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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

The Craft of Plaiting

page 104

The Craft of Plaiting.

Plaited articles made from cocoanut leaf to provide roof, ridge and screen sheets, have already been dealt with under the heading of Houses. The plaiting technique has also been applied to the taka, wringer, and the band of pig ropes. In the making of baskets, plaiting reaches its greatest range, and in sleeping mats, its highest development. Plaiting is worthy of being regarded as a distinct craft, and as such, it is one of the most useful in the lower cultures. As it is still confounded with weaving, it is necessary to briefly distinguish between them.

Weaving consisting of interlacing two series of friable elements to form a fabric. One series, termed warps, is fixed to a beam or cord, whilst the second series, termed wefts, cross them at right angles. It will be remembered that the making of sandals complied with the principles of weaving. The material, however, is usually a finer spun yarn, and in loom weaving, various mechanical devices are used in the separation of the warps and the shooting of the weft.

In plaiting, the elements all start and end parallel. After all the elements are fixed to a continuous beginning edge, one set of alternate strips are bent to the right and the others to the left. This provides the crossing elements for interlacing, but though they cross one another at right angles, they move diagonally across the surface of the work.

Definition of the Terms. The following terms have been adapted from those used by Mrs. A. H. Quiggan.

Check. Each weft passes alternately over and under each consecutive crossing weft.

Decoration. The addition of elements for the purpose of ornament.

(a)Applied. Where the elements are not essential to the construction.
(b)Structural. Where the elements form an integral part of what they adorn.
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Foundation Weft. A structural weft that is essential to the construction.

Overlaid Plaiting. Wells not essential to the construction that are laid on foundation wefts, and are plaited with them to form applied decoration.

Movement. The separation of a number of wefts into two series and the placing of one crossing weft between them.

Stroke. The passing of a weft over or under one or more crossing wefts to produce the technique of the plait, as in a check or twill. A movement may result in several strokes.

Twill. Each weft passes over and under more than one crossing weft. In twilled twos, it passes over and under two crossing wefts; in twilled threes, over and under three crossing wefts, etc. Combinations may be used with a check, as threes and ones, or with another twill, as threes and twos.

Weft. A technical factor in plaiting. A weft may consist of a single strip of material or more than one strip as in overlaid plaiting or narrowing. The confusion between warp and weft in plaiting may be obviated by terming the strips which lean towards the right, dextral wefts and those towards the left, sinistral.

Mrs. Quiggan's definition of a stroke as "A completed movement in plaiting to supply a term corresponding to stitch in sewing" has been departed from. In sewing, each stitch is usually made separately, and is thus a completed movement. In plaiting, as we shall see later, a number of dextral wefts are separated into two series before the cross-element is even touched. When the movement is completed by placing the crossing weft between the two series, the result is equivalent to a number of stitches. It is only now and again at corners and in parts of the coloured designs, that a completed movement in plaiting is limited enough to correspond to a stitch in sewing. Hence, in defining a stroke to correspond in meaning to a stitch, the use of the term "a completed movement" has had to be abandoned.

Order of Technique. It is obvious that the rougher food platters and baskets must have been made before the fine sleeping mats, but it is more convenient to deal with the mats before them.

page 106

Rough mats were formerly made of cocoanut leaf, but none were seen in use and no information was obtained regarding their technique. Though used in the Northern Islands, the ordinary pandanus from which roof sheets were made is not used for mats in Aitutaki. A pandanus with smooth edges and midrib is cultivated for making mats, baskets and fans. It is called rauhara to distinguish it from the other species, hara.