It's not every crafting project that can save a life.
The paracord bracelet is 10 to 14 feet of tightly woven, military-quality, nylon parachute cord that can be unraveled to assist the wearer out of a jam. It's popular now as a craft, especially among men and boys.
Kurt Walchle, who says he invented the bracelets, can click off a dozen stories about how they have helped their wearers, from repairing a broken shoe to providing a life-saving tourniquet.
It began more than seven years ago with a broken watchband, which Walchle fixed using paracord. The woven band got him some attention in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., so he started making watchbands, then bracelets, and selling them on eBay.
What began as a two-person operation using the only two available paracord colours — black and olive drab — has grown into Survival Straps, a company selling the bracelets in hundreds of colour combinations online and in stores such as Bass Pro Shops. "We were able to get a company to start dying it in different colours for us," Walchle explains.
There also are a lot of knock-off bracelets, and instructions for making them— and necklaces and key chains — on sites such as YouTube.com. Some come in sports-team and college colours. Pink bracelets promote breast cancer awareness.
"I originally envisioned this whole thing as a great outdoor product that's stylish and can help you out in an emergency," says Walchle, adding that most customers now seem to be buying the bracelets because they're fashionable.
Yet the stories that customers post to the Survival Straps website provide testimony to their utility. Walchle's favourite story is that of a U.S. soldier in Iraq named "James" who says he staunched a bleeding leg wound with his bracelet.
"He credited us — our product — for bringing him home from war," says Walchle. "That blew me away. Now (this business is) serious. It helped save a soldier's life."
Walchle, 42, donates 10 per cent of proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured service members transition to civilian life.
Under a licensing agreement, he also provided Survival Straps and gear tags to the U.S. Olympic athletes participating in the Summer Games in London.
The bracelets are easy enough to make, according to Melissa Duke of Pleasant View, Tenn., who has gone into the paracord jewelry-making business full-time. Duke, 38, made her first bracelet at her son's request last August, then another for her husband. One year and about 1,000 bracelets later, she has quit her medical office job and sells bracelets and key chains online at her Etsy shop, Knot Creations, and elsewhere.
Team sports bracelets sell the best, she says.
"I didn't hear about them before last year," Duke says. "You see people with them a lot now."
For outdoorsman Greg Ticknor, 22, of Helena, Mont., the bracelets provide a convenience. Ticknor used to carry a wad of parachute cord in his pocket "just to have in case I needed it" while hunting or fishing. He saw the bracelets and learned how to make them. Now Ticknor and his brother, Eli, can carry 12 feet of paracord — around their wrists.
"Whenever we're out in the woods we always have them," says Eli Ticknor, 18. "We're tying stuff to backpacks, making shelters . a friend used his to pull dead trees he'd cut down."
On summer Saturdays at the Helena Farmer's Market, the brothers sell their handiwork. Eli Ticknor can weave a bracelet in 20 minutes (they're actually tied knots that form a woven band).
For Duke, it takes 15 minutes.
Duke relies on knot-tying author J.D. Lenzen's online tutorials, "Tying It All Together," on YouTube. Duke suggests starting with the "cobra knot," called the Solomon Bar at Lenzen's website, Fusion Knots. It's the easiest and most popular knot, or weave, for these bracelets. Walchle, the Ticknor brothers and Duke use it, often in multiple colours, which make the weave "pop."
Other knots to try are the fishtail and piranha.
Buy your paracord from a reliable source to make sure it's military-issue, that is, rated to uphold 550 pounds per strand. Cheaper paracord is on the market, but it's weaker. Duke shops at three online sites: The Supply Captain, Survival-Pax Co. and Armed Forces Outfitters Inc.
After a bracelet is woven, the ends are attached to a buckle. Duke uses a plastic, side-release buckle. Walchle goes for a stainless-steel anchor shackle, conventionally used to connect an anchor to a chain.
"It's not heavy," he assures. "The bracelet weighs under 3 ounces."
After attaching the buckle ends, the paracord is cut and its ends burned. It's tricky business but essential: The melted nylon ends won't unravel. Duke uses a handled grill lighter.