Cordage from dogbane (tutorial)

Hey all! Today I went in a large meadow to harvest bundles of dogbane, aka Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum). The fibers of dogbane are very strong, and also rot-resistant, so naturally dogbane is a great choice for cordage.

Apocynum cannabinum as it appears in the fall/winter months when the fiber is suitable for harvesting

Fortunately for us dogbane can be quite aggressive. Much of this field is covered in the stuff, making harvest en masse relatively simple.

Dogbane bundle

When taking apart the stem, you’ll notice an inner pulpy portion. This shall be discarded. Between the inner pulp and the skin are the hair-like fibers we are after. The outer skin gets discarded too, but we’ll do that later with a comb.

Cracking each stem open and then rolling it flat reveals four pulp portions side by side. These can be removed bit by bit via a “break and peel” method in about 2-4 inch intervals all the way up the stem.

This gives way to about 2-3 ft of uncleaned fiber

Combing out all residual skin among the fiber… I didn’t have a hair comb so I made this one quickly out of wood. A hair comb works better, though. The fibers which get stuck in the teeth of the comb can be gently pulled apart and incorporated into your string. Or you can choose to just set these aside for use as an excellent tinder.

Ta-da! Enough clean fiber for about 2 feet of twine

I made this Turkish-style spindle to wrap the fibers tightly around themselves. Normally this style of spindle has only a groove to catch the string as it is spun, but I added the eyehook because I prefer it. (Note the groove below the eyehook)

Spin, spin, spin! Using a spindle is a skill in it’s own right. But the concept is pretty easy. I’d suggest watching this done on YouTube or something, as it is more easily understood in a hands-on way or watching a video, rather than explaining through text. However, you don’t actually need a spindle. Roll the fibers together with your fingers also works. This will give you fair enough twine in a pinch for most all purposes, but the wraps will not be as tight as a spindle can get them, which means your string can be more susceptible to unraveling.

About 16 ft of a strong, sturdy twine useful for many purposes, from setting traps, to sewing and leather-working. This stuff is strong! I’d estimate that wrapping the twine around itself a second time (=making this twine twice as thick) would be roughly equivalent to the strength of para-cord. It can work as bow string too, for which a little wax or animal fat would be useful.

Making cordage this way can be labor intensive (it took me an hour or more to make that 16’ of twine), but the results are worth it.

Nice! Dogbane cordage is a really awesome skill! I’ve just started using a comb for it myself and it’s made it easier. I’ve never used a drop spindle though, is it possible you could make a tutorial on making one?

And a word of caution-- dogbane is actually somewhat toxic to burn. Even though it seems like the perfect material, I wouldn’t recommend using it as such…