Where’s Rod?

August 16, 2014

Dear Reader

Apologies for not posting recently. I have two excuses.

The first is that I’ve taken a year off to go to Art School and so I’ve been knee-deep in Photography, Sculpture, Printmaking, Drawing and Painting since the beginning of the year.

The second is that I was inexplicably locked out of Yahoo some months back. Yahoo! ignored my customer complaints so my active participation in the online temari community is now up in the air. A severe blow was my having to abandon the Japanese Textiles Study group of Complex Weavers which had a private Yahoo! email group as its centrepiece. I am no stranger to changes in the virtual world: I began my kumihimo commentary with LiveJournal and posted photos of my temari religiously at Community Webshots for many years. The loss of nearly a thousand images on Flickr was a blow, but I’m not done-and-dusted.

While Fine Art has taken centre-stage for the moment, I’ve not abandoned my commitment to craft methodology. Not that there’s any difference between “art” and “craft” when it comes to things Japanese – what is functional is beautiful and what is beautiful is functional!

Stay tuned for more of my work in the kumihimo and temari fields.







Some works-in-progress from the last month or so of stifling heat and humidity…

[Top} 36cm circumf, pearl cotton 8, an experiment in C10 multi-face. It is helping enormously to work the foundation C10 divisions in one colour (here red) and then additional divisions (e.g. 32-, 42-face, etc.) in an alternative color. Barb Suess’ book has clarified for me the most efficient ways of stitching multi-face division lines, over and beyond the initial layer of C10 threads.

[Left] 28.5cm circumf, pearl cotton 5, a C10 using basketweave. This is really basic basketweave, but works as a good introduction. The hardest thing is to be patient with the seemingly endless amount of grooming required when working double-threaded. They say double-threaded is ‘quicker’ but I’m finding it no so much.

[Right] 28cm circumf, pearl cotton 8, a more complex C10 design variation on the basketweave at left incorporating the color scheme of the ball at top. This is the ball at left pushed to a higher level of complexity, with extra faces. While the basketweave works for a succession of pentagons (e.g. the ball at left), problems arise with combining pentagons with hexagons in this one. I can’t quite see my out of this for the moment, but I’ll see where it takes me.


Preparing to take an online tutorial shortly on C10 multifaces, I experimented with laying down stitches on a 36cm circumf ball in singles of pearl cotton 8, with yellow (42 faces), then purple then pink, finishing with double-threaded white and red surface stitching. I think the progress from 42 to 122 and 322 (which my progression is not) is referred to as “M3″, a multiple of three based on the foundation of 12 faces.


The first step involves laying down a routine C10 (12 faces) and pinning/tacking according to Barb Suess’ excellent instructions on the website of Temari Challenge at Yahoo! Groups. I tacked the yellow lines with the same black sewing thread used on the mari.

The second step involves going from pentagon to pentagon, filling in the blank spaces (half way between each yellow) with purple thread, but without tacking. I’ve learned to leave pins in the center of each pentagon as I work.

The third step involves filling in the available spaces with pink, again halfway between the previous yellow and purple. On this occasion, I move around the ball, renzoku-style, rather than inside each pentagon by pentagon. Stitching these starts and finishes at the sides of the pentagons. The threads start at the pentagon sides, veer towards the centre of a pentagon, then veer away at an angle of about 120 degree, on to the next pentagon. This involved tacking as I went, securing the last thread to go over all the others. The downside of this is it creates not straight lines but wave-like whip-stitched tacking. Hopefully the online tutorial will help me re-think this process.

The next step was to remove the black tacking thread of the yellow threads: it shows given the fine lacey-look of the whole.

The final step was to add some surface stitching, here in white and red, a minor consideration on this occasion given the focus on laying down (correctly) the rows additional to those for 42 faces.



Inspired by a traditional hemp leaf pattern (asanoha in Japanese) done on a S4 structure by Barb Suess in her latest book, I decided to ramp up this design to a Complex 10.

I decided to jump straight to a 42-faced C10 instead of ramping up via a series of potential intermediate steps: Simple 4 to Complex 8 to Complex 10 (12 faces). Why 42 faces? Working in either pearl cotton 5 or pearl cotton 8, I decided 42 faces was an appropriate number for the relatively small, 34.5cm circumference, ball. Perhaps with a 40cm circumference ball, I could contemplate doing 92 faces.

