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KUMIHIMO (Part 2 of 2) [This is part II of RuthMacGregor's feature on Kumihimo.  See part I for the basics of this craft.]

Uses for braids

Besides lacing up samurai armour, kumihimo braids have myriad uses.  Here are some examples, following the path from small braids to big ones:

     Fine braids are lovely as glasses cords, as cords for jewelry pendants, as delicate tie-closures on little sacs, as straps for lingerie (yes, really!); or coiled to make earrings; or twisted, couched, and knotted to make a small "frog" closure on a feminine jacket.  Those who sew can use fine braids just like any delicate trim:  as decoration on a garment, couched onto a collar as a stunning edging, positioned along the center front of a blouse or dressy jacket as the loops of loop-and-button closures, or sewn in place along a seamline as "fake" piping. 

And speaking of sewing, my little folding sewing snips hang around my neck on a fine, spiraling braid (a lot nicer than the satin ribbon they used to have!).

Medium-sized braids show their shape more clearly than fine ones do - braids can be round, square, oval, triangular, hollow, spiraling or flat! - and the shape often suggests a use.  Medium-sized flat braids are wonderful as ribbon trims (classier than most trims in the stores by far!), and they also work as straps for evening bags, tie-closures on jackets, delicate hat bands, and shoulder straps for summer tops.  A flat braid whose size is somewhere between medium and wide makes a great watch band.  In a garment whose seams are usually topstitched for strength and emphasis, you can hide the seam completely under a flat braid and have something truly sensational.

Medium-sized round braids make wonderful cords for decorative knotting and are perfect for coat-weight "frog" closures.  You can also use them as simple, elegant tied belts (alone or several at once), as log-wearing and pretty drawstrings for a reticule (now back in fashion!), or as the special tie-cord that keeps a diary from falling open and telling all. 

With the addition of a few simple "findings" from a craft
or jewelry store, medium braids become jewelry in their own right - and when they've been braided with beads, they are simply splendid. 

This knobbly, round braid structure is documented in volume I of Makiko Tada's kumihimo series (#56). The braid is made of polyester sewing thread, rayon machine embroidery thread, and rayon knitting ribbon

On the "home decoration" front, medium braids are also the perfect size to trim the edges of cushions (nicer than piping!), and several medium braids can be plaited together to make strong curtain tie-backs that look far more complex than they actually are.  Medium braids are also well-suited for trimming the edges of lamp shades, hiding seams on upholstered furniture, and tying together stacks of pillows.  They also make dandy lamp pulls.

Large braids - wide, thick, or chunky - also have myriad uses; but a large braid also has a strong, emphatic presence, and when made out of "dressy" materials (shiny silks, sleek rayons, or even high-sheen cotton highlighted with gold threads), it commands attention.  A single thick braid, nicely braided, makes a bold necklace, bracelet, or belt.  A wide, flat braid makes a striking hatband, but can also serve as a belt, a curtain tie-back, or a sturdy strap for a handbag.  Large braids can make beautiful trims for heavier fabrics, such as woollens or coat materials (usually hard to find trims for) and can be braided to exactly match or perfectly complement their "host" material.

To sum this up:  you can use braids in any circumstance where you might ordinarily use a cord, or a ribbon, or a trim, or a woven band.  Because you choose the materials, your braid can be as smooth or fuzzy as you like, in the size and shape you want, and in the colours you've chosen - so it can suit your purpose exactly.

By the way, even beginners can make all the braids listed here!  (Really, it's true!)

At the base of this all is the true function of braids, as defined one afternoon by my husband (who often surprises me).  He said, "I know what kumihimo braids are for.  They're beautiful, and beauty is important."

Kumihimo instruction books

Kumihimo is an ancient practice, and the myriad braid structures are very well documented.  As with any fibercraft, though, some books provide easier starting places than others.  The list below shows an unabashedly subjective listing of books about kumihimo on the maru dai.  (I should add that this list is incomplete; I don't have all the books available!  Truth told, I don't even have all of these! <G>)

For a good, not-too-expensive starting place:

"Beginner's Guide to Braiding:  the Craft of Kumihimo", by Jacqui Carey (ISBN 0-85532-828-2).  A good, step-by-step introduction to kumihimo on the maru dai, introducing six different braid structures, all using eight bobbins.  Easy to read, good explanations, and great photos! A quick browse through the pages will give you an idea of the wonderful variety you can get in these beautiful braids right from the start, without waiting to learn complicated techniques.

