I consider myself very lucky in life to have plenty of people that I would consider knit/quilt/sew/general-gift-worthy. As well as being generally excellent people, I know they will understand when I give them something with wonky seams, a couple of holes and maybe a forgotten pin, that it is the thought and the kind intentions behind a gift that counts, not necessarily the skill in the execution. However, that doesn’t make the creation of gift items any less intimidating…
I’ve blogged before about my general mixed-feelings with making gifts. I love the idea but it adds a level of stress to the execution because I always want to put together something extra special, and because I’m a sucker for punishment, I’ve normally decided to do something clever and ambitious I’ve never attempted before. (If you haven’t tried this yourself, take my word, it’s not a good idea). Add in some time pressure and you’ve got a recipe for disaster forming.
I’ve been wanting to play with some new materials for some kumihimo and after spending way too many hours eyeing up the beautiful textured braids on the front of my favourite kumihimo books, I finally decided I was bored of waiting to be ‘expert’ enough to use some of the wonderful Biron ‘Imposter’ thread I’d bought from the Carey Company (who are phenomenally helpful and reliable with their customer service) and was just going to get on with it for a special gift. After all, it wasn’t for me right, so I had to use something a little out of the ordinary?
I’m not completely certain what material Biron actually is made from but it’s supposed to be imitation silk. It does a fantastic job of being imitation silk, it’s light, pliable, shiny, the colour range is gorgeous and it’s the kind of stuff you don’t know whether to use or whether to sit playing with for hours. It does pose a few handling issues. The individual threads are very fine and there’s approximately 39 strands for every rope… so as you can imagine there’s a good chaos, knotting and mess potential for every project.
This is one of the materials that are featured in Jacqui Carey’s books and what’s really nice is she does give you some suggestions for how to handle it and work up a warp with the Biron. The pattern I wanted to use was a 16 nejiri kumi from Kawaii Kumihimo. I normally prefer trying to follow patterns from A Treatise on Braids as the guides are super easy to follow with lots of useful hints and it’s easy to see the counterweights, whereas Kawaii Kumihimo is a mixed marudai/disc book, and this particular pattern is design for the disc so needed some minimal interpretation. There are similar patterns in a Treatise on Braids but they needed more tama and I have to admit winding on the warp isn’t my favourite part of the project.
I decided to keep the colours simple (numbers 57, 20, 52) and to the book-suggested pattern, but then I realised I didn’t quite have enough rope to do the full thing. Each rope is about 2.7 m long, and because I can’t read, I wanted to use all 39 strands, making for a luxuriously priced braid. You do lose an impressive amount of length in braiding and I had intended this braid as a drawstring for a bag (which turned out to be a hilariously dumb idea for so many reasons) so wanted a decent length… but there wasn’t much I could do to compromise other than chopping the rope in half.
Getting the warp set up was a little interesting. Lovely though the Biron is, it’s a bit lively and it’s important to keep the ropes smooth and well-aligned. There’s a great Japanese Youtube video of someone setting up their warp with an ingenious tensioning system that I felt I could have used! Keeping a bit of tension while tying threads to the bobbin leader threads definitely helped – so I improvised by weighting down the end of the warp where all the ropes were tied together and sitting about a meter away so I could keep the ropes taught while I tied on. This might not be necessary when you’re less clumsy for me but it did mean everything stayed fairly twist-free and organised.
With the 550 g counterweight in place, carefully calculated as the weight was what I happened to have at hand, I could start braiding. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be doing as much readjustment as the pattern progressed as I was, and I did have to get good at working it backwards a few times to get rid of a few mistakes, but I really started to enjoy this one. The spiral works itself in as you go and well… if I wasn’t in love with the Biron before, I was now.
I mentioned my original intention was to use this braid as a drawstring for a bag… It quickly became apparently that several problems were emerging. Using a full rope of Biron for a 16-tama braid means you end up with something that’s about 2 cm thick and there was no way something this textured was going to work. Thankfully, there was another disaster to fully put this idea to bed.
I had originally picked the braid colours to match what should have been the outer fabric for the bag. The fabric is Laurel Burch Basic Hearts (Y1124-3M) for Clothworks and check out some of Laurel Burch’s other art and design work. I’m not sure anyone should love cats that much, but I don’t object to the riotous colour schemes! I would have liked something contrasting for the inner part but I didn’t really have anything that worked colourwise, so I opted for good ol’ Moda Spraytime.
I had dreams of a nice, round bag with a beautiful braided drawstring. So I cut two circles of the cottons, stuck from H630 interfacing in, and huzzah. What I didn’t think about at all was realistically what dimensions the bag would need to be to accommodate my monster proportion braid or well… function as a bag to hold the gift it was supposed to.
I just ran a quick line of gathering stitches through the top of this for your hilarity dear readers. There’s way too much fabric going on at the top and it’s just so dumpy and squat that it’s pretty much useless for anything and no way was anything going to get it to gather together nicely and make a gift bag that said anything other than ‘I’m incapable of planning projects correctly. Sorry, here’s a whimsical little pot’.
I did have some other concerns. Dissatisfaction with a few stitches aside, the braid was turning out to be very commandeering of attention and probably wasn’t going to tolerate any fabric against it that suggested it wasn’t the most magnificent being in the room. Fortunately I had some black satin left over that I could rapidly turn into something that I could tie the braid around, rather than through, as it was also too short to turn into a double drawstring. (I didn’t even French seam it, am I a bad person?) I think though, this is an idea to stay.
The braided length ended up being about 35 cm, with 11 cm tassels. I wasted quite a lot of rope as I didn’t secure the ends very well when it came to releasing the warp so a few stitches lost tension and I ended up sacrificing them to the tassels.
Moral of the story for this project, keep it simple, stupid. However, if any of you dear readers have any good ideas for ways to use kumihimo braids then please let me know! That or I might have to buy a copy of Jacqui Carey’s Chinese Braid embroidery…