April 13, 2010
by Chiharu Suzuki; Yuka Segawa
Kumihimo are colorful braided cords that have been used in a variety of ways in Kyoto culture for over a thousand years. Although the techniques for making these cords originated in China, the cords became popular in Japan and have been used for Shinto rituals, as accessories, and as ornamental features in traditional suits of armor.
Now, there are more than 40 different basic ways of braiding kumihimo. Combined with different kinds of patterns and shapes, the total number of types of kumihimo number around some 3000. Kumihimo represents an entire culture of braiding. Kumihimo are used not only to bundle objects together, but according to their use and appearance (color and braiding style), have also come to represent gender, indicate social standing, and show wealth.
Braiding is one of three basic ways of putting together string in order to make a larger piece of cord or fabric:
This way uses warp only. The width is in proportion to the number of yarns used.
This way uses only yarn.
This technique uses warp and woof.
The characteristics of braids
・Braids are seven times as strong as common textiles.
・Braiding is more difficult and time-consuming to make because it can’t be mechanized.
・Braids cannot come easily undone.
Because of the above qualities, kumihimo have been held in high esteem by the nobility in the past. Those in positions of power and other noblemen used kumihimo to show off their status. Later in history, samurai employed armor, helmets and swords. Kumihimo cordage was attached to each of these as dignified decorative elements. But when the epoch of samurai culture came to an end, the culture of kumihimo fell into decline.
However, kumihimo then came to be used in new ways by women. A type of kumihimo was invented as a way of tightening or loosening an obi to make it easier for a woman to move when she wore a kimono. This way of tightening an obi by using a kumihimo cord was called otaiko. This custom spread quickly and became very popular, making kumihimo expensive in this epoch. However, some lengths of kumihimo became shortened when used in otaiko, so they eventually became affordable for even common people. In this way, kumihimo was revived and is still in use today.
This picture shows Shotoku Taishi (574~622) and two attendants.
At that time, he held the most power in Japan and helped write Japan’s first constitution.
This images shows how braided cords were used as a decoration by the nobility of the past.
Braided cords were also used in armor to tie together separate parts.
A braided cord is placed at the hilt of sword, allowing the owner to “wear ” his sword.
This is an otaiko, a braided cord that is used to hold up an obi.
We decided to try and make a braid by ourselves. Here are a few pictures from our experience of making a braid.
We made a braid strap.
We used 12 different colors of yarn.
The completed strap!
We can use it on our cell phone.
Besides making the braid, we were allowed to try our hand at weaving a muffler.
This muffler was made from braided cords.
It used 120~130 different colors of yarn.
Where to buy braids in Kyoto: 羅組庵 Rakuen
Rakuen is a clothing store that features products made from braided cloth.
They sell clothes made by braided cloth.
Their braided obi, the broad sash that is worn over a kimono, isn’t loose, but is strong, and in many ways is more excellent than a woven obi.
Items such as these are sold at Rakuen
・ Straps for glasses
・ Hair ornaments
Closest station： Keage Station, Subway Tozai Line (use exit 1)
Please turn to the right at the exit and it is 7 minutes by foot to the store.