Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kumihimo Journeys - Part IV

Doing the Kumihimo
Okay, I think I've caught most of the major pre-construction issues that should be considered before starting a project.  Onto actually making a beaded braid... (For the purposed of the rest of this post, I am talking about an 8-strand all-bead braid, with the same beads on each strand).

Beading Your Strands.  This may seem a bit confusing, but while your braid will have 8 separate strands, you are really working with only four pieces of fiber.  You get eight strands because you're folding four pieces of material in half, and the middle is going to be the start of the point of braiding. 

Good planning is essential.  Measure (more about needed length below) and cut all four strands of fiber at the same time, fold them in half and mark the center point with a marker.  Roll up one side of the fiber onto a bobbin until you get to the middle, then roll up the other side.  When you're adding beads, keep one side rolled up, confirm your count and write it down, then roll up the side you added beads to - and try to capture all of the beads within the bobbin before unrolling the other side.  If you can't capture all of the beads, make a slip knot at the midpoint to keep the beads from floating to the wrong side.  Unroll the other side and repeat.  Do this on all four lenghts of fiber (8 bobbins, four pieces of thread, eight ends - get it?)

Mounting the Strands on the Disc.  Try to keep all of the beads captured within the bobbins and carefully pull out any slipknots you've needed to make.  At this point, pull out enough fiber so that there is a total of 6 inches between the bobbins - 3 inches on either side of the center mark.  I like to start with the fibers crossed North left to South Right, South Left to North Right, East Top to West Bottom and West Top to East Bottom.

Beginning the Braid.  If you haven't thought about it before, this is the time to decide how you are going to actually finish the end of the braid, because how you plan to finish will determine the best way to start.  In each case, you'll be making a dozen or so passes before actually using any beads, and you also will have to attach the counterweight. 

I am deeply fond of cone shaped bead caps captured by an eyepin buried in the braid, then wrapped.  I was also taught to use solid caps glued onto the end of the braid.  Another method calls for starting the braid around a jumpring that captures all eight strands at the point of braiding (where all threads are crossed).

The first five steps are how I start every beaded braid except when I'm using a jumpring at the poing of braiding.

1 - Get a piece of narrow (1/4 inch) ribbon, about  3 inches long.  Plus a long (2.5 -3 inches to be safe), eyepin in the right metal to match your findings.

2 - Flip the "loaded" kumihimo disc over.  If your disc is fresh, the slots will be nice and tight and you won't have to worry about the cords slipping out.

3 - At the point where the cords cross, capture the strands with the ribbon and made a SINGLE knot - one half of a box knot.  The knot must be on the bottom - this is ESSENTIAL.

4 - With a safety pin, attach the counterweight (a drawstring jewelry pouch filled with pennies works very well) to the tail ends of the ribbon.

5 - Start braiding.  I'm not going to tell you how this is done - you should know that before you start. 
There are videos on YouTube if you need a refresher.  Make 4 passes.  By "passes" - I mean a complete movement of North to South - South to North, and turn left. Two movements of thread, not one.

Now comes the fun part - incorporating the eyepin into the braid.

6 - At the point of braiding, hook the eyepin around one strand.  The pin must face downwards when you are holding the disc in the working position.  Check and make certain that the eye on the eyepin is securely closed, so it doesn't fall out.

7 - Braid another 6 passes and stop.  Check that the eye of the eyepin is securely capture by the braid - which should be tight and tiny at this point.  If it feels insecure, braid a few more passes.

8 - If everything feels secure, flip over, unpin the counterweight bag from the ribbon and very carefully unknot and remove the ribbon from the braid.  Reattach the counterweight bag by carefully putting the safety pin through the eye of the eyepin. 

Now you're ready to start moving beads into the braid.  I like to get about two or three inches of braided beads and then add the beadcap at the working end. 

9 - Flip the loom over again and place it on a flat surface - and made sure that all of the threads are secure in their slots. Remove the counterweight bag and safety pin.

10 - Feed a beadcap on to the eyepin and do a loop and wrap (I'm not telling you how to do this either).  Replace the counterweight bag by pinning it through the wire loop.

11 - Start braiding again, and keep at it until you've used up all the beads.
To finish the far side, you basically have to reverse the process.  It's a little tricker to add the eyepin, which will face UP when the loom is in the working position.  You're going to be braiding around the pin - like ribbons 'round the maypole this time.

Other Problems You May Encounter and One Thing You Sould NEVER EVER DO

1 - The Bead Won't Stay Tucked.  This is a particular problem at the start, when tension hasn't been established.  This is why I like using a counterweight bag, it creates the tension needed to keep the first few beads tucked.  Sometimes though, a bead just won't stay tucked, and you may have to hold it with your thumb before crossing it with the other threads. 

2 - I didn't tuck the bead, and I've made a few passes.  The bead is on the inside of the braid.  What do I do?  This is probably the most common mistake, and in trying to fix it, the easiest way to screw up your braid.  You'll need to undo the braid to the point where of the untucked bead - but you have to be CAREFUL.  Undoing means you are literally "backing up" - moving your strands and recollecting beads to the bobbin in the reverse order of the braid.  Unslot only one thread at a time. 

