Braiding Study Group

 marudai  Comments Off on Braiding Study Group
Apr 302014
There’s a set of forums at that has been running online kumihimo study groups. I joined because I want to take part in their “Structure Walkabout” study group. This is based on Jacqui Carey’s new book, “The Book of Braids: A new Approach to Creating Kumihimo”, and having a copy of this book is essential for taking part.

I haven’t been braiding much for a while, so I am hoping this group will be the stimulation I need to use the new book. I was excited to know it was coming, preordered it, have loved looking through it, and reading it, but, until the start of the Study Group, I had done no braiding from it.
Something else I haven’t done for a very long while is update this blog, so I thought I would try to write about the braids I make for the study group on here as well as putting the information and photos up in the groups private forums.
The study group has only just started, but there was also a warm-up assignment – a selection of 4 braids from Jacqui’s earlier book, “Creative Kumihimo” that I have also completed. The idea is that each of the 4 braids will help practice and get muscle memory for the moves needed for the study group proper. And if you don’t have “Creative Kumihimo”? Carol Franklin has also identified the braids in Makiko Tada’s marudai book, Jacqui Carey’s “Art of Kumihimo” (also published as “Beginners Guide to Braiding” and Rodrick Owen’s “Braids: 250 Patterns….” Since the study group is not intended for beginners to kumihimo, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect people to have AT LEAST one of those books in their collection (I have all except Beginner’s Guide, and I imagine most kumihimo enthusiasts will be the same).
The adventure has started…..

Experimental Tama

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Feb 112013

Up until now, I have used tama made from film cannisters and similar size medicine pots. As anyone with a takadai will know, you can use a lot  more tama making a braid on this compared with a marudai, so I have suddenly gone from having plenty of tama to running out of tama, particularly if I want to make a large braid on my marudai while my takadai is still strung up. The weight in my pots has been 1p and 2p coins, and for the marudai, 10p gives me a 40g tama. This has worked well for me with the embroidery thread I have been using. Recommended weights for takadai tama are 75-100g, and I am now running out of copper coins for the pots too. My 3rd problem with my current tama is keeping the threads in place. An elastic band around the bottom, and the ridge at the top help, but it is very easy for the slipping hitch round the tama to not sit snug and let the pot fall through. Depending on which way it falls, I sometimes end up with a knot
that can get pulled quite tight from the weight of the tama.

Proper wooden tama are available by mail order, but I am not aware of anywhere in the UK, so shipping considerably adds to the cost of buying them.

My husband has made a some wooden tama using his lathe, but it is quite time consuming. At the moment, these tama are (deliberately) different sizes and unweighted as we have used them to make latex moulds rather than as tama. The plan? Plaster of paris tama.

3 white tama, a small and a large plaster of paris tama and a medicine pot.

Research on the internet suggested that plaster of paris should have the right density to make 85g tama from the smaller mould, but they are much lighter than this – 35-40g each. With careful trimming and sanding they should make a set of 35g each, and then I will paint them to reduce the risk of damage to the tama (the surface is smooth, the threads I use seem fine). Early use suggests they are robust and work as well as, if not better than, my pots on the marudai.

We then made the larger mould hoping for 70g tama, and this has worked out right, but the extra size is causing other problems with the current gap between the rails on the takadai. We only have one at the moment, so I haven’t tested how well they hang together or whether they are too large for this too.

Our next attempt to get heavier tama is a cement/sand mix. Our first tama was made with old cement, didn’t set properly, so was never used. The sand seems to have separated out in areas of the second, so the tama surface isn’t smooth, but we got a weight of around 75g in the small mould. Several wooden blanks later, we settled on tama of 45g for the marudai and 90g for the takadai. If a tama is a little light, we add a bit more cement to the end, and if it is too heavy we grind it down. Two heavy tama rubbed together works better than sandpaper for this job, so it is easy to control the final weight. This is also the best way we have found to smooth the shape of the cement top-up.

Green and blue hourglass shapes

I now have a set of 64 tama for my marudai – painted green with several coats of acrylic – and an almost complete set of 128 tama for the takadai – nicknamed smurfs for their blue colour. The surface of the tama does not feel totally smooth, but since Rodrick Owen suggests putting masking tape around plastic pots to prevent the thread slipping, I don’t think this is something I need to worry about.

