Straw ropes: a feature of harvests of yesteryear

Straw ropes had a number of uses on the farms.  One of them was for thatching stacks at harvest time.

13937929_506492452877393_5847646600819671281_oHere is what James MacDonald wrote about stack ropes and the making of straw ropes in Stephen’s Book of the Farm in 1908:

“Stack ropes – For tying down thatch or holding form the top of stacks, straw ropes, once universally used, are now being supplanted by coir-ropes or yarn.  This latter material is cheap, durable, and convenient to use.  If well cared for, it should last three or more years; and many farmers contend that, especially on large farms, or where straw and labour are both scarce and dear, the coir-rope is cheaper than the straw-rope.

12593618_506492479544057_4354111606674637813_oStraw rope making – Nevertheless, straw-ropes are still largely employed, and where they can be made without any appreciable addition to the labour bill, they will likely continue to be used. … Straw-ropes are made by means of the implement named the throw-cock.  Various forms of this instrument are in use. … An improved form of spinner consists of a simple contrivance by which one person is enabled to spin two or three ropes at one time. T he contrivance hangs from the shoulders of the spinner, who, by turning one handle, gives motion to two or three spindles, to each of which a rope is attached, the spinner moving backwards as the ropes increase in length.

Straw for ropes – The best sort of straw for making into ropes is that of the common or Angus oat, which, being soft and pliable, makes a firm, smooth, small, tough rope.

The ordinary length of a straw rope for a large stack is about 30 feet. Counting every interruption, a straw-rope of this length may take five minutes in the making-that is, 120 ropes in ten hours.”

Source: James Macdonald, Stephens’ book of the Farm, Edinburgh, 1908, pp. 195-6.

The photographs of the throw-cock and ropes were taken at Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, August 2014.