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.


Kumihimo – une-gumi braid

December 4, 2012


Since my father died a few years ago, I’ve found kumihimo braiding simply too difficult to come at. So I ‘came back home’ today with a return to the takadai loom. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with anything too complex and surprised myself by warping up for two hours before lunch and braiding an initial 8″ in the two hours following. This has the look and feel of a miniature Japanese braid, being only 3/8″ or 1cm wide.

Background information

Source: Makiko Tada, Comprehensive Treatise of Braids IV: Taka-dai braids 2: braid 44, Une-gumi (Ribbed Braid), p.39-40.

Concordance: Rodrick Owen, Making Kumihimo: Japanese Interlaced Braids. Design 51. Twill weave with centre floats.

Materials: 4 strands per bobbin, total 34 bobbins (17 each colour), red and yellow 20/2 weaving yarn; double-layer Braidershand takadai.

Commentary:  The weaving yarn produces a very matt look and along with the simple four hand movements, it’s time to move to Imposter silk and a full obijime length! I like the fact that this is a sageo braid. In early times, the sageo served a valuable function tieing a samurai’s sword to his waist; in later times, right up until 1867 (Meiji Period, 1867-1912) when men were officially banned from wearing swords in public, sageo became more decorative than functional. The sageo moved from men’s clothing to become the waist sash around the obi in women’s kimono.

Today, sageo are either used in repro samurai armour or in the martial art of sword play, iaido. In keeping with the austerity associated with the samurai lifestyle, especially when there was so much peace and quiet during the Edo Period (1616-1867)  to the extent they cultivated formal gardens, tea ceremony and the arts, sageo became very simple in surface design. That simplicity accounts for contemporary sageo, made of cotton and silk, which rarely use complex braid structures. I doubt any modern-day iaido practitioner would adopt a sageo as complex as une-gumi!

ayatakedai braids

I’m not so very diligent with Facebook but I have joined the International Kumihimo Braiders so it’s a chance for me to motivate myself by posting pictures of braids I did ages ago. Here are two done on the ayatake-dai loom, one I don’t use all that often because it’s quite a noisy contraption to braid on. The relatively uncomplicated nature of the braiding is a nice foil to a complicated takadai braids, so when I finish a complicated one, I reconfigure my Braidershand loom for a (relatively) easier ayatakedai braid.

Left. The source is A.Sakai and Makiko Tada’s Kumihimo (Tokyo: Japanese Assoc. of Sohbi Braiders, 1983), otherwise known in the braiding community as the “blue book”: design 43, page 57. It’s also in Sakai and Tada, Kumihuimo: the Essence of Japanese Braiding (Trans. by Prener and Kawamura; Berkeley, Ca.: Lacis, 2004; designs 19 (ayabane/arrows) and 41 (aya-kikko, “Bamboo-hexagon”). I used 6 strands per bobbin of 2/10 tencel (Violet 31225 and Gold 20043) for the warps and 1 strand per bobbin of a tough Gutermann-like cotton as the warp. 24 x 100gm bobbins. Notes: go for a high sheen/lustre yarn and use the lighter of the two colours as a weft.

Right.  Source is as above, Sakai and Tada, 1983. Design 26, page 39. This is my first attempt at Tagoto, so it has its faults. So, next time: tighten the weft a little more because it becomes visible in the “cross-overs”; use the gold as a weft and maintain twists in the bobbins/threads as you braid (this tended to become secondary to the focus required on moving the bobbins correctly!).

24w x 21h cm, lacquered metal and silk braid

Here is a single sode, or shoulder guard, as worn by the samurai warrior class as part of their armour.

Most references to yoroi or samurai armour deal the armour of famous generals. They were of course fashion victims and prided themselves on going into battle with the most costly and elaborate textiles imaginable. Costly and rare Chinese textiles were used to line their armour. They provoked their enemies with the studied disdain with which they regarded their wealth – “I’m here to die if need be, and sacrifice all this elaborate-looking wealth in the process!”

