I think a really exceptional workshop is one that not just teaches you a few new skills, but a whole new perspective on the possibilities a craft offers. That’s very much how I felt about the weekend spent with Jacqui Carey, where I finally found the easy way of creating warps (particularly with metallic threads) but also saw a more creative side to kumihimo beyond just copying patterns and playing with colour designs.
I really love working with biron, or synthetic silk, which is made up of huge numbers of individual fine strands. It comes in a range of beautiful colours and looks fantastically rich but is just a bit of a pain to tame and to get all the threads working harmoniously rather than just lumps and bumps. Learning how to create a well-wound on warp was really key in getting a good finished effect on the biron braids (and not being afraid to just unwrap a bobbin and start again when the time called).
Something else I learnt at the workshop though was different ways of starting braids. As you can probably guess from my previous pieces, I am a sucker for ridiculously excessive tassel finishes that serve no purpose other than my own amusement. However, I did want to have a go at a ‘blunt’ start, where you start working not just from the ends of the different ropes but the centre.
The other bad thing I learnt from the workshop is that more bobbins are more possibilities. Most patterns don’t tend to call for more than 32 but what if you wanted to work two 32-bobbin patterns simultaneously? Then you’d need a glorious 64! I was being positively restrained when I opted for just 24 bobbins to play with.
For this braid, as I didn’t want to just do a traditional braid of one pattern, and wanted to work it in sections, I started with getting out my collection of books and notepad and writing some plans and designs. I figured that splitting the braids near the beginning could be a way of creating a point to hang the braid, because it was never going to do anything useful with its life, as well as being a ‘design feature’.
I love spiral designs and I had the rather overambitious idea of, in the split regions, working S and Z twist braid simultaneously. I honestly think this is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It’s hard to work on one braid exclusively, as uneven growth can lead to tensioning problems, but translating patterns to sections of the marudai can be challenging in itself, but the same pattern in two directions over two halves? I needed a lie down after that!
There are a bunch of different patterns in the braid, sankaku gumi, nejiri gumi (S+Z), kongoh 12 and a few other gumi variants, with some sections where I have just taken two bobbins and twisted them together. I enjoyed working 12 different very simple braids and then braiding all the individual braids to create a very freeform mess towards the end. I did have dreams of working a longer section of nejiri gumi and spiralling those together too but you can see a short section where I’ve made a start but gave up part was through because I’d lost track of where I was with the patterns.
There are a lot of mistakes in this braid, you can see a few places where a rogue bobbin has left a little coloured footprint where it shouldn’t be and not all of the tensioning is perfect either. One of the challenges with a ‘sampler’ braid of different patterns if that the transitions aren’t always very smooth. It’s easy to end up with big jumps between colours that can look very loose and lost. Sometimes the randomness is nice, after all it is very easy for braids to look rigid and highly symmetric, but there is a difference between flowing and floppy. I need to think about a few strategies for more neatly weaving in colour changes where I want to do big colour rearrangements for a new pattern to help things look more neat and intentional.
Overall though, I love this braid. I really love this particular metallic thread with the hints of blue and copper and the richness of all the colours. As it is such an unbalanced braid with lots of different sections doing lots of different, independent things, it feels very lively too. It will never hang quite straight and I don’t think it wants to either.
Sometimes when I finish a braid, I’m surprised by how short it is. While the designing and ideas didn’t take so long, it was very slow going through some of the sections as I had to really concentrate and when I got into the flow of a particular pattern, it was time to change to something different. Each pattern has very much its own rhythm and feel to it so this made a significant difference.
The process was very enjoyable as well. Demanding as it was to try and get a new start done properly, keep 24 bobbins in check and orderly and trying to squeeze complex patterns onto a quarter of the marudai, there are some challenges that just feel like good learning experiences. One thing I really want to try going forward is braiding with gimp. I’ve seen some braids done with gimp thread and they look eerily structured and incredible. The other is perhaps trying some much finer braids for couching. The warps would be a pain to prepare, and I would probably want to consider blunt ends at both ends of the braid but I could think of lots of lovely intricate mini-braids to go on embroidery…