Acquiring a new skill in a single day is always a steep learning curve, and a recent workshop at Mungrisdale Village Hall recently, initially seemed every bit as difficult as scaling the steep slopes of Blencathra, close by!
Carole Dickens, an active member of Eden Valley Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers, learnt her skill in ply-split braiding from fellow Guild member Rachel Dufton, about 10 years ago. After admiring the beautiful necklaces, bracelets and key fobs that Carole was producing, other members of EVGSWD asked her to teach them the skill too.
The ancient craft of ply-split braiding originated in India and was used for producing sturdy, elaborate camel girths and regalia from cords of goat hair, wool or cotton. Today, with the aid of colourful cords and imagination, fibre artists have revived the skill to create decorative, fashionable items such as necklaces, bracelets and key fobs.
Ply-split braiding is a technique whereby one twisted cord (the splitter) is passed through the plies of another twisted cord (the splittee) with the aid of a small, pointed tool called a gripfid.
We closely watched Carole as she first demonstrated a set-up of the cords, and then the repetitive, sequential splitting of the cord with the gripfid and pulling of the cord end through. And so we began! There were several false starts – such as finding our cord ends needing to be glued rather than knotted – but with perseverance and some one-on-one instruction from Carole, the intense concentration of the morning visibly relaxed and by afternoon, as our work grew, we could see the impossible puzzle becoming an item of beauty.
Several members took home a completed piece, and others were confident enough to complete their ply-split, textile jewellery at home. Carole has promised to iron out any hiccups we may have encountered at the next meeting.