Temari ball and Kakudai braid

January 4, 2012


This is photo of yesterday’s temari stitching: pattern 0601 by Ginny Thompson from www.temarikai.com. Mine is 32cm circumference, on a Old Gold Yellow mari with green pearl cotton 5 for the jiwari division lines. In response to a friend’s criticism that my stitching thread colours are too bright, I opted for beige DMC 842, rose DMC 316, dark brown DMC 611 and pink DMC 316. The pattern warns about taking special care with colour choices and with stitching in between previously stitched rows. I’ve stopped here and will redo completely in a day or two, altering the colour scheme and making improvements to the stitching. Pattern 0601 as stitched has a lot of background mari showing through. 

Kakudai braid

There is a shop in north-west Kyoto, past Arashiyama and the renowned bamboo forest there, which stocks kumihimo braids made up as hairclips and functional ornaments. There are thousands on the shelves, in the most wondrous colours. One of course would buy four examples, one for each season.  This one obviously involves silk in four colours (red, maroon, dark green and a gold-ochre – for Summer?), braided on a kakudai braiding stand. After an inch of braiding four braids, one in each colour (an 8-way braid for each?), red silk (identical to the red of the braid) is then wrapped around the four braids to tighten them together. Then the colours are wrapped around each other in a four-way braid to form two central bumps, again wrapped in the middle and at the end of the bump with red silk, then each colour is braided separately to finish. You have the aesthetic of compression-and-release, the contrast between a tight braid and its looser cousin. The segments are cut into 3″/8cm lengths then super-glued into metal clip blanks. The metal blanks of the clips are of the highest quality; a quality I’ve never seen outside Japan.

I bought this in 2007 and though it doesn’t receive any daily use, the silk threads aren’t falling apart or fading. I mention that because silk will inevitably deteriorate (especially in a humid, maritime climate like Japan’s). I notice some discussion recently about deterioriation over time of styrofoam balls used for temari bases. Of course there are no foolproof ways of temari (or kumihimo) lasting forever and ever. Japanese textiles from the lowliest temari to the most sophisticated kimono are highly unlikely to last a generation or two; only in the most exceptional circumstances do we have extant examples of textiles from ancient times – only extremely sophisticated laboratory-like conditions permit this: imperial guard (as in the case of the textile treasury in Nara) or being locked up in tombs or bronze Buddha statues (historic temple braids). We go to museums and think we are seeing medieval kimono: we are actually looking at modern copies. Museums have even been known to copy National Treasures for public display, while the original is locked away in a vault. And why not, especially when kudos go to anyone who can copy so convincingly something great and fantastic? Like the Shinto complex at Isa, the Japanese are bent on copying examples from the past, over and over. We in the West value innovation and novelty – one-offs – , the Japanese instead value copying and re-creating. The Japanese are more intent on passing on traditions from one person or generation to the next, rather than inventing new patterns for their own sake. Of course they participate in the Western paradigm of craft book publishing and they have come very late to the world of professional museology. They are willing participants in their much-beloved competitive hierarchy of competency achievement (craft certification, levels and testing, etc.), but ultimately their deep-down love is to perpetuate their traditions. In a world of impermanence, decay and loss, all we have in the end is each other as human beings – not things.

4 Responses to “Temari ball and Kakudai braid”

  1. Laura Bezzeg Says:

    I wouldn’t worry about your bright colors, I love them. A great many of the most beautiful that I have seen are in very bright colors.

    • rodbyatt Says:

      Agree. Strong colour is linked in Japan to vital energy and joie de vivre. There is a stock response that they’re over the top among Westerners, in part I think because our environments have been minimised to beige, concrete and steel grey. I’ve noticed a “new generation” of temari coming through who use very muted colours, linked as much to environmentalism (textile-dyeing being such a very great polluter) as minimialist interiors (we’re still in the thrall of Le Corbusier). Personally, my visual art is black-and-white and much to the annoyance of my painter friends, I realise I play with colour in my textiles and not on paper or canvas. More posts on colour planned for 2012!

  2. Carol Says:

    Would you have an address for this shop, if ever one is in Kyoto again?

    I don’t remember you having enough hair to clip… 8-0 😎 😎

    • rodbyatt Says:

      Hello Carol (where have the last five years gone?). I have several other examples which I will photograph and upload/post about. In 2003 I had enough presence of mind to take a photo of the outside of the shop (so I could find it again!). I will try to find it and upload it.
      As for an exact address, I will do what I can… but thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can show you where it is: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/50252, go to the Panoramio entry for the nearest important temple Gioji temple. Go to the satellite photo at right and click Zoom In once, press the Up arrow once and click Zoom In again – look for a blue 50 highway sign; note the main road coming from the south intersecting with a main road from the east. On the corner of that street is a white dot with a name in Japanese – that’s the shop! (It’s more a suburban mansion in traditional style). If you zoom RIGHT in, there’s a greenish car driving past… I visited in 2003 and again in 2007.
      Cheers, Rod

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