Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Really Like Kumihimo

Kumihimo is a technique of braiding derived from an ancient Japanese art used to produce cords for samurai swords and clothing fasteners.

Modern beading kumihimo is done with a foam disk instead of the wooden tool used in traditional braiding, and can either be done with pre-strung strands of beads, or by adding a bead to each passage of the braid. This second type is what I do, mostly.

I discovered kumihimo during a trip to Florida early last year. A visit to a combination bead shop/book store in St. Petersburg netted some good strands, including a nice set of unique, large and high-quality lapis I fully intend to use in a special piece. The lady who ran the Sparkle-Spot was very nice, though much of her shop wasn't as accessible as I would have liked. She ran and fetched for me and spent a lot of time. It was a slow time for her and so I got a lot of attention and spent a bunch of money.

Almost as we were leaving (we thought we were done) I admired a braided cord on one of her finished pieces and she told me it was kumihimo. I'd never heard of it, so she got out the disk and showed me how it was done. It was another way to use seed beads, which I hadn't explored much at that time, having mostly been stringing larger semi-precious and stone beads.

So we added a disk and some bobbins to my total, and I went off to follow the pictures, as the instructions were in Japanese! There is much more information on the 'net now about Kumihimo than there was a year ago. 

My first few braids were amateurish, of course. I fumbled with getting the beads to align properly, I missed whole circuits of beads, and proper tension escaped me.  I learned about the relationship of the size of cord used to the flexibility and drape of the braid, and how one should relate size of bead to size of cord. I also learned how starting position of each color affects the pattern that emerges as the braid grows.  There's also some learning in how much to string on each cord in order to produce a certain finished length, and that yes, you do actually need to have 3 times the finished length in cord, maybe more for bracelets and such, even though it wastes a lot of stringing material. Otherwise the cord just slips off the bobbin and there you are picking up spilled beads everywhere. Not that this has ever happened to me, oh no! 

I also learned that it wasn't a crime to go back later and sew in where I'd missed beads in the pattern. It's easy and it doesn't show. 

Now I really like having a kumihimo project going even when I don't know exactly what I'm going to use it for when I start. I set up the disk, and then leave by the sofa where I usually watch TV. I can watch and braid at the same time now, and keep the tension right. My last braid, a lovely dark ruby color dotted with heavy metal gold in size 11 seed beads, ended up without missing a single bead.  That's a first, I think.  I'm now contemplating using it as the base for a golden netting to surround some faceted ruby drops I got in Mendocino. 

If you're in St. Petersburg, Florida, definitely visit the Sparkle Spot. I never even got to the bookstore part, but that was intriguing too. Since I was there, I've ordered some Lacy's Stiff Stuff through her online store, because she has the best prices on it I found anywhere on the net. She has a lot of nice gemstones and sells Fireline in colors!  She also has a full range of S-Lon used for kumihimo or micro-macrame.

Ooo. Micro-macrame. Something else I want to try, soon!

So many projects, so little time.

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