Mari. I started with the 34.5cm mari wrapped in a warm grey colour. Not a cool grey (battleship grey with a distinctly blue tinge), but one which tended to a redder “brown”.

Division lines. I used a pearl cotton 8 in light blue (color #799).

Here’s the S4 model in the background and one of the twelve pentagons of an ordinary C10 highlighted with white pins:


Here’s the addition of division lines for a 42-face.  After doing all this work, I discovered an easier way of adding 42-face division lines proposed by Barb Suess on the Temari Challenge Yahoo! group.


Surface stitching

Then it was a matter of adding some hemp leaf/asanoha stitching in a very dark blue pearl cotton 8. I added pearl cotton 8 off-white/beige in the center pentagon, though it’s not strictly an asanoha shape. Stitching asanoha requires some careful thought about how the pointy star points project out from the six corners. I’ve learned to stitch around the main axis and not around the two side spokes projecting away from the corner. This applies to both the pointy stars and the framing stitch around the small hexagon.


I then extended some of the dark blue beyond the first pentagon so I could stitch a border around the pentagon with two rows of pearl cotton 5 in a mid-blue, allowing for a tack in red at each corner.



Here’s some more information about the temari ball (center, bottom). The design is a simplified version of one in a Japanese book. I’ve called it a “rainbow renzoku” because it relies on a sequence of five rainbow-colored stitch threads (purple, blue, red, orange, yellow) repeated in that sequence around the ‘equator’ of the C10, leaving a ‘north pole’ and ‘south pole’ pentagon in a separate color. It’s a renzoku or “continuous-thread” because both the white and the accompanying color progress in one continuous thread around each of the small pentagons (see below).

I decided to do a 12-faced version before doing it in a larger version with more faces. The photo above shows the division lines done in grey 2/20 weaving thread. You’ll notice I’ve removed it in the finished purple and red panels, as per the Japanese exemplar. You can also see the five “stars” done in bright orange pearl cotton 8. You’ll notice that I did a little tack in the last stitch of each ‘star’ to pull them into the desired shape.

The next step is to add the white, here incomplete to show the starting point (“12 o’clock” position):


When stitching both the orange and the white/coloreds, it’s important to aim the needle as close as possible to the middle of each triangle – I can’t stress that enough. It helps to start as stitch as close to the outside boundary of each pentagon to minimize the black “gully” between each of the panels. I don’t particularly like the black “void” between each of the colored components, but I need to stitch the design before I get ideas about adjusting it to my own taste. My other big dislike is the color next to the white in two rows. It would probably work better, with more subtlety with a gradation from white to dark color in three rows.



Here’s a photo of tiny temari balls, complete with a centimeter ruler so you can get an idea of their size.

The ones at left are from Japan; the mari is made of rice hulls and the stitching thread is very fine silk, approx. 12cm circumference.

The ones at right were made by me several years ago. The formal term is temari obi yubinuki, or ‘temari made with an equator band in the style of a Japanese thimble ring’. Like most stitchers attempting this style of temari, I was disappointed at the time by the uneven edges. There are all sorts of different obi designs possible, but these ones are  are taken directly from the yubinuki thimble ring tradition: the purple/orange and red/green are ‘bicolor scales’ (the Japanese use the word uroko, evoking dragon scales which is a common design element in yubinuki and kumihimo). The mari  are approx 18-18.5cm circumference and have been stitched with thick pearl cotton 5. The three are all based on D8 or have 8 equal divisions or segments around the ball.

For anyone with the Takahara and Oonishi yubinuki books to hand, the beginner ‘bicolor scales’ pattern is at page 22 ring 13 and page 81 (Takahara) and page 29 and 60-61 (Oonishi). The chequerboard pattern in orange and white is a slightly more difficult pattern – see page 37 and 81 (Oonishi).


I’ve made teenie temari on occasion, admittedly in a hurry and not with very fine thread. Probably the smallest ‘proper’ tiny temari  I’ve made (that is, with any degree of finesse) is a white flower with purple obi, second from the left, at 15.5cm circumference, done entirely in pearl cotton 8.

