Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kumihimo Braiding

I have a hard time with just sitting doing nothing in waiting rooms, in meetings, riding in the car. It seems like my hands should be busy, you know? So I'll bring along a little portable project. Folks are used to seeing knitting or crochet...but I have a tendency to bring my drop spindle, lucet, or kumihimo. Kumihimo is a form of Japanese braiding, and has been my current favorite for a portable project. I get lots of questions on what I'm doing. It looks so complex, but the process itself is so simple. Here...I'll show you the pattern I've been working with recently.

First, you need something to hold the threads as you're working. You can get a braiding stand called a marudai, and real tama (bobbins) for your thread. Or you can make your own cheap and portable substitue. Go get yourself some craft foam from your local craft store. I found some that is thin, but has adhesive already on it. I stuck three layers together, then cut out a circle around 4 1/2" in diameter. I cut 24 half inch slits in the edges, evenly spaced around. Then I punched a hole through the middle. There. Marudai made.

Now, find something to wind your threads around. I use knitting bobbins. You'll also need a weight on your finished cording. I use an old fishing weight, dangling from a paper clip. Measure your threads. This last batch was I think 5 times the distance between the arms of the chair I was sitting on at the time. Wind them on to the bobbins, knot the ends together, and shove the knot through the hole in the middle of the foam. Hang your weight from the knot. Arrange your threads in opposing pairs the way they are in the first picture here. Hold the foam in one hand, and let all your threads dangle below. There! You're ready to braid.

I was taught this particular braiding pattern with the mental reminder, "LEFT UP to me it would be DOWN RIGHT fun". To unpack that a bit: look at the pair of threads that is in the 6 o'clock position in front of you. Take the left most thread, and move it up to left of the pair of threads in the 12 o'clock position on your board. That is the LEFT UP move.

Now, take the right most thread in the 12 o'clock position, and move it down to the right of the thread in the 6 o'clock position. That is the DOWN RIGHT move.

Rotate your work counter clockwise, to bring the next pair of threads into position.

Repeat the sequence. LEFT UP...DOWN RIGHT...ROTATE. Keep repeating.

This pattern gives you a round spiral braid. Experiment with type and color of the thread you use, and the starting position of the colors. The same sequence of moves can give you quite different looking results!

Give it a try sometime! Let me know if you have any questions. There are also some very good books on the subject. I can recommend "Braids" by Rodrick Owen as a good one to start with. Good luck!


  1. That looks very fun. Great project to keep your hands busy.

  2. It is great for occupying spare moments of time.

    I wandered through your shop. You have some amazing images!

  3. wow.. that is so cool, i have never seen that before. thanks for sharing! ;)

  4. I did a kumihimo cord to substitute for an icord drawstring in a knitting project a while back. So much faster and more fun.

    For those who don't what to make their own board, I got an inexpensive foam one, with basic instructions, from Lacis.

  5. Hi Cabin + Cub, hey there Nolly. I got started with the foam boards a few years back, when our local SCA group was producing cording as a mass project. Our Baron wanted to recreate a Elizabethan doublet that called for over 300 yards of green piping. On of our ladies made tons of the foam disks, and handed them out already pre-strung with a yard or so of thread. It was a Tom Sawyer project. You know, when someone says "Hey, what are you doing? That looks interesting." And the response is, "Sure is! You want to try?"

  6. Hi Melissa. Thanks for visiting my blog the other day, it's always great to get comments!
    Living in Japan I have seen this braiding around, but I didn't realise how simple it was. Another thing to have a go at sometime...


  7. Hi Diane...thanks for stopping by!

    Yes, the basics are very simple. There are all sorts of other patterns available, to make simple to very complex braids. One of these times I need to try them in silk, which would be the more traditional material. Have fun with it! I envy you your access to so many neat examples of the craft.

  8. Is there any particular number or spacing of the slots on the disk? Or is it just random?

  9. I'd start with 24 slots on the disk, evenly spaced around the circle. So if you were looking at a clock face, snip a slot at every hour and half hour. As long as they get pretty close, it is good enough.

    I eventually wanted to do some rather complex braids with lots of strands of thread, so I snipped another set of slots in between the first 24. But I hardly ever use them.

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