Do your fingers ever get itchy for a new challenge or technique? Chalk it up to my short artistic attention span, but mine definitely do. That’s why I’m so excited to share this information on a form of textile art that you may not have heard of: Kumihimo braiding. In its most basic form, Kumihimo is a great way to make different sizes and styles of braided cords. It works up stunningly for everything from purse handles to pillow edgings to friendship bracelets. But it gets better! While this art form is traditionally done with simple cord, it is perfect for embellishing with beads. It yields gorgeous textural effects, but only requires basic supplies and super simple techniques. Let’s take a closer look at this incredibly versatile art form!
Kumihimo braiding is an ancient Japanese textile art that translates roughly as “gathered cords” or “coming together.” It originally developed from a traditional technique called “finger-loop weaving” (think cat’s-cradle, except you get a braid at the end, instead of an outline of the Eiffel Tower) and evolved into the more complex and versatile system we know today. The braided cord was used historically for many purposes and became especially important in both functional and decorative elements of the samurai warrior culture. Today in Japan, it is still very popular for making obijimes, cords used to tie the sash, or obi, of a kimono.
As a braider’s skill increases, they can graduate to a marudai, a traditional wooden frame in which the disk is supported on long legs. Marudai do not have notches for thread like most foam disks do, making them both more versatile and more challenging to use. They are ideal for making kumihimo braids that are too wide to fit through the narrower center hole of a foam disk. There are several other variations on the frame, including the takadai, which creates wide, flat braids (this is still considered braiding, not weaving), and the kakudai, which is essentially an inverted marudai, with the weight of the bobbins at the bottom and the finished cord coming upward, toward the braider.
Cord or thread is wrapped on bobbins, or tama, both to keep things organized and to provide appropriate tension for a successful braid. While using a basic foam disk, bobbins are usually made of light-weight plastic, like our No Tangle Thread Bobbins, which have a convenient flap to help control your cord. When using a marudai, it is more appropriate to use wooden tama. Their added weight helps to provide the extra tension necessary because the marudai has no notches to secure the cord.
One of the great versatilities of kumihimo is that you can use almost any thread, cord, or ribbon, depending on the results you want. There are just a few things to keep in mind:
1. If you’re braiding with beads, make sure that your braiding cord is small enough to fit through the hole of your beads and that, if necessary, you will be able to find an appropriate stringing needle; cords used to string beads for bead crochet, like Superlon Bead Cord or Micro Cord, can work well for beaded kumihimo.
2. Don’t use materials that stretch; over time the braid will become loose and out of shape.
3. You’ll be handling this material a lot, even before wearing it, so if you have allergies or sensitive skin, don’t choose fibers that will make you uncomfortable and be aware that metallic threads can be abrasive.
Past that, it’s up to you to experiment with different colors, textures and sizes to find what you like.
Don’t forget to check out our Inspiration page for even more great ideas!
If you’re itching to try kumihimo but need a little bit more guidance, rest assured, we’ve got you covered. Learn the basics of creating a simple 8-warp braid, beaded or plain, and how to attach a clasp on our Techniques page.
You can also check out our books: Kumihimo Braiding for Jewelry Designers by Anne Dilker or Braiding With Beads on the Kumihimo Disk by Karen DeSousa for great pointers on technique and gorgeous project ideas. There are lots of different kits available as well, like our Kumihimo Braiding Kit for Beginners, which are perfect for getting started.
So, what do you think? How could you go crazy for kumihimo?
Happy braiding! –Sarah