I’ve paused momentarily in braiding the embroidery braids in Jacqui Carey’s book, Chinese Braid Embroidery, just to consolidate what I’ve been learning.

I’m finding the braids look better with the high tension that comes from the bobbins standing high up from the platform – that is, just at that point when extra thread has to be released. It goes without saying that for the first braids in Carey’s book, her advice about keeping the far bobbins as close as possible to the back uprights is excellent!

Braid JC2. I wasn’t happy with my first attempt at the purple-and-white chevrons, so I had another go. As with all braiding, I need to keep my eyes both on the bobbin movements as well as what’s happening at the braiding point.

Braid JC5. This is the green-and-white braid, reproducing one held in the British Museum. Perhaps it was the strong contrast between the very dark green and white, but (in pearl cotton 5) it has come out the best-looking braid so far. For some unknown reason, it does require ‘tweaking’ at the braiding point. As with the earlier braids in two colours, it’s very easy to mislay the bobbins and end up with a mistake, especially when working at speed; I’m getting used to “reverse braiding” and undoing any mistakes.

Braid JC1. I came across some very thin, very glossy silk-like synthetic which is two-ply. The braid ends up being 2mm wide. There appear to be inconsistencies in the way the ridges fall, but frankly I’d need a magnifying glass to analyse them; I think it all comes down to tweaking anything vaguely awry at the braiding point as soon as you detect a problem.

Importantly, this is my first attempt at joining threads as Miao braiders themselves do. With each succeeding knot and join, I got better. I need to refer to bobbin lace making for better joins. In Miao textiles, joins are disguised as part of the applique/couched embroidery process and, frankly, with such thin thread, joins are required at very short intervals. I’ve been used to warping bobbins “by hand” so far, but will upgrade to warping between two doorknobs several metres apart: the thinner the braid, the longer the thread needs to be. I wonder how long the silk threads are which Miao buy at their markets.

My aim, before too long, is to copy in all respects the tiny panel at Fig.99 in the book. I doubt it will be anything like the 8×4.5cm of the original, but I like the idea of (re-)creating a piece of Miao textile which shows the braid in context, among cross-stitch and folded silk-ribbon applique.

Photo 1. The 2ply synthetic, showing a near-empty bobbin ready for another piece of thread to be joined.

Photo 2. First attempts at braids JC1-4.

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Today, braids JC3 and 4 from Jacqui Carey’s book, Chinese Braid Embroidery.

All are 2 metres in length in pearl cotton 5, one strand per bobbin, yielding a braid 5mm wide.

Note erratum page 67: The arrangement of colours for JC3 should be the starting bobbins 1,2, 7 and 8 are one colour and bobbins 3,4,5 and 6 of another colour. The surface design resembles the takuboku woodpecker braid in Japan, as featured in samurai armour.

JC4 resembles the kata-sasanami braid in Japan.

Left to right: JC1, JC2, JC3 and JC4.

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Today, I worked braid JC2 from Jacqui Carey’s book, Chinese Braid Embroidery, creating a two-colour chevron braid; again in pearl cotton 5, one strand per bobbin, 2 metres in length, creating about 125cm/50″, about 5mm wide.

I decided to try attaching the thread to the bobbin using a Western bobbin lace-style slip knot. This worked extremely well, enabling me to quick-release thread almost with one hand. I noticed an improvement if I kept the bobbin thread about 3cm/1″ from the cuphook on the top; any lower down and you have to exaggerate the hand movements to keep out of the way of the cuphook; any higher and the thread and slip knot catch on the cuphook. I’m not intending to think about making my own bobbins until I’ve done all the braids in Jacqui Carey’s book.

Borrowing from the Japanese bobbin-and-stand tradition (the takadai in particular), I decided also to attach a cotton leader to the roller and secure the bobbin threads to that leader. This stopped the braid from slipping.

As I go, I’m imitating the photos of original Miao textiles she has published with each braid diagram, by keeping the colour schemes identical to the photos. This lends an air of authenticity to what I’m doing. Today’s was white and light purple.

