Do You Kumihimo?

Apr 12, 2012

Necklace by Giovanna Imperia. Image from Kumihimo Wire Jewelry. Photo by Jack Zilker.


Kumihimo is one of those things that has been on my "got to learn it" list for a very long time now, and the more I learn about it, the more eager I am to try it! Last fall, a friend visiting from Florida showed me a handful of kumihimo ropes that she had made using silk fibers and dazzling crystal beads. Touching those braided ropes and wrapping them around my wrist made me want to know more about kumihimo and learn how to make my own beaded braids.

Photo by Jack Zilker from Kumihimo Wire Jewelry.
Just like beadwork, braiding fibers is something common to many different cultures around the world. Braids have been used for both decorative and functional purposes for centuries, and in Japan, the art of kumihmo braiding has seen a wonderful resurgence in popularity during the last decade. In Japanese, the term kumihimo translates to "coming together (of) threads" and it was originally used for securing armor of the samurai and their horses and for prayer scroll ties. Kumihimo was later adapted to be used as embellishment for Buddhist statues and as a way to fasten the traditional Japanese kimono while adding another artistic element to the garment.

Traditionally, kumihimo has been done on a stand called a maru dai that consists of a large, open circle attached to four legs for stability. The fibers to be braided together are wrapped around wood bobbins, and as the kumihimo braid is created through the center hole (also called the well), it is held in place by a counterweight. There are also larger, more intricate kumihmo stands that resemble floor looms used for weaving, and these create braids that resemble flat pieces of tapestry. Most beaders who do kumihimo use either a stand that resembles a maru dai or a simple foam disk. The foam disks are widely available and more portable than the maru dai.

Like other forms of beadwork and beadweaving, kumihimo has a distinct Zen element to it. Just like beading, it's easy to lose yourself in the soothing, repetitive motions of the braiding as your creation takes form. And just like beading and beadwork, kumihimo takes a pile of threads or fibers and beads and turns them into something unique and beautiful. For artists who create lampwork beads or large beaded beads to be used as focal beads, kumihimo is a way to create a lovely necklace from which to hang these focal beads.

Necklace by Giovanna Imperia. Image from Kumihimo Wire Jewelry. Photo by Jack Zilker.


Kumihmo has come a long way since the days of the samurai, and Kumihmo Wire Jewelry by Giovannia Imperia is the perfect example of what happens when innovative jewelry and fiber artists take ancient techniques and give them a modern twist. This beautiful book draws inspiration and technique from an international panel of artists and includes a comprehensive guide to kumihimo braiding techniques, finishing techniques and twenty cutting-edge kumihimo and wire projects to challenge your skills. Get your copy of Kumihimo Wire Jewelry and see how ancient inspirations mix with modern materials to create classic jewelry.

Have you tried kumihimo yet? What advice would you give someone who wants to get started with kumihimo? Leave a comment here on the blog with your most useful kumihimo tips and techniques!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Kumihimo Wire Jewelry

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Essential techniques + 20 jewelry projects for the Japanese art of braiding by Giovanna Imperia

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Comments

byrdlady49 wrote
on Apr 13, 2012 6:43 AM

I have been doing Kumihimo for almost 2 years now.  Primarily I started making necklaces and bracelets for myself, but I enjoyed weaving so much, I started selling my designs at a small gallery where I display my watercolors.  I use seed beeds (size 6-11) on 8 strands.  My favorite is to use size 6, as they are easier on the eyes and fingers.  Sometimes I weave with several types of cords, yarns, and leave 2 of the strands beaded.  This makes a pretty necklace.  Due to the time element of stringing and then weaving, it is not a profitable craft.  I create more for the love of weaving the cords.  The hardest part of the whole process is finding supplies, especially wide endcaps or cones, larger crimp tubes, and the C-lon cord I use to string the beads.  I usually have 4 looms going at a time.  Happy crafting and thanks for featuring Kumihimo!

Nemish8 wrote
on Apr 13, 2012 8:53 AM

I started kumihimo a few years ago using a marudai.  I made loads of bracelets with seed beads.  I went on to making beads out of polymer clay which needed cords.  So I  began experimenting with threads, string, yarn and fabric on a foam disk.  Ive even recycled men's ties by cutting them into strips.  My advice?  Experiment with different things and you will find what best works for what you need.  My favorite has been using the DMC Effects Lights Floss.  The result is a small cord that looks metallic.  It looks great with small pendants or beads.

RubyH wrote
on Apr 13, 2012 9:46 AM

I have tired it, and it takes hours to make one strand long enough for a necklace. If you have any wrist problems this is not for you. I went out and bought all sorts of cords, etc, just to find out the hard way. Get a small sample kit first.

