Kumihimo Braiding: A History
Kumihimo continues to surge in popularity with crafts lovers all over the world, and we’re not surprised: evidence of Kumihimo braiding dates back to 7,500 BC, so there’s plenty of inspiration to draw from. From making a simple, colourful bracelet to creating a Kumihimo necklace with integrated pearls and crystals, there’s a lot you can do with braiding if you use the right Kumihimo supplies.
To learn more about the tradition, let’s dive into the history of the ancient Japanese art form to truly learn to love it.
Kumihimo is Japanese for “gathered threads”. By interlacing strands, you can create beautiful cords and jewellery in all the colours of the world. It is thought that Kumihimo as we know it today developed in the Nara period (645-784 A.D.). During this era, China had a great influence on the arts in Japan and introduced it to Buddhism. Many Buddhist items like rosaries and priests’ robes were adorned with braided cords and the Japanese drew their inspiration from these, developing their braiding skills even further. They started to create intricate cords by using a form of finger-loop braiding, sometimes interlacing as many as 132 strands! Braiding was seen as a form of meditation, which is why monks often did the work.
Later during the Heian period (784 – 1184 A.D.) Kumihimo braids were often used as belts rather than as temple ornaments, most famously the Hirao belt that was only worn by royalty. When the Samurai warrior class became powerful during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333 A.D.) and throughout the Muromachi period (1333-1573 A.D.), Kumihimo braids were used to attach swords to their sashes and to wrap sword handles for a better grip.
Nowadays, most people use a disk to braid, but you can also go for a Takadai or Marudai with bobbins, wooden frames that you can place on a table and are more versatile than a disk. It’s thought that these frames were invented during the Edo period (1616-1867) in Japan, allowing for more complex patterns. With a Marudai you can create any type of braid, whether it’s flat, square, four-sided or hollow. A Takadai is best for flat braids.
After the Samurai lost much of their power to the Emperor Meji in 1867, braids and cords were mainly used for decorative purposes.
In the 20th century, Kumihimo was introduced to the Western world and many female sensei travelled to Europe and the US in the 1970s to give Kumihimo classes in the West. Today it’s one of the most popular braiding techniques worldwide. If you want to know more about Kumihimo and which techniques to use, read our article on the secrets to Kumihimo success.