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Thursday, November 17, 2011

I have had a number of people ask me about the kumihimo (complex Japanese braids) that I make, so I thought I would attempt to write a photo blog and show you as it's easier to show than to explain.

Since I'm a history buff, a bit of history...Complex braiding has existed in Japan for literally over a thousand years and over time has been used for just about every purpose imaginable... for tying clothing shut, for tying up hair, for hanging scrolls, as part of good luck charms, for door pulls, for wrapping sword hilts, for belts, for ornamental trim for clothing or cushions, for tying containers for tea for the tea ceremony, for meditation and placement in sacred Buddhas, and most recently as the narrow belt tied over the top of the obi. While the braids were probably originally made through finger manipulation, relatively early on various stands/looms (called "dai") were developed to facilitate the braiding. The earliest braiding stand was called the karakumidai (essentially "Chinese braiding stand" as that particular style braid was borrowed originally from the Chinese somewhere around 600-700 AD, possibly earlier, but was in the Heian period turned into a uniquely Japanese art form). Later braiding stands--the ayatakadai (13th-14th Century), the takadai (16th century), the kakudai (unknown origin) and eventually the best known and most popular stand, the marudai (possibly late 16th century or 17th century) allowed for faster braiding and more complicated braiding techniques.

Traditionally, kumihimo is made out of silk--stranded silk, to be precise. Silk, however, is very expensive, so I've mostly worked in cotton or synthetics. Some day I would like to braid silk.

This was braided as a practice for Golden Seamstress to see if I could braid a 70 inches (I believe) braid in 22 hours (the final version, by the way, which is with the rest of the outfit we made so I no longer have it, was made in 12 hours).

It was worked on a murudai (if you aren't familiar with the marudai, there's some information here:
). It was intended to be ornamental trim for the a late Heian (11th century) Mo, which is a garment that resembles a apron worn backward, like a train--only beautifully decorated, often with embroidery, silk painting, or stamps (ours was silk painted with sakura---cherry blossom--flowers). The tie of the Mo trailed quite a bit on the ground--so this braid had to be really long. This was an 8 strand braid, made out of DMC cotton embroidery floss.

This braid isn't quite finished (I still need to tassel one end) but it is intended to be used to help me put on Heian robes--a tie like this is used so that the ladies helping a woman get dressed can make sure each layer (of many--Heian ladies at court could wear up to 44 layers! There is a reason we made a late period Heian outfit for Golden Seamstress--the sumptuary laws changed to restrict the number of layers) lay correctly. Each layer had to lay just so (in the Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, for example, she criticizes another lady for her sloppy layers.) I call the pattern Sakura, because the little pink flowers remind me of Cherry blossoms. This is a 16 strand braid, made out of DMC. It was made on a foam disk rather than a marudai. I prefer the marudai, because it's both faster and more relaxing, but it's not as portable. If I could figure out how to transport it without my ends getting all mixed up, I am not sure I'd continue to use the foam disk. Though I can braid with it in the car, and I can't with the marudai.

This is where I take a trip toward the truly insane, LOL. The following braids are all done on the karakumidai. (for a picture of a karakumidai :

It's a very different braiding technique but very addictive. This was my first attempt, in my SCA household's colors. It took 24 bobbins and is about 1/2 inch wide and over 6 yards long.

This was my second attempt, intended to compliment the colors in the Under the Snow color scheme (The layers the Heian ladies wore were layers of color--very precise and complicated color schemes.) This particular one is layers of white, pink ranging from the palest blush of pink to an intense pink, and the stiff under robe a beautiful peacock green, and was intended to represent the cherry blossoms under the snow. It was a color scheme worn in the spring. --it has the pinks and white but not the green, as it was intended to accent/compliment it. While I chose the colors (admitedly from a period color pallet) the design itself is copied from replicas of actual period braids, but done on the marudai. I translated the pattern back to the karakumidai and this is what I came up with. It also took 24 bobbins and is over 6 yards long.

The karakumidai was particularly used for belts for men at court--particularly the highest ranking members of court. The Emperor and his immediate family could wear belts that were 6-10 inches wide. My karakumidai can't handle anything that wide, but I did start experimenting with wider designs with this 48 strand, 8 foot long belt done in the Murasaki (purples) color scheme. This belt isn't finished yet as I haven't decided yet how I want to finish the ends.

And now for my current braiding project.....

This is a 4 hishi (diamond) belt that has 96 bobbins and will eventually be 8 feet long, plus tassels. It is made out of DMC satin (which I don't really recommend; it's a pain to work with because it's so slippery)

I don't currently have a marudai or foam disk project in progress as I just took the sakura braid off and haven't decided yet what I want to replace it with. I'm tempted to use some odds and ends I have left of the satin and see if I can make myself an argyle braid (8 strand). Just because it would entertain me.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Oh Zanna, this is a history lesson, an art lesson and a WOW (yeppers all caps) all at once. I had never seen this blog and I am so happy to have seen it now. Absolutely fascinating and gorgeous. Beautiful!
    2923 days ago
  • KIKA07DK
    Wow!!! You sure are TALENTED!!! Your braids are really beautiful!
    2924 days ago
    Zanna! How cool are those! I was reading your post in the chat thread and just had to follow the link! My Grandma is Japanese, I wonder is she would recognize any of these? I might have to order one for her. She is 80! Beautiful work, just simply amazing!
    2924 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13367794
    Thank you for linking to this blog post, Zanna! What an interesting and beautiful craft. It's dangerous for me to even begin to think this, though. I am a craft starter who has a closet full of various partially-completed projects. I somehow never can finish any that I start - crocheting, needlepoint, cross-stitch. You name it, I've started it. And never finished it! emoticon
    2924 days ago
  • TEKRU1
    These are absolutely beautiful! Thanks for providing the background info along with the pics.
    3134 days ago
    Zanna, so beautiful and interesting! I love your use of Japanese language sprinkled throughout the blog. SUBARASHII!!
    3135 days ago
  • EILEEN828
    Zanna What beautiful work you do. The loom is fascinating where did you find such a thing? Iliked all the patterns,especially the one with the pink flowers.I love to hear the history as well. Thanks for sharing.
    3336 days ago
  • 4CYNDI
    Soooo talented! I love the pics. I know how addictive braiding can be. I just found my set of Kumihimo foam, weight and strands. Now to get busy. It's something I can take on the trip. Thanks so much for sharing!
    3342 days ago
    They are very beautiful!!!
    3348 days ago
    Gorgeous! I especially like the one you called the sakura, with the little pink flowers.
    3349 days ago
    VERY cool!!
    3349 days ago
    WOW! very cool. you are good. looks like you have very talented fingers, keep using them so you don't lose it!
    3349 days ago
    This is fascinating, Zanna! I've often wondered about this when you've mentioned it, and now I understand why you enjoy it so much. You are extremely talented!
    3350 days ago
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