Chosing rope for bondage

Before we plunge into the depth of the topic, let me quickly introduce myself. I’m known in the BDSM community under the alias Silent Teddy Bear. I have been studying, practicing and teaching shibari for about three years. I’ve done shibari performances on stage at more than 10 fetish parties and I’ve held japanese rope bondage workshops in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

I will share my experience in choosing rope and the considerations I have concerning those ropes that I know of. In most cases I will be talking about twisted ropes, not braided because the twisted ones hold knots better due to their less even surface.

Twisted rope:

   

Braided rope:

For most ties over the human body, the optimal rope diameter is 6mm. This diameter allows the rope to compress a larger area of skin compared to the thinner ropes without being too thick to make huge knots that can cause pain and traumas. The most common rope length is 8m for the Caucasian race and for people with similar body size. This length lets the rope end before you’ve had to make 100 wraps and having to pull 100m of rope through a knot, but it’s also not too short. It’s practical to also have shorter ropes – 4m and 2m for tying a separate limb, hair, etc. I will also comment on how applicable a rope is for suspensions. Please, don’t get the impression that suspensions in the air are the only interesting way of doing rope bondage. It may be spectacular to behold and to be a demonstration of high level of skills, but you can have a lot more diversity and excitement for longer by doing ground work or semi-suspensions because your partner will endure the bondage for much longer. In my comments about rope maintenance I don’t mention what applies for all ropes – sharp objects can become stuck in the rope (such as paper clips) and it’s a good idea to examine your ropes and remove any objects that may hurt your partner.

1. Manila – natural material. You can find it in the hardware stores under the misleading name “hemp”. This is NOT hemp. Don’t buy this rope because it’s been impregnated with oils and allergenic chemicals. I’ve experienced skin rashes from it. It smells bad and it’s not a particularly strong rope. It’s stronger than cotton but weaker than jute.

 

2.Cotton – soft and gentle to the skin. Slightly stretchy. That makes it suitable for rope bottoms who are new to bondage because it’s the least scary. It has low level of friction and it’s not easy to cause skin burn or to remove skin when pulled over it under tension. It holds knots well. It’s drawback is that it’s not very strong due to the short strands and it’s not suitable for suspensions. It’s strong enough for ground work. Another drawback is that it’s very softly twisted and it’s very easy for one strand to go over the others and thus reducing the rope’s strength and aesthetics. It doesn’t require any maintenance, except washing. In the past cotton ropes have been used very often by the Japanese shibari performers (bakushi). An excellent alternative to cotton is polyester.

 

3.Polyester – synthetic matter that very closely resembles cotton. It’s soft and gentle to the skin. It’s very slightly stretchy. That makes it suitable for new rope bottoms. It’s very strong (nearly 280-300kg static pull on 6mm rope) and is suitable for suspensions. It holds knots very well. It’s friction is lower than cotton and the risk of rope burns is even lower. The polyester I use is a bit tighter twisted than cotton and it doesn’t lose its shape that easily. It doesn’t require any maintenance, except washing, but at a low temperature (40*C is fine)

 

4. Jute – natural rope. It’s a relatively strong rope and it can be loaded with suspensions. It’s not stretchy. It’s strengths are that it has more “character” or “personality” than cotton and polyester because it often has a specific smell. Also after oiling (for example with jojoba oil) it squeaks in your hands. That stimulates your rope bottom’s hearing. After correct preparation (breaking it in by drawing it through a carabineer, singeing over gas flame and oiling) the rope slides with great ease through your hands and allows you to tie very fast without burning your hands from the friction. It holds knots relatively well but notably worse than cotton or polyester – it slips over itself in some situations. It requires maintenance like I mentioned before. When wet it shrinks and swells. To bring it back to its original shape, you must stretch and twist it while it dries. The shrinking and swelling is a problem if you want to make your partner wet because the knots will swell too and you may find yourself unable neither to untie them, nor to cut the rope with EMT scissors which could be a very unpleasant situation.

For some people the maintenance of jute rope is like a ritual that enhances their relation to the rope. They feel it to be like part of them and it puts them in “the zone” while they treat their rope. For others it’s work that they can’t or won’t do. Another drawback is that being a natural fiber it will rot with time and has a drastically shorter life compared to the synthetic ropes. Many people practice shibari with jute rope.

 

5. Hemp – natural rope. I don’t have rich experience with it so I won’t get into too much detail. It’s a strong rope and can be loaded with suspensions. It has antibacterial properties and that is a plus from hygiene point of view. Keep in mind that there is no hemp in Bulgaria with the exception of some thin strands. You can import some from abroad. Many people do shibari with hemp rope.

 

6. Synthetic hemp (hempex, polyhemp) – I won’t lie – it’s my favorite rope. It’s a little rough for beginners because it’s rough and doesn’t stretch. It very much resembles natural hemp. It’s very strong (~250-300kg static pull on 6mm thick rope). It has exceptionally high friction and holds knots extremely tight – the knots don’t slip that easily compared to the jute. All this makes it a pleasure to use for suspensions and it’s very suitable. It’s high friction is also a drawback – it causes skin burns very easily when you draw the rope under pressure over the skin. Other strengths are – it doesn’t rot, it doesn’t shrink or swell when wet. It has a very long life. It doesn’t require any maintenance, except washing (40*C is OK).

 

7. Sisal – natural rope. Very coarse, hard and non-stretchy rope. It has hard strands sticking out of it that prick the skin. The rope is often used for rope torture because the tie gets tiresome and uncomfortable faster than the softer ropes due to it’s relentless nature. It’s not particularly strong and it’s not recommended for suspensions. It shrinks and swells when wet. When drying it you need to stretch and twist it, just like jute. I couldn’t say much about its maintenance.
 

8. Coconut rope – natural fiber. Also very coarse and torturous rope. It’s suitable for sadists and masochists for the same reasons as sisal. As far as I know it’s even rougher than sisal.

 

9. Climbing ropes – synthetic fibers. My limited view on their diversity tells me that they are exceptionally strong. As far as I know they are synthetic with different variations of plastic (like polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene, etc.). They don’t require complicated maintenance. It’s important that they are mostly braided, not twisted so that they are smoother. That leads to much higher risks of slipping knots along the rope strands they are tied to. That makes them less practical compared to the twisted ropes, but you could still use them. You just have to pay even more attention to make strong knots.

 

I would recommend that you choose according to your taste and preference:

  • Polyester – for beginner rope bottoms for more comfort and gentler play
  • Jute – because of it’s “personality” that allows you to stimulate more of your partner’s senses and for the high tying speed that you can achieve with ease
  • Hempex (synthetic hemp) – for its strength, long life, high friction and knot security and the lack of maintenance

PS

In the name of safety it’s a good idea to acquire a few EMT scissors that allow you to cut the ropes with ease should an accident happen and if you don’t have time to untie the person without cutting the rope. It’s best to have at least two, should you break one if you are panicking during an accident. There are also other EMT scissors that I believe are stronger, but I’m using the following ones and I’m happy with them: