Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A braiding circle

Some examples of kumihimo braids
I spent a most delightful afternoon last weekend with the Princeton Embroiderers Guild, where I led a workshop on kumihimo, aka Japanese braiding. The afternoon was a highlight all around. A great group of individuals interested in threads. I had a grand time and was especially pleased that everybody left with a braid. 

Let me back up a bit because I haven't really talked about kumihimo in this blog. Kumihimo, pronounced just like it sounds--koo-me-he-mo, is a Japanese braiding technique. Until the middle of the last century, braid making was controlled by Braiding Houses who jealously guarded their craft. 

The craft and diagrams only entered the public domain with collapse of the handmade braid market. Not only did few women need obi-jime for their kimonos, which had fallen from fashion, but machines could make braids much cheaper. Not better, mind you. Just cheaper. Facing imminent financial ruin, some of the Houses opened their doors to students.  

Marudai w/16 bobbins

Beyond kimonos and swords

Kumihimo braids are beautiful and the braiding process, rhythmic and somewhat meditative. The soft clink-clunk is a soothing sound as the hands move the bobbins across the face of the marudai and drop them into position. I liken it to spinning.

The craft appealed to me from my first introduction in my coursework for the the City and Guilds 'Creative Textiles' program at the London College of Furniture, now part of London Metropolitan UniversityThe two year program was selective, meaning that acceptance was based on submission of a portfolio and a personal interview, but it was excellent, providing deep immersion into a variety of design and craft skills. Final projects focused on two or three specialties. Mine were weaving, knitting and kumihimo. 

Braiding on the disk
Kumihimo braids can be square, round, flat, or even hollow. Traditionally worked on a marudai, or braiding stool, kumihimo braids made in the traditional way use weighted bobbins and counterweights to control tension on the braid. M. handcrafted my classic marudai, seen above at right with 16 bobbins.

Two braiders at work in Princeton
While pleasant and peaceful to braid on a marudai, not everyone has one. Most of us start on a disk. Disks made for the purpose are readily available these days, and that's what we used at the weekend workshop. 

What's the use? 

Tying off the completed braid
Since you probably don't need an obi-jime to fasten your obi or to fit out your sword, let's dispense with that train of thought. Kumihimo braids may be beautiful in their own right, but they are exceedingly useful. Jewelry is one common use, but be sure to consider using them as edgings, buttonholes, earrings, closures, and finishes. 

Put your creative mind in gear and share with me what you're doing with them. I'd love to know!


  1. Years ago I bought a kit from Michaels and made a drawstring for a hoodie I had knit. Your braids are light years beyond mine.

  2. Great use for a handcrafted braid, Kae! Thanks for sharing!