Feeling Frayed?

Since pre-history, where grasses were twisted by hand to help to move large rocks and stones, humans have been making rope to aid and assist the pulling of goods. Ancient Egyptians used fibre from papyrus plants, but hemp, coir and sisal have since provided the tensile strength required for the job (as well as being tall plants to provide the long fibres needed). Indeed, in modern times, nylon, polypropylene and metal strands have been developed to make the lengths of rope; fibres built into yarns, which combine to form strands, that eventually make rope.


The process of stripping these natural fibres is labour intensive and boring work. Once stripped, they then need to be separated out, cleaned and straightened. To facilitate this, makers used something called a hatchel. This was essentially a board covered with metal spikes and, rather like a hairbrush, would tease the fibres away from each other. However, it generated dust and therefore a rather explosive mix in the air! This was especially true if the ropewalks (elongated buildings used in rope making) were covered. These dry and dusty fibres would also be prone to snapping, especially when interwoven with each other. In an attempt to overcome this, workers used whale oil to lubricate the process and make them easier to comb. This was also known as train oil which comes from the Dutch word traan, meaning ‘tear’ or ‘drop’, rather than any association with locomotives.


‘The Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts’ (1866) suggested that the length of rope needed for a first-rate ship would be 43 miles of the stuff (adding approximately 78 tons to the ship’s weight). That would explain the need to have elongated buildings to cope with the sheer size and quantity of raw material that needed for intertwining the hemp. I guess, with requirements for rigging, the anchor (and to raise the flag) it is not surprising that it had to get to these lengths.


When we first set out from harbour on the good ship ‘Teaching’, our sails are as high as our spirits! We are optimistic about the journey ahead, keen to get started, excited about the impending expedition and the experiences it will bring. Finally, we can unfurl our sails and, with some guidance from a good mentor, can set a course in the right direction. We have a good crew and the more we get to know them, the more we can work as a team. Indeed, we need others as our resilience will be in tatters if we tried to do it alone; our rope would soon unravel into strands, wouldn’t it?


After a few months in the high seas, we are starting to feel a bit groggy. Although we have found our ‘sea legs’, we need to set anchor and take time to steady ourselves. However, we are keen to still impress and choose to stay on board and continue to do some jobs. Still wanting everything to be ‘ship-shape’, we ignore the signs that we need to stop. However, if we don’t take this time to recuperate, then our strands will inevitably disentangle to form yarns, won’t they?


Indeed, your rope will eventually unravel into strands, which will disentangle to form yarns, which eventually, if you still ignore it, will unravel into fibres. It is at this time that the only thing that you can do is to raise the surrender flag – yet you no longer have the rope to even do that!


Much better then, to choose the alternative which is to recognise the importance of maintaining the tensile strength of yourself as the all-important rope that is so versatile, – if conserved.


What are the signs, that you are aware of, of you starting to feel frayed?

What can you do to recognise, and be able to act upon these signs and signals?

What is the most effective way to repair yourself and re-entwine you?


Ask yourself these questions daily and then act upon your answers. Trust that you have them when you take the time to look for them. Rope, throughout the ages, is only as strong as the quality of the raw material and how well it has been made. It needs to be maintained, cared for and nurtured during its journey and so do you! Don’t be a dry and dusty rope prone to fraying or snapping. Maintain yourself to be adaptable, versatile and all together vital part of the good ship ‘Teaching’.


David Gambrell, Educational Consultant & Author, The Resilience Project

To read more about David and to order his books, visit this page


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