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At the End of Your Rope? Just Make More

Gianofer Fields

When was the last time you found yourself in need of some reliable rope?

Today, rope is one of those objects we simply take for granted - easy to find in the hardware store if we need it, but unless we're sailors or going rock climbing, we're probably not paying too much attention to it.

But back in the days of our frontier ancestors, rope was a necessity, particularly on the farm. Its uses were endless - as was the need for the product. So how did we acquire rope in the days before Home Depot?

It turns out, there's such a thing as a rope machine - and wouldn't you know, there's one of those at Old World Wisconsin.

Lake Effect's Material Culture contributor Gianofer Fields took a trip out to Eagle, and got a demonstration of the machine from interpreter Dirk Hildebrandt.

"Everyone needed rope," he says. "Every farm had one of these ‘cause they’d just make their own when needed it. Plus it was also done in an industrial scale. Sailing ships had miles of rope on them. It was sort of like build a better mousetrap – everyone had one."

Gianofer Fields studies material culture at UW-Madison and is the curator of "It's a Material World" - that project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.