Ropecraft as an Art Form

by Old Tom, of

I have been asked to teach some bondage ropecraft. Before again touching a rope, I decided to stop and think - and think. This essay is the result, and stands as my preparation for touching rope once again.

I do have some skill with the cane, and in showing a woman the way to subspace. This essay reflects that background. In fact I intend a second essay Caning to Tranquility, showing both methods (caning and ropecraft) as means to similar ends. Until composing this ropecraft essay, I never made the connection.

The Philosophy Behind the Technique

This essay is not a how-to. This is more a philosophy of rope bondage. It's these concepts that I hope will stimulate your thinking, and encourage you to take your own craft to a higher level.

I'm writing this from the artist's point of view. If you're the model, will you be bored? On the contrary, I hope this will be at least as useful! At a certain level, bondage ropecraft is a cooperative effort. If you the model have no understanding of your role, you are possibly keeping the artist from his highest and best work. Even more important, though, is your safety factor. Without understanding the craft, how can you know he is as good as he claims he is? How can you trust, and know you will be safe?

To be sure, an expert artist can lead you through what you need to know. But how does an expert become an expert? Everyone needs to start somewhere! Assuming you enjoy the ropecraft as applied to yourself, bringing out the best in your artist means you both win.

Suppose your thing is to be tied down spreadeagled, blindfolded, and have stuff done to you. Am I saying you're supposed to be understanding and cooperative, when you're being treated as a captive? Of course not! I'm saying the more you understand your role as captive, the better the scene can become. In this case, it really is all about you, so your role is to make sure he knows it :)

I'm writing this with a "male ties female" orientation, but this philosophy certainly applies to any gender combination!


Specifically, I see bondage ropecraft as falling into four categories. To be sure, more than one category can be present in any given scene:

Damsel in Distress

Our model's role is basically that of captive. She's rendered helpless and left there to Mmmmpff. Struggle is expected. This is "Love Bondage," "Hogtied," and so on. The ropework may be elaborate and artistic - and indeed it should be. Because struggle is a factor, the rope will be as smooth and nonabrasive as possible. The bondage itself is the point; whips and paddles generally have no part of these types of scenes. Many (if not most) such models want nothing to do with pain.

Although she may be balancing precariously on one foot (or on spike heels with ankles hobbled), suspension won't generally be part of the scene. Rope suspension, and struggle, don't mix. She may be bound into a completely motionless state, but again that's no bar to Mmmph'ing and struggling.

The techniques used here may actually come from Japanese style bondage. I originally learned Japanese Rope Bondage from Tammad Rimilia's Bondage How-To Page. However, as Tammad notes about himself, "Me, I like 'em squirming. :-)" This difference is the critical point of what I'm trying to explain here. The technique is Japanese, but the purpose is Damsel in Distress.

Restraint for Some Other Purpose

The ropecraft is simply a secondary element of some larger scene. The model might be tied down so she can be tickled, more greatly exposed, and so on. Or, restrained so she can thrash about with complete abandon. This form of ropecraft will generally be a simple workmanlike manner of tying her down. The artistry (if any) will be seen in the conduct of the scene as a whole.

Suspension, again, is unlikely to be part of the scene when the ropecraft is secondary. The suspension is more likely to be via cuffs, chains, pulleys, suspension bars, and other special equipment. Specialized equipment, meanwhile, requires less skill (with rope) on the part of the artist. When ropecraft is viewed as secondary, the specialized equipment makes more sense - and indeed is the safer way to go!

Audience Appreciation

Sometimes, appreciation of the ropecraft itself is the point. I personally enjoy ropecraft for its own sake. To me, the expertise is its own reward. However, there's more to it: Expert ropework tends to be far safer for the model. If you've lashed together a watchtower from sticks (think Boy Scouts here), and seen it stand, and lashed together a watchtower only to see it fall like a house of cards, you have an idea of what is safe and what is not. Correct practice means a successful scene with a much higher margin of safety. And, thus, I would hope the audience appreciation factor is present in every practice of bondage ropecraft. If nothing else, you the artist are your own audience!

Japanese Rope Bondage

I missed the point here for years. In fact, that's what prompted this essay! The aim is to encourage (strongly encourage) stillness and tranquility, rather than struggle. This is a route to subspace. I had originally assumed the point was audience appreciation and artistic excellence... and that assumption is why I missed the point entirely.

Suspension seems to be the highest form (heh heh) of Japanese rope bondage. I don't yet practice suspension myself, so it would be rather silly for me to say anything more!

