Preparing for Initiation: Crafting my Ritual Cords

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My newly made cords

When Z. called me last week to tell me that our HP, Y., was going to be in Washington for Beltane and that they would like to initiate me, she finished the phone call by giving me a list of four red items to bring to my initiation circle.  One of these items was a 9-foot red cord.

I know from circle chat that this is almost certainly going to be the cord I wear at my waist at every circle after initiation.  While I’ve heard that various Alexandrians and Gardnerians use different colored cords to signify the degree one has obtained within the coven, Z. and Y. both wear red cords, so I’m fairly certain this is the cord I will keep wearing until I die or the cord wears out and I must replace it.  Because this cord is going to stick with me for a long time, I think I better make it exactly how I want it now.  (Incidentally, I’m not really sure what colors mean what in other Alexandrian or Gardnerian groups.  I’ve heard both that white is first, red is second, and blue is third and that red is first, green is second, and purple is third.  My guess is that different lines have their own quirks on this tradition.)

My 10-foot length of Madame Butterfly's silk and bamboo rope, straight from Twisted Monk.

My 10-foot length of Madame Butterfly’s silk and bamboo rope, straight from Twisted Monk.

I had decided ages ago that if I was to be initiated, I wanted my cord to be made of silk, and I wanted it to be a 3-ply rope.  As I’ve mentioned before–the rope maker Madame Butterfly makes a lovely 3-ply silk rope, and will basically dye it whatever color you wish.  Unfortunately for me, the good Madame has set a minimum order of 90 feet of rope, and I only need a tenth of that.  However, the Seattle-based Twisted Monk re-sells smaller sections of Madame Butterfly’s rope.  I eventually chose 10 feet of the 6mm undyed silk and bamboo fiber rope, which I chose over straight silk because I realized I would likely not be washing this rope very frequently and bamboo fiber is naturally antibiotic.  As an added bonus, I realized the two fibers would pick up the same dye differently and result in a pretty mottled effect.  With this decision made, all I needed to do to finish turning this rope into my initiation cords was dye the rope red and add some tassels and bling.

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Top row:  Assembled dying materials, embroidery floss to make fringe, making the floss loop.  Bottom Row:  Line up cut floss ends with rope, surround the rope with the floss and tightly tie it off just above the rope tie, flip the floss ends down and tightly tie them just under the ends to make the tassel.

The dying process was a lot simpler than I thought it would be (given my past experience with fabric dying).  I simply picked up a box of Scarlet Rit Dye and heated up about 3 quarts of water in a pot with a few drops of Dawn dish detergent.  When that came to a simmer, I added the dye, which I’d suspended in 2 cups of hot water, and 1 cup of white vinegar and stirred that for a minute before I added the rope.  After that, I slowly stirred the rope in the dye while the whole thing simmered for 30 minutes.  Finally, I rinsed off the rope in warm, then cool water until the water ran clear (that took a long time!) then put it in the washing machine with laundry detergent and washed it in a warm/cool cycle.  When I took the rope out of the wash, I’d noticed that the dying and washing had shrunk my 10-foot rope to about 8.5 feet, so as the rope dried, I’d occasionally stretch it out.  (It’s now a hair over 9 feet, which is perfect.)

After the rope dried, I took a few minutes to cut off some fibers that had pilled on the surface and brush the smaller ones away before I turned my attention to fashioning decorative tassels for the ends.  For these, I chose to use skeins of DMC Pearl Cotton non-divisible embroidery floss in size 5 thickness.  I bought two red colors–a lighter 321 and darker 815–since the bamboo fibers in the rope look darker than the silk fibers.  I used four skeins altogether.  To make the tassels, I wrapped strands of the dark and light red flosses around a book that was about as long as I wanted the tassels to be.  Then I slid the floss off the book and arranged one end of the loop around an end of my rope so that the bulk of the loop went back over the rope length.  As you can see in the pictures, I ended up cutting the loop to help me arrange the floss evenly around the rope.  However, if you can manage this without cutting the floss, that would be preferable, since the cut ends can work their way out of the bundle later on.  After I tightly tied the floss around the rope, I flipped the floss over the tie (so now the floss continues the rope’s length instead of doubling back) and shook it out and finger-combed it until the floss evenly and smoothly fell around the rope.  When I achieved that, it was a simple matter to tie another strand of floss around the short ends and rope end to make a little nob or head.

I finished off the project by adding a couple more decorative touches.  I wanted it to be obvious that this cord was mine, so I sewed into the rope a length of silver daisy beads that end in a bee charm.  The bee charm is the “obvious” part of making this cord mine, as my craft name is Melissa, which is the Greek word for “honey bee”.  I coupled the bee charm with daisy beads since daisies are one of my absolute favorite flowers.  As you might notice, five daisies make up the chain: one for each point in the pentacle.  Originally, this was all I’d intended to add, but I thought the daisy chain looked a little lonely.  So I used a few of the amber, jet, and larimar beads from making my necklace to add a second bauble.  Of course, we all know the magical properties of amber and jet, and I included the larimar because I feel it is “my” magical stone.  Because these beads match my necklace, they also help to signify that this cord is mine and mine alone.

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