Saturday, December 1, 2012

Slings from Around the World - Africa I


EDIT: 5/17/2013
I was sure when I posted this sling and subsequent tutorial that this sling was from somewhere in the South Pacific Island region. Well as it turns out I was able to trace my picture back to its origin and it's not Pacific at all. It's African. I was right in that the sling was made from coconut fiber; at least got one thing right....

I have tried to find where this sling came from but I am still at a loss for its origin.
Now on to the fun part, sharing with you how this sling can be made. For this sling I used a small craft loom but the sling can still be made without one. Refer to my sling weaving post from November 10th on how you can craft up a loom. Bottom line is to be creative and use the resources available to you.
The small craft loom seen here is a simple square frame made of wood with plastic pegs to loop yarn if you were making small woven projects like little rugs for the duendes to wipe their feet on when they enter you home at night. As for the pegs on this loom they are not necessary to make this sling.
The material used for this tutorial is twisted jute but any twisted cord will work whether you twist the fibers together to make your cords from scratch or buy commercial cord. The thickness of the strands used to make this sling should be around 3/16 of an inch in diameter.
What you will need:
  • Three strands of twisted fiber, each one 100 to 120 inches long. These three strands when twisted together will make your finger loop and release cord.  
  • One 100 to 120 inch long cord about half the diameter of the cords mentioned above. I took a length of my original cord, untwisted it, removed half of the material making up the cord then retwisted the cord back together to make a thinner cord for the weaving of the pouch.


  • Chopsticks and rubber bands to bind and hold your cords together.
  • Spacers: Hair combs or similar means to hold your cords parallel to each other. I used an old plastic key card with three evenly spaced slots to hold the cords parallel when making the pouch but any stiff material you have on hand will do.
  • A large sewing needle. If you do not have one I will show you how to make a sewing and lacing needle at the end of this tutorial. **
One thing to keep in mind is that some of the measurements are relative. In other words it is okay if you don’t have the exact materials in the exact lengths or in the exact diameters. Be creative and keep practicing. Thomas Edison made around 3,000 attempts before he perfected the light bulb so don’t lose heart and keep trying.

Step One: Lay three cords in parallel with each other. Using the spacers, chopsticks and rubber bands hold your work firmly in place.


Step Two: Using the thinner diameter cord and a needle, thread through the parallel cords to create a lattice of cords. It is in between this lattice of cords where you will work to create the square pouch for this sling. The foundation of any sling is its pouch so make sure your foundation is solidly built.
Step Three: Weave the smaller diameter cord into the lattice of the sling’s pouch, pushing and packing the lace tight. Neatness counts so take your time as you weave the pouch. When the pouch is complete tuck the loose ends back into the woven cords inside the pouch.  
Step Four: Remove the spacers and clamps. Take the two outer cords and weave each cord together.
Step Five: Take the center cord and tie a simple overhand knot where you joined the two outer cords in the previous step. This knot will bind the three strands together before they are twisted together to form the finger and release cords of the completed sling.  
Step Six: Twisting the strands. It will be necessary to tie or clamp the pouch to keep your strands and completed cord from untwisting until this step is done. Begin by twisting each strand in the same direction along the entire length of the strand. Hold each tightly twisted cord to keep it from untwisting then bring all three strands together. Next, twist the group of three joined strands together as one in the opposite direction. You’ll find that the cord will naturally twist in the opposite direction somewhat on its own. Finally twist the whole group of three strands together tightly. Repeat for the other side of the sling.
Step Seven: Make your finger loop and release knot. The finger loop can be made by binding it closed with another piece of cord, weaving the end back through itself or an overhand knot. Your completed sling should be about an arm’s length measuring from the end of your hand to the top or front of your shoulder. Again, sling length is a matter of personal preference so if you’re a slinger, you’ll know how long you want your completed sling.

It is important for me to note that these slings are not historic reproductions. My slings only attempt to represent and maintain the spirit of the craft.

** Needle Tutorial: As promised, this is how you can make a simple sewing and lacing needle using what you may already have on hand. I’ve been making and using these needles for years.

What you will need:
  • Tin can or some other form of thin sheet metal.
  • Tin snips or sturdy kitchen shears or heavy scissors.
  • Cement/Glue – Rubber cement works best but if you don’t have any flexible cement this will still work.
  • Hammer
First: Cut out a small square piece of tin and fold it in the middle. Use caution while handling the tin as the edges can be razor sharp. Apply a thin coat of rubber cement then lay your cord/lace in the center along the fold.
Second: Using the hammer, tap and form the tin tightly around the cord/lace.
EDIT: You can also use a pair of plyers to form the tin around the lace/cord.
Third: Using the snips, carefully cut off the excess tin making your needle about the same thickness as the lace/cord it holds. Nip the tip of your needle at an angle to make a point. Finally, using a fingernail file, sandpaper or other abrasive tool, smooth out the edges of your needle, removing the sharp edges so you do not damage your fingers or your project.


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