Kumihimo: modified Saidaiji-gumi “Harlequin”

December 5, 2012

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE  Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

10/2 dyed tencel, 6 strands per bobbin; 24 bobbins, square braid using the standard Saidaiji-gumi bobbin movements.

Yesterday’s revision of Une-gumi quickly came unstuck when my red yarn started to give way under the pressure of being worked on a takadai loom.  As a weaving yarn, it was a tad weak and I’m scouting around for some substitute yarns.

I quickly hopped back in the saddle though with some leftover 20/2 tencel (in Persian Red, Green and White) still on bobbins from a previous project. Knowing how slowly I braid Saidaiji-gumi, I was thankful the lengths weren’t too long! It feels strange braiding with a yarn that is now endangered if not extinct, as a so-called environmental wonder, it’s no longer being sold anywhere as a dyed yarn, as beautiful as it is.

Because of is (unexpected) pattern, I’ve dubbed this 24-bobbin braid “Harlequin”. So far, I’ve braided eight full repeats of the lozenge in about five hours or so (a bit less than six inches).

The eight bobbin movements are standard Saidaiji-gumi, as per Makiko Tada’s Book 2 of Takadai Braids, braid 71 on pp.152-154: basically you create a square braid with an “inner tube” (I think).

The visual problem associated with Saidaiji-gumi is that braider only sees the side of the braid (right photo) whereas the “proper” identifiable pattern occurs on the sides (left photo). I’m in the habit now of checking my work visually every eight movements but frankly it’s nearly impossible to reverse the braiding if I’ve made a mistake.

My takadai set up was Left arms: Green,Green,Red,Red,Green,Green (top to bottom) and Right arms: Red, White, Red, White, Red, White (also top to bottom). So where are the 56 bobbins you need to braid the standard, authentic Saidaiji-gumi? Well, here’s the interesting bit: I’ve managed to show a mathematical progression in this braid such that the smallest number of bobbins you can create the bar-and-lozenge pattern is 24. The next size up is 40 bobbins; the next size up is 56 (the standard Saidaijigumi) and the ones after that are 72 bobbins (‘half” the standard Chuzon-ji-gumi, which reaches the outer limit of most takadai braiding stands in the West) and 144 bobbins, the full version of Chuzon-ji-gumi  (and so on to infinity). Culturally what’s important is that, as historic temple braids, Saidaiji-gumi was done on 56 bobbins (or its equivalent if done in the hand or on marudai) near Kyoto while Chuzon-ji-gumi, found hundreds of kilometres to the north of Saidaiji up in Northern Honshu, was made with 144 bobbins, using the same hand-movements

See my earlier post on Saidaiji-gumi for schematics showing the progression from 24 to 144 bobbins. Now I’m sure Kinoshita showed this in her book in Japanese, Archaic Braids, but it’s been personally fascinating to see this relationship for myself. While I’ve braided short lengths using 56 bobbins and 72 bobbins (Han-Chuson-ji-gumi or “Half” Chuzonjigumi, as opposed to the “Full” version using 144 bobbins), I’ve not braided before the smaller 26 and 40 bobbin braids. So it’s nice to have some actual braids showing the mathematical relationship.

In a similar (but different) way, braiding colleagues elsewhere have recreated Saidaiji-gumi on marudai and outsized O-marudai, so they are real breakthroughs too.

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