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Temari Teaching Aid

September 28, 2016

A temari student of mine is currently working on stitching Complex 10 divisions, stitching on a pale blue mari. As a teaching aid, I developed this sequence of three balls, with the same design: a small Simple 10, a larger Complex 10 and also a 32-pole version.

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Today, a repeat of JC 1, the first braid in Jacqui Carey’s book Chinese Braid Embroidery. I decided I was sufficiently used to the bobbin movements to tackle a monochromatic braid. To achieve a longer braid, I used 2 metres/35 inches of single-strand pearl cotton 5 on each bobbin. To maximise the braided length, I knotted each strand to the brass cuphook on the top of each bobbin. Towards the end of the braid, the knot came off the cuphook – of course, the Miao braiders simply tie on another length and keep braiding. The hand movements were very quick; what took up most time was winding on the threads. I kept wondering whether a slip knot, as used in bobbin lace, wouldn’t have been more efficient. I was happy with the length – 50 inches/127cm – and the width was the same as yesterday’s multicoloured version at 5mm.

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Today, an 8-bobbin braid, JC1, in single strands of pearl cotton 5. I chose a different colour for each strand to better see the braid structure. The resulting braid was 5mm wide and just 20cm/9 inches long from 1 metre lengths, not having secured the threads in any way to the bobbins.

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Here’s another sample in the current series, based on 2 metres of pearl cotton 5 for each colour and five-colour diamonds.

The colour scheme is, again, not my own. I’m still far from choosing my own colours. It originates in a karakumi/diamond pattern worked on maru-dai or round stand by renowned American braider, Michael Hattori. Though the finished product looks similar, the way of working the diamond braid on the two stands is different. I’ve yet to work karakumi on a marudai; my own marudai is too small at 9.5″ diameter – I need a marudai which is 12″, or even 17″, wide.

This time, I’ve increased the number of diamonds to three and tensioning is improving. There are no gaping holes anymore in my work and no ‘slubbing’ of colours where the tension is too weak. I’m now much more keenly aware of which threads to tension when. It’s vitally important to be somewhat “mechanistic” or “industrial” in the kata or hand-movements. The hand movements have to be the same throughout; once something works, it has to be repeated. I’m constantly reminded of an experience I had in Kyoto, watching a young apprentice doll-maker at work, demonstrating at the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum. Every movement was carefully considered and replicated as if he was a machine. Everything he picked up went back into the same place; his movements looked automated. It was the only way to get the dolls looking exactly like each other. We in the West find this odd – we too often like to break the rules and too often feel uncomfortable about submitting ourselves to the discipline of repetition.

I know now there are three vital areas to monitor regarding tensioning: one is the top threads of the half-diamond which must be tightened before working the centre-point thread; another is going back and tensioning the previous threads on the top half of each full diamond and lastly there’s the very centre of each full diamond: I always drape these particular ones over the top of the stand which helps in the tricky reversing of direction involved for the bottom half of each full diamond. And there’s just one more: where the top of each full diamond interacts with the surrounding diamonds – I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it just needs an extra tug to nudge the point of the diamond into position. This last one is the scariest of all, but just keep tugging!

Apart from tensioning, the other major issue at this stage of development is the ‘boundary threads’, here in yellow, which “outline” all the diamonds and half-diamonds. It’s vital to keep these ‘passive’ threads out of the way of the ‘worker’ threads involved in each diamond, so I’ve used plastic freezer clips/barrettes from IKEA to ‘keep me honest’. The clips are not critical in working so few diamonds, but they help.

Obviously I’m now on the way to working a Four Diamond sample. But first, I want to backtrack and work a Double Diamond again, this time with six colours rather than five. The six colours will allow me to work a combination of small and large diamonds; the varying sizes of diamonds is aesthetically enticing. But only achievable with six colours! More on that later.

I’m deliriously happy that I now no longer need to refer to diagrams. On reflection, it’s taken me about 100 hours all up to memorise the hand movements.

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Working the mitsubishi (Triple Diamond)

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Start of the five-colour mitsubishi (Triple Diamond)