Monday, June 20, 2011

"A hammock on the ocean is the asylum for the generous distressed." ~Herman Melville

My hammock is finally hung somewhere on my property! It's been four long years since my hammock emerged from its plastic storage bin and it is enjoying getting fresh air and being stretched out. This hammock is one I had custom-made in Merida, Mexico back in 2004 (my first trip there). Mayan hammocks are considered to be some of the most comfortable and well-made hammocks in the world. Usually made with 100% cotton, they are hand-woven and come in a variety of sizes (one person, a couple, or family size). It's hard to see all of it here, but mine is considered family size (I wanted the biggest I could get!). My familia mexicana's maid showed me sizes and colors, I picked the ones I wanted (as did my roommate), and she went to work. A few weeks later, my host mom inspected the finished work (since we were hammock newbies), deemed it worthy, and I had my first hammock! It came in handy for many of my travels there--it could bundle up into a small size, hammock hooks are installed everywhere since it's a way of life, and I could just hook it up and be ready for bed.

There are many woven patterns to keep it strong.
Unlike westernized versions of hammocks, there is no spreader bar (which is purely for decoration but makes it dangerous getting in and out of your hammock) and you lie width-ways not in the length. When you lie length-wise, it's bad for your back because it keeps it curved. Lying the opposite direction, your back is able to be flat. Mayan hammocks have even been known to help people with back pain. Having a spreader bar hammock also forces you to lie length-wise, so don't buy it!  

This knot has been burned.
The tinier the threads (and more tightly woven), the more comfortable your hammock will be. It will also weigh more, which is why if you try to buy one online, you will pay based on the weight and size. As few knots as possible are used, making your hammock stronger and able to last longer. The knots in my hammock were also burned to fuse the strands together, an added step in preventing it from coming undone.

Giant hook in wall, S hook, then ropes looped on.
The ropes have been tied to the hammock loop.
So how do you hang it, you ask? Well, most westernized hammocks are advertised with special stands or straps wrapped around trees. I'm sure these could probably work (since the basic idea is still the same) but I follow how they are hung in Mexico. If you are trying to hang it from an interior or exterior wall, you will need some type of hook. In particular, a closed loop works best. Depending on how many people you want in the hammock at one time, you must look at the weight capacity of each component. You're only as strong as your weakest link! My closed loop hooks each have a capacity of 320lbs. Next, you should have an S hook attached to each closed loop. This will allow some movement to your hammock without causing wear on your ropes. Ropes? Yes, ropes (In spanish, los brazos/brasos which translates as the arms). You can't just hang the end loop of your hammock on the S hook. In all likelihood, it might not reach. Plus, the hammock loop is extremely thick and won't fit on the S hook. It would fall out as soon as you sat in it. The ropes allow you to adjust for different size spaces in-between hooks and they will be able to move without dislodging from the S hook or wearing through (you want to use heavy-duty ropes like climbing ropes). My ropes also have a small leather sheath over the area that will be looped on the S hook, but mine were specifically made for this purpose. Each of my S hooks (solid steel) can also hold up to 326lbs, so I'm covered for a couple of people to hang out together!

Finally, to attach the ropes to your hammock, you'll need to make sure the hammock is "smiling". If it's not dipping enough, then this puts more wear on your threads (it's not as flexible all stretched out) and will not last as long. Also try to keep the height of the closed loop hooks the same. Once everything looks good (in terms of placement), loop your ropes on the S hook and slip the ropes through your hammock loop. This knot is similar to a figure 8 knot, but it's a little hard to explain. This flickr user has some examples. 

If you are planning on hanging this from trees, you can wrap the ropes around a tree (as long as you're sure they won't slip) and then attach it to the hammock loop. If you prefer a stand, I can't help you with that one. :) Now you have to learn how to get in it! The most important thing to remember is to never get in feet-first (it's very dangerous, you'll probably trip yourself up, swing around, and fall on your head. Dire enough for you?) Standing up, you should have your back to the hammock, reach behind and spread the opposite edge high up to your head. Then, sit down in your hammock and lay back. I like to test mine first but just sitting on the edge, especially since I just hung my hooks up. As long as it seems like it will hold, I'll reach back, spread the hammock out a little and lay down. I also tend to get in and then scoot back as needed (but again, being careful). Besides falling out, you could catch threads on your clothes (especially if you have snaps or buttons on your back pockets) and pull them, which would weaken your hammock. If you wish to wash your hammock, there are numerous explanations online. You'll need to bundle it up, but it's fine to go in your washer and then hang outside to dry. Just don't leave it outside all the time, especially in humid climates. The cotton threads will weaken.

Attached to wooden pillar.
It's been four years since my hammock was used on our honeymoon (my last trip to Mexico) or the errant visit to the park. I don't have any trees in my yard and couldn't figure out how to easily hang it in the yard. The front porch is ideal because it's very wide and would be protected from the rain. I won't be leaving it hanging 24/7, so the area over top of my porch furniture works perfectly. I attached one hook to an exterior porch wall and the other to a wooden pillar. And now to enjoy those summer evenings with a novel or take a little siesta on a Sunday afternoon.

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