Kumihimo (ku-me-he-mo) is an ancient Japanese braiding technique. It is believed to date back to the Nara Period of Japanese history (645-784 CE). At this time the braids were used primarily as fasteners for clothing.
As Buddhism became the dominant religion during Japan’s Heian Period (784-1184 CE), braids of various sizes and thicknesses were used in temple interiors and the art of creating beautiful braids was used as a form of meditation.
As time went on, a warrior class called the Samurai became highly influential and, consequently, the demand for armour increased. Samurai armour contains many lacquered iron plates, which are joined by braided ribbons. One suit of armor required approximately 250-300 meters (273-328 yards) of braid. Additionally Kumihimo braids were used for binding on swords, horse armour and horse harnesses. The time of the Samurai also saw the rise of the tea ceremony which requires elegant kumihimo for the storage containers. The elaborate knotting of Kumihimo braids was also a way to prevent the tea from being poisoned, since the knotting was difficult to re-create once it was disturbed.
Kumihimo returned to its roots as a clothing fastener with a change in kimono style. The introduction of a very wide obi (sash) required a narrow cord to hold it in place. The braided obijime was created for this purpose. The style is still worn in Japan today when wearing a kimono is appropriate.
Kumihimo braids are traditionally made on a Marudai stand which can produce braids that arethe round, square, or flat. While being worked, the finished braid is pulled downward by a counterweight while the threads are weighted by wooden bobbins called kata.
Kumihimo was introduced to the Western world in the 20th century. Using foam discs and light weight plastic bobbins made Kumihimo portable and easy to do. By putting the fiber for the braid into the grooves cut in the foam, the need to use weighted bobbins is eliminated. Now a weight is only needed on the braid itself. Moving the fibers back and forth across the disc creates the braid and the way the fibers are set up around the disc creates the pattern the braid will have. Any type of fiber can be used on the Kumihimo disc. We have created braids using plastic, yarn, metal, leather, and various types of string.
Not only can the braid pattern be formed by coloured strings, it can also be changed by using beads in the braid itself. By incorporating beads on one or more of the strands of the braid, a the braid can have a completely different look.
We're just a couple of bead chicks who found fiber and came over to the dark side. It's OK though, we brought cookies :)
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