Randalynn wrote
on Apr 13, 2012 12:23 PM

I have been doing Kumihimo for about two years.  I am self taught.  I use the foam disk and eight strands. I use seed beads on all eight strands and I love the finished look for bracelets. I discovered Kumihimo on a website that I have purchased supplies from called Lytha Beads.  It took me some time to discover the cording I like, the rat tail cording was not for me. I also read a lot of instruction online but I am a visual learner and was able to learn a lot from a youtube tutorial. You kind of have to look around to find the right video for you.   Kumihimo is rewarding and very addicting. If you are interested, you should give this a try.

gloribee123 wrote
on Apr 13, 2012 1:52 PM

So glad to see the Kumihimo article.  I have been doing Kumihimo for about three years now and have even taught some classes.   I have been using my finished braids with my gourd art.  I did several beaded braids and used  them to finish the rim around several gourd bowls I made.  I also cut up some gourd shards and finished them as focal beads and made matching Kumihimo beaded braids to finish them as necklaces.  I usually have several looms going at a time!  I have used all kinds of fibers.  I want to try using a "bead soup" on my next project.  I would like to mix different size and styles of beads on a bracelet braid.  My biggest challenge has been finding bails to work with Kumihimo braids.  I have made my own wire ones.  I did find some slider bails but the tube is not suitable for thicker braids.  I have thought about making some slider bails out of apoxie sculpt air dry clay....so many ideas...so little time!

Any suggestions  would be appreciated

on Apr 13, 2012 3:33 PM

I have been doing Kumihimo for several years to make necklaces and bracelets with beads on 8 strands.  I did not like gluing the ends into caps, so I use large hole tubes or cones and closed rings or twisted wire loops.  I pull the threads at the finished end back through the woven cord using a long "doll" needle by inserting the needle backwards up to the metal tube/cone to avoid damaging the threads.  I use DMC pearl cotton and crochet cotton that I wax before beginning each project.  Weaving around a 1 or 2 mm rattail will give a firmness to the finished cord when size 6 or larger beads are used.  I make many of my own focals with seed beads and crystals.  Seeded bails (peyote) can then be custom fit to the Kumi cord.  Since the projects are so stable on the loom, I often take them in the car (husband drives, wife Kumies)

Mags B wrote
on Apr 14, 2012 8:58 AM

I have been doing Kumihimo for several years now. I was looking for something to compliment my polymer focal pieces and love how I can customize the braids to work with each piece.

While Giovanna's book is gorgeous, it is pretty advanced. But great inspiration especially if you substitute fiber for wire.  I have a number of books, but the best for a beginner would be the complete guide by Kathy James. It includes all the basics and lots of pictures to get an idea of how to mix and match yarns and beads. She runs the website Primitive Originals and carries a large assortment of Kumihimo supplies. She also has kits available that would be great for beginners. www.primitiveoriginals.com.

My best advice would be just to experiment with lots of different combinations of yarns, fibers, and beads to see what you like. I also find it quite meditative and easy to do in front of the TV or while a passenger in the car. You can see some of my work on my Facebook site: www.facebook.com/.../set

DebWAZ wrote
on Apr 14, 2012 8:24 PM

There are almost as many versions of Kumihimo as there are stars in the sky. Changing the number of strands and the positions of the braid gives a completely different look. When we started teaching Kumihimo 6 years ago, I did some research and found a centuries old machine that did the braiding of over 100 strands of cord!

In our Kumihimo classes, the design uses 8 strands of beads with a square, wooden, maru dai with 4 slots to a side. We usually use "bead soup" for our bead strands, but some spectacular results have been achieved with solid colored strands, as well. You don't have to use seed beads, Chunky beads and crystals give an interesting texture to the braid.

Instead of gluing the braid inside a cone or bead cap, try our method. We string beads on 4 strands of Fireline, then find the center, scoot beads away from the center, put them together and hold them with a wrapped loop on that center point - making 8 strands for the braid. (We usually use 20 or 22 ga wire for the wrapped loop.) The wire on the other end of the loop goes through the cone and another wrapped loop is made on the outside of the cone, attaching the ring part of a toggle. We put this through the "well" and attach a weight to the toggle. When the braid is the desired length, we remove the extra beads from each thread and tie the threads together with a surgeon's knot in pairs, then tie pairs of pairs, until there's only one bundle of threads. Then we glue the pile of knots with Hypo Cement. After the glue sets (about 10-15 mins), we make a wrapped loop, but before closing it, we "hook" it through the bottom of the knots. Then we finish wrapping the loop, insert the wire through the cone, make another wrapped loop attaching the other part of the toggle! It makes a nicely finished end and no mess with gluing the ends in a cone. (I'd worry that the ends would come out of the cone.)

Hope this helps solve the "how do I end it" dilemma!

handley wrote
on Apr 20, 2012 1:04 PM

I took a kumihimo class a couple of months ago.  I had to go back to my teacher twice because I keep messing up, now however I am having a blast with it.  I have taught my sister and neices.  I have also been experimenting with some different threads, ribbons & silk cords.  I have seen a square kuhimino board and would like to learn, just curious how it works in comparison to the round?

Jking173 wrote
on Jun 11, 2013 11:35 AM

I've been doing Kumihimo for a few months. Its an easy technique to learn (learned by watching videos on YouTube). I can make a beaded bracelet in about an hour, and a regular corded necklace in about the same amount of time. I can do both flat and round braids. It is difficult to find end caps in the bead and craft stores, but they are plentiful on the web, Beadaholique.com sells end caps in different sizes, rattail cord and braiding plates and disks.  My only issue is finding an adhesive to hold the end caps on. I made a bracelet and when my daughter wore it, the end cap came off.