A prisoner halter is very similar in construction to a tumpline, using box braiding on the ties rather than fingerweaving and flat braiding. I already have a tumpline page up describing the use and history here.

However, I don’t discuss making one on that page, and have been asked about them and prisoner ties or halters quite a few times, either online or at events where I’m using one of those I’ve made (see the photo below). There are people much more skilled than I working on books right now, so I’m not going to give full instructions, but would like to offer some hints that might get you going or improve your experience once you get full instructions. When David Wells’ book is published, I’ll add a link to the appropriate place to buy it to this post.

First of all, I should define the differences between the two. A prisoner tie or rope is exactly that, a strong rope used for the specific purpose of tying up a prisoner. It is usually >20 feet long and decorated, at least somewhat. A prisoner halter or collar is a rope with a twined center neck band. The ends slip through buttonholes to make a collar much like a dog’s martingale collar.

The technique required for making a prisoner rope is the box braid, which is also an “8-strand sennit” (see Ashley’s book of knots or various online sources for that term and instructions). It’s also called a “basic 8 strand round or square braid” on Phiala’s Stringpage, where she gives instructions. It’s square if you do it right. Her instructions consist of: “Construction: over 5, under 2”. Honestly, that really *is* it. Look at the image on Phiala’s page to really understand it though: Hopefully she won’t move it again or rearrange the site.

For a prisoner halter, you need to add the ability to twine a strap and do some basic fingerweaving or braiding for the “buttonholes”. Twining is covered in part on the NativeTech site here,

This is a prisoner halter that I made:



It’s the first one I ever did, and some of the suggestions are from flaws I could point out in that photo.

When making Prisoner Halters, you twine the center section, putting a “button hole” in one end to put the rope through to make the halter/neck part of the collar. with 8′ ties on each end are a little short, from trying to use them at events. I think 10 or even 12′ would be useful, with a full 21 or 22 inch halter to keep from choking people with a 17 or 18″ neck. Yes, originally it should have choked the prisoner. We don’t want to choke our “prisoners” today. On a prisoner halter, Use jute for the long pieces, hemp yarn for the twining weavers. The hemp is softer against the neck. You could always get into the bondage market with velvet covered or silk prisoner ropes, I guess :0)

Construction suggestions:

  • Do a two or three foot piece with relatively large cord to start with. Plain old jute gardening twine is good to practice with, and I personally think it looks more like hand-laid cord than almost anything else. Plus, it’s .99 a spool at “Big Lots”, a couple dollars at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wally World, etc. It dyes with strong, dark colors such as logwood, and RIT works on it too. (No, I don’t know of any dyed prisoner ties/halters. I did one just for the heck of it, mixing jute and two different types of hemp).
  • Cut about three times as much as you think you’ll need. It rarely works to splice line in unless you are really good at it, and if you’re using jute or hemp “yarn” (Susan Wallace has hemp “yarn”), it’s not particularly expensive to start with.
  • Start in the middle if you’re doing a long piece. That way you can leave dangles on the end to put tinkling cones or whatever on. Tie a basic overhand knot (that you can untie later), spread your string out so you have them laid out across your hand/leg in 1,2,3, — 8 order, then follow her directions.
  • Start to braid rather tightly, but not so tight it tries to wander in one direction or the other.
  • Keep the same tension on each weave/braid/knot/whatever you want to call it.
  • If you realize you’ve “dropped a stitch”, it’s probably best to go back and fix it. If it’s really far back, run your hand up and down the piece to see if it creates a thinner spot. If so, back up. If not, you can probably leave it.
  • End with a simple overhand knot or by whipping it with a thinner string, leaving some distance on your ends to decorate and make purty.
  • If you’re making a prisoner rope, 20′ isn’t too long. They are incredibly strong, and useful for all kind of things beyond prisoners.
  • If I were making any of these for sale, I’m not 100% sure I’d use jute; I’d have to think about it awhile. Quality hemp seems stronger than the jute I can get, and rarely has bad spots that you have to work around/with.
  • When I finish an item, I use a torch and burn the fuzzies off, rub it down with a damp cloth, and flame it again. Then I either wash it to soften it some or oil it or both (wash first, then oil). You don’t have to do this step, and I don’t necessarily on hemp, but have every time I can remember on jute. It makes a much smoother looking piece.
  • You can tighten the twist on your string or put two of the smaller diameter jute strings together using standard string-making techniques. (z-twist or whatever, if you are a knitter). This makes a stronger rope, probably, and looks a bit nicer, but is very time consuming. I’ve done it exactly twice — once re-rolling the string, once using thinner stuff and cording it. I don’t do it any more (hard enough to do any braiding with arthritis :-). The dangly pieces of string on the open twined bag here are two strands tightly corded.

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