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Helen Leaf Designs


I work in a technique called ply-split braiding. it's a fairly specialist technique, and I make my own tools (available here).


Ply-split braiding is a way in which yarn can be made into high-twist cords, which in turn are used to make a variety of things, from flat braids to larger 3-dimensional pieces. 

The tradition of ply-split braiding was explored and brought to the attention of the craft community in the 1990s by Peter Colllingwood. Its origins are in Rajastan and Gujarat, in the making of camel girths using high twist cords. From that time, the techniques have been adapted and have become a contemporary craft, with a range of materials, methods and forms.

Ply-split braiding in progressPly-split braiding in progress

                                                    Yarn and tools for ply-split braidingYarn and tools for ply-split braiding 

Making the high-twist cords can take many hours, even a whole day, before the weaving actually starts, but by making these cords, design choices can be made which affect the finished piece. Patterns of how the colours interact are often planned, or can develop during the weaving, leading to unexpected end results. 

It's not a well known craft, and the tools needed make it a little inaccessible. But, I think it's great! I love how warp can become weft, and weft can become warp, and how the shed of the weaving rotates and changes. The whole process can be complex and abstract, but the end result is always satisfying. I tend to make baskets and bowls. 

I'm working a lot with British wool at the moment, particularly in undyed natural colours. When I make the bowls I like to highlight them with axis lines of one vibrant colour. In the 'wild baskets' I like to plan the colours so that they end up in certain patterns at the final top edge. 

These bowls are more decorative rather than utilitarian, although they can be used to hold things. The patterns are visible on both the inside and the outside, and the tension of the swirled bowl rim holds a perfect circle. I'd describe them as objects of beauty and balance.

Ply-split basket and vessel gallery: