Kumihimo-art - 5/4/08
"Kumihimo - The Japanese art of making braided cord" by Erlan Skald di Norlandi.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Kumihimo - The Japanese art of making braided cord
by Erlan Skald di Norlandi
The making of a cord by braiding is not exclusively a Japanese invention. Most peoples from the dawn of time twisted or braided materials in order to create a stronger material. The warriors needed something to secure their armor plates together. The thin yet strong braids were the answer. Those doing the braiding could combine colors and create patterns unique to the individual. Braids were also used to tie weapons onto their person or secure items of importance to the Samurai warrior.
There is evidence of these intricate braids as early as 300 BCE as indicated in the late Jomon period. Here can be found cord marked pottery. It is evident that the artists of the time were fascinated by the flexibility of the simple cord.
Cording was a popular decoration for religious clothing as well as the warrior class. Hair-braiding using similar patterns didn't surface in Japan until a few thousand years later.
Many cultures used a braiding technique to create colorful and decorative cords for practical use. Finger-loop braiding, whip-cording, knitting and nalbinding can all be connected. Kumihimo style braiding traditionally could be done by one person with the use of "stools". Depending on the complexity of the braid, the threads used to create the pattern would be draped over an open-hole top called a "kagami" which means mirror in Japanese. The stand or stool would be round and it's height about 18"-36". The "marudai" could sit on a table, lap or floor while the person braiding would cross the threads over the "kagami" in a pattern. The threads would be wound over a tiny spool or bobbin which would weight the individual threads. One could have as few as 3 "tama" or as many as 24 little bobbins to create their braid. The center of the braid would be weighted through the "kagami" to produce an even tension between the finished braid and the "tama".
As an introduction to Kumihimo braiding, a round disc can be used to simulate the "marudai" loom. These would create maru dai braids. Although used within the SCA, these single disc type looms are not documentable. While you can reproduce the braid, the pattern and the style of the Japanese art, you are limited to the art itself. By using the actual stool and bobbins, one can generate a feeling of repetition and tranquility that is often associated with many fiber arts.
These paper/cardboard discs can be made from foam core or corrugated cardboard. You need to cut out a center whole about 1.5" in diameter. Along the sides of the circle, you need to cut slits about 3/4 inches long. Try and cut them evenly spaced apart. You need about 16-24.
A simple pattern to start would require 8 strands of thread. I find it easier to group them with 4 colors.
The RIGHT X comes down and sits next to the RIGHT B
The LEFT B moves up and sits to the left of the LEFT X.
The TOP Y comes across and sits above the TOP A
The BOTTOM A moves left and sits under the BOTTOM Y
The pattern repeats.
- go clockwise
- Always start to the right
- first round the colors aren't even, second round, they are
- When stopping for the evening, use stickers to hold the threads in place and indicate which one to begin with the next time.
- Remember to use a simple weight to hold down the middle, a large bead does a good job.
- You can use floss holders to keep the threads from getting tangled.
- even numbers create a straight pattern, uneven ones create a twist
There are many websites and books available that can give you patterns and ideas. The more complicated the pattern, the more intricate the braid.
Resources and Bibliography
A paper by Sine ni Dheaghaidh that includes a brief history and terms.
Fiber Arts on-line (Lots of other things too!)
Kumihimo Home Page
International Conference Page
An SCA Reference: ©2005, Jennifer Friedman
Good pictures from a workshop in San Francisco
Kumihimo Beading by Sharron Ruesewald
Pictures with a paper on braiding.
History and resources
Patterns and instructions in English and German.
History, books and other resources
Personal Home page with pretty good pictures
Personal page, good pictures
Kits for sale, stools, yarn and other Fiber arts and braiding materials:
Kits for Sale
Other items for sale, books, instructions.
Items for sale – carries Bamboo wool!!
Yet another place to buy stuff.
Stools and some brief info
Lots of fiber things for sale and some nice pictures
Fiber Arts Shop on line.
Berlin, Shirley. "Kumihimo, the easy way"; Hand woven, May/June 1999, Volume XX, Number 3.
Beginner's Guide to Braiding: The Craft of Kumihimo
Published by Search Press
USA 1997 ISBN: 085532828-2
Published by Unicorn Books and Crafts
USA 1994 ISBN: 0952322501
Kumihimo: Japanese Silk Braiding Techniques
Published by Lark Books
50 College Street, Asheville, NC, 28801
USA, 1986 ISBN 0-937274-59-3
Early Japanese history and information
Erlan Skald di Norlandi is an 11th century woman trained in sword fighting, healing, domestic and musical arts. She is a story teller and poet, healer and muse. Born of a Celtic Mother and Icelandic Father she has traveled many lands in search of her past. Well versed in early medieval instruments she writes and plays music. She has studied the crafts of fiber and glass from artisans visiting her home of Norseland.
In the SCA Erlan lives in the Shire of the Rusted Woodlands and is a protˇgˇ of Margarita Kofinopoia (Concordia) and apprenticed to Mistress Deonna von Achen (Concordia.) She started with single loop braids and hasn't stopped yet. Limited by only 10 fingers, she found a "traveling Kumihimo class and LOVED it. Now she's developed her own portable method and wants to share it with others.
Copyright 2007 by Maria Daggett. <ErlanNordenskald at yahoo.com> or <eku at eastkingdom.org>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.