Braiding Interlaces and Tethers a Bridge Between Worlds

It is a Peruvian Braided Garment … but It Was Found with a Mummy

Mummies of the World, the traveling exhibit, recently came to Salt Lake City.  I bought my ticket and entered the darkened corridor where an electronic voice explained that there would be no photos taken out of respect for the dead.  

The Salt Lake exhibit was heavily Peruvian, and I couldn’t help but feel strangely transported.  These people may not be in the here and now, but they were people; they were alive and that dimensional wall of time seemed thin between us.   

These were children, these were women.  The rhythm of their lives was so close, I felt it, but my culture did not let me approach them or theirs directly.  Instead, just as being introduced for the first time, I respectfully admired their clothing, their hair, their talent.

Peruvian Braids copied by Roderick Owen
Peruvian Braids copied by Roderick Owen

The bits of cloth and fiber, spoke of great care and beauty and were particularly intriguing to me.  

My only experiences with braiding included hair of small girls and when my father tried to show me how to use leather strips to cover a wooden handle that would form the base of a whip; but I grew out of cowboy boots and into high heels that summer, and it was never finished.  (We each grow our own ways.)  I stretched my mind to understand the art of these braids before me.

I was particularly captivated by the intricacies of braiding.  Hair, fur, cotton and other fibers had been used in the area now known as Peru for centuries, to create cloth and clothing.  Peruvians are known for their weavings, but this was a different skill.  

Weaving is done with the fibers passing by each other (interlacing) usually on a 90 degree angle.  The warp is secured and the weft is passed over and under the warp to create patters. Braiding is done at roughly a 45 degree angle.  

Flat Braid Loom
Flat Braid Loom

According to Ingrid Crickmore on her website

“To be very exact, for braids you would use the term “oblique interlacing” instead of “weave.” “Plain oblique interlacing” would be the more technically correct term for “Plain-weave braid”.

Hand braiding, loop braiding and sling braids were new terms to me.  I was particularly intrigued as I watched Rodrick Owen use different tools that allowed him to do flat braiding.

However, although some members of Andean societies were dedicated braiders, mostly cloth interlacing was a ‘home spun’ business.  As women or men watched flocks they carried with them the fibers for braiding.  These hand loomed items were often head bands, but they also extended to broader clothing.  Unlike a flat loomed piece where the warp and weft were defined, the warp and weft danced, switching roles in elaborate forms creating not only beautiful but functional pieces.  And just as the term suggests, no structural pieces were used to create the designs.

Loop Braiding
Loop Braiding

The Japanese use a marudai to create their pieces of braid for ornamentation.  When comparing the two forms of braiding, Rodrick explained that using the marudai required a kind of dance with a rhythm and flow that was completely different than the Peruvian hand looms.  He loved the structures and dimensionality that was available through using a hand loom.

The mathematical field of topology deals with spaces between, it is about intersections between the constructed. Braids are part of that mathematical field  are studied and used in many fashions and ways today including in climbing ropes, in suspension bridges, coaxial cable and the covering of fueling hoses. Even Kevlar, the ‘bullet proof’ jacket is braided. Rodrick Owen, who has studied Peruvian braiding for over 40 years, was consulted when about the idea of a space tether, a joint venture of Italy and the United States where electricity was hoped to be conducted through almost a mile long copper braided strand.  (Unfortunately, the interior core had trapped air bubbles that reacted and melted the copper cable.)

Mathematical representation of braiding possibilities with four strands
Mathematical representation of braiding possibilities with four strands

These people who were just out of my time dimension were able to reach through these threads that extended and danced between us, and form life as I know it.


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