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Chain Hitched Slings - S. A. Baldwin

Materials: twelve times your height, or full arm span which for most is the same, in cordage. For a sling which has the pocket starting at the shoulder this will be slightly too much. Jute and nylon masons line are both excellent, I expect many other materials are too but can't recommend what I haven't tried. For this guide I used household cotton string, this stretches too much for my liking but I had it to hand, it was white, I had a dark background and wanted photos.


Find the middle of the cord and mark it with a slipknot. Working away from the middle wind one half of the cord around the hand into a small skein, when all but a foot or so is wound tie a slipknot in the end of the cord with the draw string being the end. Put the loop of this knot over the middle of the skein and pull it tight with the draw cord. Do exactly the same with the other half of the cord.

This stage is not essential but the little time it takes saves a lot of time later. As you work you will generate twist in the cord which if allowed to build up will tangle the unworked material. So allow the two skeins to dangle and spin occasionally to get rid of it. When you need more working cord simply pull a couple of feet from the skeins then tighten the slipknots which hold them.

The Loop

The slipknot in the middle was only a marker so back up from it to about two and a half times the length of loop you want. Tie a new slip knot there and pull out the marker knot. You start by working towards the middle. Put a bight through the loop and use it to pull the first loop closed. I have left it loose in the picture so you can see how it works, in practice one doesn't.

The bight will become a new loop shorten this loop a little, then put a bight through it and repeat until the finger/wrist/toggle loop section is done.

This is chain hitching. If you always put the bight through the same side you will get a chain which on one side looks similar to braiding and on the other has bobbles down the middle.

The first hitch is best closed but not tightly, all others should be as tight as you can manage. This is because the next stage is to unpick the first loop possible from the starting end.

The section is then folded on itself with the flat side on the inside. If you prefer a simple cord ,either as it is or with a view to tying a knot in it, then do a very small loop anyway as it is a more durable start.

Closing The Loop and Starting The Retention Cord

Line up the two loops and pull both bights through them, this closes the loop and is also the first hitch of the retention cord. As an aside one can use this method to put a comfortable loop on any cord.

Proceed in the same way the loop was done only with doubled loops and bights. Keep the hitches the same way round, bobbles all on one side, as if the entire sling is made this way there will be no problem with twisting. The tighter you pull the hitches the less the sling will stretch. So the tighter the better, slings don't work like slingshots, elasticity and stretch is to be avoided. Keep testing the length of the retention cord, no need to measure; just hold it exactly as you will when slinging. When it's long enough you are ready to start the cradle.

The Cradle

Separate the loops and put one to each side along with its associated draw cord, if you are not sure which loop is joined to which cord just pull a cord slightly to check.

I expect you can guess what's next.

There are a couple of optional refinements, however, which aid balance and stability. The first is that it helps if the two sides are done in opposite ways. Meaning that both bights are brought up from either outside or inside the gap between the two sides of the cradle, it will feel like one is doing one side from the right and the other from the left. The other is to stretch each loop open, so each side of it is tugged at nearly ninety degrees to where it emerges from the knot, before shortening and pulling the next bight through it.

Do the two chains in the same orientation, flat and bobble side the same as the retention cord, also take great care to make the transition neat. Test it under slight tension; hold the retention cord flat and the cradle cords parallel and flat and pull you will be able to tell if you have got it right, the transitions from cradle to cords are the most delicate and important parts. The length of the cradle is a matter of preference but as long as from the tip of your middle finger to the first crease below your wrist, give or take an end pinky joint is about right. You will often find, especially with jute garden twine, that uneven cord thickness means that an equal number of hitches does not mean an equal length. It is the equal length that matters so if one side needs extra hitches do them, test it, again under slight tension, before closing the cradle and starting the release cord. Again take care doing the transition.

The Release Cord

From here on it is plain sailing, just keep chain hitching the double cords until the release cord is long enough.

The finish is simple, pull the last bight all the way through the loop and pull the ends locking the knot you started at the beginning, the entire sling is a single knot. This sling doesn't need an end knot as a good grip can be had anywhere on the cord. Leave a thumbs worth of the two cords sticking out so it won't slip back through. Occasionally it may need a tug to tighten. It will also turn into a thin tassel.

