Kumihimo – Ryuko-gumi and related braids

April 7, 2013


In her second book on takadai braids, Makiko Tada details four different flat braids of the ryuko (dragon/tiger) design, all done with 50 bobbins on the takadai braiding stand. I worked my first one about seven years ago, but am doing them now as ‘miniatures’ with just 4 and 6 strands (20/2 weaving yarn) per bobbin, producing a much narrow braid than I’ve done in the past.

I got the idea of “miniature” braids from ‘apprentice’ braids on public display in the museum section of the Adachi braiding workshop in Kyoto. In addition, I got specimens of sageo from eBay and saw examples in my local art gallery, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, with their fine Japanese swords on display, with sageo attached. I’ve seen similar at the Osaka City Museum and I’ve got my own insignificant Korean repro sword, with a double-layer takadai sageo braid (a pickup braid with less than the usual 66 or 60 bobbins).

My warps are four metres so I thought I’d get around 60″ or so of braid (I scored 2.72 metres). There are four ryuko braids: Ryuko-gumi, Ryuko-shima-gumi (“striped”), Uroko-ryuko-gumi (“dragon scales”) and Hirosuji-ryuko-gumi (“wide striped”). All of these are done with equal numbers of bobbins in two colours. Working at the rate of several centimetres a day, this first one took the best part of six weeks.

The function of these braids was sageo or sash for Japanese sword, attached to the metal loop on the saya or scabbard of the sword and attached to another braid or running entirely around the waist proper, under or over the heko-obi or men’s obi waist sash. We know this design was used for sageo in the Edo Period because it’s mentioned in the kumihimo classic, Shika Suuyou, a braiding manual of 1826. So the aperture of the saya is the governing factor for the width and depth of the braid. I’ve not designed these for any Japanese sword in particular.

First up is the Ryuko-shima-gumi (shima meaning “stripe”). There are just eight hand-movements through one complete cycle; it’s nice to know that there is consistency in the “big” jumps between bobbins which are always over six. I did this in Praslon (synthetic) 2/20 weaving yarn, so it as a very matt appearance compared to shiny silk. I’m okay with this pattern and its braiding to upgrade to rayon or silk sometime.


I successfully submitted this as part of the Complex Weavers kumihimo Study Group’s six-monthly braid exchange.


Makiko Tada, Comprehensive Treatise of Braids IV: Taka-dai braids 2. Tokyo: Texte, 1998. Pattern 48.

4 Responses to “Kumihimo – Ryuko-gumi and related braids”

  1. Dhubhgaill Says:

    This is one of the most beautiful braid patterns I have seen. I just ordered the book so I can attempt something similar. I’ve been building taka dai for about 10 years now and have been teaching simple braids for about that long. Thank you for showing us this one. Can you tell us how many strands were involved, You mentioned yours are narrower. It is difficult to tell from the photograph. Thank you for the inspiration

    • rodbyatt Says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I never tire of this group of patterns. Glad to hear about your takadai and your teaching – all power to you! For a long while I used coloured tencel thread but I notice it’s only available undyed (or hand-dyed) these days; it had or has a nice sheen. Tencel becomes too “hard” in braiding when used with three or fewer strands (2/20 thickness, or perhaps 20/2 where you are), so I tend to stick to just four or six strands of it per bobbin. I try these days not to make my braids wider than the traditional obijime waist-sash, though there’s a tradition amongst students to make miniature samples (less than half the width of the obijime). When I first started out, I made them a lot wider, which I think helped me learn about getting the correct tension from beating but after one gets used to seeing other obijime, one fits into those general dimensions. There are no rules in the West about width – Rod Owen has made guitar straps, Richard Sutherland makes wide scarves. Of course in Japan, just about all routine braids are made with the obijime width in mind. Not dissimilar to the standard length of 13″ for woven cloth. These days I aim for 2 to 3 centimetres, an inch or less. I hope this helps.

  2. dhubhgaill Says:

    Just got my copy of the book. I was surprised to see it used 50 bobbins, Your picture above only appears to have about 28. I haven’t tried using both arms yet but the book has such gorgeous designs, I may just have to give it a go. Love the fact these are reversible too. Thanks for the inspiration

    • rodbyatt Says:

      Take care that this is a double-layer braid, so 25 ‘stitches’ appear on the top face facing the braider, with another 25 on the bottom face. The braid is thus an “envelope” of sorts, with two faces and linked at the two outer edges and all manner of links between the edges, making it very strong and tough. Makiko’s CTB IV Taka-dai braids 2 book concentrates on double layer braids and is a sequel to the simpler single layer (two taka-dai arms) braids of CTB III Takda-dai braids 1. My next step is taka-masu-gumi in the same family though with 24 moves (!). Good luck!

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