Co.Design

A Chess Set Designed To Address The Game's Subtle Sexism

A Bezalel student handcrafts chess pieces based on 2-D sewing patterns.

Chess is a man’s endeavor: More men play it, so more men excel at it. But is the game itself intrinsically gendered? Absolutely, says Asaf Alexander: “Gender and social hierarchy are the key foundations of the game. It holds so much stigma and prejudice. It is a game of power, and power only.” So he decided to revamp the chess set, using CAD-modeling software to generate three-dimensional pieces from sewing patterns.

“I was drawn by the gap between the high and the low tech, between the craft and the computer process,” says Alexander, who, before attending Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, was a unit tailor in the military for two years before working as a freelance carpenter. “Naturally, I was inspired by both carpentry and textile, but it took me a while to realize that the two can easily become one.” He began by scanning various clothing patterns from Burda magazine before manipulating them into 3-D models with the help of two CAD programs, Solid Works and Revolve. A sleeve became a knight, a ball gown the queen, and a bulletproof vest a pawn.

He then built paper templates before lathing the pieces and carving out a slice of each to expose their insides. “The pieces stand face to face, ‘fighting for their king’ with everything just hanging out in the open,” he says. And while the visual cues remain the same, he maintains that the gender distinction has become blurred: “Values of equality and co-existence are now cast into the new chess pieces.” For those who are still unconvinced, there’s always blindfolded chess.

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8 Comments

  • Katherine Donnelly

    Sorry, I'm a female who has played chess since I was six and this piece fails so hard.  The concept sucks, how does designing something from a sewing pattern address the problem?  It doesn't.  It is still a turned-wood chess set like a million others of its kind, the only thing setting it apart is that it looks a little odd.

  • Feryall

    Chess is a game of war that was invented in 4th century India (some say Persia).  There was no Queen, or Bishop or Knight or Castle, which were medieval European Christian references!  No self-respecting Queen of the east would go gallivanting across the realm while the King stayed in his corner!  The Queen piece was actually the grand vizier or General, leading the army and protecting the King.  The Bishop was the Elephant, representing the war elephant contingents; yes, they used elephants for war, like tanks.  The Knight represented the cavalry, of course.  And as for the Rook or castle piece, that was the Boat, or navy!  Rook is the Persian word for that piece.  That is how the pieces are referred to in that part of the world, to this day.

  • Cameron Bigler

    So making a chess set that is based on sewing patterns is less sexist?

  • Riley

      Don't point that out - it ruins the drama. Otherwise it's a fairly boring piece - looks good, but just another chess set.

  • JasonLx

    The queen does all the work whilst her lazy husband just loafs around: clearly sexist against women, implying she should do all the work whilst her husband gets all the credit.

    Alternatively, you could reverse the roles of the pieces, in which case it would *still* be sexist against women: the uber-competent husband protecting the frail wife. Oh the joys of convenient interpretation.

    BTW this redesign is a total fail conceptually. This does nothing for the "hierarchical" issues at all, and does nothing to alter the implied meanings of the pieces. There's nothing gendered about the normal pieces appearance, look at the traditional pawn piece. How is that male? Only changing appearances does nothing to change the associated meanings, and it's the meanings where the issue lies.

  • Banstyle

    Was thinking the same thing.  Also, doesn't making the queen out a ball gown pattern perpetuate the "sexism" that somehow this guy is the only one perceptive enough to figure out?