Initial braiding with these on marudai and takadai felt good, the tama hang much better than the pots, and I think I am getting less tangling.



Braid modelling

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Jan 292013

I have thought for a while it would be really cool to be able to model an new braid on the computer. My idea was that I would put in the marudai moves of the braid I wanted to “make” and my program would figure out how the threads moved and what the braid looked like.

Well, I never got around to it; there were always too many other things that seemed more urgent, and I have to admit I wasn’t sure how I would go about it.

Murray is by far the better programmer of the two of us – he has been earning good money doing that for the last 20 years, until a change in the company he worked for meant that we had the opportunity to both try working on Craft Design Online for a while. Having got Pattern Grid to a point he was happy with last year, then spent some time in the run up to Christmas tweaking things on it, he needed a new project. So he decided to look at 3-d modelling in javascript.

At the moment he’s got something that is getting quite usable. You can move threads around a marudai drawing and once you have put all the move in, tell it how many times to repeat the moves and your braid will be drawn. It works better in Chrome than Firefox – Chrome is able to use the graphics card which improves the image processing. It needs a reasonably powerful computer. We haven’t tested it on an iPod or mobile phone – we think it might work, but very slowly. And it needs to be made easier to use  – but that should come quite soon.

Computer generated diagram of braided tubesComputer generated diagram of braided tubes

I was quite impressed at the 24-thread mitake braids it generated. Just like the real braid, as you make it the threads are quite loose at the top, but they gradually get pulled in tighter. The threads are modelled as tubes, so you don’t see the flattening of a real thread.

It’s not going to totally replace the need to test braid before starting an important project, but it certainly gives a good idea of how a braid will turn out.

Takadai 2

 takadai  Comments Off on Takadai 2
Jan 082013

For Christmas, I got a takadai!

The original bamboo one didn’t last long. It was too flimsy to move anywhere, and too bulky to be left where it was (our kitchen/dining room). It was enough to get a feel for using one as well as some idea of sizing and practicalities and a good starting point for building our own.

Custom built takadai

The new takadai has the same rails, and a softwood frame. Joints have been made with  dowel bolts, insert nuts and dowel nuts so that it can be taken apart repeatedly without damaging the wood. Places where threads/braid slide against the takadai are hardwood or bamboo.

We have made the top bar of the torii a feature of the takadai. My husband found a piece of large diameter bamboo at a local garden centre/DIY store, and a piece of that has been used for the top of the torii. Sanded, it makes a lovely rounded and smooth feature which the braid goes over. Also, we have put the warp roller into the torii. Even though this is different to those made using Rodrick Owen’s plans, it seems to work, and I think I have seen pictures of other takadai like this. A ratchet mechanism stops the bar from slipping rather than the traditional chopstick as brake – the ratchet works well, and is far better than the previous version made from string. Unfortunately I turned it the wrong way first time I adjusted the braid position, but a bit of glue and it is fine now.

I also have 2 swords, both made from the same piece of bamboo the top of the torii came from. The first one, presented with the takadai on Xmas day, was too long. It was awkward to use, so I have a second, shorter one. I love the look and feel of the bamboo, it is very light, and the slight curve in the handle is nice. Perhaps the longer one will be useful if I ever learn more about the ayatakedai.

The koma are the same as before – bamboo with dowel pegs. Being bamboo, there is some variation in size between koma, but this does not seem to have caused any difficulties. However, I have discovered a slight problem with them – if I have empty koma at the back of the rails, sometimes they will push up and pop out. This has happened when I have been setting up and finishing with a raddle across the rails, and also if I have an empty one in place to change the angle of the threads at point of braid. Not helpful! We have found that attaching a block of wood at the end of the rails prevents this, so once I have taken my current braid off, these will be permanently fixed in place.

The next problem to tackle is tama. I had plenty of plastic pots, filled mostly with 1 and 2p coins, for using with the marudai, but now I need more and heavier. We have decided to try making our own, but shaping that number of tama out of wood is going to be hard work… Maybe there is an alternative… We have a couple of ideas we are working on – although weight consistency is not there yet, the shape is better as I find the pots slip through the slipping hitch if I am not careful enough with it.

