Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Plaited Garlands

These pretty, plaited palm garlands are possibly made in many places around the world, but I learnt about them in Tamil Nadu in Southern India.  They were being made by a rural self-help womens co-operative and exported to charity and fair trade shops in Europe and America for sale as Christmas decorations.
They are an excellent product for a co-op like this, where the women are not trained weavers but they can learn very quickly how to make them. It is also portable work that allows the women to carry it with them and continue whilst walking to and from their homes or waiting for buses. They get paid by the piece so being able to work whenever they have a chance is an important factor for them. As an export product it also works well because they pack into a neat, solid tube that takes up little space.

Made from locally harvested coconut palm leaf and natural dyes they are, almost, a perfectly sustainable product, the only compromise being the lack of a local market which requires them  to be transported  long distances.

I was invited to the co-op partly to help them develop some new designs, so  the women taught me how to prepare and split the palm leaf and weave these decorations. When I returned to London I developed quite a few variations on the theme that would still pack up small and were not too complicated to produce, which I gave to them. I also added a few other more complicated items such as three–dimensional stars, but I never had any feedback and my life moved on,  so I don’t know if they ever used any of my designs or not. I hope they did and that they sold well for them.

Variations on the theme
It is a bit late for Christmas decorations this year, but these garlands will work just as well for other festive occasions and,  maybe, in an idle moment over the festive season you might like to make some guilt free decorations for next year out of the mountains of packaging that will inevitably accumulate. So here are the instructions for making a similar garland. As palm leaf is not readily available everywhere I am showing you how to make this basic simple woven spiral decoration using tetra pak, which is available pretty much everywhere.  It can also be worked with coloured papers and plastics, bark and leather among other many other things.

Once you have got the technique it can be varied in many ways simply by increasing or decreasing the width of the strips or increasing/decreasing the number of weavers. If you get the bug you can try double linked chains, mixing materials, threading other materials through the loops… you get the idea.

For this one you will need tetra pak strips 1cm wide and as long as possible. Here are a couple of videos to help you make them. This one shows how to cut the cartons and this one shows you how to make a simple wire gauge to help cut them evenly.

Then you just need to watch this video which shows you how to weave them.
At the beginning to hold everything together I use a staple, but just one end of the staple goes through the strips so that the strips can  be easily separated out. Once you get started you just keep going for as long as you like, it is really only one movement repeated ad infinitum. If you need to join strips you can overlap the two ends and work with the two together for a bit, but its probably easier for a novice to just staple them together.