Textile Society of America


View from the Shoulders of Thar Masters: New Spaces for Ply-split Braiding

David W. Fraser, The Textile Museum

Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Men of the Thar Desert in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the Pakistan state of Sindh have been the traditional masters of ply-split braiding. They have focused on trappings for camels, including elaborately decorated girths, bridles and other accoutrement, made of goat hair or cotton. Particularly since the 1998 publication of Collingwood’s The Techniques of Ply-split Braiding, fiber artists have explored other possibilities for using ply-split braiding to create vessels and other three-dimensional structures. Most of those innovations have been done in what Collingwood calls single-course oblique twining (SCOT), which allows great freedom in color patterning because where cords of contrasting color meet, either can be chosen as the surface color. Plain oblique twining (POT) is more constraining, as a given cord alternately splits and is split by the cords it meets along its path. A recent paper in Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot documented novel cord sequences that allow a variety of POT vessels to be made with orthogonally oriented cords (which Speiser calls course parallel). The current report describes a very different set of possibilities when POT vessels are made with diagonally oriented cords (course oblique). Particularly notable in these course-oblique POT vessels are opportunities for combining solid and fenestrated surfaces, varying sizes and relations of fenestrations to shape vessels, creating footings or handles that are integral to the vessel, and using cord substitution to create blocks of color with complex junctures.