"Kumihimo on a Card", by Shirley Berlin (available from Shirley, e-mail - and also through various dealers).  This is not a traditional Japanese braiding method, but it's a fun, portable, uncomplicated way to get into braiding (or to carry your braiding around with you, once you're hooked!).  The booklet gives friendly, useful instructions and presents 19 different ways to arrange colours in a smooth, round braid.  Inspirational!

When you're hungry for more braid structures:

"Kumihimo:  Japanese Silk Braiding Techniques", by Catherine Martin (ISBN 0-937274-59-3).  This was one of the first books on kumihimo published in English, and it presents some history and philosophy as well as 12 braids.  Each of the structures presented is accompanied by text, diagrams of the braid, and illustrations of the point of braiding (which can be useful).  This is probably not the easiest place to begin as a beginner, but it's a very nice book once you're hooked on braiding.   

"Creative Kumihimo", by Jacqui Carey (ISBN 0-9523225-0-1).  This is a fairly comprehensive treatment of kumihimo, which presents not only braid structures but also information on ways to design your own braids.  A useful book for stimulating your creativity.

"Braids: 250 Patterns from Japan, Peru, and Beyond", by Rodrick Owen (ISBN 1883010063).  This is a big braid book, with diagrams for making the many braid structures and full-size photos of the braids.  The introduction presents history and basic instruction (well-written instructions, by the way, for those who learn by reading), and the braids are documented as to their country of origin.  Excellent source book.

"Comprehensive Treatise of Braids I: Maru-dai Braids", by Makiko Tada (available through specialized dealers).  This is probably NOT the place to learn braiding, because explanations are minimal (and/or in Japanese); but once you're comfortable reading braiding diagrams, it's a superb reference for braid structures.  The book presents 120 different braid structures, labelled with their names in Japanese (and translated), all diagrammed and delightfully fascinating; a vast array of braids not documented anywhere else.

For inspiration and more information:

"Beads & Braids" by Jacqui Carey (ISBN 0-9523225-2-8).  This gorgeous book presents a collection of techniques for incorporating beads into braids, whether the purpose is decorative trim, jewelry, display of valuable beads, or the simple pursuit of beauty.  Breathtaking.

"Samurai Undressed", by Jacqui Carey (ISBN 0-9523225-1-X).  A study of the history of kumihimo and its use in ancient Japan for lacing together the many plates and scales of Samurai armor.

Kumihimo web sites     A resource for weavers, braiders, ply-splitters, and tablet weavers, put together and maintained by Janis Saunders in San Diego.  The site contains a superb array of information, links, instruction, suppliers, and galleries of works.  The kumihimo portion of the site contains galleries of beautiful braids, links to equipment suppliers and instructors, and a concentrated wealth of information on braiding, on-site.  The kumihimo coverage on "weavershand" extends far beyond the limits of the maru dai.  A lovely, dynamic, extensive, and useful website!    Jacqui Carey's website, with information, supplies, and books.  Good source for well-made, inexpensive, modern equipment and reasonably priced traditional equipment.  She also carries a full line of fine Japanese braiding threads (biron and silk).   The kumihimo equipment available from the Mountain Loom Company in Vader, Washington.  Their site presents photos of other types of Japanese braiding equipment as well as maru dai; check out the photo gallery! The custom maru dai (braiding stands) available from Jim Child of Hatchtown Farms.  Jim makes non-traditional braiding stands to order, using exotic woods, hardwoods, and colourful modern materials.

Equipment, instructions, websites - now what??

You now have everything you need to discover the world of kumihimo.
The door is open; come on in!

[This is part II of RuthMacGregor's feature on Kumihimo.  See part I for the basics of this craft.]

(c) 2002 Ruth MacGregor

Uploaded: 2/21/2004