Sturdy camel girths — and glamorous textile jewellery

Date: Friday 23rd March 2018
Carole Dickens explains the intricacies of ply-split braiding to Ann Wright and Carol Moss.
Carole Dickens explains the intricacies of ply-split braiding to Ann Wright and Carol Moss.

ACQUIRING a new skill in a single day is always a steep learning curve, and a workshop at Mungrisdale village hall initially seemed every bit as difficult as scaling the steep slopes of nearby Blencathra.

Carole Dickens, an active member of Eden Valley Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, learned 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 the guild 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 and bracelets.

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.

Members 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 they began …

There were several false starts — such as finding their 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 the work grew, all could see the impossible puzzle becoming an item of beauty.

Several members took home a completed piece, and others were confident enough to complete theirs at home. Carole has promised to iron out any hiccups they might have encountered at the next meeting.

Every third Saturday in the month, Eden Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meets at Mungrisdale village hall where members can carrying on their chosen craft, get advice or instruction on a skill and chat about everything. At four of the guild’s meetings each year, an outside speaker is invited to talk or run a workshop where members can learn a new technique from an expert on the subject.

The guest speaker at April’s meeting will be Cally Booker, a Dundee-based hand-weaver, who will be teaching a weaving workshop inspired by Goethe’s colour triangle. This workshop is now fully booked but visitors are always welcome to attend meetings and join workshops of interest.

For information about the guild and its programme of forthcoming events, visit the newly revamped website at www.eden valleyguild.co.uk.