Kumihimo is a popular craft for jewelry makers and fiber enthusiasts. It’s easy to learn, and modern tools make the projects portable for busy people! So how did this contemporary craze get its start? Learn all about what is kumihimo.
Kumihimo is Japanese for “gathered threads”, and is an ancient Japanese form of braid-making. You interlace strands of cords and ribbons in a certain order, then you have a strong, decorative braided rope.
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There are hundreds of different Kumihimo braid patterns, using different numbers of strands from 4 to 100 or more. When you add different braiding patterns to the mix, you can produce braids with different structures. Some patterns have more than 400 steps, so braiders must be careful to correct errors as they go. If you do not notice until step 76, for example, that you made a mistake at step 35, then you have to take care to fix it. Backing out is a challenge – but it is also a great learning experience.
However, you can make beautiful braids with a much simpler technique. The most common braiding pattern for beginners to learn is a simple 8-thread rotating stitch with two steps and a turn. This produces a round braid, but you can achieve different patterns depending on how you arrange the strands at the beginning.
How Did The Kumihimo Contemporary Craze Get Its Start?
Kumihimo is an ancient craft, dating as far back as the 6th century – some say even earlier. Family members and guilds passed on complex patterns and techniques verbally to keep them secret, a tradition some Kumihimo schools still practice today.
The first Kumihimo artists made cords entirely by hand, using a form of finger-loop braiding. Later, traditional Kumihimo artists created braid on a round wooden stand (marudai, which means “round stand”) or a square wooden frame (takadai, which looks more like a weaving loom and produces flat braids). The threads, which traditionally were bundles of fine silk threads, were wound around bobbins called tama, and were weighted to provide tension on the threads during braiding.
Today’s traditional Kumihimo artists still use these tools because they produce beautiful braids with skilled hands.
As Buddhism became the dominant religion in Japan, a vast market for braiders opened up. Artisans made exceptionally beautiful cords of varying sizes to adorn temple interiors, and the practice has strict rules. While monks did the braiding, it became a form of meditation. Today’s Kumihimo artists say that the simple repetition of the craft is as meditative now as it was then.
What is Kumihimo used for?
Ancient samurai warriors decorated their armor and sometimes held it together using Kumihimo cords. Kumihimo wrapped sword handles for a better grip and made halters and armor for horses. A wide variety of designs and widths added interesting details and textures to the braids, making them beautiful as well as practical..
In contemporary Japan, Kumihimo cords function as ties on haori jackets and obijimes. They tie on an obi (kimono sash) to hold it in place.
Garment closures and hair ornaments also make creative use of contemporary Kumihimo designs.
Today, Kumihimo is used to make jewelry, like beaded Kumihimo bracelets and necklaces and braids to embellish garments and fiber arts.
Is Kumihimo a weaving?
Yes! Kumihimo is a type of weaving using a braided technique. Depending on the loom, the resulting braid can be round or flat. Round braids are the most common as well as the easiest to learn.
What is Kumihimo Beading?
Beaded Kumihimo makes beautiful bracelets and necklaces. Read how full step-by-step tutorial on how to Kumihimo with beads on Create Whimsy to learn this addicting craft.
How did Kumihimo become so accessible for the modern crafter?
The modern firm, yet flexible, round Kumihimo foam disk has made it accessible for everyone. The disk is inexpensive, portable and much easier to use than the traditional marudai. It immediately became very popular with crafters around the world, who quickly found contemporary uses for the braid. You can find them (along with classes to get you started) at many local yarn and bead shops. Check with your favorite shop! Square foam plates are available for weaving flat braids. Plastic bobbins keep the fibers under control while you braid. Without bobbins, the weaving strands can become a tangled mess!
Modern Kumihimo weavers do not feel constrained to use traditional fibers for their braids, so they explore a wider and eclectic selection of materials. They include various yarns, imitation silks, rayon cords, ribbons, embroidery threads, Chinese knotting cord, satin “rattail”, wire, beading thread and other assorted cords and fibers to make their own variations on Kumihimo braids.
Plain braids are just the beginning. You can embellish your braid with beads, charms, slides and decorative clasps. Placement of the colors on the loom and choosing different thicknesses for certain strands give Kumi braiders many choices for their designs.
Kumihimo braids made with a variety of fibers (even chain!) in different patterns:
These bracelets were all woven with the identical 8-warp weave, but they all look very different. The placement of colors when setting up the disk for braiding makes the difference!
With one simple but clever invention, the braids which secured armor and adorned ancient temples found their way to the necks and wrists of 21st century men and women.
To bead them or not to bead? That is the question. The only correct answer is the one that makes you happy!