Sode  are often shown as large flat plates  hanging down over the upper shoulder. My example is more rounded and compact and is thus more appropriate to some lowly foot soldier or other. It’s important to remember though that after the 16th century, guns were introduced into the mix of traditional samurai sword fighting and that a special class of mounted archers came into being. There are experts in mounted archery who flourish even today in Japan and who don traditional armour and compete in archery festivals.

When it comes to sode, some originals (and replica copies) are much more elaborate than the one shown here.


An example of this added complexity is, at the top of each, the cap plate (kamuri-no-ita) which can be an iron plate covered with leather. Leather of course came from animals and thus was not handled by traditional Buddhist Japanese: tanning and preparing leather was left to an underclass of Japanese. We normally associate castes with the Hindus of India, but this underclass persists in contemporary Japan. The leather was often stencilled, as here. Braiders will note the (marudai) braid in blue and white around the leather.

A fine mid-14th century example once held by the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art shows this cap plate in decorated leather. Similarly, in large examples of sode as worn by mounted archers, there can be attached to the guard a decorative metal plate (kogai kanamono) with additional cord to stop it falling forward every time the archer leaned forward. Elaborately-braided sode can feature sun and moon designs, a sun for one shoulder and a moon for the other.

Braiders will recognise the long tasselled braids. Outsized tassels were used on braids worn by horses; on October 22 every year, the textile parade through the streets of Kyoto features these horses. I was completely gobsmacked by the amount of vermillion silk used to create this huger-than-huge braids and tassels.

Mine as presented here is much simpler and much smaller in design. You’ll notice for example that my guard couldn’t possibly protect all of the body area from the shoulder to the elbow as the larger ones do. Here we have just five slats of iron (or same, “scales”), lacquered black. It’s likely an all-metal lamellar suit of armour would have been too heavy, so scales of metal were made from either rawhide or a mix of metal and leather.


The lamellar scales are laced  together with silk braid. The flat braid – 8-ridge twill, 8mm wide – done in ancient times with loop manipulation braided with the fingers and in modern times on a takadai braiding stand are threaded through two rows of 21 holes each in every scale in my case. The braid is the same structure throughout, but there are three colours: burgundy, green (turning green-gold over time) and white (turning cream over time). The 8-ridge twill is one of the first a takadai braider will learn.

This lacing of silk braid was known as “odoshi” and Carey has an illustration of how one end of the braid was trimmed to a tapered point so it could be passed through the scale holes with a needle. The style of odoshi lacing shown in my example is known as “kebiki” (hair spread over). Carey’s book shows different odoshi lacing styles; for example, the photo of sode at the Wikipedia website shows shikime me nui (cover eye sewing) sometimes known as chikiri, requiring three sets of holes in each scale.


You will notice the white braid running around the outside of the large flat sode in the illustrations above. This is mimo-ito and is discussed in Carey’s book on samurai armour braids. The one illustrated uses whie, green and blue and is one of the simplest takadai braids: see #7 (yonken-gumi, from “yon”/four, 4-ridge twill – 31 bobbins, 16 and 17 on each of the two arms) in Makiko Tada’s first book of takadai braids. In Japanese museum examples of samurai armour, these mimi-ito can be multi-coloured 8-ridge twill braids or feature kikkoh or more elaborate surface designs – the sort of kikkoh patterns seen in Rodrick Owen’s book on braiding is common. What astounds any braider is the sheer amount of braiding involved in samurai armour; the amount of time and effort required to braid these endless metres of braid is nothing less than staggering.

Historically of course, braiding stands (we think) came into a being long after these braids were perfected, made in the hand rather than on a stand. Certainly it was important that a samurai warrior repair his own braids in the field. Carey, in her book, spotted a braiding error and shows it among her many photos.

The mimi-ito braids used to hold my metal slats together are in plain colours, but many famous historical suits of armour have multicoloured mimi-ito round the outside. Even more elaborate examples have a sophisticated kikkoh design also used as mimi-ito. Braiders interested in these kikkoh and complex mimi-ito should check out illustrations of samurai armour, ideally showing the armour plates in close-up.

To protect the samurai from the hard edges of the scales of iron, a covering of printed fabric is sewn on the inside with a bias-binding trim in the same green as the braid. In this case, the pattern shows white dragonflies on a blue background, a popular motif among samurai since the dragonfly only ever flies forward and never retreats.

