Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's Twine is Twine and What's Twine is Yours

The other day, Deus Ex Machina and I were visiting a nearby farm. We struck up a conversation with the farmer, and during the conversation discovered a treasure trove.

This farmer has several hundred acres of land, part of which is turned into hay each year, which he cuts and bales to feed his livestock. When he's baling the hay, he uses hemp twine (an all natural fiber) to hold the bales together, and he estimated that he uses a couple of miles of twine each year - none of which can be reused for baling hay, and as such, he had little use for it.

I use twine for all sorts of stuff, and like many of the things I use around my nano-farm, I never have enough from just repurposing. With as few animals as I have, most of whom are on grain, not grass, I only use a couple of bales of hay per year, which translates to, maybe, ten six-foot pieces of twine. By contrast, our farmer friend has hundreds of six-foot pieces of twine. Our farmer friend uses what he can, but most of it ends up in the waste stream, which means he burns it in his wood furnace.

He told us we could take as much as we wanted ... please ... and don't even ask!


So, we grabbed a bunch hanging on a nail in the barn with no idea what we'd do with it. This time of year, we don't need it for tying up plants, but I figured, if nothing else, we could find a place to store it until the summer, when we'd need it in the garden. It's completely biodegradable, perfect for the garden. There were other possibilities, too. We've seen twine used as a tinder bundle when making a bow drill fire (and it works great!). We figured we could use it with our outdoor skills class. On the way home, we discussed showing the kids how to make rope using the cords.

It was the idea of making rope that sparked Deus Ex Machina's memory. After we got back home, he remembered a video he'd watched on making cordage baskets and set about to find it.

At one point during the hour (or so) that we were making our baskets, I started to giggle, and Deus Ex Machina asked me what was so funny.

"When I was in college and we wanted to describe what we thought was a pretty useless degree, we called it ...."

He interrupted with a chuckle. "We did, too. Underwater Basket Weaving."

And it struck me how arrogant ... and totally wrong ... I had been, and how very useful this task that I was doing was - especially compared to my University degree.

After an evening spent by the fire weaving, we ended up with two, small baskets made entirely from repurposed hemp cord. We can use the technique to make smaller or larger baskets, placemats, and small rugs. My goal is to make a "market basket" using the repurposed hemp.

The smaller basket is mine. I'm planning to gift it to the farmer, in thanks for giving us the cord.

And we used all but one piece of the cord we'd taken ... we'll need to go back and get more ... a LOT more ;), and as luck would have it, the farmer has a LOT more he'd like to see gone.

And, perhaps, someday, we can establish the University of Useful Skills.

Deus Ex Machina can teach Basket Weaving 101.


  1. I like! I would have had the impulse to take the "scrap" twine too, but I doubt I would have come up with the idea of turning it into a basket. I bet that farmer will be impressed with your gift basket. It's very nice. I'd love to see any other sorts of baskets you make with this material.

  2. Love the concept of University of Useful Skills! Your cordage baskets look great for BW101.

  3. Could I apply to the University? :)

    I'd love to know how to make baskets like that.

  4. Very Cool! We have plenty of twine around here...hmmmm

  5. Hah! U of Toronto also offered Underwater Basketweaving ;) That was a blast from the past! Thanks :D

  6. This is so cool.I was just looking at my small growing pile of baling twine and trying to think of a way to use it.It is not as nice as that hemp stuff.It is the nylon or some other petroleum product type.But it would still work.I am stoked.And maybe I can convince my alfalfa supplier to switch to hemp next time he need to get baling twine.

  7. Here, we have kudzu. Lots of kudzu. Thanks for the reminder, I need to go cut a few hundred feet of dry vine and see if I can’t make it into a basket or two.

  8. Make sure this story and the instructions for the weaving make it in to your next book, this sounds freaking cool.

  9. Wow! You could sell both the extra twine and the baskets on Zibbet.

  10. Hey, love what you're doing. I found some hemp in an old barn loft and am making lots of things. I went to the farmers co-op to inquire about buying more and they sold me something they said was "hemp" and turned out to be sisal. There is some confusion about terminology because sisal is sometimes referred to as "sisal hemp." Two different things. Tennessee co-op does not even sell hemp baling twine. If you know where to get any (and I don't mean overpriced jewelry hemp) please let me know....Russ Vaughn onemanbluesband@yahoo.com

  11. @ Russ (a.k.a. anonymous 9:30 am) - we get it from a local farmer who buys it in bulk, but I don't know where from. I'll ask, when I see him next, though ;).