Rope: A String of Possibilities

By Sera mathews

From the Giza Pyramids to the internet to Hollywood exploitation, these are reasons why a fibreless world would be unimaginable.

What is a rope?

noun: (a piece of) strong, thick string made of long twisted threads.


Or “probably the most remarkable product known to mankind,” wrote Hervey Smith, a marine illustrator in his 1956 book, The Marlinspike Sailor.


On the surface a rope is just another long-standing piece of design that has existed since prehistoric times and is still in use today. But a single string is almost invalid. However, with several twisted strands, it transforms into a material of endless possibilities; a material durable and flexible that can be tied or knotted.


The rope predates the invention of the axe and the wheel and can be traced back to 15,000 years ago. The paraphernalia for these has also evolved as centuries have passed. Until the 20th century, ropes originated from natural fibres (bamboo and coconuts were used in East Asia, while the Egyptians relied on date palm fibres and papyrus). From 3000 BC onwards, hemp became the benchmark for rope materials in Europe. At present, cotton and jute are common. While natural fibres have declined, synthetic fibres like Kevlar and Zylon have been the go-to choices in industrial rope production for their “stronger than steel” properties.


With its varied usage, it can now be found across the realms of architecture, construction, fashion, art, film, and science.


‘Learn the ropes’, ‘hang by a thread’, and ‘no strings attached’ are established idioms in the English language, while the Internet is blessed with cordage of ‘links’ and ‘threads’ within its digital vocabulary.


Previous generations wouldn’t have domesticated cattle if not for rope. From the 13th century, twisted braids have been used as ropewalks between buildings, and found its industrial form in rope construction.

The Giza Pyramid complex, Cairo, Egypt.

Stone structures namely the Pyramids of Giza (where ropes were used in a ramp system to transport the heavy stone blocks) and the Golden Gate Bridge (suspender ropes are used throughout its design) are a few spectacles that have would not have existed if it were not for the rope.

Beyond the carpets, curtains, and sheets around us, our digital devices like toasters, phones, and computers rely on electronic transmission via wires, which are made up of individual strands of rope, and situated underwater tying continents as one.

Corsets have made a return in the past years.

In a stringless world of fashion, strings wouldn’t be the solution to laces on our shoes and corsets. Plus, the latter has made a comeback as of recent years with brands like Saint Laurent and Zimmermann showcasing a modern look in their collections.


Within the art world, dangling from a vertical hanging rope in a circus stunt is called Corde Lisse (meaning “smooth rope”).

Janet Echelman’s installation over Rose Kennedy Greenway park in Boston, Massachusetts.

American sculptor Janet Echelman used a net of polyester twine and polyethylene (15 times stronger than steel) ropes for her 2015 ‘As If It Were Already Here’ installation above a Boston park.

Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is known for his photographic themes of the ancient art of rope bondage, Kinbaku-bi.

A scene from the prominent Hitchcock masterpiece, Rope.

In movies, the 1948 film, Rope, by Alfred Hitchcock was inspired by the play of the same name which showed the actual murder of a 14-year-old carried out by university student Nathan Leopold who roped his friend Richard Loeb into committing the crime. Though origins of the title are unknown, it has been associated with various aspects such as hanging, and the suspects being caught. Also, like a never-ending piece of rope, the film became the gateway to a new form of shooting movies with its usage of the tracking shot which defies all concept of temporal and spatial logic.


However, the rope has also been used as a sadistic form of exploitation in the movie industry.

Humphrey Bogart gets tied up in The Big Sleep (1946).

Hollywood Bound, a book by Tony Nourmand and Peter Doggett, visually sheds light on a world where industry amateurs sacrificed themselves for the sake of fame and glory in the 20th century. But not everyone succeeded on the journey compared to mirroring slavery.

Woody Allen as a villain in Bond film, Casino Royale.

From the director’s perspective it was simply a way to create titillating scenes to attract viewers and so came a wave of films Casino Royale (1967) which saw Woody Allen as the villain tying up victims before indulging in psychotic episodes and Jailhouse Rock (1957) was a visual affirmation that Elvis Presley’s management deal with Colonel Parker was more severe than anticipated.


Beyond the Earth, nylon cords will help land the Perseverance rover on its mission to Mars in July.


So, take a pause and look around as to how intertwined a piece of rope could exist in our lives. If you start looking for it, it is everywhere. Its capabilities and forms transverses across civilisations and millennia to change the world.


For more, check out Camping on Mons Piton Snow Peak: The Heritage Brand.

Hollywood Bound

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