• 05.31.12

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.

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.