Thursday, September 10, 2015

Everyday braids

Photos: Maurice Marietti

Braids to complement your handwork..or you!

Kumihimo braids may be linked to Japanese Bushi warriors or associated with tea ceremonies or as obijime, but those are historic links. And those uses, functional and/or beautiful as they may be, were not what drew me to the craft when introduced to it more than 30 years ago. 

I loved kumihimo primarily because of its possibilities. I see it as a natural extension of other handcrafts--especially weaving, knitting and sewing.

Wherever  a braid or cord might be used, why not make it beautiful? Think for a minute where you see or use braids--or cords. Just to name a few, there are braids in soft furnishings, clothing decoration, closures, and jewelry. Use kumihimo braids to complement your handcrafted work. I've made braids for use as closures for clothing; cord edgings to complement handwoven pillows; made buttons for a mother-of-the-bride dress; utilitarian cords on my binoculars; and unique jewelry--necklaces, pins, earrings and bracelets. Oh the possibilities!

"Emilia" kumihimo choker. 
I, too, first learned on a handheld circle. For me, it was a heavy cardboard circle with slashes. I liked the potential and quickly moved to a marudai, which M made for meWhen we came back to the States, I led workshops and because marudais and bobbins were virtually non-existent, we supplied them. M made--and sold--many marudais. He also designed a bobbin that eliminated the problem of exposure to lead, as that a common weight material at the time. (We no longer supply these items.)

Although the Internet has facilitated access to marudai and bobbin suppliers, the growth of braiding has mainly occurred through the introduction of stiff foam disks. Like my heavy cardboard prototype, the disks provide a low-price point introduction to the craft. Try it. See if you like it. Experience making braids--and consider their versatility.

It's true that that the proper tools provide the best experience. And it's true for the handheld disk, which cannot provide the control and limits the types of braids possible on a marudai with weighted bobbins, but it's a great start. And for those who only want to make the occasional braid, it's an ideal tool for their craft box.

Beyond silk

"Nadia" kumihimo necklace.
Kumihimo braids and silk were meant for each other. And silk is absolutely lovely to work with. But it's certainly not the only suitable fiber. Anything that can be wound on a bobbin is suitable for me. In addition to silk, I've braided with wool yarn, threads of all sorts--sewing, rayon, embroidery, perle cotton, metallic--and cords. The options are limited only by your imagination--and the size of your bobbins.

I am most enthusiastic about contemporary uses for these beautiful braids and can't keep my enthusiasm to myself. Developing easy-to-use fibers and directions suitable for beginners working on foam disks has been one way to share that love. 

"Fiona" (16) Shawl pin
I'll be introducing several kumihimo kits at this weekend's  Garden State Sheep Breeders 21st Annual Sheep and Fiber Festival in Lambertville, NJ.  

The two necklaces I've chosen as kits are based on necklaces I've made and love to wear. The simplest design, "Emilia," is perfect under a V-neck shirt or blouse. "Nadia" draws more attention and definitely makes a statement. Looking for that perfect shawl pin? "Fiona" can complement a handcrafted shawl or scarf or can be a brooch. It also makes a beautiful bracelet. Your call!

Like last week's post, the challenge is providing directions that are easy-to follow and suitable for beginning braiders. I'll look to you for feedback. Comment here or email me!

If you are in the Mid- to South Jersey region, consider attending the Festival. I'll be at  Winter's Past Farm. Do stop by and say 'Hello!' 

**Want to know more about kumihimo? Make plans to spend an afternoon braiding with me Oct. 25, 2015 at Woolbearers in Mt. Holly, NJ.**


  1. I will be there Saturday afternoon. I simply love Nadia, hold one for me. Will you be selling the disks as part of the kit?

  2. Absolutely, Kae! In addition to the white with red accent, there are other color combinations: white with plum, green, blue and one that is jewel tones of teal w/jungle green.
    Look forward to seeing you Sunday!