This brings me to a comment on the torii bar. At the moment it sticks out beyond the outer rail on either side. We decided to leave it like this until I have had a chance to use the takadai and decide if I am happy with the positioning of the rails. The experimental tama I have is larger than the pots, and may mean I need a wider gap between the inner and outer arms, but this is something we are still working on. I also have this fancy idea I might want a 3rd pair of arms. I have seen someone with a takadai with 3 arms on each side on Youtube (around 2:20 into this video) – I have no idea how it is used, but maybe one day…?


Nov 272012

Until now, most of my braiding has been done on a marudai, with some on the kumihimo disk or plate. I have looked at photos of braids made on a takadai, and also got Rodrick Owen’s book, Making Kumihimo, but not been sure about the space a takadai takes or the cost of getting one (particularly if you add on shipping to the UK).

Finally, my husband has agreed to make one for me. There are plans available for around $18, but husband has decided that “it looks easy enough” and is making it without. We have looked at photos, videos of people using a takadai, and most especially at the diagram on p.25 of Making Kumihimo. The agreement has been that we will make a basic prototype, and he will be willing to adjust it/remake parts if, after using it, I find some aspect of it doesn’t work quite right. I also occasionally remind him we could get some plans…..

This weekend, the first protoype was completed. The koma are made from short lengths of garden cane bamboo with short pieces of dowel (these were left overs from various put your furniture together kits sawn in half). I just have 1 pair of arms for now which are softwood from a DIY store left over from other projects. The plan is to put half bamboo slices along to make sure the threads don’t get caught on any rough edges. The arms were mounted on a frame of bamboo cane tied together with string.


Yesterday, we decided to try it out. My tama are film cannisters/medicine pots filled with money. I carefully put 40p of UK 1p and 2p coins in each one (I had misremembered that 10p weighed 22g when it actually weighs 35g so my 90g tama turned out to be 140g tama) and set up to make a plain weave braid from p.63 of Making Kumihimo.

While attaching bobbins to threads (I just used embroidery threads), disaster struck. I pulled a bit too hard and my roller cord broke and the takadai fell over. I am not sure whether the broken cord caused the topple, or the topple caused the broken cord, but I ended up with a tangle of threads, most, but not all attached to tama, and then some of the threads came out of the binding at the start.

Encouraged that the takadai still appeared to be intact, we decided to reattach the threads to the takadai, try and untangle everything, and see if we could get some braiding done. Once the threads were hanging over the koma instead of another bamboo cane acting as a raddle everything seemed more stable, but I still needed to make sure my legs were pushing the sides of the takadai out a bit.



Without a sword stick or sword pads, we started this as a 2 person job. I would make the shed, put the sword (aka a palette knife) in and then husband would hold it to keep the shed open for me to pass the end tama through. Once the thread was safely on the other side, I would take the sword to beat the braid and then go on to the next side. After a while, I discovered that I could hold the sword down myself and pass the tama through without help, but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t win many marks for speed, efficiency or consistency of braiding.

There’s a combined torii and roller bar, which had a tendency to unwind with the weight of tama pulling against it. My wonderful husband fixed this with a bit of string tied to the frame and wrapped around the roller bar several times. This automatically tightens around it as it tries to unwind and locks it in place, but still allows us to wind the braid on.

When I took a break from braiding, I felt rather trapped – I had to get help to hold the takadai up while I moved out, then put my chair in place to support it again!

Overall, I think this construction is a useful tool to get a feel for using a takadai, but certainly not a long term replacement for one. It has also allowed us to learn a lot about the process which will be put into use as we progress to an improved structure.

Almost finished the 10 thread flat braids

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May 102012

At last, I have almost finished the flat 10 thread experiments. One of them has been done, undone and redone countless times.

I found the structure of it interesting – when I first made it, the front made me think of a ladder, and I could see gaps through the braid between the rungs. Next time I made it, these rungs had disappeared and the braid cross section had changed from a semicircle to a trapezoid.

This frustrated me for a long time – what had I done differently the second time? How would I describe how to make it so people would see the braid they expected?

Eventually I realised that the key difference was the tension on the threads in one particular move. First time round, I had taken all the threads across the centre of the marudai. Later on, I was sitting rather than kneeling, my arms were lower, and I was more inclined to take the threads around the outside of the marudai. And that was enough to make the difference.

