Robin Stroot Japanese craft makes wide variety of items

Kumihimo — literally meaning braided cord — is a Japanese technique that has been around for centuries, possibly dating back as far as 6,500 B.C. The popularity soared during the Middle Ages.

The art of kumihimo can be made using very intricate patterns. More intricate patterns use more cords/strands and can include adding beaded accents to the project. The cords were used for many purposes; historically, as a cord by samurai to lace their armor and their horse’s armor, which might require more than 1,000 feet of braided cord. Special braids also are used in Japan for religious ceremonies and ornamentation on many different items. Kumihimo cords are used to make different types of things including bracelets, keychains, jewelry, friendship bracelets and decorative accents and clasps on clothing and home décor items.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a class and make a kumihimo cord necklace and bracelet. I had done this technique several years ago and just needed to refresh my skill to make my craft project.

The technique involves using a round disk that has 32 slots around its perimeter. You can make your own using a piece of cardboard but keeping tension even on the cord is much harder than using the foam disk. The disk allows the crafter to make a very intricate braid with up to 32 different colors while a traditional marudai (which means “round stand”) allows the crafter to use any size (thickness) and amount of cord for the project. The marudai is a small drum-like shape that has a hole in the center that rests on the floor or table. The marudai can make flat, square, four-sided or hollow braids because there are no numbered slots cut into the round edge of the marudai — meaning there are no numbered lines where the cord is to be placed for making the braid. The braided cord is done freehand and requires a lot of skill on the part of the crafter. Weights are often hung from the bottom of the cord to help maintain a constant tension on the braided cord. Cord bobbins are often used for making longer braided cords. I saw one braid pattern that had more than 48 strands of cord and used more than 130 intricate cord placements/movements before the braid pattern was repeated.

Cord, plastic lace, yarn — any string-type material can be used to make braided cords. Most people start with the basic spiral-style braid. For my project, I used four different colors: green, black, gold and white. I cut the cords three times the length of the desired necklace length and tied an overhand knot on the cord. It’s better to have a little too much cord than to run out before your project is completed. The knot part is placed into the center hole of my kumihimo loom. It helps to have a little bit of weight on the end of a knot so my instructor placed a small binder clip on the end of my cord. Some people use small weights or empty wood spools clipped to the end of the braid to help keep slight tension as you work on the braided cord.

More on the Kumihimo braiding technique next week.

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