To attach the sode to the rest of the suite of armour, there are two loops of braid at the top, each looped through a diamond-shaped piece of brass. This small braid is square in cross-section, again in the same colours as the larger braid. As simple as it looks, I’ve yet to work out the braiding sequence for the small square braid!

For anyone interested in the relationship between braids and samurari armour, I cannot recommend highly enough combing eBay regularly for examples: from dented and chipped examples like mine to far more elegant repros. If possible, check out armour at your closest institutional museum. In very large cities it’s possible to track down militaria shops; some might have on show modern Chinese copies of Japanese armour. Where I live, $US2000 will buy a set of armour, complete with bright rayon-looking braid. In Japan, historical examples of samurai armour pop up in major museum exhibitions; the Osaka City Museum (a towering white skyscraper near Osaka Castle) has a little room set aside for its permanent collection of sword blades and sword braids and I managed in 2007 to see there a temporary exhibition of samurai history. The Japanese viewers were more interested in the historical documents and reams of calligraphy and battle maps than I was; I was transfixed by the wonders of velvet capes and the almost-miniature examples of armour (the Japanese then being a lot smaller than they are today), jumping from one suit to the next checking out the braids. With the relatively small size of the armour and despite having my nose up against the glass, the detail of the braid is not always apparent. At more than one famous temple in Kyoto and Nara, I unexpectedly came across examples of samurai warrior armour and braids in the temple Treasury Buildings.


www.yoroi.com – for good, online detailed photographs.

Carey, Jacqui. Samurai Undressed. Self-published, 1995. (ISBN 0-9523225-1)

Kure, Mitsuo. Samurai: an Illustrated History. Boston: Tuttle. Far and away the best book for its illustrations, based largely on copies of armour as worn by warrior recreationists at historical re-enactment events in the 1990s. This is not a book limited to the costume of generals: it features armour worn by ordinary soldiers and (spectacularly!) by mounted archers.

Nobukio Maruyama. Clothes of Samurai Warriors. Kyoto: Kyoto Shoin Art Library of Japanese textiles, vol.3. A small handbook, at least half the book is devoted to textiles worn off the field of battle. For example, it includes the kamishimo (today worn by the orchestral musicians at kabuki opera performances) as seen so often in “portraits” of famous Japanese men.

Ogawa, Morihiro. A Famous 14th-century Japanese Armor. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum Journal 24, 1989. It’s interesting to note that the outline drawings of this set of armour omits the mimi-ito, which is a two-colour kikkoh pattern.

Tada, Makiko. Comprehensive Treatise of Braids III: Taka-dai braids I. Braid #3  is a 6-ridge twill (25 bobbins) and braid #4 is a 10-ridge twill (47 bobbins).

Resuming posts

November 11, 2012

I’m resuming my posts today after many months away, involved with full-time university study. Here’s what my temari workarea looks like at the moment, including origami folding paper useful for assessing Japanese colour schemes.


This week I’ve started moving into the area of asanoha, a traditional Japanese design motif based on the leaf of the asa (hemp), as well as taking up where I left off with one-stroke-of-the-brush technique (hito-hude-gake). Barb Suess’ book has been invaluable; extraordinarily comforting because it’s in English, given that the books published in Japan in the Japanese language are so complex and intimidating. I have twelve weeks to go before exhibiting my temari in a group show at a gallery run by the local Council where I live, summing up five years of work in the medium. It’s a wonderful opportunity to personally “regroup” before deciding on more adventures in 2013.


Sensei Makiko Tada returns to Australia in April and I’m looking forward to her week-long workshop in the mountains outside Sydney, especially since I didn’t attend the international braids conference in Manchester a few months ago. By rights, I ought to be showing her my “homework” since the last time we met; I ought to be working on karakumidai, the last element of my self-paced braiding “apprenticeship”. I have found this week on Flickr some inspiring sageo as used by Japanese swordsmen in their pursuit of iaido (I’ve tended not to take them seriously because the designs are simple – severe and sober as befits the samurai military tradition).

