Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Spinning and Stitching in Kerala

We recently looked at how sewn boats are used in manual dredging operations in the Indian state of Kerala. Now we'll look at the construction of Keralan boats, and at the process of making the coir (coconut fiber) ropes that hold them together. All photos are courtesy of Paul Wilson, to whom sincere thanks are given.

A careful look at this elegant canoe reveals coir bundles that run along the inside of the seams. The bundles are neatly bound in place with stitches of coir that penetrate the hull. (Click any image to enlarge.)
On this larger hull, the planks have been notched so that the stitches are flush to the outer surface and largely protected from abrasion. Note the stitches fastening the hood ends to the stem. Gunwales are nailed or spiked in place. Admidships, it appears that the hull is having some kind of waterproof coating, possibly tar, applied.
I believe the man is treating the stitches with a waterproofing agent, or possibly plugging the stitch holes with tarred pegs.
Again, coir bundles are nicely lashed over the interior seams. Full, one-piece frames are widely spaced but hefty, and the structure is additionally strengthened with four thwarts nailed to the top of the gunwales, and two seats fastened below them. Solid construction!
Making coir rope is women's work in Kerala. I believe these photos show both the spinning of light cordage from loose fiber, and the twisting of several cords into rope. As I'm thoroughly ignorant about rope-making, I'll allow the rest of the photos to speak for themselves to anyone who can hear them.

Do you know rope-making? Please post comments or email me to share your knowledge about the process shown in these photos. Thanks. 


  1. Others will know much more than me but here is my observation of the process.

    The ladies are twisting the coir into thread as the lift in from the bags. Much the same way as my wife make nettle fibre string. As far as I know the secret of creating laid rope is that at each stage twisted threads, cords and rope are married by reverse twisting so as to hold together.

    So if the ladies create the individual threads then the machine spinning them together is twisting against their existing twist direction. But haven't you made bowstrings on the same principle?

  2. A good overview of rope making technology can be found here: