Type & length
For this type of bondage I recommend natural fibre rope. The reason for this is that it doesn't stretch and it's quite grippy so it holds knots very well. The other good thing about it is that when compared to synthetic rope, when it's drawn across the skin, it doesn't heat up quite so quickly, so less likely to cause rope burn.
Typically this type of rope is made up of three plies twisted together, and each of those plies is made up of a number of small threads.
In general the greater the number of threads per ply, the more consistent and smooth the rope will be. Ropes that are more tightly twisted tend to be less flexible and more durable, and on the other hand, looser twisted ropes tend to be very flexible and soft but the plies can separate and eventually go out of balance.
In addition to the construction of the rope, the type of fibre and the quality of the fibre have a great bearing on the way that it feels, and the way that it handles. So obviously rope can be a very very individual thing.
In Japan, jute is the rope of choice, their reason being is that it handles beautifully, it's light, its flexible, and with a bit of a use and treatment it becomes delightfully silky.
Generally speaking, rope of around five or six millimetres is a good compromise between being too thick to be awkward and too thin so that it cuts in. Of course for decorative work or very fine detail you might use something a little thinner, like this four mill here.
Thicker rope is often recommended as being safer for beginners because of its load spreading ability; in other words a wrap forms a wider band compared to say a thinner rope. However this ignores the downside. The downside of a thicker rope is bulkier knots which can be uncomfortable or indeed dig into nerves. If I do the same knot in a five mill you can see it's a fraction of the size. The same applies to twists in the rope. A twist in the five mill is quite small; a twist in this thicker rope is quite bulky.
And of course bulky knots like this can be dangerous if they dig into the vulnerable areas, for example the armpit area here that I mentioned in the safety section. Obviously you should never have a knot like that in an area like this, but imagine how dangerous something of that size could be.
The age-old question is 'how long is a piece of string?'. Well in the case of shibari, there's a standard answer to that - between seven and eight metres. And the rope is usually used doubled, starting from the centre loop; in other words the bight. And the reason for this length is because it makes it easy to pull through in a single manoeuvre, therefore making tying fast. Not only that but you can create a safe number of wraps faster since you apply two ropes at one. Efficiency!
The advantage of having a standard length is they are all the same, so which ever rope you pick up, it's never going to be a problem. Of course it might not be as long as you need, so what do you do then? Well, you can join them, it's easy.
As you'll see the ropes are finished with simple knots. One obvious reason for this is to stop it unravelling; the second is to allow you to join the ropes easily.
I have a massive selection of natural fibre rope on my website and in my shop, ESINEM-Rope. The more you tie, the more you'll realise it's important to have the right tools for the job, which is why a lot of the rope I sell is specifically made to my criteria for bondage.
Here's how I join two ropes. First I make a loop, put that over the knots, pull it tight, and there your ropes are joined. In this way I can continue to extend the ropes in three and a half, four metre lengths, indefinitely. So let's show you the mechanics of it.
Create a lark's head at the byte, that's the loop in the middle of the rope that you're adding. Slip it over the knotted ends of the existing rope, pull tight, job done.
Now I'll show you the quick one-handed way. Put the byte of the new rope over your outspread thumb and forefinger, rotate your hand and close your thumb and forefinger. Now flip the byte over to form a lark's head by wiping it up your leg. Finally slip the loop over the notch and pull tight.
I always think it's important to have your rope stored properly so you can get it out quickly and it won't tangle. So let's see how I made that hank.
First, take the knotted ends in one hand, then run your hands down the rope to find the centre. Next, fold the rope in half but let the loop hang down about fifteen centimetres, or about six inches, so you can find it later. Fold the rope again so that the ends align with the knots, finally twist the hank into a loop and pull a loop through forming a half bow. If you pull it all the way through you'll just make a simple knot and it won't be as easy to undo.
To unfurl the rope, you just pull it like a Christmas cracker. With a little practice, it should be possible to hold the rope between your thumb and forefinger and slide it down until you can grasp the loop with your third finger and your little finger. You can throw it and just release your thumb and forefinger simultaneously. So you should end up with the working end in your hand ready to go.
The only problem with this, although it's slick, the rope can sometimes tangle, so what I'll do now is show you the method that the pros use. Take the knotted ends both in one hand; trap the knots both between the palm and thumb in one hand. Catch the rope the same way with the other hand keeping it about six inches apart. Wind the rope over your thumbs in a figure of eight. You'll notice how I let gravity do the work.
When you have about this much left, grasp the bundle mid-way with the working end emerging from the top. Now wind it tightly back on itself with parallel wraps, this will trap the rope and keep it in place. When you have about half the amount of rope left, catch your thumb under the rope and make another turn. You'll notice how I make an 'O' with my forefinger and thumb to catch the loop and pull it back under the wrap - not the entire end, just a loop. Gently pull the static side of the loop to tighten the final turn to trap the rope. It's important to make sure that the loop is shorter than the others so you don't lose it.
The byte will now be your rip-cord to release the hank. You have the option of gently unfurling the rope, or throwing out in a more dramatic manner.
Unless you buy ready- treated rope, it can sometimes be a bit stiff and rough when you first get it, so what's the solution? Well there are various ways of treating rope; generally this involves washing it, oiling it, and then burning off all the hairs or fuzzies, so the next thing I'm going to show you is the lazy man's way of doing it, and that's suitable for hemp and tighter-twisted jute.
I use a dishwasher without detergent as a no-tangle way of treating rope. A lot of people will use a washing machine; the problem with this of course is that it will tangle the rope up unless you loop it together in a daisy chain or perhaps put it in a laundry bag to keep the fibres out of the filter.
Once you've wet-treated rope the next stage is to hang it out to dry. And the best way of doing this is to dry it under tension, to string it out like a washing line. Of course, the old-school method is just to simply put it in a pot and boil it up.
Wet treatment is not suitable for all ropes; in fact it can be disastrous for some of the looser twisted types. Most of the Japanese style rope recipes only involve boiling for three to ten minutes and that's often proceeded with pulling the rope through beeswax blocks. In fact ,some rope particularly my Asanawa range doesn't really need wet treatment and you can go straight to the oiling and burning off.
Once the rope's completely dry, the next stage is to oil it. I use tsubaki oil, which is a tradition Japanese treatment for nails, hair, skin, preserving wood and treating metal. The best way of applying the oil to the rope is to put a little onto a course rag or a cotton glove and then just simply pull the rope through. It's a good idea to change position to make sure you don't dry out patches.
And the final stage is to burn off the fuzzies. There are a couple of ways of doing this; either use a gas cooker, or if you haven't got a gas cooker, a butane torch. Keep it moving quite quickly, you'll see the hairs singeing off as you do it. Don't use a candle of course because that produces a lot of black soot and you'll have a filthy rope at the end of it.
So now your rope's ready to use. Some people might repeat the burning-off and the oiling processes several times to improve the finish but you'll find as you use the rope, particularly jute, it'll just become smoother, more silky and just much much nicer to use.
It's a labour of love but it's well worth it.