You might think that, after the Bernina, trying quilling, and some adventures across the pond, that I’d find more novelty in refusing to try out new things than adding another piece of crafting equipment to the mix….
A while ago, for reasons that I’m sure were clear to me at the time, I decided I wanted to have a go at kumihimo aka Japanese braiding. To get me started, I bought one of the BeadSmith kumihimo foam discs, lots of satin rattail, some jewellery fastenings and had a pleasant time making a few bracelets.
It was nice and I had fun but I never felt it really captured me the way other techniques had. I didn’t really try anything other than satin rattail or stranded cotton floss but I never felt compelled to really try. Holding the disc while braiding always felt a little clunky and it felt like I didn’t really have that much creative input on the final braid asides from the colour combinations and picking which pattern to follow.
The last time I was in Kyoto, I had the great pleasure of visiting the kumihimo museum. Like a lot of Kyoto’s crafting gems, it’s hidden away in an unsuspecting building that would be very easy to miss but it is well worth a visit. It’s not huge, but it’s one of those perfect, specialist places, with the rooms packed with braiding equipment old and new. It’s clear this is a place curated with generations of love and expertise. There are really beautiful examples of a variety of kumihimo braids and an awesome book shop, where I finally managed to get an affordable copy of Makiko Tada’s A Treaty on Braids.
It would have been remiss of me not to take the opportunity to stay for one of their classes while I was there and I am very glad I did so. Not just because it is always lovely to sit and create and discuss with someone who is a true master of their art, but because getting to kneel at the marduai completely changed my perception on how kumihimo could be.
Working at a marudai gives the process a liveliness that I find completely absent from the disc. Lifting the threads and feeling the solid weight of bobbins and the way they clack together reminds me of the rhythmic ‘ton’ of the beater while weaving. It becomes not just about moving thread 2 to 14 and so on but about feeling the flow of the piece and watching the pattern slowly grow as you lay colour on colour.
Unfortunately, getting hold of a marudai isn’t always so easy but after seeing one recently at Lacis, Berkeley, a true treasure trove that I’ll be writing about soon, I felt reinspired to go on the hunt again.
I’m a big believer in buying tools that you enjoy using but at the moment, I have no idea how long I’ll be living where I am, so coming across Jacqui Carey’s acrylic marudai, that could be shipped flat and was lightweight, seemed like the ideal compromise.
The marudai is super easy to set up, you just have to be patient waiting for the adhesive to dry and, while I’m definitely a sucker for a good wood finish, the acrylic looks stylish in its own modern way. Jacqui Carey is a kumihimo expert, and author of some awesome books on the subject as well, and it’s clear this has been designed with practicality in mind. The finishing is really nice and, even the really horrible quality satin rat I was using didn’t really catch or snag at all.
Braiding on the marudai reminds me of weaving in not just the wonderful flowing rhythm of it but also with the slightly demanding preparation. Demanding not just in terms of time but also of patience as well.
I didn’t really do a proper warp as you’re supposed to, but I set up my new bobbins with their leader threads, had quite a few problems securing the weight bag and with the knots in general, and got to it.
If I remember correctly, this braid is technically the edo-yatsu pattern but as I used eight different colours (why did I think that was a good idea….) it’s a bit hard to tell in retrospect. I did write it down the then promptly lost the paper I wrote it down on a well, so all in all, not the best start.
I just knotted the ends rather than doing any proper finishing as a quick play on the marduai had made it very clear to me that what I really needed to work on was the set-up and preparation of the warp but I had a lot of fun making this and, while you can see some unevenness in the tension, overall I was pleasantly surprised by what came out. The ridiculous colour scheme is exactly that but does look rather cheerful.
Given what amazing things people can create on kumihimo discs, I think my preference for working on the marduai is a little illogical but for me it is just so much more involving and fun and I can’t wait to get started on the next piece.