Other Japanese textiles

I have a paper overdue for the Japanese Textiles Study Group of Complex Weavers (USA) dedicated to a baby’s kimono done with snowflake indigo dyeing on white cotton. A local bookinding/acrylic painting colleague ran a workshop earlier this year on itajime dyeing using paper not cloth, which is something I’d not considered before. I’ve also been following a Canadian colleague’s website, http://onesmallstitch.wordpress.com, making me aware of the trajectory from summer to winter in the Northern Hemisphere through her dyeing and weaving as we move, here, from autumn into summer.



Barbara B. Suess, Temari Techniques. 2012: Breckling Press.

http://onesmallstitch.wordpress.com : inspiring weaving, dyeing, indigo, kumihimo – ‘putting it all together’ in the creation of everday, functional objects


Sanada himo

January 10, 2012

When I tie up

the Sanada cord, a turtle

starts crying1

– Yamao Tamamo

I first came across Sanada-himo in 2003 at the gallery shop of the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum. There were examples of sanada-himo alongside kumihimo braiding with the characteristics of both standard warp-weft handweaving and the flat, long characteristics of kumihimo.

Here’s a photo of kumihimo and sanadahimo braids in modern guises (luggage identifiers, mobile phone cords, hair clips) purchased at the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum shop. From left the sanada-himo examples are the first, sixth and seventh, the rest being kumihimo (takadai braiding stand, #2, kakudai #3-5 and marudai #8):

During 2007, while taking a walk up the steep hill towards the popular Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, in amongst the numerous souvenir stalls I came upon a shop that sold sanadahimo by the length, presumably catering to tea masters, tea schools, temples, shrines and art collectors. By this time, I’d ascertained that it wasn’t kumihimo braiding per se, but standard warp-weft weaving on a small, narrow scale. Sanada-himo ‘ribbons’ are much used in Japan to secure the lids to the ubiquitous traditional wooden boxes containing tea cups and other valuables. These wooden boxes offer some protection against damage by earthquakes and are convenient both in terms of transport and storage of small items. I bought two small lengths for 300Y/$US5 each. Each is a 2-metre lengths, with a standard width of 12mm, the central design being 3-4mm wide. In terms of colour, the one on the left is a blue with a greenish tinge, with a cream central design; the one at right, is a dark navy blue/black with a central design of orange and blue-grey with an outline in red.


To put sanada-himo in context, here’s a photograph of one wrapped around a wooden box containing a tea cup (chawan) from the Japanese tea ceremony. You’ll notice that there’s a slit in the bottom of the box to allow for the sanada-himo tape to pass around without scuffing or affecting the balance of the box. The third photo shows the chawan inside the box, wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord (braided on a marudai or kakudai braiding stand – an extremely simple braid structure because elegant simplicity is prized in the tea ceremony) – outside the box is the tiny ceramic tea-caddy, with its ivory (these days resin) lid, again wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord. The braids were often tied in very elaborate knots. Sometimes those knots were a family secret or tradition so that the owner of the very valuable ceramic utensils or the even more expensive tea could be security-packaged by its owner. Any potential thief would have to know the secret method of tying the braided cord!

History; sanada-himo vs sageo

In many Japanese textile traditions, there are two options when it comes to historical origins. Either the tradition came from China or it was entirely homegrown, the former explanation being part of the cultural homage to China (and perhaps a throwback to the centuries when Japan suffered a “cultural cringe” because everything of value seemed to come from that country) and the latter being part of the Japanese ‘independent’ thought or nationalism, that significant innovations or inventions must be the product of the Japanese mind. We see this with kumihimo and temari, for example. As a rule, I never discuss historical origins with the Japanese – ascribing their tradition to the Chinese could verge on a diplomatic incident. Part of the problem too is that the Shosoin Treasury of ‘Japanese’ textiles in Nara, the foundation stone of all things textile in Japan, is a mix of homegrown textiles and tribute textiles from the court of China from the 8th century; the experts are in constant dispute about which textile came from which country. Some Japanese experts have re-created Shosoin textiles using traditional Chinese methods, which surely doesn’t go down too well with the Japanese. Unsurprisingly then, there are two explanations of this type when it comes to the historical origins of sanada-himo.

