Kumihimo

If you lived in Japan today, October 11, 2010, your day started at 8:30 with a parade and then stretching exercises done by a majority of the citizens daily as it is broadcast on the television and radio daily. Today is a holiday in Japan. The second Monday of October is set aside as Health and Sports Day. The day is reserved for enjoying sports and cultivating a healthy mind and body. It was created in 1966 on the anniversary of the opening day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Most communities and school across Japan celebrate Sports Day with a sports festival which is similar to a mini Olympics. These festivals include many of the traditional track and field events. Some other events include: ball toss, tug-o-war, and rugby-ball dribbling races. You might also take part in the obstacle course relay which might include doing cart wheels, hanging laundry, a three-legged race, and crawling underneath an obstacle like a net.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure my out-of-shape body would enjoy today! To promote a healthy mind, I would prefer to have a quiet time to do some needlework and unwind a bit. In keeping with a Japanese theme, I decided to tell you a bit about Japanese braiding. When I first saw a demonstration of this technique it reminded me of my days at scout camp with the plastic lanyard. We could create a simple square or round braid depending on how we placed the lanyard. The Japanese took the concept and expanded it to create exquisite braids. So, once you have finished your stretching exercises, let’s answer this question:

What is Kumihimo?

Kumihimo translates into braided cord (kumi = to braid, himo = cord). Braiding has enjoyed a very long history in Japan with evidence dating clear back to 7,500 BC. The styles and uses for the braids changed over time. Perhaps the greatest era for Kumihimo was during the Middle Ages when the Samurai suit of armor required up to 1,000 feet of braid to lace the panels together. In addition the braids were used for sword hilts, obi ties for kimonos, and even harnesses for horses.

The Japanese technique for making these braids uses specialized stands.

The most common is the Marudai which means round stand. The braiding is done on top of the disk and the finished braid goes down the center of the disk.

The Kakudai (square stand) comes in two sizes and the braiding is done on a square top (the pedestal on the right-side of this picture). The braid develops upward, and the threads are twisted rather than flat like on the Marudai stand.

The Ayatakedai (bamboo stand) stand is a complex wooden frame, similar to a weaving loom using warp and weft threads. This frame makes very long braids for lacing. The braids are sturdier and can be made faster on this frame.

The Tadadai (high stand) is a combination of weaving and braiding where the thread can alternate between being a warp and weft thread.

The stands I have shown here are available from Braider’s Hand. They also carry the Japanese Kumihimo Silk.

For the purposes of this newsletter, I will be talking about braids made on the Marudai stand.

THREADS

Traditionally, silk was used both for its beauty and its strength. Silk in size "00" is equivalent to the Kumihimo silk. While many fibers can be used, remember that the beauty of the braid is accomplished by the color of the threads. Perhaps the easiest thread to get started with is cotton floss or pearl cotton. Once you get familiar with using the cotton thread, you can branch out to any fiber including silks, fluffy yarns, and metallic threads.

If you are like me, you would like to get an idea of how a braid might look, or how thick it will be, before you begin. Try this quick tip: put your threads together according to how you plan to use them and then twist them together. This will give you a rough estimate of the width of your finished braid and an idea as to its final appearance. To change the width of the braid you can add or subtract threads until you are satisfied. If you use the 6-strand cotton floss or #5 pearl cotton, then a general rule of thumb to get you started is that you would need:

  • For an 8-bobbin braid, 8 threads per bobbin and
  • For a 16-bobbin braid, 4 threads per bobbin.

To determine the length of your thread, you should plan to start with three times as much as your desired length. For example, if you want a 2′ length of braid, your thread should be at least 6′ in length. This is a very generous amount, but you don’t want to run out of cord before you reach the length you need. As you do more braiding, you will become better at estimating your cord length.

Some patterns require you to use a bobbin more often during the braiding, so you will need more of that color. There will be a notation on the pattern telling you if you need more thread. It might say something like "Color A length plus 25%." That means you would do the same length as the rest of the bobbins, plus an extra 25%. In our example, if your standard length was 6′ (72") then you would add an additional 1.5′ (18").

