Ply-Splitting - Three Weeks in India from Peter Collingwood

I am just back from India (September 1999). One of the purposes of the visit was to donate to the excellent Delhi Craft Museum a selection from the collection of ply-split artifacts I have collected on the previous 5 visits. So there is now a good study collection there.

I spent two days around Jaiselmer with happy results. Passing Ishwar Singh's house, found him working away on a TLOI girth. Mutual embraces and handshakes followed. I ended by buying from him a very short piece which he had copied from my Fig 148 in TPSB! This showed a motif I had invented made up of several traditional ones joined. He also gave me a beautiful shiny black wood needle he was currently working with.

I again visited the holy man near Ossiyan; (see colour photo on back of book's cover). He was in the middle of his "curing the paralysed" performance, but got an assistant to show me once again the beautiful girth seen in that photo. Alas it was in a terrible state; brittle, friable, full of moth and insect holes...really a wreck. If only he had let me buy it on earlier visits it would now be well preserved. He kindly, noticing my limp, gave me a little twist of newspaper with some special ash in it to "cure my legs".

I also tried to trace in Kelawa an elusive maker, but again he was absent. But I saw there two nice cotton lhoums (the short decorative braids) with inversions in the designs; but due to a misunderstanding in the bargaining I did not manage to acquire them, They are now there for someone else.

The next day at Abhamaniyu Rathi's shop in Jaiselmer I found an almost exact replica of the holy man's wreck, in perfect condition, really beautiful though simple; dyed and natural goathair.

Later that day visited two villages I knew from the past, Kanod and Hamira, and both had a lot to show. I found a new maker and photographed him with a badly worn TLOI girth he had made. Saw a very interesting all black girth which used at least four different structures; rather like a sampler showing what the maker could do. Also an all black POT, narrow girth. Sitting in the shade on the specially brought chairs surrounded by knowledgeable old men and their pieces, I felt the long rough journeys were worth while. I bought a gorbandh which combined PS braiding and darning, something new to me.

(Luckily I took a photo (above), as it did not seem worth trying to purchase at that time. Back home I saw it was a variation on the TLOI technique, but introducing a third colour, as a solid white cord. If you turn it over the brown and black reverse, of course, but the white stays the same. This is my sample made from the photo. One just never knows what is going to turn up in that country! It is quite a strain looking and making immediate decisions..and hoping one will not regret them.)

On the very last day at Chandigarrh, outside the amazing rock garden, I spotted a camel giving rides to children and it was wearing a yellow cotton muzzle which I could immediately see was ply-split in some way. The owner seemed amazed I wanted it and suggested a crazily low price; so I agreed without the usual bargaining, and it was slid off the camel's nose into a plastic bag. As you can imagine it was filthy and wet with camel slobber; so I will have to do some thorough washing before I examine it more closely.

All the three weeks I was in India I was making bracelets from cords I had brought with me. It is a simple method which uses just one continuous cord about 5 metres long. By linking the strands, the final cord can change colour at any point along its length. So whenever we were stuck for a gift, one was handed over... even to Erroll Pires at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad who at once began to wear it. I saw his PS dresses; large impressive pieces. He had many photos and as I suggested to him that he join this list maybe they will become visible soon. He has also invented a new PS structure which I christened ply-split leno, because when you diagram it, it looks exactly like woven leno, except that threads are splitting instead of crossing each other. It is really a combination of PS braiding and PS darning.

Updated October 1, 2000
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