September 28, 2016
Today, a repeat of JC 1, the first braid in Jacqui Carey’s book Chinese Embroidery Braids. I decided I was sufficiently used to the bobbin movements to tackle a monochromatic braid. To achieve a longer braid, I used 2 metres/35 inches of single-strand pearl cotton 5 on each bobbin. To maximise the braided length, I knotted each strand to the brass cuphook on the top of each bobbin. Towards the end of the braid, the knot came off the cuphook – of course, the Miao braiders simply tie on another length and keep braiding. The hand movements were very quick; what took up most time was winding on the threads. I kept wondering whether a slip knot, as used in bobbin lace, wouldn’t have been more efficient. I was happy with the length – 50 inches/127cm – and the width was the same as yesterday’s multicoloured version at 5mm.
September 28, 2016
Today, an 8-bobbin braid, JC1, in single strands of pearl cotton 5. I chose a different colour for each strand to better see the braid structure. The resulting braid was 5mm wide and just 20cm/9 inches long from 1 metre lengths, not having secured the threads in any way to the bobbins.
May 1, 2016
Here’s another sample in the current series, based on 2 metres of pearl cotton 5 for each colour and five-colour diamonds.
The colour scheme is, again, not my own. I’m still far from choosing my own colours. It originates in a karakumi/diamond pattern worked on maru-dai or round stand by renowned American braider, Michael Hattori. Though the finished product looks similar, the way of working the diamond braid on the two stands is different. I’ve yet to work karakumi on a marudai; my own marudai is too small at 9.5″ diameter – I need a marudai which is 12″, or even 17″, wide.
This time, I’ve increased the number of diamonds to three and tensioning is improving. There are no gaping holes anymore in my work and no ‘slubbing’ of colours where the tension is too weak. I’m now much more keenly aware of which threads to tension when. It’s vitally important to be somewhat “mechanistic” or “industrial” in the kata or hand-movements. The hand movements have to be the same throughout; once something works, it has to be repeated. I’m constantly reminded of an experience I had in Kyoto, watching a young apprentice doll-maker at work, demonstrating at the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum. Every movement was carefully considered and replicated as if he was a machine. Everything he picked up went back into the same place; his movements looked automated. It was the only way to get the dolls looking exactly like each other. We in the West find this odd – we too often like to break the rules and too often feel uncomfortable about submitting ourselves to the discipline of repetition.
I know now there are three vital areas to monitor regarding tensioning: one is the top threads of the half-diamond which must be tightened before working the centre-point thread; another is going back and tensioning the previous threads on the top half of each full diamond and lastly there’s the very centre of each full diamond: I always drape these particular ones over the top of the stand which helps in the tricky reversing of direction involved for the bottom half of each full diamond. And there’s just one more: where the top of each full diamond interacts with the surrounding diamonds – I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it just needs an extra tug to nudge the point of the diamond into position. This last one is the scariest of all, but just keep tugging!
Apart from tensioning, the other major issue at this stage of development is the ‘boundary threads’, here in yellow, which “outline” all the diamonds and half-diamonds. It’s vital to keep these ‘passive’ threads out of the way of the ‘worker’ threads involved in each diamond, so I’ve used plastic freezer clips/barrettes from IKEA to ‘keep me honest’. The clips are not critical in working so few diamonds, but they help.
Obviously I’m now on the way to working a Four Diamond sample. But first, I want to backtrack and work a Double Diamond again, this time with six colours rather than five. The six colours will allow me to work a combination of small and large diamonds; the varying sizes of diamonds is aesthetically enticing. But only achievable with six colours! More on that later.
I’m deliriously happy that I now no longer need to refer to diagrams. On reflection, it’s taken me about 100 hours all up to memorise the hand movements.
May 1, 2016
An overview of saki-ori, or 20th-century obi waist sashes from rural Japan, are described in Riches From Rags: saki-ori & other recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing, an exhibition catalogue published by the San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum.
The catalogue features superlative examples of the tradition and the garments are of museum quality.
I thought I’d take a closer look at other examples, somewhat lower in quality but which nevertheless display the general features of the saki-ori.
The first one is 120″/3m long and 10″25.5cm wide. The weft (a sett of 17 warps per inch) is a thin black sewing cotton and the wefts are 0.5″/1cm-wide lengths of material (reed around 12 per inch), presumably from recycled kimono. Both ends of the obi feature 0.5cm or 3/16″ weaving done in silver metallic thread.
