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Working with Japanese Kumihimo Threads

Before tying the threads to a tama or using them with a disk or plate they must be made smooth and orderly. You may notice that they don't lie perfectly parallel to each other; smoothing the threads makes them lie parallel.

  • Keep the sections under tension as you work.
  • Michael Hattori has made an excellent videos on working with braiding on the marudai. 

         Preparing kumihimo threads.

         Tying the threads to the tama.

          How to move the tama when braiding.

  • To separate threads work with good light. Separate them after they have been smoothed by pulling them laterally from each other as you would with embroidery floss. If you pull them along their length you run a big risk of tangles. Should the thread start to tangle, stop and gently pull the threads back along the length of the section to the end. Do some more smoothing and try again. If they continue to tangle then pull one thread at a time (this is where the good light comes in). It isn't hard just take your time. This task is best taken on when pets are out of the room and you are not wearing shoes that could catch the threads.
  • If you choose to cut the threads in half after you have smoothed them out, tie a knot in both ends before you cut.

Record Sheets

Sampling is also a good idea, as is keeping notes even if you don't intend to make a braid over again. You probably will use the thread again or something similar and if you have notes you won't have to start at the beginning each time.

Here are suggestions for note keeping:

  • Date:
  • Type of Braid and Purpose
  • Number of Tama and Tama Weight
  • Counterweight
  • Type of Threads and Source
  • Original Warp Length and Finished Braid Length
  • Number of threads per tama
  • Braid Movements - could drawings or a reference to a published pattern.
  • Color Placement
  • General notes on the braid, what it was made for, how you finished it...

Planning a Braiding Warp

Plan for more braid that you think you will need. Braids typically take-up half of the length of the threads (called the warp) that you start with. Thicker threads and yarn will take up more and finer threads less; threads with beads and threads that are idle part of the time will also take-up more.

If one rope of silk (four sections, 42 threads each, total 168) is cut in half to make eight sections there is enough for a necklace that will be approximately 25” long. To determine how your desired thread or yarn will look as a braid, twist it together firmly to see how the colors go with each other and approximately what size the resulting braid will be.

Adjusting the Counterweight of a Braid

To understand how the counterweight affects the braid prepare a warp to make a 20 inch braid in your favorite structure. First, use as much counterweight (see note keeping suggestions below) as you can and still keep everything balanced. Braid at least 10 inches and you will see that you have a very supple braid with long floats. Now take out as much counterweight as you can and braid another 10 inches. This braid will be stiff with short floats. The point of this exercise is to see how much you can influence your braid with the relationship of the counter weight to the weight of the tama.

Fishing weights make good counterweight. Rodrick Owen suggests having the following weights on hand. 3- 8oz; 3-4oz; 2-2oz; 3-1oz. Remember that your braids aren't finished until they are steamed over a tea kettle. Use a chopstick to hold the braid over the steam so that you don't burn your hands.



The photo above shows two kongoh (spiral braid) braids both made with sixteen 100 gram tama. The line on the left is actually one end of kumihimo silk, the braid next to it is made using two ends of silk per tama and the thinner braid on the right has one end of silk per tama. In this case I used very little counterweight as I wanted a stiff braid and that is exactly what I got. I was quite surprised to see that the 100 gram tama would not be too heavy for one end of kumihimo silk, but then silk is very strong. This sample further illustrates the relationship of counter weight to tama weight; I could braid a large number of braids of different degrees of stiffness and size with the 100 gram tama.

Instructions for a Cotton Drawstring

Perle cotton is an embroidery thread that most people seem to be familiar with and weavers are familiar with mercerized cotton. Both will make a good drawstring for your counter weight bag. A round cotton braid grips very well when you attach the bag and it wears well too.  

The easiest way to determine just how many ends to use for a braid is to take the thread that you are considering and double it back on itself until you get enough ends to twist firmly together. The resulting twisted cord will be about the size of your braid. Count the number of ends and divide by the number of tama that you are going to use. For instance - if you are going to use 16 tama and you have 32 ends then you will put 2 ends on each tama. If you were using 8 tama then you would put 4 ends on each. 

Prepare a warp for 8 or 16 tama that is at least 34" (83cm) long, your finished braid will be about 17" (43cm) long. Use enough ends so that the braid is approximately 1/8" (3mm) to 3/16" (5mm). in diameter. Use about 50% counterweight and make a supple spiral (kongoh gumi) braid.

Sageo tips from Makiko Tada

  • You can use any braids for Sageo.
  • Most people like to use flat braids.
  • Here are several braids that are good for Sageo and that can be made on the marudai, they can be found in Makiko's book, Comprehensive Treatise of Braids I: Maru-dai Braids.
    • for beginners, Hiranami-Yatsu (#20) or Yatsu-se (#12) (240 g bobbin x 8)
    • for experienced braiders, Hira-Kara (#27) (100 g bobbin x 12 or 16) or Rikyu (#33) (100 g bobbin x 12)
    • for advanced braiders, Sasanami (#101) (100 g bobbin x 24) or Kara kumi (#104) (100 g bobbin x 32)

Makiko has kindly sent instructions for a braid called Shigeuchi, which makes a very nice Sageo. The top instructions are for the marudai and the bottom instructions are for the takadai. For many photos of Sageo, click here.

Tama Slipping? 

If the leaders on your tama are slipping use sand paper to rough up just that area where the leader is attached to the tama.