can encourage this twist and then move your index finger and thumb up to the point where the two strands part.

nettle5

Repeat this process. Add new fibres as described in method 1 until you have the length you want.