I originally passed over Tammad's comments on using traditional Hemp rope, because it sounded nasty, scratchy, and I didn't particularly care what Japanese Doms like. (I'm not one, and I was merely trying to learn the technique.) Once again, I missed the point! Please note what Tammad has to say about creating that route to subspace:

From: Tammad Rimilia
Subject: Hemp Rope

The brown/tan ropes used in Japanese bondage photos are hemp. The white, red, and black ropes are usually nylon or other modern material. I have seen twisted cellophane used (in photos), but only rarely. It is very pretty; I have no idea how it feels, or where you get it.

While the brown color of hemp is not visually dramatic, the feel of being bound in hemp is substantially more potent than being bound in nylon -- the tremendous roughness of the hemp gives it a much sharper "bite" than with smoother rope, even when the captive is being still, and it provides for a powerful inducement to NOT struggle or move. Hemp thrusts a much deeper level of submission onto it's captive than smoother ropes; if they struggle against the hemp, it will abrade their skin; the more struggling, the more painful it becomes. After a few hours even the wildest of fighters will have been reduced to stillness.

From what I've seen, Japanese Doms don't generally like "squirming" Subs, they want passive submissive obedient unmoving Subs. Hence they use a lot of hemp. Me, I like 'em squirming. :-)

Submission is a state of mind, but there is no faster or more effortless way to train someone to remain passive and unmoving than to routinely keep them in a rope harness of hemp.

Best, -Tammad

I had focused on the "passive submissive obedient unmoving Subs," thinking that's not why I do ropecraft, and completely missed the observations about Subspace.


In bondage ropecraft, simplicity is best. Sure, I can accurately and correctly tie quite a number of knots, fitting the right knot to the right purpose. I can do ornamental ropework like a sailor might do, or as macrame art. I have mastered all aspects of ropecraft taught by the Boy Scouts, including making the rope itself.

So, how many different knots do I use in bondage ropework? Three. Simplicity is better! The whole secret is to learn a very few techniques, but to learn them very well. If you can quickly and accurately tie those three knots behind your back without looking, in any type of rope or string, you'll do fine.

Developing the Art

I see the purpose in "Damsel in Distress" or "Captive" ropecraft as self evident. The exact details will vary from person to person, to be sure. And, mastery means development as an art form.

While the Japanese Rope Art website focuses primarily on (duh!) Japanese Rope Art, junii has an essay on the various reasons different people enjoy being tied up. It's an excellent read!

Meanwhile, I'm discovering subtleties of Japanese Bondage without even touching a piece of rope! (I did pick up another 500 feet of 3/8 inch solid nylon braid today, so this isn't all theory.)

Nawahsi Tatu (Japanese Rope Art) explains it this way:

I do rope like the Japanese Tea Ceremony, "Chado" (pronounced Cha-no-yu). The Tea Ceremony is not about drinking tea, it is the combination of all the elements - the preparation, the setting, the cups, the flowers, the candles, the aromas, the flavors, the guests, the host, the savoring of the moment. In the same way some see Chado as a ceremony or performance, some make the same mistake with Japanese Rope Bondage. It is a journey and an experience..... a way. So it is for me with Japanese Rope Bondage, it is "The Way of Rope".

Jimi Tatu goes on to explain his four principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility. My own philosophy is more Western than Eastern, so I'll be coming at the same result from a different direction. Still, as I share my philosophy of ropecraft, do bear these four elements in mind :)


Choose a ten-foot length of rope. Double it, pass it around her waist to form a girth hitch in front, with the ends trailing down. Tie an overhand knot to press against her clitoris while passing the rope down between her legs and up the back to tie off at her waist. This technical instruction does not a scene make! As with Chado, the scene consists of the preparation, the participants, the audience, the relationship, the expectations, the timing and pacing of events. All persons present must in some sense cooperate to create the scene.

Specifically, I view any scene as a cooperative effort between the artist and the model. The artist is taking her, with her cooperation, to where she cannot go by herself. The ropework, in this case, is the means of sending her into her subspace.

To give her cooperation, she must first trust. She must know that she can safely let go. Many people, unfortunately, will claim more expertise than they actually have. Thus the model must know enough to observe and evaluate, and know she will be safe. (Alternatively, she can have a companion or chaperone with sufficient expertise to evaluate the situation and act as safety net. Her trust, then, is placed in that companion.)

Nonverbal Communication

In my experience, any sort of "heavy" scene requires nonverbal communication. Also in my experience, most people do not understand this! If you and your scene partner already understand this, you're among the blessed minority for sure. In this sense, any scene involving subspace is a "heavy" scene.

What exactly is subspace? I'm not really sure. I just know that many who go there, like it. To me as an outside observer, it's a matter of the woman submitting to the scene, and diving deeply within herself. Endorphins flow, and she quite literally is tripping out. When she's deep enough, she will be unable to formulate a complete sentence, let alone think coherent thoughts leading to that sentence.