Your threads are wound around bobbins which also help to keep your tension even. Many of you have seen people who do bobbin lace and their threads are also wound around bobbins, but the bobbins can be vastly different in size and design. Not in Kumihimo braiding. It is very important to your finished braid that your bobbins be the same weight. The actual bobbin size can vary depending on the size of your thread. When you find something that you would like to use be sure to purchase at least 8 so you will have enough to do a simple cord. Purchasing 16 bobbins will allow you to do even more with design and color. A wonderful choice for bobbins are the Thread Winder Bobbins. These unique plastic bobbins fold over the thread to help control the release of the thread.

Counterweights are needed to control the tension on the braid. The heavier the counterweight, the more it will pull the braid which makes it looser. In general, the counterweights should be one-third to one-half of the total weight of the wrapped bobbins. The counter weight can be a small bag with coins inside so you can adjust the weight as needed. For classes here at Nordic Needle we have used metal washers in various sizes that we got from the local hardware store. Be sure to clean the washers before you use them.

SHAPES:

During the braiding process two things take place, a shape is made and a pattern forms on the surface of the shape. The sequence of moving the threads creates the shape, and the initial placement of the colors will create a repeating pattern. Shapes are usually round, square, or flat, and the pattern designs are almost limitless. There are several ways to show the pattern from individual diagrams for each move to charts and even a series of symbols and numbers resembling a mathematical equation.

To help you create your shapes, you can purchase braiding boards that have numbered slots. The instructions then tell you what to do. For example, move the cord from slot 25 to 7. Move the cord from slot 9 to 23. The patterns repeat, so pretty soon you pick up the rhythm and your cords will start to "fly" around the disk and your lovely braid begins to grow. You will need to move your weights up the braid to keep your tension even. The 6" round braiding board and the 6" square braiding board and great ways to get started. The round board will create round, square and flat braids while the square board is more for making flat braids.

ADDING BEADS

Yes, you can even add beads to the threads before you start to bead. The beads are placed on to the threads in between the bobbins and the start of the braiding. The beads do not go into the slots on the braiding boards or it will start to wear away the foam. A resource for adding beads and making Kumihimo braids is Braiding with Beads 2 for the Kumihimo disk.

KUMIHIMO PROJECT

Kumihimo was taught at the 2010 Retreat by Gail-Anne Graham. Here are some of the braids that were created using the Marudai stand.

Here are a couple options I found – a small bookcase turned on its side and a stand for a glass globe. The glue dots used by scrapbookers kept the foam board firmly on the stand.

Duane, our office manager, was very creative when asked to build stands for the class. This stand is made from Tinker Toys which made a very sturdy stand and yet was easily disassembled for the trip home. This is Megan’s project on the Tinker Toy stand. Megan works in the office, so you may have talked to her if you have called in. Use your ingenuity to find something that works for you.

Here’s what the project calls for:

Preparation for this Project

  • Wind three lengths of cotton (7 feet each) on each bobbin, taking care to keep them as smooth as possible.
  • Tie a slip knot at the end of each bobbin.
  • Use a slip knot to tie all eight bobbins together.
  • Place the knot through the hole in the center of the disk and attach the counterweight.
  • Distribute the threads (elements) to the home positions as indicated by the type of braid you are making.

To create an 8-strand round braid (Edo Yattsu Gumi)

The round board has 32 slots with slots 8, 16, 24, and 32 considered to be the home positions. For this braid, you want your bobbins in positions 1, 8, 9, 16, 17, 24, 25, and 32. The color design on your finished braid will be determined by how you place your bobbins.

To complete one round:

  1. Move the cord in slot 32 to slot 7 and the cord in slot 16 to slot 23
  2. Move the cord in slot 24 to slot 32 and the cord in slot 8 to slot 16
  3. Move the cord in slot 1 to slot 26 and the cord in slot 17 to slot 10
  4. Move the cord in slot 9 to slot 1 and the cord in slot 25 to slot 17
  5. Four of the eight cords will now be in the home slot positions, slots 1, 16, 17, and 32.
  6. You want all eight to be in the home slots, so move cord in slot 7 to slot 8.
  7. Move the cord in slot 10 to slot 9.
  8. Move the cord in slot 23 to slot 24.
  9. Move the cord in slot 26 to slot 25.

Repeat this whole section until your braid gets as long as you need it to be.

This is just one of many braids you can make. You are limited only by your imagination!


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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