Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kumihimo with Wire

Reading Susan's post earlier this week about her technique for finishing kumihimo ends gave me a push to try something I've had on my 'to do' list for ages. Kumihimo with wire. 

I visited the Stitch & Hobbycraft fair in Manchester about 15 years ago and was lucky enough to meet Jacqui Carey who was demonstrating the art of Japanese braiding. I was instantly mesmerised. She explained the origins of the art before going on to demonstrate on a beautiful wooden marudai with wooden bobbins and miles of gorgeous hand dyed silks.

Kumihimo braids were originally used by Samurai soldiers. They were used to connect the various pieces of armour. Being made from silk, they were strong, light and allowed the soldiers to move freely.

With the abolition of the Samurai class, the focus then shifted to fashion. The braids were used to make obi-jime, the ties used around the fabric sash of a kimino.

And more recently, the marudai has been adopted by jewellery makers for making cords in their designs.

Sue's beautiful necklace -

One of my own kumihimo creations with beads.

After the demonstration, we were given the opportunity to have a go of the Marudai and purchase our own. My budget at the time wouldn't stretch to the traditional wooden design (it was gorgeous, but a fortune!), but I absolutely had to have one, so I got an acrylic version with plastic weights.

It's really difficult to take a picture of with it being see through, but hopefully you can make it out.
It did have a pretty satin bag for adding stones to weight down the cord from the centre, but that has been misplaced, so I've repurposed and old knitting machine weight that has the same effect.

I've used 0.4mm copper wire and wrapped it around the spools, these are connected in the centre and the weight added to draw the finished cord through the centre hole of the marudai.

To start, I tried with a simple weave, square braid. It's not quite as easy with wire and I found that to get a neat finish, you had to be careful to keep an eye on the centre of the cord as it makes up. The process of weaving is to place your bobbins in pairs at North, South, East, and West. They are then moved into different positions across each other to create the cord.

Here you can see it appearing below the Kagami (mirror) of the marudai. 

As the weight touches the bottom, the cord can be wrapped up to keep the tension.

After trying a simple weave, I got a bit braver and decided to try a more complicated flat weave. You don't need to set up the marudai again with the wire, just start in the new pattern and then snip the sections off when you're finished.

I really like how the flat weave turned out, it's not the neatest, but reminds me of Celtic knots. I think a thicker wire could make a better finish. I need to order more wire and experiment!

The top weave here is the square braid. If you look closely, you can see on the left hand side where I changed the weight. The heavier the weight, the more it will draw the wire through and the longer the stitches in the weave, a lighter weight will make them closer together.

The final square braid ended up around 2mm thick. I snipped the ends and pulled it through a drawplate to pull in any loops that were a bit wider than they should have been.

I raided my stash for anything with a hole large enough to fit over the braid and found some ceramic beads I've been hoarding from Lesley Watt. They were perfect. A Bit of liver of Sulpur to darken the copper and a bit of a polish and here's the (nearly) finished design.

I was hoping to use Sue's technique for finishing the ends, but the weave was tighter than if it had been done in thread, so unfortunately the wire wouldn't push through. To hold the ends, I've just wrapped them with more wire for now.

If you'd like to find out a bit more about using a marudai, I can recommend Jacqui's book, Beginner's Guide to Braiding.

Her UK shop with marudai's, supplies and more books can be found here

Thanks for reading!



  1. Very pretty. Love the look of the different braids/weaves.

  2. WOW that's so cool. I love the look of this braiding in both cord and wire. I wish I had more time to play with this sort of thing. Your bracelet is wonderful as is the beaded piece you created!!

  3. That bracelet is fabulous!! I've been wanting to try viking knit, this has that same look that I've been loving, but I think I like the way this weave looks even better. That's quite the contraption you've got there...

  4. This was a fascinating post, Caroline. Your bracelet looks amazing! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Celtic knot work - Yes! Heavens thats cool.

  6. Thanks ladies! I'm really pleased with the final result, so much better than my dodgy attempt at Viking weave. You're right Keirsten, it is a great alternative, although this turned out much stiffer. I think a heavier weight would make it a bit looser depending on how you wanted it.

  7. I've been wanting to try kumihimo with wire but wasn't sure what guage wire to use. In the states, it's gage not mm so I've got to find a chart that tells me which one is 4mm. I'd really like to try that flat weave. I've done lots of kumihimo with cord but no flat weaves.. Thanks for showing us how pretty it can be.

  8. I've done Viking, as was amazed to learn what a drawplate will do for wire (and what that knit can do to my poor hands!). Now I'm fascinated by the marudai. I love braiding, and anything that can keep me from jumbling up the material must be a wonder. Thanks for showing us.

  9. Absolutely stunning that you did this with such gorgeous wire.


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