When deep in subspace, safewords have no meaning. Too few understand this! Many idiots will continue, excusing themselves later by announcing, "You never said your safeword." Meanwhile, deep in subspace, she feels she has failed him if she uses her safeword. When deep in subspace, he dare not presume she is capable of calling the safeword.

Some people, incidentally, use a go word. If she fails to respond with the go word when asked, the scene is automatically over. I haven't personally used this, but it does sound like an excellent idea. To make this work, I'd have to figure out how to extract the go word without disturbing the subspace.

If your objective is to send her deeply into subspace, you must develop the ability to shut up, yet continue to communicate. Actually, it's not a matter of shutting up, but of no longer expecting her to verbally respond to what you're saying. She needs the assurance of knowing she is doing well, that the scene itself is going well, that you are pleased. You need to develop the means to determine that she actually is doing well, and that the scene is proceeding as intended. At this level of play, no mistake is ever acceptable!

One of my techniques is to conduct a scene in which there are no surprises. A surprise or shock or interference can knock her out of her subspace and break the scene. (The result is precisely like crashing from a bad trip. It will happen from time to time; expect and allow for it; understand that bringing her back is your responsibility.) Every step of the way, I ensure she knows what to expect. I can tap her, touch her, show her; whatever makes sense to communicate without requiring much response from her. When you're in the zone, an Okay or slight nod of the head can be sufficient.

The lack of surprise allows her to sink more deeply into her own head trip. She knows things are proceeding as expected, and she can let go more and more. She can trust; she is safe. Every step of the scene reinforces this perception, and thus allows her to go deep. Any mistake interrupts this process, obviously. This is where your hard-earned expertise pays off: It's your expertise which enables her to go deep, achieving what she cannot achieve with any lesser person.

If you think of your error-free expertise as purity, you'll see that you can describe your subspace scene as Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility. The scene elements, and the participants, are in harmony. His respect and understanding enables him to take her where they wish her to go. Floating in subspace is, in essence, tranquility.

Specific Elements

Ya gotta have rope. You need to be able to tie specific knots, be aware of certain safety issues, and so on. Your expertise and responsible actions must be sufficient that she can let go, knowing she is safe. You must gain certain specific skills.

To me, each of those things are merely elements, tools, building blocks. They are the means you use to achieve the desired ends. If she is to be captured and subdued, you put the scene together accordingly. If she is to be placed on display for audience appreciation, you choose how to go about tying and displaying her.

It never hurts to make double-sure her expectations match your own - at least, as best they can be expressed. If she's expecting to be subdued and have "terrible" things done to her, whereas you're planning a quiet trip into subspace, both of you are going to be rather disappointed (or pleasantly surprised, but I wouldn't count on that!).

The Concept of Layers

Japanese Bondage is designed in layers. By layers I don't mean winding rope on top of rope, making it thicker and thicker like a spool of thread. I mean constructing one element, complete in itself; then a second element complete in itself; then a third, and so on.

For example, you might begin with the Panty Harness described above. It's complete in itself, independent of any other ropework or scene elements. You might then construct a Bikini Harness, which basically covers the same area as a bra. That's the second layer. A chest harness binding the upper arms becomes the third layer. The cinches, nominally to tighten, but critical for keeping the harness from slipping during suspension, become the fourth layer. The fifth layer immobilizes the hands or wrists or forearms. From here we might work towards suspension, a hogtie, or placing her on display.

Each step is a natural progression. One step leads to the next. The model cooperates, holding steady or whatever is needed, for the next step. Patience is part of her cooperation.

Ropecraft is not to be hurried. Every motion, every knot, must be evaluated, checked, tested. The rope moving across her body has a strong sensual element.

As each layer is complete, she can see it is complete. There were no errors; she is safe; she can trust. With each layer she is more tightly controlled. With each layer her own motions become less and less relevant.

With each layer, she can allow herself to travel more deeply into subspace. Endorphins flow. Even as it continues, the scene is complete.

Reference Links

  1. Japanese Rope Art. An excellent teaching and resource site. The teaching comes from both the artist and the model. It's this site which caused things to "click" in my own mind.

  2. Tammad Rimilia's Bondage How-To Page. I used this site to learn the Japanese Rope Bondage techniques on my own. Tammad has passed away, but friends have ensured his legacy remains.

  3. Scene Report: First Time in Japanese Rope Bondage, by His pet. My partner Jojasa was flying long before the rope dress was complete.

  4. Bondage University. Large resource and teaching site, includes film clips of Lorelei demonstrating basic tying techniques. Those film clips are excellent!

  5. The Power of Silence, by Seri. Nonverbal communication is essential for any scene involving deep tripping through subspace. Seri has a particular advantage in gaining this skill.

Last modified: Sun Apr 13 13:04:33 CDT 2003