Letter Re: 550 Cord–The Use of Arts and Crafts for Survival and Practical Tasks

Mr. Rawles and SurvivalBlog Readers,
I am a newly dedicated reader and have had an interest in your contests since day one. I have a few skills I’ve learned in life (hunting, fishing, marksmanship, tracking and writing) but the newest one is macramé. This is the art of weaving knots to make beautiful and often decorative pieces and is just a craft some folks use to entertain themselves. I’ve combined both of these and applied one more purpose for the art: rope-making, belt-making and strap-making.

All three of these have occupied my time overseas for almost a year now. I’ve made straps that can tow a truck out of nylon material purchased from military surplus sites. (Specifications on military grade parachute cord, or “550 cord” can be found online through various suppliers). Clevises and simple weaves can be learned online and in books. The number of useful items I’ve made the past few months has only spiked my interest in this craft. Your site suggests olive drab parachute cord and ropes as two items that can be used to barter or for charity. What a better way to deal in these two items than to make them one.

Parachute cord can be found in many different colors, but for the purpose of this article, I use military grade 550 cord. It has a minimum bursting strength of 550 pounds. It’s weight makes it a no-brainer for survivalists, campers and many other outdoor uses. For every 260 feet, the cord weighs a mere one pound. That is a benefit all to itself.

The first items I made were simple bracelets. We call them Ranger bracelets, but I’ve seen them go by different names. They are sold online but can be made less expensively and much better, if you do it yourself. What I found in the end is you can have up to 12’ of usable cordage wrapped around your wrist all the time.

Next stop were watch bands. Decorative, interesting and yet simple to make. Again, more than 12 feet of cord to be used at a moment’s notice with this item. It’s simple enough that once you’ve learned you can pass the information on to members of your group or teach your children how to occupy their time in a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.

Other devices that I learned to make were belts and straps. These are time consuming, resource heavy and take patience to make. But, with time comes patience, so the resources are the only thing to worry about. What I thought would be an expensive hobby turned out to be an easy way to make money. Teach a few folks a new trade, or keep it a secret, it’s up to the individual. I’ve opted to only charge someone if they aren’t willing to learn.

Finally, tying ropes was the final idea for use in the long term. Will we have resources available during an TEOTWAWKI situation or will we have to scavenge or create them? My idea is to make them while things are available. Ropes will be extremely necessary for everyday uses in survivor camps, at home or when living alone. If you can make a rope, let’s say 12’ long with 12-strands of parachute cord as the “guts”, there is 144’ in those guts, and another 250’ of usable cordage mixed into the weaves. Take the cordage apart and you have more than 2,800’ of usable light twine because the insides of parachute cord contain 7-individual strands of nylon. Strong and lightweight, this item can be used for anything your imagination can dream up.

I’ve read on this site that survivor camps may only take someone if they will be an asset to everyone. If you’ve got a skill such as this, you might prove to be worth your weight in gold.

For example, you learn to make just one item on here: ropes. In your camp you will have men and women that are hunters, fishermen and gardeners. Hunters take their prey many different ways; they trap, shoot or live catch their prey. For hunters the cordage can be used as a deer drag; trappers can hand furs on the rope and live catch can be taken by making a noose or snare.

I hunt from a tree stand and have made a safety harness that can stop me if I were to fall from my stand. The force it takes to blow parachute cord apart is amazing. (Remember, nothing replaces a tested safety device and I used mine under my own understanding of these dangers). But, when the SHTF, there will be nobody around to test anything for you, so it’s up to your new-found skill to keep you safe.

Fishermen need rope to catch, carry and dry out their fish. As I mentioned earlier, the inside of the cord is filled with fishing line, line that can be used to hang the fish, one section can be used as a strand to float the fish until they are ready to be killed. I’ve heard of men using 100’ sections as bank lines along rivers and creeks. Endless possibilities.

Gardeners who plant beans need something for the plants to crawl up toward the sun on. They may need something to keep critters out so they erect a cordage fence. Certain trees must be tied up while they are young to keep them from being swept away by wind and rain. Again, there are endless uses in the gardening category as well.
The plant hangers mentioned earlier are an idea I thought of to put some of your straps to use while they aren’t “being used.” The color combinations can be made to blend into your homes paint scheme, then taken down when needed to string up something other than your begonias.

Just one rope, containing more than 400’ of cordage can help all three of these assets increase their productivity by leaps and bounds when synthetic materials run out. And another benefit, it can be worn around the waist like a belt, rolled into sections or just stretched out along a garage wall for future uses.

The one thing I’ve considered is running out of nylon parachute cord. What would happen if this occurs? Nothing. These ropes can be made using many natural materials available (grasses are the most common, but that’s outside my scope of knowledge). But one thing the nylon cord has is its strength and durability. That’s why I would recommend anyone willing to learn this, learn it now. Make as many ropes, bracelets, watch bands, dog collars, rifle slings, plant hangers, lanyards, leashes, belts, whatever you can think of. If you have a nice stockpile of these items, you can trade them, sell them, barter them for the things you will need later.
One last point I would like to make is the benefit it could have to teach your child/children this skill. I’ve had rocky times with my boys, but teaching them this trade has proven to be a great method to build a strong bond between a dad and his sons. The first time I showed my oldest he was thrilled. He would hover over more for hours at a time and watch as I wove the strands in and out. Then, he would try. His frustration would begin immediately, but as he learned it waned. I was amazed at how fast he learned. This little skill I have taught them has given them the patience to take on most anything new. I’ve tried to pass my other skills to them, but for one reason or another, they haven’t yet learned. They will, with time, learn to tag a deer, trap a raccoon or snare a rabbit, but this was something they picked up on immediately and we are using this as a stepping stone into these other skills.

I’ve used tens of thousands of feet of parachute cord over the last 12 months and an untold amount over the past 12 years of service. How foolish of me to not have seen the usefulness of this fine product long ago and taught more people to make their own ropes, belts and various straps with it.

There are resources available to learn this trade. The Internet, the library and there are still folks out there who’ve been doing macramé their entire lives. But find someone or somewhere to learn, it will pay off in time.

All these items are something that will have value to others in emergencies, catastrophes or disasters and usefulness is a benefit worth its own weight in gold. They will be used by me, my family and the many people I’ve taught or made these items for in the past and in the future. – J.L. from Kansas, currently in Egypt