Some say the flat woven cord technique is said to have originated in China, specifically Tibet (sanaaru) and come to Japan via the Silk Road around the 9th or 10th century (Heian Period); thereafter it was known as “small weaving” (sa-no-hata), which was later changed to sanada. Closer to home, others say it can be traced back to Yayoi Period (300BC-300AD) patterning, when textiles were pressed into clay to create surface patterning. Sanada-himo is also been identified with the well-known Sengoku Period 16th century samurai warrior, Masayuki Sanada and his family, who used this cord to wrap around his sword handle. The cord was sold in the town of Sakai (now a suburb of Osaka) as Sanada-no-himo.

While sword handles were also wrapped with braided cords (sageo), the woven sort graduated into the tea ceremony as supported by samurai where it took on the life as “samurai ribbon”, used as an all-purpose wrapping or tying cord for utensil boxes made from paulownia wood. The distinction between sageo and sanada-himo is blurred these days; by their very nature, sanada-himo will be very thin, while sageo will be thicker or even rounder in shape.

Here’s a photo of samurai swords on show at the Osaka City Museum.The top shows the blade only, the lower one showing the sageo braided cord in place with the blade sheathed in its lacquered case. The sageo was used to secure the sword to the warrior’s waist.

A five-metre length of sanada-himo is said to take a month to weave by hand. Obviously for use with samurai weaponry, the tight weave provides the tape with strength.


Sanada-himo is traditionally made from natural dyes: brown from the Japanese chestnut, yellow from Cape Jasmine, red from safflower, purple from gromwell root, in total around 70 plant species.

Modern manufacture

Orimoto Sumiya Co. Ltd. (www.sanadahimo.com) defines sanada-himo as a traditional textile originated from the Sanada family. The sanada-himo was and is still made of cotton, though silk is often mixed with cotton in manufacture for items relating to tea ceremony. Sumiya started business in 1928 and move from Kaga City, Ishikawa to Kanazawa in 2008. They use terms such as “shouken”, “kaganishiki” (Kaga City brocade), “fukuro” (wrapping) and “hirahimo” (flat braid) to distinguish between cotton and silklon (silk and nylon presumably), all-cotton, and double-woven and plain weave varieties.

Apparently the technique of sanada-himo developed into a weaving style (sanada-ori) and also applied to making obi, hence the term sanada-obi. It is used as bands for traditional wooden geta sandals (sanada-uchi), wristwatch bands, belts, dog leashes and bag handles.

While individuals might have their own designs created, there is a wide range of so-called “public” patterns available to anyone.

Weaving your own

I’m not aware of anyone copying traditional sanada-himo in the West by hand. Obviously it’s within reach of a handweaver familiar with warp-faced weaving. Theoretically braiders can braid it either on the ayatakadai stand which allows for perpendicular warp to weft ‘weaving’. The same goes for a karakumidai braiding stand.


See history and tubular manufacture to facilitate cutting trimming ends at http://www.gokotea.com/kb_results.asp?ID=5.

See a variety of surface design patterns, associated with sanada-himo as sword sageo used in iaido (swordplay art) at http://www.tozandoshop.com/Kyoto_Sanada_Himo_Sageo_p/000-sd[1].htm.

1Sanada himo musubeba kame no naki ni keri: see http://darumamuseum.blogspot.com.au/2007/09/belt-buckle-obidome.html

The pattern is Makiko Tada’s; the hand movement annotations are mine.

Pine and bamboo are popular among the Japanese because as evergreens they have come to symbolise steadfastness – pine rather gloriously connoting “unflinching purpose and vigorous old age” according to Japanese Gardens, an online handbook. Plums, pines and bamboo (the Three Friends of Winter) are auspicious, going by the Chinese name sho-chiku-bai, and are found in e-gasari ikat weaving (as explained by Moeller) and in traditional Japanese embroidery. Historically, the rise of Japanese confidence and independence from the 8th century Nara Period onwards was reflected in the arts and crafts in a move away from the heavy Chinese influence. Such things as cherry blossoms and pines replaced Chinese flowers. Certainly the texture of pine bark as a geometric pattern is reproduced by marudai braiders.

