Gatherers Cordage Project

Cordage is a finer form of rope and can be made using a number of different kinds of plants. One of these is flax, a plant with many single, long, wide blades — which is what you want when looking for a plant to make cordage. Native Californians may have used cordage for a variety of reasons — to tie bundles of sticks together, to create a handle for a basket, to tie a baby into its cradle board, for bow strings or fishing nets. Can you think of other uses?



What you will need to bring –

  • An old wooden cutting board or the bottom of an aluminium pan
  • A butter knife, wooden knife, or mussel shell — as was traditionally used
  • A sharp pocket knife for cutting the plant — for Officers only
  • A pair of snippers
  • Plant material for each Gatherer — Flax (Linum usitatissimum).
  • A flat rock for flattening the dogbane sticks we supply. Please make sure to bring this with you — don’t try to find one at Colony Ross!


Bogbane {Apocynum cannabinum}




What will be provided to you at Colony Ross –

(When available) Dogbane will be provided. This will serve as a comparison to the flax or other plant material that the Gatherers harvest and bring with them to Colony Ross.






Flax {Linum usitatissimum}


Getting Ready to Make Cordage With Flax or Long-blade Leaves – Follow these instructions before sailing to Colony Ross. The images shown here are of Flax (Linum usitatissimum), but remember you can use an appropriate alternative long blade plant.

  • Locate a source of  Flax. Important Notes – Only take plants that you are legally allowed to harvest. Be sure of any regulations or restrictions when harvesting outside your own garden. Also be sure you only harvest plants that you know to be safe with %100 certainty — some plants don’t need to be ingested to be toxic!




Harvesting – Plan your harvesting schedule, according to the plant material you will be gathering.

  • Flax must be fresh in order to make cordage, so you’ll want to collect a few large blades per person, the day before your journey to Ross.
  • Follow the blades from the tip (Sky end) back towards the earth (Earth end). Identify the group of three, lighter green blades snug against each other. You will leave these three intact so that this part of the  plant can continue to grow.
  • On the right and left sides of these three blades, you’ll find one more blade of a darker shade of green. Cut these blades from the outside of the fan — between the thumb and pinky finger in the photo — about three inches from the base of the plant.
  • As long as you leave the three young blades in the center, you will, in effect, be pruning the plant and enabling it to continue to grow in a healthy way.
  • Wrap these blades in a wet towel and put into a plastic bag.
  • Bring a butter knife and work surface — a small cutting board or wide-bottom aluminum pan will work well.
  • Note: When it’s available at Colony Ross, you will also have the opportunity to work with our pre-harvested dogbane. In this case, the Gatherers will produce two kinds of cordage whose colors and textures you can compare, contrast and enjoy!

Flax {Linum usitatissimum}

How-to Videos and Instructions – Before coming to Colony Ross, watch the following videos to familiarize yourselves with the process of making Flax and Dogbane cordage. Officers may want to do a trial run before sailing to Colony Ross. Timing on site may be tricky, and you should be prepared to do this project without instructions from the ELP Instructor! The method of extracting plant fibers for cordage is different depending on the plant you are using. However, the method of twisting the fibers into cordage is largely the same for all the plants discussed on this page.

Extracting Fibers from New Zealand Flax to Make Cordage

Flax Cordage: Twisting Cleaned Fibers of New Zealand Flax

Extracting Fibers from Dogbane to Make Cordage