16 Oct

Learning The Art of Kumihimo

I am so grateful Vancouver has Maiwa and their school of textiles because they manage to bring to town so many interesting and skilled artists from all over the world to do talks, teach workshops, and share their work. When I looked through their latest brochure earlier this year I knew I wanted to take a workshop, but it was a toss up between embroidery and learning something totally different. I went with a two day workshop on kumihimo with master artist Makiko Tada, simply because her work seemed so compelling.

Kumihimo is a braiding technique traditionally used as functional and decorative ties for samurai armour and swords, and in current day are used for tying obi and haori jackets. My hands-on experience in the workshop demonstrated to me that kumihimo is essentially small scale weaving, and can get incredibly complicated.

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Some participants came to the workshop with their own marudai, which is a wooden stand, but everyone was given a foam disk marked with notches and numbers to work with. This was more my speed since I am not a weaver and many in the class were. Our first project was to work with four strands of yarn in two different colours to create the most basic of braids.

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Our next project took things up a few levels as we worked with twenty-four strands of silk thread, divided into sections of three per notch and long enough to wind up into bobbins. That’s when things got really complicated as we quickly went through four different kumihimo patterns to try and master by the end of day one. Some I was able to get my head around and others were totally confusing. It’s hard to explain but you use both hands to braid and they  move around the disk in specific movements, usually in the opposite direction. My brain was totally exhausted by the end of day one, but I came back for more in day two.

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Makiko also brought in many samples of a variety of different braids done in different fibres, and vibrant colours. It was inspiring.

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Work by Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Work by Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Work by Makiko Tada

I completed three braids by end of day two that I am happy with, which are pictured below. I decided to stick with the simpler patterns and really get a handle on the technique because there was no way I was going to get my head around the five different designs we were shown. We were given beautiful supplies to take home for further work, along with two different disks to work with.

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

Kumihimo workshop with Makiko Tada

I’m glad I took this workshop because it was super challenging and different from most of the textile work I’ve learned so far. I’m not sure what I am going to do with this going forward but I definitely need more practice.

© Rachael Ashe