|Selecting Rope for Japanese Bondage
People frequently ask me what kind of rope I recommend. As with buying a computer, the answer is always "that depends on what you're trying to accomplish with it." There are a variety of aspects to consider. The short answer, though, is that for getting started I recommend 3/8" nylon, and for binding someone who enjoys the strictures of rope I recommend 1/4" nylon.
Selecting Your Rope: Size
As any woman will tell you, size does matter. *grin* The general rule with rope is that the larger the contact area is, the more comfortable the bondage will be for the captive. Whether you desire comfort or discomfort will depend on the goals of your particular scene.
For all practical purposes, there are only three sizes of rope that work well for binding humans. String, twine and most clothesline are too small to be used safely. They are so narrow that they can dig deeply into the flesh, easily pinching off circulation, and in cases of strenuous struggling, can even break or cut the skin. This is not good.
* 1/4 inch (6.4mm) is the most "authentic" size. This is the size rope that you'll see in most Japanese Rope Bondage photographs, where it's usually doubled for extra strain relief. It bites a bit more than the larger sizes, and provides that wonderful sensation of being tightly held, but isn't small enough to cause damage. For captives with petite builds, the narrow rope nicely compliments their natural shape.
* 3/8 inch rope bowline wrist cuff 3/8 inch (9.5mm) is a good size for general rope bondage, and is sometimes seen in Japanese Rope Bondage photographs. While just as secure as 1/4 inch, it is more comfortable for the captive, and tends to be easier for the Top to work with. This size rope is my recommendation when one or both partners are just starting to experiment with rope bondage. This size is also available in the greatest variety of colors and weaves.
If you're going to tie the French Bowline as a "handcuff knot", 3/8 inch rope is safest choice, because three loops of this rope will form a band over one inch wide to spread the load over, making for excellent comfort and complete security even in the face of full-strength struggling.
* 1/2 inch (12.7mm) rope is very comfortable, and very bold looking. This is big rope. It looks especially good when used to bind big strong men, and is also good when binding a woman with very delicate or edematose skin. The main disadvantage of using rope this thick is that the knots are more difficult to tie, and even simple knots like a square knot are very bulky -- often as large as your fist. This makes it rather uncomfortable to lie down on the knots.
Selecting Your Rope: Material
Different rope materials will produce radically different sensations on the skin.
* Nylon is soft, smooth, almost silky in texture. This is my first choice for most bondage, especially sensual or romantic bondage scenes. Because it is so soft and smooth, nylon tends not to abrade the skin or chafe even when the captive struggles a fair bit. And since struggling is fun for both the captive and the Top, captives who don't voluntarily struggle and try to escape are often encouraged to do so by their partner. Nylon is the strongest kind of rope; strong enough that even a muscle-man won't be able to break a 1/4" length. Plus nylon rope can be found at every hardware and DIY store, and nobody will ask why you want it.
Nylon is waterproof, so it can get soaked with sweat or be worn into the shower or pool without becoming hopelessly waterlogged or disintegrating. It can be conveniently laundered in a washing machine with Ivory Snow.
* Cotton rope right out of the package tends to be stiff and somewhat rough. After it has been laundered once or twice cotton becomes fairly soft, a bit fuzzy, and not too abrasive. Some people prefer cotton rope. It often has that "old West" look to it.
* Solid plastic or plastic-coated "rope" is often sold as an inexpensive clothesline. This is typically very smooth and slippery, difficult to bend, and often is much too narrow for safety. The solid plastic versions can easily stretch and both kinds will break easily, which at a minimum can give your captive a chance to escape, and in the worst case might give your captive a nasty fall. Available in every grocery store, I don't recommend this type.
* Hemp and Manilla rope is the most authentic; this is what rope in the Orient was usually made out of, a thousand years ago. Because it is formed out of twisted plant fibers, new hemp rope is highly abrasive, and strongly discourages struggling. (See below). After hemp has been laundered several times it becomes much softer, more akin to cotton.