Creeping up stealthily on stitching yubinuki thimble rings, I want to develop my competency with fine thread by practising on temari obi yubinuki first. So my next step is this: work up a dozen or so small temari at 14cm circumference with pearl cotton 8, progressing eventually to pearl cotton 20, 40 and 60 if I can find colors which aren’t light pastels, given I’m entering the (Western) domain of crochet.

To this end, the black temari in the centre is a S8 or Simple 8, chosen specifically because the basic yubinuki thimble ring patterns are based on 8 divisions/segments. Why black? Yubinuki stitcher ‘Chloe Patricia’ notes that while red is often a very common color for thimble rings, she prefers black, presumably because the highlighting effect it has on the stitched thread colors.

Previous experience with temari obi yubinuki has taught me several critically important things. These issues are tucked away in Ginny Thompson’s thorough discussion of temari obi yubinuki at http://www.temarikai.com, but are worth singling out here:

* limiting the width of the obi as much as possible – the stitching looks more convincing on a flatter rather than strongly curving base; the temptation for any temari stitcher is to go for a third the way up from the equator to the poles (the common aesthetic ‘rule’), but that will make for too wide a band;

* add (and secure by tacking) division lines marking the desired width of the band – these can in fact be removed when the ball is finished – but above all make sure they are as parallel as possible at all times (since they affect the finished look of the edges);

* stitch above (not around) the outer additional division line marking the width of the band;

* the division lines and equator (here in a gold pearl cotton 20) need to be very securely tacked so they don’t move;

* a pin in the north pole position has to be in position the whole time I’m stitching the ball – knowing which direction is “up” is critical;

* the start position (koma 1 or “1″ in the printed instructions) and the direction for stitching around the ball has to be unambiguous – so a green pin will be going above koma 1 and a red pin further away (the one denoting “start” and the other “finish” will become permanent reminders of the correct stitching direction: needless to say, these pins will stay in position until I’ve done with stitching the ball.


Here’s a yubinuki in the making. From left: an embroidery needle, a blank yubinuki ready to be stitched in white and dark brown silk thread. The first row of stitching in both brown and white has been done. Below it is a functional (as opposed to a purely ornamental) yubinuki in brown plastic. Next is the white and black thread, Japanese silk, thickness #9. Far right is a 40m skein of said Japanese silk #9. The ruler below is in centimeters: we’re talking very fine embroidery stitching!

What is yubinuki?

Yubinuki refers to a traditional paper-and-silk thimble ring used by Japanese stitchers, often around 5cm in circumference. In Japanese, there is just one word, but in English it becomes two: thimble and ring. Like a thimble in the Western sense, it’s worn like a ring on the middle finger to help push a needle through stiff fabric or multiple layers of fabric. It’s used in traditional sashiko stitching (which involves ‘quilting’ two or three layers of cloth in one stitch) and is useful for stitchers of temari balls. Western sashiko stitchers wear a sturdy plastic thimble ring in dull brown plastic or leather; from time to time, Western temari stitchers are prone to using inelegant pliars to pull the needle, rather than pushing it. Traditionally, Buddhist Japanese would have shied away from using leather – a product from an animal – so silk fibre and paper would have been preferred.

Yubinuki – the practical and the ornamental

There is an interesting trend in Japanese textiles and handcrafts for sturdy practical originals to develop, over time, into a non-functional ornaments. Items lose their original functionality and become non-functional decorative pieces. One classic example is kogin and sashiko stitching: this form of stitching has moved from functional, wearable clothing specific to the rural Tohoku region of Northern Japan, to two-dimensional framed ‘paintings’ on walls in urban homes.

This also applies to yubinuki.  Non-functional ornamental yubinuki are fashioned these days out of traditional washi paper and silk fiber, over-stitched in fine silk; they curve outward and are no longer flat. They are most definitely not made as working thimbles, because any amount of pressure on the silk would degrade it very quickly. These ornamental thimbles are designed to be admired for their embroidery skill; they operate on the level of nostalgia, evoking the ‘lost’ skills and artisans of past generations. While yubinuki are still made by hand, as in times gone by, they are less likely to be made specifically for an individual stitcher’s finger size: the specificity of size for a particular person is lost and becomes a ‘generic’ standard size.

