Meet the braid magician

In Accord: Ply-Split Braiding and Beyond, an exhibition of Errol Pires' ply-split braided works, is a must attend for both textile lovers and art enthusiasts

It's not often that a camel decorated for wedding processions inspires a design motif for a bustier.

Don't tell that to Errol Pires though. The artist's eclectic works showcase the revival of the art of ply-split braiding, a traditional braiding practice used to make belts for camel girths. The 59-year-old artist has contemporised his work and has made everything from bags to bustiers.

A netted bag made using one of the various styles of ply-split braiding evolved by Pires

Pires, a former faculty member of the textile department at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, chanced upon ply-split braiding while conducting research on textiles. "I did not want to undertake research on block prints or bandhnis as they have been done to death.
That's when a colleague suggested camel belts, one of which was included in NID's collection. The motifs interested me a lot but when I asked how they were made I drew a blank," Pires says about his initial encounter with ply-split braiding.

Not one to give up so easily, he took a trip to Jaisalmer to find out more. During his stay at a hotel in the city, a safari operator happened to hear his conversation with the hotel owner and suggested a meeting with Ishwar Singh Bhatti, a master of the art, whom Pires considers his guru.

The technique of ply-split braiding is found only in India in the northwestern regions such as Jaisalmer, Bikaner and border regions near Pakistan.

Like most other traditional crafts from India, Pires claims, ply-split braiding too is as good as extinct. The main reason is that it was a secondary means of earning for the people who used to practise it.

However, fibre artists based in foreign countries have picked up the art and hence, Pires believes that though the traditional form of braiding might fade away the technique will not.

But ply-split braiding is not just a technique for Pires, "When I was 35, my mother passed away in a very tragic manner. To deal with the pain, I went to the desert and this got me engrossed. I used braiding as a device for self therapy."

Pires has been giving lectures on ply-split braiding in UK, USA, Switzerland, France and Belgium. With societies dedicated to the art of braiding one wonders if the technique is difficult and complicated.

Quite the contrary, Pires assures us. "Even a five-year-old can learn the technique. But it takes a long time to create something using the braid.  One needs to sit on it continuously and that can be nerve wracking," he explains.

Pires has been braiding for over 25 years and has created thousands of pieces. About 200 of his creations will be on display at the exhibition titled, In Accord: Ply-Split Braiding and Beyond. The technique is seamless, one cannot find out where the garment starts or ends.

The clothes do not require zippers or buttons either.

This is the first time that Pires is showcasing his work outside the NID campus in India. "Artisans' is a place where art, craft and design come together and not necessarily meant for commercial purposes alone. Errol's work, therefore, was perfect as our inaugural exhibition," says Radhi Parekh founder of Artisans'.

Till October 6, 11 am to 7 pm
Free demonstrations by Errol Pires
on October 1 and 2
AT Artisans' Centre for Art Craft
and Design, near Rhythm House,
Dr VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda.
Call 9820145397

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