Kumihimo: Braiding karakumi on the karakumi-dai

April 1, 2016

karakumidai s pretty collage

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
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.

Fujinami no Kaede, How to do karakumi: early period Japanese flat braids:
Howes, Yuko (Japan Outpost), Youtube video:
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;

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