How-To: Braided Dacron Jesses

How-To: Braided Dacron Jesses


Many years ago I used to braid friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss. I had every color under the rainbow and I knew a good repertoire of knots, patterns, and braids to be creative enough with the designs. Some of the items I made were quite nice and I always received compliments on my little craft. I read enough about jesses to know that Kangaroo leather was the way to go for an apprentice. Kangaroo leather is light, strong, and durable. Crafting jesses out of leather does not require a great deal of time to make, nor do the jesses require much maintenance (the occasional Jess grease tune-up). Since I didn’t have to purchase a whole Kangaroo skin just for a few pieces of equipment to get started, the roo leather was an easy choice for me. I also couldn’t find a compelling argument for or against the braided jesses other than the issue of materials and the time to make them.  Braided jesses seemed to be only for the creative and the innovative folks with extra time on their hands.  So I thought I’d give it a try since it didn’t seem all that difficult to me after braiding friendship bracelets.


A couple of months ago (June 2010) our Hawk Club held an apprentice workshop and some folks noticed the leash that I was using. I used a simple four strand braid using nylon para-cord to create something  nice looking and highly functional.  I braided the leash around the Sampo and the gauntlet clip and created a nice finish.  However, I wanted to make it that much nicer: you know, give it a few embellishments or re-braid the string with extra care so it looks highly polished.  I started doing research on finishing knots, and ended up creating some highly decorative star knots out of some paracord as practice. In doing that research, I also ran across some great knot tutorials that demonstrated highly skilled knot tying by seasoned rope-crafters.  One such item stuck out to me: the Sailors Bracelet.  It was a nice piece of work, and when stretched out, looked very close to being a hawk jess.

I highly recommend practicing out each of the knots and braids on separate, larger strands of paracord.  The knots will be easier to tie and the braids will be easy to keep together with the larger diameter cord.  Once you are confident in your tying skills, then you can begin putting the parts together on a single cutting of Dacron. With hours of practice spent tying and re-tying knots, I came up with a Jess design that looks nice, is highly functional, and super strong.

Also, for the sake of brevity, I included links to tutorials for braids and knots that I thought did a nice job in teaching me the basics to put this together.  I included pictures of the general  parts and steps, but left the details up to the original instructions.  I would gladly accept feedback on parts I’m missing to improve the instructions for this tutorial.  Please leave a comment!

How-To Instructions:

Step 0: Materials Selection

This step probably should be listed as the most important one. If you do not have the proper equipment for creating these, then it may not be worth the time and effort put into something that will eventually fail.  I tried several samples of cord, rope, twine, braided cord, etc. for practice on and I ended up purchasing black dacron off of the web.  Don’t waste your time looking for it, asking for it, phone calling around to local sporting goods, or toy stores. TRUST me on this to save yourself some time; if you are serious about making high-performance grade jesses, then get the best material out there:  braided black dacron kite string. Black cord, because the white string will just look dirty in about two days.

100# Braided dacron string (usually Kite String, best found at kite shops)
Sewing Awl or a small crochet hook
lighter / candle
Sharp knife

Step 1: Setup

Measure 6 strands of string (48″-length, 3 strands for each jess)
* I measured 48 inches of string for an 8 inch jess.  There is some waste at the end, but it’s required to have a good ‘handle’ to tighten the final star-knot.
Burn / Melt the ends with lighter to make it easier to force the string through the knots (pro tip: mash them flat with a pair of pliers)
Use three strands for one jess and set the other three aside for the second jess.

Step 2: The first loop

Use a hook, carabiner, safety pin to secure your tying materials  (workspace)
use the sewing awl or small crochet hook to make holes for line through loops and tough places
Find the center of your three strands of rope, measure up about 1 1/2″ to 2″ up from the center and start weaving a flat braid with three strands.

Braid 1 1/2″ to 2″ of three strand flat braid.

(alternate: three strand crown sennit knot)

Step 3: Secure the loop

Form a loop with the short braided string section.

Tie braided ends together with another piece of string or cord to hold the braid in place.

Tie a small turk’s head knot or a footrope knot. The Pictures below show how the footrope knot is tied using only three strands of the six-strand braid. (You’ll want to expand the pictures to read the details.)

Both of these steps are important to the integrity of the Jess.  Holding the cords together with another wrap keeps the braid tight.  If the braid is not tight at this point, the loosening could create a weak spot and fail easily.  The footrope knot maintains the tightness of the 3-strand braid and sets up the 6-strand for a good start without the loose cords. Just make sure you tuck the last strand UP instead of down, and then all six strands will ‘exit’ out of the knot in the same direction.

Step 4: The long braid

Continue a 6-strand braid (your choice of pattern) for 8″ to 10″ (desired length)
-Over three, under one (as pictured below)  or you could do over four, under two

Step 5: Almost at the end of your rope

Secure your braid by tying the cords together to hold in place.  You can do a second footrope knot here too if you prefer.

Tie a star knot at the end. (Here’s the best tutorial I found.  Be sure to practice first.)

Step 6: Finish and seal

Cut the ends of the strands and tuck them neatly into the last loop.

Secure the knot as tightly as possible. super-glue or epoxy or melt with the lighter.

—–======<<<<<<  VARIATIONS  >>>>>>======——

There are several variations and combination of knots, braiding patterns, string weight, and number of strands.
You could do a 4 strand braid, with stronger string (200#) for a different look.  Alternatively, you could use 50# string for Kestrel Jesses.  I’m sure that with a little innovation and creativity that anyone can learn to braid jesses that suit their own needs.

The Completed Dacron Jess (pair)

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