Looking at Makiko Tada’s Comprehensive Treatise (vol 1), some of the braids have instructions to drop the threads rather than put them down. Experiments with this braid showed me that this had the same effect as taking the threads round the sides. The threads involved had just crossed at the front of the braid, so if they were pulled tighter across by dropping or movement, they pulled the front of the braid closer together.

Personally I like the wider form better, and this will be the one I use for Marudai Painter, but I have sometimes found that pulling the ends of the braid apart loses the ladder structure, and the narrower form returns. So I think that the narrower form is more stable, and probably the one to aim for, but if you have a use for a braid where it is never put under tension, the wider form will do just fine.

This braid is now on our website at

Experimenting with flat braids

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Apr 182012

There are quite a number of flat braids that can be made on a marudai. I find it fascinating looking at the braiding instructions and seeing two sets that are virtually identical, but one is round and one is flat (e.g. 8F and 8G in Jacqui Carey’s Creative Kumihimo – the only difference is the thread that is moved with the right hand in the first step).

I have been experimenting recently with 8E (Creative Kumihimo again, also Rodrick Owen’s 250 Braids), trying to see whether I can make a similar braid with 10 threads. It looks fairly obvious to me how I would extend this braid for 12, 16 etc threads, but I had 5 different ideas for doing it with 10. I soon realised that out of my 5 ideas, 1 was a waste of time – when I started making it about 1/3 of the moves were undoing another 1/3 so very little of my braiding was effective. The other braids gave me a combination of flat braids – one was quite wide and thin, others were more rectangular.

The change in shape was affected by whether I only ever crossed the outside threads from the group of 6 threads (and whether I did this every time I started a sequence regardless of whether the larger group was at the north or south of the marudai) or whether I always crossed the outside threads of the north group regardless of whether it was the smaller or larger groups.

Although I haven’t tried it for myself yet, I believe this same braid is in Makiko Tada’s Comprehensive Treatise, but with a different sequence of moves. I plan to try this out some time, and see if it does work the same way. I also plan to see if the different sequence inspires different extensions to 10 threads.

So many braids to make, so many plans to try, and so little time ….


Getting things finished

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Jan 272012

I seem to have several braiding projects that I have started and not finished. At the moment, I am still looking at Chrysanthemum braids on the disk, an experimental braid using some ideas from kongoh gumi, and some ideas for 10 thread flat braids.

They’ve all been interesting to work on, but haven’t quite made that final step to being ready to put on the website. There are any number of excuses I could give – I didn’t have the right threads available, one project was taking up my disk so I couldn’t use it for anything else, Christmas, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, I have lost the momentum on these projects and need something to help me get kickstarted into finishing something before I start something else.

If I am honest, starting and not finishing has tended to be a fault of mine for a long time. I have any number of cross stitch projects in the house that I started and didn’t finish – the one that I most want to finish is a Pooh Bear alphabet. I started it before my oldest child was born – 12 years ago. I was going to finish it and put it up in his bedroom, but I am not sure he would welcome it now! I was going really well at it, I loved the bright colour blocks, but I started getting backache, and that slowed me to a crawl, and then a stop. Then I was going to finish it for my next child – although they were born 10 years ago now. Hopefully I’ll finish it before I have any grandchildren. I have a few years yet for that :)

Nov 302011

I decided to try making Kiku-kara II from the Comprehensive Treatise of Braids I on a kumihimo disk. I was inspired to try this after Elliott Evans said that it was similar to Kyo Kara Gumi in “Essence of Japanese Braiding” (which I don’t have), and that he thought Kyo Kara Gumi would work on a disk. You can see what he has made on a marudai in his blog: particularly More Silk Braids and More Kyo Kara braid.

Kara Kumi braid on a kumihimo disk

When I first looked at Kiku Kara II, I thought “no way on a disk”, but this is the result so far. The moves are not so bad as they look – a lot of the criss-crossing starts from the outside, so you don’t need to add extra disk moves to make space to move threads into, which is probably one of the hardest parts on a disk. At least for me as I feel like I am not achieving anything during them.

I am not happy with the tensioning so far, and the braid is uneven. I may try doing this on a marudai and seeing if this makes it any easier to get it right on a disk.

If anyone has any tips…?

Nov 042011