Tying science to history: Making rope by hand

Make cordage (rope) from fiber and begin exploring the development of technology as it relates to ropes and suspension bridge components.

Please find a printable PDF of this activity here.



  • People have had the need to make cordage and rope for thousands of years: from simple string to hang household items, to ropes to rig the sails and mooring lines in ships, to the steel cables in modern suspension bridges.
  • Through experimentation people have learned to engineer stronger and longer lasting rope from different materials.



  • Several strands of single strand fiber such as raffia, string, or wool yarn, cut into 15" lengths



  • Take two lengths of fiber and try to work this fiber into rope. Most will simply twist the fibers and will notice that the fiber unwinds too easily.
  • Hold the two strands in your left hand, holding both of them at the top with your thumb.
  • Grab the strand on the right with your right thumb, and rolling it between your thumb, twist the fiber clockwise.
  • Wrap this strand around the other fiber in a counterclockwise direction, crossing it over and then under.
  • Twist the fiber clockwise, and cross it over and under again.
  • Repeat this twisting and crossing over until you have the length of cord desired.
  • The pattern should look like a machine-made rope. The friction holds the fibers in place, locking them together.



  • Making most rope is easy, but the physics of ropes is fascinating! Research and discuss the development of rope-making technology through human history.
  • Research the design of modern suspension bridges; build and test some bridge models.
  • Use newly made rope to practice common mariner’s knots.
  • Research the advantages/disadvantages of various fibers used in ropes through history.
  • Experiment with natural fibers from your area (like milkweed or dogbane), or recycle by using strips from plastic shopping bags.
  • Investigate the types and sources of marine debris.


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