* Sisal is a modern equivalent to hemp; it's like a thick twine, and is highly abrasive. And laundering it won't help.
Moving hemp or Sisal over the skin -- even a little bit -- produces an uncomfortable feeling of "burn". Move it a little more, and you quickly get skin abrasions as a warning to stop moving now. Continue moving beyond that, and it becomes damaging and intensely painful. Considering the military origins of Japanese Rope Bondage, where the goal was to immobilize a prisoner, rough fibers like these were a good choice. If you wish to do a scene where you teach your captive to remain totally still, instead of permitting/encouraging them to struggle helplessly, this is the type of rope to use.
There is a certain degree of discomfort just from having rough rope touching the skin; some would even call the sensation "painful". Leaving someone tied this way for several hours will result in a very motionless but physically and mentally intense and demanding scene. This can be a wonderful experience for "heavy players", but is not recommended for beginning and intermediate experience levels.
Ropes are manufactured in two basic weave patterns.
* The braided weave has a softer and more even surface. As a result it spreads load more evenly and slides across the skin more smoothly, making it slightly more comfortable, and thus the best choice for romantic bondage.
* The twisted weave looks like a "barber pole" and has the classic "Western-style" rope look. While the surface of the rope tends to be just as smooth as the braided weave, the twisting texture results in increased friction; left tightened down across an expanse of skin for a while the twists tend to "settle in" to the skin and prevent it from sliding.
As an added visual bonus, when twisted rope is removed from the captive at the end of their bondage, they will have a wonderful "zebra" stripe pattern in their skin afterwards, courtesy of the rope. Depending on their body type, these lovely patterns can last from 15 minutes to a few hours.
Braided rope is often available in two-color patterns. Red/white, purple/white, blue/white often look good on women; the yellow/black pattern, although highly visible does not strike me as visually appealing. The two-color ropes are very pretty looking, and that can add a lot to the fun. I carry an assortment of two-color ropes in 3/8 and 1/2 inch sizes in my rope bag, and use them often. However pretty they may be, two-color ropes are not "authentic" for Japanese-style rope bondage. Traditional Japanese-style ropes are the light brown of new hemp or the tan/grey of laundered hemp, while modern Japanese-style ropes are the bright white of nylon.
See what Lehigh rope makers say about the different types and weaves of rope.
Finishing the Ends
If you cut a piece of rope and don't finish the ends, it will unravel all by itself. This is especially true of nylon, which seems to have a mind of it's own. A soft piece of twisted nylon will unravel an inch every time you nudge it. Tying a knot in a rope with unraveling ends is difficult and tedious, and never looks very good.
* Sailors will tell you that the proper way to finish a rope is to "whip" the ends with a piece of thread, and then dip the ends in tar or glue to seal it. Given the dozens of pieces of rope that tend to be needed for a rope bondage scene, this is a difficult and time-consuming process, and it does not make the ends all that desirable to touch.
* Tying an overhand knot in the end of the rope will keep it from unraveling further, but this puts a big lump in the end of the rope, and makes tying further knots somewhat arduous. It doesn't look good either.
* When most hardware stores cut rope for you, they will finish the ends with a small open flame, or an electrically heated "knife" blade. This securely melts together the ends of nylon rope, but it also causes the ends to spread a little bit, making a very hard jagged mushroom-shaped scourge at each end of your rope. This is bad, because no matter how careful the Top is, when pulling many long lengths of rope through loops, sooner or later the end of that rope will slap across the skin of the captive. If the end is soft and flexible this leaves only a mild "sting", but if the end is hard and jagged it will leave behind a nasty cut. I recommend that you trim off and replace these heat-finished ends before playing.
* For safe BDSM rope bondage purposes, the easiest thing to do is to finish the ends with duct tape. It's soft, safe, and secure, and nearly every Top already has a roll of duct tape in their toybag. Duct tape even survives laundering fairly well; at most one end is likely to come off when doing a full load of ropes. The only disadvantage is that it tends not to look really pretty in photographs.