The design is a strict sequence of strips, 3 or 4 or 5cm or approx 1-1.5″ wide, in black, red and yellow. The black is flecked throughout with silver metallic thread, so the original kimono must have been an-all silver-on-black pattern. The red is a vermilion-orange with equal amounts of white, with occasional warps of vermilion and bright yellow-gold and areas of silver metallic, so the original kimono must have been white with areas of yellow embroidery and silver metallic embroidery. The use of metallic thread leads me to think they were recycled from silk kimono, but I reckon the yellow comes from a yellow monochrome kimono (with very small amounts of gold metallic thread) made from wool, or something similar highly-textured.
The only other design element is the addition of long horizontal lines of gold – warps (roughly 4″ long) which have been loosely added while weaving the black.
Each colour seems to have been woven separately, with separate shuttles for each colour, since there is no linking of colours at the edges. Care has been taken to bunch up the black warps at each edge to strengthen the finished product.
The plain weave, done on weaving loom a simple 2-shaft hand loom, using recycled kimono cut or torn into thin strips, can be easily replicated on a 2- or 4-shaft loom or rigid heddle loom.
Yoshida, Shin-Ichiro & Dai Williams. Riches from Rags: saki-ori & other recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing. San Francisco, San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum, 1994.
Weave: handmade style. Designs by Wendy Cartwright, Helen Frostell, Mary Hawkins and Lynne Peebles. Millers Point, NSW, Australia, Murdoch Books, 2007.
Reasonably comfortable with my competence regarding the required hand-movements, I upgraded from 8-ply acrylic yarn to pearl cotton 5. The dimensions of this sample are the same as the previous ones: for each bobbin, 2 metres of thread, folded in half and attached via a cow-hitch or strangle knot or half-hitch to a plastic curtain ring.
This is a “5-element diamond” design; by that, I mean that the colours at the curtain ring, from left to right, are two lots of five pairs of threads, or set up (from left to right) Grey-Yellow- Pink-Purple-White-Black-Black-White-Purple-Pink-Yellow-Grey. This is repeated twice for a Double Diamond braid: Diamond 1 ([GYPiPuWB][BWPuPiYG])+Diamond 2 ([GYPiPuWB][BWPuPiYG]).
Why do I mention 5 in the sequence of colours? I mention it because if there are six colours, it’s possible to work small and large diamonds, mixing up the regularity of the full diamonds so their colours intermingle. Later down the track, I’ll work up a sample of “6 element diamonds” to show what I mean.
For the moment, though, this sample was devoted to trying to memorise the hand-movements and to acclimatise myself to the tensioning required in using pearl cotton 5.
What became increasingly obvious during the braid was how to deal efficiently with what I call “boundary threads”, that particular colour which runs around all the diamonds but is never part of the ‘worker’ pairs producing the diamonds and half-diamonds. In this sample, the ‘boundary threads’ are grey.
The colour scheme is not my own – it comes from watching the Youtube video featuring UK braider Marjie.
My next sample progresses from Double Diamonds to Triple Diamonds, requiring me to source additional EzyBob plastic bobbins from the current 48.
This sample is 3cm or 7/8″ wide and 35.5cm/14″ long (braided), finishing in 4cm/1.5″ of twelve four-element braids, acting as a fringe, done while the bobbins are still on the threads and strung over the four sides of the braiding stand.
April 1, 2016
Rather than revising traditional karakumi braiding on the karakumi-dai, jumping in at the deep end by using very fine (and slippery and expensive) Karakumi Silk, I opted for self-directed exercises, albeit slower and more carefully-considered than a formal braiding workshop, lasting eight hours a day for a week.
My starting point was Steve Pretty's useful instructions as published on behalf of the UK Braid Society, a class handout from Makiko Tada's class in 2014, a pdf outlining the experience of another braider and the very fluid braiding style on show in a Youtube videoclip.