There is also a simpler-looking functional yubinuki where a lot of the paper is exposed and silk thread is at a minimum, forming a sparse-looking ‘lace’ over the paper base. The ring is flat and this flatness combines with the paper, between the silk stitched threads, working as a strong and secure source of pressure against the end of the needle because the paper covers a base of silk fibres.

I notice at least one enterprising contemporary yubinuki maker is creating thimbles to be worn as finger rings, made with a plastic core instead of paper so it can be washed and dried with ease.

Yubinuki these days have progressed from being working thimbles to become focal beads in jewellery, napkin rings, wrist bracelets and stands for temari balls and miniature pincushions. In Japan, series of them are arrayed like jewels in traditional paulownia wood boxes.

Two challenges in one

There are two aspects to making yubinuki: the paper base and the silk stitching. As with other Japanese textile traditions, it’s all about trial-and-error and endless practice, a slow, time-consuming process of adjusting hand-eye coordination to ever complex levels of fineness. I notice the Japanese yubinuki stitcher and author, Yukiko Ohnishi, will have as many as fifteen blank paper bases on hand at any one time. There is logic in perfecting the making of the reinforced paper before tackling the separate skill of silk embroidery stitching.

The silk stitching challenge

Yubinuki stitchers often come to the craft, especially in the West, from temari stitching. One specific type of temari is an obi temari, where the temari is made up almost entirely of a large stitched band around the ball’s equator, equivalent to the obi of female and male Japanese dress.

One way of moving gradually to ever smaller and finer stitching is to start with an obi on a large temari ball then slowly reduce the size of the ball and the band, moving from, say, pearl cotton 5 to pearl cotton 8 to something like pearl cotton 20. Proficiency with close stitching of pearl cotton 20 will allow the stitcher to progress to fine Japanese colored silk, eventually. Gutermann thread is slightly thicker than the fine Japanese silk.

Here are two attempts at a wide obi around a small temari ball (18 and 18.5cm circumference):

yubi-2 yubi-2a

The obi design isn’t terribly sophisticated but you can see where the challenge lies: getting the edges just so! But hopefully you can see the similarities with other Japanese textile traditions: the same limited color palette as kumihimo and temari, the premium put on optical illusion and sinuous pattern typical of long, thin weaving and braiding.

These two are “steps down” from larger temari ball – 27cm circumference done in thick pearl cotton 5:

yubi-11 yubi-1a

Inherent in the stitching is a foundational structure. The obi equator on the temari ball is divided into equal sections, e.g. most common 8,10 or 12 (called “segments” by yubinuki stichers or “divisions”, a term borrowed from temari) and the stitching winds between those marked-off sections called koma, a term familiar to kumihimo braiders as “bobbins”. Narrower or fewer sections are relatively easier than wider/more numerous ones.

Information sources for Westerners – hardcopy

There are no books in English devoted entirely to yubinuki, but I can recommend two in Japanese. Beware of a Japanese children’s book with “yubinuki” in the title.

yubinuki books

The first (left) is a paperback of mainly advanced temari ball patterns but with an excellent section on making yubinuki from scratch – how to make the reinforced paper base and then how to stitch. It’s by Yoko Takahara, Yubinuki to hana-temari-cho (Tokyo: Macaw, 2008), ISBN9784837703082. An English translation of the title is “Thimble Ring and Flower Temari”.

The second (right) is a hardback book devoted to yubinuki only: Yukiko Oonishi, Kinuito de kagaru kaga no yubinuki (Tokyo: NHK, 2006), ISBN 9784140311400. There are lots of luxurious photos and step-by-step instructions on how to stitch them. The information on the paper base is somewhat limited. You’ll note the reference to Kaga yubinuki. “Kaga” is a common prefix on textile traditions and other handcrafts referring to products and traditions originating from the town of Kanazawa in central Japan. Yukiko Oonishi is at http://experience-kanazawa.com/culture/yubinuki.html

Information sources for Westerners – digital

There are two I can recommend: one is the yubinuki special interest group on Yahoo! Groups, where the common language is English. The other is a weblog in English by master yubinuki stitcher, ‘Chloe Patricia’ at http://mamercerie.blogspot.com.au/ She is also an administrator of a Flickr photo gallery devoted to thimbles and yubinuki.


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