Here are some alternatives finishes. You can tie any preferred end stop, this will prevents the two cords slipping back through the last loop if you want to cut them very short. Blood knots are used in whips and can cope with the high speeds the end of the release will move at so one of them is good. For a larger knot pull the last loops long and tie them and the two cords together. This is useful for rapid fire techniques as it helps bring the release cord back to the hand after casting.

Or you can pull the last loops long and tie them and the two cords together, then cut the loops to give a tassel. A figure of eight knot, which is good enough, keeps the tassel in line better than a blood knot. This will make a large knot and tassel.. If you do want big tassel but not a big knot, use one of the strings to tie a constrictor knot around the rest. This will hold. If you wish you can untwist and separate the strands of the cord but it isn't necessary, just use the sling and it will do it for you.

Warning: big tassels make a louder crack when slinging.

Extra Information and Some Tips

Chain hitching is very forgiving so don't worry if you get one wrong, just slip a needle ( or something similar ) beneath the bobble one back from the mistake and pull the working ends of the cord, the hitch will unravel back to the needle which on being pulled will give you a loop to carry on from. This trick can also be used to hold the cradle shut while you do something like weaving or netting, with it. Slip something in the loop of the hitch which closes the pocket, pull tight, do a couple of extra hitches just to be sure, you can even tie it out under tension and it will be secure.

It is easy to add and remove extra threads. To add simply hold the cord you want to add next to the chain you've already done and include it, after three or four hitches it will be locked in and you can snip the end you don't want off, To remove just snip it off as soon as it has a few hitches behind it. This can be very handy if you wish to weave. The loops can also be used to hold threads, as soon as a couple of hitches have followed them they are locked, if you use this technique in the cradle remember it will twist under load and use it to the advantage of your design.

It is very easy to have a whipped release cord, lose one cord where ever you wish, continue hitching with the other and, if the cord is strong enough and you want three stages, finish with single unhitched cord.

One can also put holes in the cords in the same way one makes the cradle, this can be useful if one wants to lace rather than stitch a pouch on as it helps one to lace for longitudinal tension. I've seen long splits in the cords of some traditional Tibetan slings, I don't know why they are there but it is such an ancient slinging culture I'm sure there is a good reason, it would be easy to imitate this with chain hitching.

The only downside of a chain hitched sling is shared by any sling of this shape. Most throwing styles cause a wear point on the release cord next to the cradle, sometimes the end of the cradle itself, as it is a single string sling this is more of a problem than for multiple string types. If you've spent hours on an elaborate weave and expect to use rough ammo it is sensible to take precautions. One way is to whip this area so one changes whipping instead of having to make a new sling, do the retention cord too for balance. When whipping take care not to crush the two sides of the cradle together.

Using a chain hitched sling as a frame for a solid pouch sling.

This type of sling works very well for this. Here are two of my favourite alternatives. Please forgive the tatty look, I made them a while ago before I had worked chain hitching out, the neat finger loops for example..

Leather Pouch

I can do no better than refer you to L. W. Forsyth's excellent article "How to Build and Use a Traditional Apache Sling," which is on this site, use his instructions substituting a chain hitched frame for a braided one. It is also a good idea to extend the leather to cover the wear point. A small sleeve would be better and is what I shall do next time. Attach the leather to the flat side and use the bobbles to help lock the stitches. I used upholstery thread. This sling has thrown a lot of rocks.

Woven pouch

A simple way is to darn it as you would a hole in a sock. Better is to weave. This one I call a gripper weave as that is what it does, centring and gripping the stone as the square pouch elongates to a diamond. Most of this happens on loading the stone, the rest in a foot or two of swing so the stretch has a negligible reduction on power but a big increase on spin. It is easy but takes a while as all the pocket is one thread so has to be pulled it all the way through each time.

Make the loop and retention cord, about four or five hitches before the cradle incorporate the weaving thread, when you get to the cradle put this thread to one side, it may help if it's colour is different. Then finish the cradle and close it using a nail in the first closing loop, do a couple more hitches to secure it. Tie or pin the cradle out tightly to make it square, two corners being the release and retention cords and the other two being the mid points of the cradle. I used a picture frame.

