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The Coming of the Maori

Plaiting Technique

Plaiting Technique

The description of plaiting technique is difficult because, apart from the study involved, the text must be supplemented with line drawings in order that the technical details may be understood and differences appreciated. In Polynesia the raw material, provided by coconut and pandanus leaves imposed differences in technique owing to the nature of the material. As plaiting is a very old craft, it may be assumed that the early
Fig. 18. Coconut-leaf plaiting a, half leaf; b, commencement; c, left edge; d, check technique; e, right edge; f, braid finish.

Fig. 18. Coconut-leaf plaiting a, half leaf; b, commencement; c, left edge; d, check technique; e, right edge; f, braid finish.

settlers of New Zealand brought with them a knowledge of plaiting as applied to coconut leaves and pandanus leaves. Lacking these two plants, the nearest substitute materials in New Zealand were the indigenous nikau palm and the Phormium tenax popularly termed flax.

In plaiting any object, a number of problems have to be solved beyond the mere technique of interlacing crossing elements. In the simplest object such as a mat, the first problem consists of making a start with a commencement edge. As plaiting proceeds from left to right, the commencement usually involves the formation of the left corner, part of the left edge, and the continuation of the commencement or bottom edge. In sheets made of coconut leaf, the commencement edge offers no problem, for it is formed by the leaf midrib, and the leaflets fixed to it by nature provide the wefts. In a split coconut leaf the leaflets all run in the same page 146direction (in figure 18a, they are dextrals). Crossing sinistrals are provided by bending alternate leaflets to the left, commencing usually with the third from the left (Fig. 18b). However, the left edge has to be built up deep enough to provide an oblique working edge. The free ends of the sinistrals are bent in at right angles on the vertical line of the left edge and the bending not only defines the left edge but also converts the sinistrals into dextrals (Fig. 18c).

The plaiting is continued with an oblique working edge formed by a number of working dextrals which enclose a sinistral weft. The dextrals are separated into two alternating sets by picking up some wefts with the left hand and leaving the others down. In the form of plaiting termed check, every other dextral is picked up and in twill plaiting, the dextrals are picked up in alternate twos or whatever the twill is to be. The lifting of one set of dextrals forms a shed between the up and the down wefts. The next sinistral is picked up by the right hand and placed in the shed to rest on the down set of dextrals. The raised dextrals are laid across the sinistral in the shed to become the down set and the previous down set is raised by the left hand. This completed movement not only encloses the sinistral in the shed but forms a new shed for the next sinistral (Fig. 18d). Each movement to the right brings in a fresh dextral at the lower end of the working edge and consequently the top working dextral must be dropped to keep the number of working dextrals the same throughout, eight being a convenient number. By keeping an even number, the section of plaiting retains the same depth and the upper edge continues straight. In function, the dextral weft resembles the warp in weaving and the sinistral weft, as it is laid in the shed, resembles the weft in weaving.

When the working section reaches the right end of the midrib strip, tie problem is to form the right edge or border. The technique is similar to that of the left edge but in reverse. It is the free ends of the dextrals which project and as they reach the right edge, they are folded over at right angles to continue the edge and the parts turned back now function as sinistrals (Fig. 18e).

In plaited sheets for roof thatch, the leaflet ends at the far edge are left free but in mats used as screens, the free ends on the far edge are plaited into a three-ply braid which forms the finishing edge of the mat (Fig. 18f).

In using pandanus, the wide leaves are split into a number of single strips and the problem is thus created of providing a technique which will fix dextral and sinistral wefts in a lower commencement edge. However, as plaiting must still proceed from left to right, the left corner and a part of the left edge must also be defined before the plaiting can work towards the right. The pandanus technique is shown in figure 19.

page 147

In Figure 19a, a dextral weft (1) is crossed at right angles by a sinistral (2). The lower end of the dextral is given two half turns to double it back over the sinistral to run parallel with the upper part of its course. The doubling back of the dextral forms the left-hand lower corner.

In Figure 19b, a second sinistral (3) is placed in position, a check arrangement being observed. The upper end of the first sinistral (2) is given a half turn at right angles to pass under the second sinistral (3) to define the left edge and function as a dextral, and its lower end is bent
Fig. 19. Pandanus mat technique.a, commencement; b, left corner; c, check technique; d, right corner and side edge.

Fig. 19. Pandanus mat technique.
a, commencement; b, left corner; c, check technique; d, right corner and side edge.

at right angles to pass over the second sinistral (3) to define the lower edge and function as a dextral.

In Figure 19c, additional sinistrals (4-8) have been added successively. In adding each sinistral, the dextrals which are under the preceding sinistral are raised by the left hand to form a clear shed for the new sinistral. The upper ends of the sinistrals 3 and 4 are turned in at right angles to continue the upward growth of the left edge and, a working edge of eight dextrals having been provided, the upper ends of the succeeding sinistrals (5-8) are left free to be turned in with the next plaiting section. The lower ends of the sinistrals from weft 3 onwards are turned up at right angles to continue the lower commencement edge page 148and provide dextrals. The oblique working edge shows sinistral 8 with dextrals 1, 3, 5, and 7 laid over it; and the alternate dextrals 1, 2, 4, and 6, which are under it, are now raised to form the shed for the next sinistral. In the Figure, the raised set of dextrals are cut off short to avoid confusion in the drawing.

The plaiting section with eight working dextrals is continued for the full width of the textile. The right corner is formed in reverse to the left corner as shown in Figure 19d, in which the last sinistral (1) is given a double turn to bring it parallel with the first part of its course and so define the right corner. The dextrals (2-4) which project beyond the corner are bent back at right angles to establish the right edge and function as sinistrals.

Fig. 20. Pandanus mat technique.a, join; b, end finish.

Fig. 20. Pandanus mat technique.
a, join; b, end finish.

The first section having been completed, a new section is commenced on the left by turning in the projecting ends of the sinistrals to continue the left edge. When a working edge of eight dextrals, or whatever number is preferred, has been established, the second section is completed with the dextrals and sinistrals which have been fully provided from the commencement edge. So, by a series of plaiting sections, the mat is continued until the required length is attained.

For large mats, the pandanus and flax strips are not long enough to complete the full length. Hence when the end of the first lot of wefts is approached, a fresh lot is added. The Polynesian join with pandanus is made very simply by laying the butt ends of the new wefts over the tip ends of the old wefts and plaiting them as double wefts for a length of about two inches. The tip ends of the old wefts are dropped and the plaiting continued with the new wefts. The projecting ends of the old and new wefts on each side of the join are then neatly trimmed and the overlapping join is perfectly smooth on both surfaces (Fig. 20a).

The finish of the far edge of a mat is carried on with the last section of plaiting. After the left edge is built up to provide the essential working edge, the top dextral is turned down at right angles to lie on the sinistral which has been placed in the shed. The plaiting proceeds in the usual way page 149but every time a sinistral is laid in the shed, the top dextral is turned down to rest upon it and be enclosed by the working dextrals. When the section nears completion, the far edge and the right edge converge to form the right far corner which is formed by doubling back the last wefts under completed crossing wefts or by plaiting the last three wefts into a free three-ply braid and tying it in an overhand knot. The free ends of the sinistral wefts which project beyond the far edge defined by the bends of the top dextrals are cut off close to the edge and the free ends of the doubled-down dextrals are cut off below the lowest weft of the working dextrals which cross it (Fig. 20b).