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KHIPU CONSTRUCTION  
  
 

 
 

 
 
Cord Construction

Spinning and Plying

The fundamental component of a khipu cord is made by taking fiber and twisting it to form a thread. In the finished thread, the fibers form an angle with the vertical axis of the thread. This is the angle of twist. The twist may be inserted in one of two directions. When the fibers angle from upper left to lower right, like the cross-stroke in the letter S, it is termed S twist; when they angle from lower left to upper right it is termed Z twist, because the angle is like the cross-stroke in the letter Z.

A certain amount of twist is needed to hold the fibers together. Twist over that amount resides in the thread in the form of energy. A freshly spun singles thread almost always has extra energy, which makes the yarn want to kink back on itself and form snarls. One way to counteract this is to ply two yarns with the same twist together in the direction opposite that in which they were originally spun. That is, two S-yarns would be spun together in the Z direction; this operation is called plying, and each S-yarn is called a ply. The Z-twist of the plying operation holds the two yarns together and balances out the S-twist in the singles so that the finished yarn is stable and has no tendency to kink or snarl.

The twists of singles and 2-ply cords.

spinply

Illustration by Julia Meyerson.

Color

Many khipu cords are a solid color, but khipu makers were ingenious in combining colors during spinning and plying to create multi-colored cords. The most common uses of color in cord construction are described here.

Khipu pendants showing three common types of multi-colored cords.

cordcolors

Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Gary Urton) VA#42554

When two solid-colored components of different colors are plied together, the resulting cord has angled stripes like a peppermint stick. These cords are usually referred to as barber-pole cords.

Mottled cords are clearly made up of two (or more) colors, but rather than the clear striping of barber-pole cords, the colors appear in randomly mixed bits and pieces. This color arrangement can be achieved by spinning singles with two colors held together, mixing the colors in the single plies, or by randomly mixing singles of different solid colors. For instance, a 12-component mottled cord could be made up of three white singles plied with three brown singles into 6-ply cord, then doubled and re-plied to make a 12-component cord.

Some cords change color along their length. In the photo above, cords change from blue to white. This is accomplished in the spinning, it is not a result of dyeing or painting the finished cord. One way to create such a join is to take the blue plies and double them around the midpoint of the white plies, pulling the white and blue thread in opposite directions. The blue and white will be joined with interlocking loops, and when the plying is complete, the color appears to change abruptly in the middle of a cord.

When two solid-colored components of different colors are plied together, the resulting cord has angled stripes like a peppermint stick. These cords are usually referred to as barber-pole cords.

Mottled cords are clearly made up of two (or more) colors, but rather than the clear striping of barber-pole cords, the colors appear in randomly mixed bits and pieces. This color arrangement can be achieved by spinning singles with two colors held together, mixing the colors in the single plies, or by randomly mixing singles of different solid colors. For instance, a 12-component mottled cord could be made up of three white singles plied with three brown singles into 6-ply cord, then doubled and re-plied to make a 12-component cord.

Some cords change color along their length. In the photo above, cords change from blue to white. This is accomplished in the spinning, it is not a result of dyeing or painting the finished cord. One way to create such a join is to take the blue plies and double them around the midpoint of the white plies, pulling the white and blue thread in opposite directions. The blue and white will be joined with interlocking loops, and when the plying is complete, the color appears to change abruptly in the middle of a cord.

Attachment

The two different faces of pendant cord attachment.

recto and verso

Illustration by Julia Meyerson.

Pendants are attached to their primary cord by opening up the doubled end of the cord to form a loop and passing the length of the pendant around the primary cord and through the loop. This creates a half-hitch which is quite snug, due to the plying energy in the cord. The half-hitch has two different faces, termed recto and verso and shown above.

 

 

 

 
 

 

OVERALL STRUCTURE
General characteristics of khipu construction.

CORD DETAILS
Each pendant cord incorporates a series of production choices, including how it is spun, its color patterning, and its attachment to the primary cord.

KNOTS
Different kinds of knots are used to record numeric values on khipu cords.

REFERENCES
Links and citations for more detailed information about all aspects of khipu.

 

 
 
 
 

Last Updated August 2009

© 2009 Gary Urton & Carrie Brezine