February 2005

As part of my sword refurbishing projects, I found myself in need of various Japanese braids. Some of these are round braids for sageo, some are flat braids for tsukamaki. They're all hard to find in the UK and very expensive, so I decided to make my own. This was also partly inspired by a thread on kumihimo in Usenet group rec.woodworking which gave me the idea of making my own equipment as well.

Maru dai for kumihimo braiding

Maru Dai

Round braids are formed on a marudai like this. Here I've used 16 strands of cotton embroidery floss to make a round braid in alternating red and black. The threads begin on individual bobbins around the edge and the finished braid is pulled down through the centre by a small weighted bag. The stitch is a simple kongo gumi (described here), worked by swapping threads between opposite pairs and rotating around the stand.

The top surface or kagami (mirror) is maple, with well-rounded edges, a funnel-like central hole and a waxed finish. A smooth, but not-too-slippery, surface is important. This example is too small, because I made it of scrap timber that was to hand. It's 7 ½" in diameter and 15" tall. This is just enough for 16 threads, but no more. Really it ought to be bigger, which would be easier to work without tangling.

Partly-turned tama (thread spools) for kumihimo

Tama (thread spools)

Because of the large number of threads, kumihimo requires a large number of tama - turned wooden bobbins to carry the unworked threads. This is a great excuse for woodturning and using up small scraps of interesting timber. These are in yew, box and hornbeam, all from storm-damaged trees.

Much of the braid I need, particulary the ito for tsukamaki (hilt wrapping), is a flat braid. This is woven on a more complex takadai instead. Another project to make!

Other kumihimo links

Tsukamaki (hilt wrapping) links