Take the weaving thread to an adjacent corner, then go round the cradle cord, not the one the weaving cord is parallel with, or the corner itself but close to it. with a weavers knot. Then back to the cradle cord on the opposite side of the square and go round that with a weavers knot too. Keep going back and forth like this finishing in the corner opposite the first weavers knot. That is the weft done. The weft will shrink a little as the warp is done so not too tight. Next go round the cradle cord closest and at right angles to it, this will be a very short distance. The weft thread now becomes a warp thread. The warp is done the same way, at right angles to the weft, going under then over each thread it passes. You should finish near the release cord. This weave is designed to move so it doesn't have to be tight, just keep it fairly close. One can use a ruler, lollipop stick or anything that sort of shape to tamp down the weft.

Remove the sling from whatever you fixed it to. Pull the cords and unravel the the hitches you used to hold it closed. Pull the nail, or whatever was used, to regain a loop, then continue with the release cord incorporating the weaving thread for a few hitches, then snip the weaving thread off and finish the sling.

As the pocket is not attached to the cradle it there can be a tendency to a drawstring bag effect. There are two ways of dealing with this depending on what sort of pocket you like. If you like a slightly cupped pocket let it happen until it is almost as you like and then tack round the cradle to stop it going much further, it will move a tiny bit more. This looks less tidy but is the method I prefer, I like to let a sling settle to its natural shape. The sling below has thrown maybe a hundred so far and is not quite there yet. But be careful when slinging before the final tack, a sudden slip can cause a bad miss throw or even turn an untacked gripper weave sling into a mace mid cast. Greek overhead is safest as the mace will miss... probably. Even then only use this method well away from others, damageable objects and at your own risk. Should you use this method it is entirely your own responsibility. You have been warned.

If you prefer a flatter pocket, or happen to be sane, either tack round it before use or feed the weaving thread through a loop every time you are near one during the weaving. If you choose the second method leave the first loops after the retention cord and one at each midpoint of the cradle long and pull the next bobble along into a loop to tighten after you have been through it with the weaving thread. This is a necessary fiddle as each loop tightens the next and if you don't allow for that you will soon find the bobbles are too tight to penetrate. You will still end up with a slightly cupped pocket after some use.

How much cord you will need for the pocket will vary according to cord and how tightly you do it so I can't say accurately. Certainly less than twice as much as was used for the frame. If you do find you haven't allowed enough use a sheet bend to join some more on.

Chain Hitched Pouch

One can also use chain hitching to do a solid pocket, or a pocket with a centring split. The principle is easy, swapping single loops and associated draw cords from a double chain to make a hitch either side with another thread, and then back again to be hitched together. A good way to add threads for this is through the loops as one effectively adds two at a time. I like the threads which started at the beginning to continue to the end. Adding the extras inside gives a slight concavity. When it comes to losing them again; last in first out.

To help keep track one can prepare the threads to be added in the same way as the frame thread, then tie a small marker knot in the draw string which holds the skeins. None in the frame thread, one at each end of the first added, two at each end of the second and so on. Chain hitching could probably be used, and varied, to make many other types of fabric object. Time consuming for large areas but needs no tools. Slings are small. The one below had two threads added and lost for the pocket. It took around an hour and a half and I was inventing, or rediscovering, how to do it as I went along.

Chain hitching seems to have a lot of potential and mixes well with other techniques; finger knitting, just use one of a loop pair to lock the other and carry on, and crochet, if done loosely. There are many other alternatives such as netting, various guides both in the site and on the forum will give you ideas that can be applied. The forum is huge by the way! Full of good advice, not only relating to sling making, use and history but also has a lot on other crafts, primitive skills, weapons, survival, fire making, etc etc more in fact than many sites dedicated to such things. I recommend it highly.

As I said earlier I only made the string one for the sake of some photos, so now it will live in my backpack as an extension rope, another use for chain hitching, in case the trees are too far apart for my hammock. Until I need some string when I shall simply unpick the end, pull the two cords and have what I started with back, bar a few inches of tassel and the half hour I spent making the thing. Which is something else I like about it, the process is reversible.

- S. A. Baldwin, 2007


© 2007