It is always exciting to page through a new book on kumihimo, scanning the photos for new inspiration for color combinations and braid structures. When one of the members of the Yahoo! Kumi2 Group found a photo of a braid with its initial color set-up and asked how to create it, another member of the group pointed out that the photo was from a book entitled A Step to Kimono and Kumihimo that was published to accompany an exhibition in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, edited by the Kyoto Kimono Gakuin (translated by Yakiko Shima). I was very interested in seeing the book, and after a bit of searching on the Internet, I was able to locate a copy to purchase for my kumihimo reference library.
The book begins with a brief history of Japanese clothing, then continues with many photos of how to wear the kimono, and ends with articles on the history of kumihimo and instructions for creating an assortment of braids. This last section was particularly interesting to me, and I was immediately attracted to a lovely flat braid that was used as a belt. Unlike the other instructions, the photos of the belt appeared (on page 110) without any diagrams for creating the flat braid. The initial color set-up photo showed sixteen elements, four each of four different colors. It was obvious that at the ends of the belt, the colors were isolated and a section of the four-strand yotsu gumi was worked with each set of four strands. When I read the book more carefully later, I discovered that the method for braiding the belt structure was actually illustrated in photographs on pages 88 through 91. I read and re-read the captions for the photographs but did not fully understand the structure until I drew out the diagrams for myself.
The flat structure is actually an expansion of the most basic of all kumihimo structures: the four-strand yotsu gumi. The four-strand braid is deceptively simple. The four elements are placed at each of the cardinal points around the maru dai, the North/South tama are exchanged counterclockwise, then the West/East tama are exchanged clockwise, creating a delicate chain braid. Perhaps the simplicity of the braid is what makes it one of the most difficult to execute well.
The basic yotsu gumi can be expanded to eight elements by working two yotsu gumi braids next to each other, repeating moves 1 through 4 below for a given number of repetitions, then using moves 5 and 6 below to join the two chains before continuing the chain by resuming the 1 through 4 sequence.
The structure can be expanded again by adding sets of four tama and working the yotsu gumi next to one another as in the chart here for sixteen tama. Repeating moves 1 through 8 allows us to create the braided fringe at the beginning and/or end of a braid.
To link the four yotsu gumi strands, the outer two tama from the sets of four at each side are left out of the sequence (move 9), and the yotsu exchange is made with the remaining sets of four. After moves 10 through 15 are completed, the tama set aside in move 9 are returned to their former positions and moves 1 through 8 are repeated again for the desired number of sequences before the link is worked again.
It was quite a “Why didn’t I see that before?” moment for me when I realized that the beautiful flat braid in the belt was created simply by repeating moves 1 through 16 without working the discrete segments of yotsu gumi in between! I discovered through trial and error that the braid looked more even with less counterweight. I settled on 50% of the total tama weight, using 16 ounces (453g) in the counterweight bag. I used four packages of the silk substitute Imposter from Braidershand, in colors #13 Pink Ivory, #32 Flaxen, #48 Silvery Sage and #53 Pale Sky. It is advisable to braid at least several centimeters more of the individual yotsu gumi strands for the fringe than you intend to use in the finished product, because the structure unravels very easily and often the lengths must be shortened to remain even. Although it can seem easier to braid if the tama are spread apart around the mirror, but that can create problems with uneven tension on the outer sets of four. It takes more concentration to keep the tama closer together at the North and South faces of the mirror, but the tension will be more consistent.
This Week In My Workroom
Sometimes I work on specific projects, other times I'm just experimenting, but I am
Here's what's going on this week.
Artist’s StatementI enjoy kumihimo precisely because it is not a mindless activity – it demands my focus and attention, engaging the problem-solving part of my brain. Whether the structure is one that I am braiding for the first time or a familiar one, I am required to concentrate on the way the threads work together to form that particular braid. It forces me to pay close attention to the process instead of hurrying or looking ahead. The individual moves lead one to another predictably, and the structure, once understood, tells me what should come next. This peaceful, rhythmic flow added to the pleasure of the color interactions and handling the silk is the joy of kumihimo for me.