Kumihimo: Braiding karakumi on the karakumi-dai
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