Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Symmetry has been a dominant feature of ply-split braiding, particularly bilateral symmetry in traditional camel paraphernalia from Rajasthan (image 1) and radial symmetry in modern fiber art vessels (image 2). Exceptions exist, most notably in camel straps with representational figures, but they stand out as such. In recent years, however, artists have begun to experiment with more radically asymmetric forms worked in ply-split braiding. This paper explores reasons for and effects of the shift away from symmetry. In traditional work, much stake was put in technical control of material and tension. In much traditional work and symmetric ply-split fiber art, emphasis was placed on elaborate surface design, rigorously executed (image 1,2). Both desiderata were spotlighted by symmetry. The move to asymmetry draws on alternative aesthetic and political ideas. Aesthetically, asymmetry greatly expands the range of forms that can be created. Breaking the constraints of symmetry has permitted exploration of complex surfaces, free-form openwork (image 3), and webs of interconnected stalks (image 4). Politically, asymmetry challenges prevailing criteria of quality by introducing sculpture. However, inspection of asymmetric ply-split objects shows that successful efforts generally require mastery of techniques important for creating high quality symmetric ply-split braiding. These include making of tightly plied cords, controlling tension, anticipating the shaping effect of added and removed cords, and ensuring the compatibility of structural and surface design choices. Thus, criteria for judging success in asymmetric ply-split constructions include but extend beyond those already in place for symmetric work.