Following Steve Pretty's exercises in a very general way, the points of difference in my braid samples were:
* threads were attached to a small plastic curtain ring, instead of something flat, like a double-eyed or long single-eyed needle;
* threads were secured with a larks head knot (with consequential narrowing once the braiding started);
* for the chevrons and single diamonds, ten lengths (two metres/two yards long and folded in half) of five 8-ply acrylic yarn, graded from white through yellow, orange, red and dark red; they yielded braid samples half a metre (18”) long;
* small 4cm/1.75” plastic EZ Bob bobbins (without cotton thread leaders), rather than traditional hiradama bobbins.
The finished braid samples were about 0.5m/18” long (50% takeup) and 2.5-3cms/0.5-1” wide.
Steve Pretty Exx.1&2. The process involved becoming familiar with the thickness of acrylic yarn, appropriate finger-tensioning and familiarity with the kata/bobbin movements. My distribution of colours didn't match Steve's which proved problematic: my advice is to adopt his colourway and then change the colours in future samples. The sample took eight hours.
Steve Pretty Ex.3. The main challenge here was making the necessary adjustments in moving between braiding half-diamonds and full-diamonds. Each full diamond (and equivalent two half-diamonds) took about an hour each, but I had the advantage of prior experience and visual schematic instructions from Makiko Tada's workshop. The sample, twelve single diamonds in total (not counting the two half-diamonds in between), took about 10 hours.
Steve Pretty Ex.4. By the time I'd finished this sample, I was working independently of Makiko's visual schematic showing bobbin movements. The key learning was what I call the path of “structural threads”, that is, the thread pair which crisscrosses the braid forming the boundary of more than one half- or full-diamond. The secret is to consciously “exclude” the 'structural thread' from the karakumi interweaving threads in each half- and full-diamond: consider instead the structural thread as a 'boundary' or 'framing' device. In my sample, the darkest red is quite separate from the white-yellow-orange-red which are the busy 'interweaving' threads. The darkest red threads both move diagonally across the width of the braid (literally from one edge of the braid to the other, framing three full diamonds and two half-diamonds). Critically, they lock together the full- and half-diamonds along the way. The sample, eleven double-diamond sets (not counting the single full-diamond and two half-diamonds in between), took about 14 hours.
Acrylic yarn is hardly very beautiful, though threads naturally bind themselves to each as part of the braiding process, unlike more slippery threads with a tighter twist like Japanese karakumi silk. In terms of progressing to karakumi silk, it's useful to consider pearl cotton as suggested both by Steve; pearl cotton #5 and #8 are thicker than one type of traditional karakumi silk I have; pearl cotton #10 is closest, but a wide range of colours may be difficult to obtain.
Working with graded colour is particularly useful in learning the bobbin movements; braiding in a single colour is not recommended until the kata become automatic.
Finger-tensioning problems are obvious in the beginning, but improvement is relatively fast. Similarly, gaps caused by incomplete understanding of “structural thread” paths are obvious in the beginning but quickly disappear.
During this revision stage, a mirror showing the backside of the braid isn't required, but I imagine with formal braiding it may be useful, with checks required at the end of braiding each diamond.
The yotsu-gumi/yotsu-me knots as a finishing device, indicated by Steve, definitely help secure final diamonds at the end of the braid from unravelling.
The finished braids will show up any errors in the middle of the half-diamonds: a twist is required in the threads as they hit the edge and then reverse back into the braid.
What's next? A sample of double diamonds in pearl cotton 5, mainly to consolidate the 'structural thread' paths and finger-tension associated with this yarn. Other options include applying oblique interlacing to the finger-woven organza ribbon scarf and the kumi-muffler, as taught by Makiko Tada, as well as revising karakumi on other braiding stands - sasanami on maru-dai and anda-gumi on taka-dai stands. References Fujinami no Kaede, How to do karakumi: early period Japanese flat braids: https://sayyidajahanara.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/how-to-do-karakumi2_rdv.pdf
Howes, Yuko (Japan Outpost), Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYaQEIJ66t8. Triple Diamonds. Particularly useful are the kata for the centrepoint of each full diamond.
Pretty, Steve. “An Introduction to Karakumi: how to make braids on the karakumidai”, in Strands. Braid Society (UK), 2009: 24-31. See also www.braidsociety.com; http://www.academia.edu/12587785/An_Introduction_to_Karakumi_-_How_to_make_braids_on_the_Karakumidai
March 28, 2016
My three most recent temari balls, 35cm circumference/pearl cotton 5.
Two examples of S16 kiku, exploring purple on black.