Friday, April 29, 2011

I Think I'm Turning Japanese...

When I get the rare chance to meet a person who is a master of their craft, it can propel my own creativity in unexpected directions. 

Early this month, while teaching at a TAFTA (The Australian Forum for Textile Arts) event in Orange, NSW I met Makiko Tada, one of the world's leading practitioners of the ancient Japanese craft known as Kumihimo - literally, "gathering of threads", or braiding. Some of its many uses over the centuries have been for samurai armor and kimono accessories. But Tada has taken the traditiional techniques, passed down from her mother, and created wildly experimental kumihimo. Her engineering background enabled her to design a machine for making an incredibly strong braid. When covered in carbon fiber the braid won't fatigue like metal, so in some situations will outlast metal components! The video showing this machine in operation has got to be seen to be believed - it's completely mesmerising and I could watch it on a loop all day:

But I digress. 

Back in Orange, Makiko tossed me one of the small round high-density foam disks she has developed as a modern portable 'marudai' for making kumihimo, and after some quick instruction, I was seriously - no, seriously - hooked.

Below are some images of my early experiments with this technique. It's a steep slope to become competent at it, but I have been logging many hours at the little disks and plates, braiding away, learning as I go. They'll surely work their way into my jewelry in the coming months.

Here is Makiko's disk design. I cut several of my own to have more pieces to practice with (she has deliberately not trademarked the design, preferring that it be freely used to spread the good word of kumihimo).

A tiny braid of perle cotton, attached to a 150 year old pocket watch key part.

 Another tiny braid in progress.

 The square plate is used primarily for making flat braids.

Slow, magic, satisfying work.

Trying a flat braid on the round disk - using waxed linen this time, as an experiment.

Now to see some REAL kumihimo, check out Makiko Tada's blog:

Next week, I'll take you back, at long last, into the studio to see another new interest taking form.




  1. Good to see you exploring something soft like fiber! Next step - try adding beads. You can add full strands of seed beads or add them in a pattern.

    Looking forward to seeing where this takes you!

  2. More "Disciplined Studies", eh? Your braids look fantastic, I found my wheel and 1st braid a couple of days ago and it was definitely of the freeform variety! Can't wait to see your final results!

  3. I can see that this could easily become addictive. I've watched several videos, now I'm going to visit Makiko's blog.

  4. Your braids are great! I especially like the flat one. What a great opportunity to meet Makiko Tada!

    There's a new book out called Kumihimo Wire Jewelry: Essential Techniques + 20 Jewelry Projects for the Japanese Art of Braiding by Giovanna Imperia. You might be interested in it. I find the designs done with wire on the square plates very intriguing. By turning the plate at right angles during the weaving sculptural forms can be made.

  5. If you want a cheap floor marudai all you need is a 4-legged bar stool with a hole cut in the middle - easier on your back and lets you develop some good musical rhythms - I remember the music you like to work to.