Wednesday 23 August 2023

Kumihimo - Japanese Silk Braiding by Domyo - Japan House - London

Domaru Armour with O-sode


Kumihimo - Japanese Silk Braiding by Domyo was on at Japan House, finishing on 11 June 2023. I was lucky enough to catch it earlier this year and I hope to give you a flavour of the exhibition as you can no longer go and see it.  

Kumihimo silk threads and winding equipment

Kumihimo are finely braided cords that have a long history in Japan.  They were introduced from Asia around 1500 years ago, around the same time as Buddhism.  They are often associated with the obijime, the decorative cord securing the obi sash of a woman's kimono. However they were also an important component in Japanese armour and the decorative knots that can be made from kumihimo decorated important items or garments of high ranking officials.  Modern carbon fibre kumihimo are used in aerospace enginering, architecture, athletic equipment and prostheses.

Braided Court Sashes

Kumihimo are made by tying off 3 or more strands of thread at one end and diagonally overlapping them in a consistent and uniform manner.  Complex kumihimo may use more than 140 strands of the thread but the simplest, known as mitsuami, is the 3 strand form used to plait long hair.  Braided cords are highly elastic and strong.  Their strength can be adjusted depending on the braiding and tying methods used.

Acrylic Marudai and Kara-kumi braid

A marudai, which would traditionally be made of wood, is one of the devices used to make kumihimo.  A takadai can also be used.

Room sized acrylic marudai

A marudai makes round braid whereas a takadai makes flat braid. A marudai is easier to use.

Acrylic Takadai 

Researchers at the Tachi Lab at the University of Tokyo have worked with Yusoku Kumihimo Domyo to create structures with unique properties based on origami, geometry, linkage and polyhedral packing...

Branching and Merging of Kumihimo based on the Geodesics of the Tetrahedron 

Japan isn't the only country to make braided cords.  The Yak neck ornament below comes from Bhutan.  South America also has a long history of kumihimo.  In fact the oldest known flat braided cord comes from the Guitarrero Cave in Peru and is carbon dated to between 8650 and 5780 BCE.

Yak Neck Ornament

The variety and complexity of kumihimo was quite astounding.  Hope you enjoyed this whistlestop tour.

Japan House is just near the Design Museum on Kensington High Street in London.

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