Live pine vegetation, as clipped sections of pine trees, are represented in Japanese textiles as bumpy half-circles resembling, to this Westerner, mushrooms. The penny fell when I stopped to admire the branches of manicured pine trees outside Osaka Castle in the autumn of 2007 and recognised these “bumps” as sections of pine tree vegetation. It turns out these dense pine branches are called “kasamatsu” or “cloud pruning”.

On kumihimo braids

It took me ages to work out what these abstracted, three-pointed scratchings were when I first saw them in Makiko Tada’s braiding book devoted to double-layer takadai braids. They are of course dried pine needles or pine straw and are an obvious motif for Winter among the Japanese. Makiko Tada braids them as white on a maroon background and they come without instructions; I’ve drafted the bobbin movements, as above, but have yet to braid it. I’m still deciding on an appropriate colour scheme. I’ve noticed on a website a link between pine straw and bad luck, a conclusion drawn from their presence in an important Noh play. I think it’s really odd that someone would suggest mothers embroider symbols of bad luck on gifts for their daughters, or that women would encircle their bellies with an obijime braid with this design. It also contradicts its presence (whether alive as green pine needles or dead as pine straw) linked to that other symbol of fidelity and longevity, the crane. I can only think this is a mis-reading of the Noh play and that pine straw is simply a Winter symbol.

On temari balls

Temari stitchers spend a lot of time and effort translating traditional Japanese design motifs to the rounded surface of a ball. Cranes, bamboo branches, tortoises, fans are all represented on temari. Temari stitchers like to imitate other Japanese textiles by including sashiko stitching in the form of areas of asanoha or hemp-leaf design. With attention turning to TAST 2012 weekly embroidery stitches (Week 1 was the fly stitch), I thought I’d note how temari stitchers have approached pine needles/pine straw and then decide which I should emulate.

There also exists in temari a matsuba kagari or “pine needle stitch” (matsu being pine). In the West, we refer to this as starbursts for fireworks, which it resembles of course. For the Japanese, it’s the pointy ends of the ‘pine needles’ which matter, not the fireworks coming out of the centre. See www.temarikai.com, Pattern 1104/page 10, though for a more comprehensive treatment of the stitch, see http://temarimath.info (‘Let’s talk about starbursts”, September 2011). I also recommend Takahara’s book, Flower Temari Beginner’s Course, page 19 (note especially the stitching on the left for those straight-stitched ‘petalled’ flowers, e.g. p.63).

While the starbursts derive more obviously from the larch tree, pine straw can be seen in somewhat random position on a temari ball in Ozaki, Cosmo 7 (colour photo 6, instructions pp.40-41), I have seen them placed evenly around the sides of a pentagon, as a white-on-blue design on Japanese printed fabric, in the style of a traditional heraldic design.

In one of Ozaki’s Lovely Temari designs for cranes, the obi looks like a series of (live) pine needles, wrapped together so they resemble greeting noshi.

Pine is linked with cranes in the two of the most recent temari books: Ozaki, ISBN-9784837701101, page 2 ball 2, instructions 48-49 – here as cloudburst topiary, and Kanke, Tomita, Shikina & Toyoda ISBN 978-4-8377-0199-6, page 13 ball 2, instructions  pp.68-69 – here as free-embroidered pine straw.


Dusenbury, Mary M.  Flowers, Dragons and Pine Trees: Asian Textiles in the Spencer Museum of Art (Manchester, Hudson Hills Press, 2004).

Moeller, Ann Marie. Prosperity, Longevity and “Happily Ever-After”: Symbolism and the Sophistication of Implication in Japanese E-gasuri (picture ikat) Textiles. Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Symposium, Sept.2008.

http://greygoat.limewebs.com/kimonomotifsplants.html. Ruby Kimono differentiates clearly between kasamatsu and matsuba pine needles.

http://www.japanesegardensonline.com/Site/Quintessential_flora.html. Japanese Gardens, an online handbook. A marvellously comprehensive description of all things ‘pine’!

http://www.pintangle.com/ TAST 2012.