Here is how I do it: When I've found the point I want to cut the rope at, I tear off a narrow strip of duct tape, about an inch and a half wide and just long enough to go around the rope one and a half times. (I'll usually tear a strip off just long enough, then tear the width in half). Wrap the tape around the rope, making sure that the tape laps over itself and adheres well to itself. Using my safety shears I cut through the center of the duct tape. Voila! After the cut, both ends of the rope are already finished and in proper bondage. No unraveling ends. If necessary, write the length of the rope on each piece of tape, using a Sharpie brand permanent marker.
Two variations on this that I've been told about are:
1. Use colored electrical tape instead of duct tape. Select tape color either to match the rope color (makes the rope finishing invisible in photos), or use the tape color to indicate the length of this piece of rope. Then using a small paper match, just faintly heat the end enough so that the tape melts into the end of the rope. The rope will darken, but the tape will prevent any sharp edges from forming, if done properly.
2. Cut the rope without benefit of any tape, and immediately dip both ends into an open can of "tool dip". This will provide a soft, pliable finish to the end of the rope, very safe and very secure. Different color tool dip can be used to indicate the length.
See what Lehigh rope makers say about finishing and caring for your rope.
My Rope Recommendation
My favorite rope for Japanese-style bondage is 1/4" braided nylon. I use Lehigh part number SNR812, 1/4" braided white nylon available in spools of 1200 feet (365m), which can be bought by the spool at Home Depot for about $90 and at Hechingers for $170. It's bright white, quite soft, narrow enough to have a nice little bit of a bite but not nearly narrow enough to cut. This rope has a working load limit of 124 lbs (56 kg). It's not strong enough to use for suspension, but it's more than strong enough to "weld" someone's limbs to their body with, or encase their torso with, the two main functions of Japanese Rope Bondage.
Sometimes when I'm tying a lady for the first time and she's hesitant about bondage I'll use 3/8" rope instead, because it spreads the load more and doesn't bite as much. But if you want the authentic helplessness of the Japanese style, without the agony of raw hemp, then it's 1/4" braided nylon you want.
Advice on Buying Rope
Don't buy rope that you can't touch first. Don't be afraid to caress the ends of every spool of rope in the store before making your selection. You're going to be covering your partner's mostly-bare body with this stuff, you want to be sure that it has the texture you intend. The less expensive pre-packaged rope tends not to feel as good. Generally you want rope that is braided through-and-through, as opposed to rope braided over a stranded or solid core. Oddly enough, rope braided through-and-through is usually labeled "solid nylon braid", while braid-over-core may just be labeled "nylon braid".
A reader wrote with this experience:
"One caveat I did learn was at a Home Depot they had spools of nylon rope for sale by the foot, and packages of 20 to 50 foot rope pre-packaged. The pre-packaged rope was less than half the cost of the spooled rope. I asked the difference, but nobody there knew. So I bought 50 feet of each. The difference was obvious.. the cheaper rope was very unyielding and stiff. Cutting into both showed that the cheap rope was only braided on the outside, and had a core of 'solid' nylon that looked like a long band of tissue paper folded up. After carefully looking over the labeling, the difference was rather fine. The cored, cheap rope was called 'nylon braid' and the spooled and more expensive, softer rope was labeled 'solid nylon braid'.
Aside from the cored [cheap] rope being rougher, the sheath of braided nylon tended to slide around and stretch, making working with knots and tight bends difficult as it distorted the rope somewhat, especially at the ends."
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP
Suspension bondage requires special rope, special knots, special "harnesses" to hold the body, and special precautions. None of the Japanese Rope Bondage techniques I'm teaching here are directly suitable for use in suspension bondage. If you want to learn suspension bondage please take a class from an expert at suspension, such as ThomasH of Black Rose.
Other Ingredients for Bondage
There are, of course, many other ingredients for a good bondage scene besides selecting the rope. I list them here, but address them separately.
* The mental side. (Helplessness. Vulnerability. Freedom through bondage.)
* Imposing additional sensations