Never, ever, ever remove two strands from their slots at the same time.  EVER.  Got it? 

It's worse than crossing the streams*. It is even worse than feeding them after dark and getting them wet.**

When you take mulitple strands off, you lose the order of the braid, and it can be nearly impossible to repair.  There is no way to "fake" a braid - all mistakes are visible.

In some circumstances, if you don't catch the tucking mistake until it's too late (too many inches to undo), you can use a crochet hook to bring the thread over the bead and "pop" it out.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.  And sometimes, if you try to force it, you'll break the strand and then you'll have to start from scratch.

3 - I have beads left on some bobbins, and none on other.  In other words, I miscounted.  Is your piece long enough?  Do you have any beads left?  As long as the cord stays in the slot, you can unwind your bobbin and add beads at the back end.  In once case, I miscounted so badly that I had a total of 46 beads on three strands and zero on the other five, so I simply redistributed them on each strand.

4 - I've run out of cord on one side, and I'm not done yet!  Sorry kid, but your SOL.  You can't add thread length without having a visible break in the action.  You need to be careful at the start - my favorite motto is especially appropriate for kumihimo - Begin as you mean to go onMeasure twice and cut once is also somewhat relevant too.

Cord Length:  I guess this would be a good time to write about how much cord you'll need.  Everything is dependent upon the beads you use - bigger beads will mean you'll use more cord during each pass, and since it's not possible to add length to a working piece, you've got to plan carefully.

Frankly, I don't care about wastage - I'd rather have to throw out eight pieces of 10 inch long waste than be left with a too-short braid.  Working with largish beads or pearls, I double the finished length and add a few inches for good measure.  But wait - that means that each of the FOUR (not eight) pieces of cord/thread will be four times (and then some) the length of the finished necklace with you first measure and cut (because those four strands are folded in half).  Seed beads mean you've got to plan for 1.5 times the finished length.

I am certain that there are other things about kumihimo and beads that I should have mentioned - but those will have to go into another post, at another time.  The best thing about beads and kumihimo is that if you are willing to experiment - with your bead choices, your pattern layout, the string materials and the colors you use, you will never stop being surprised and delighted.


Kumihimo Journeys - Part III

I'll confess that while my first and only class on Kumihimo was really about how to add beads to the braid, it took me a few months of just braids, reading and research before I committed to an all bead braid.  The green braid I posted for the Green/Yellow challenge on Beading Daily was my first effort with an all-bead braid. 

What astonished me was how quickly the braid grew - completely out of proportion to how long it took me to string the beads onto the SuperLon.  This piece was where I learned that using SuperLon was not really the best material - while the size 8 beads had nice sized holes, the thread was just too heavy to get through doubled on a Big-Eye needle, which meant that I needed to string a few hundred beads onto eight strands one by one.  That took about 6 hours - but it only took about 2 hours to actually complete the braid.  I also had a bit of a mess when I was laying out the strands - I hadn't bobbin'd them - so everything got messed up and it too several hours to get the dratted strands unknotted.  I strongly recommend using the following procedure - string your beads and spool everything onto bobbins (more on that later, leaving just enough thread on each side of the middle to get the thread mounted in the loom slots) as you work - don't leave the winding until after you've got everything strung. 

Centrifugal force is NOT YOUR FRIEND, and you'll end up with a tangled mess.

Okay, enough with the basics.  On to the beads!

The Beads
I've used everything from size 11 Delicas and round seed beads on all eight strands, to keishi and drop pearls on alternating strands, to a combination of 2mm hollow metal beads, 2.5mm black onyx, 4 mm black onyx and 4.5mm peridot drops, and I've encounted a few problems:

1 - Getting the beads onto the braiding strand.  When you use natural materials such as pearls and stones, you're very likely to encounter uneven and very small holes.  This is where the choice of braiding fiber is important - you've got to plan for the smallest hole in your bead selection, otherwise you're going to spend a lot of quality time with broaches and reamers.  The worst were the nearly microscopic holes in these peridot drops.   I was warned when I purchased them that the holes were even but extremely tiny - and if I forced the thrread, I would likely crack the bead.

So, I sat with my halogen desk lamp turn up to solar flare strength and threaded several hundred drops onto Fireline without a needle.  I had to keep dipping the end of the Fireline into a tube of KrazyGlue to make it stiff.  This was an instance where having very very fine Beadalon or Softflex would have worked better, but I actually think the holes on the peridot were too small even for that.

2 - Having Enough Beads.  This can be a big problem, especially for a longer necklace.  I'm not terribly good at math, but if I was, I could probably figure out how many beads I needed for each inch of length on the finished braid.  It's not as simple as counting how many beads on an unbraided inch, since the beads both nestle and turn at an angle.   To be honest, most of the time I just wing it.  When I'm working in all pearls, I always use eight full strands - one for each strand on the braid.  I usually try to buy nine strands of the same pearls, so I have extra.

This one is made from 6 strands of gold potato pearls - the temp strands were 12 inches.  The finished piece is close to 20 inches.

3 - The Wrong Type of Beads.  Yes, there are beads that should not be part of a braid.  First are those are beads that are liable to cut through the strand fiber.   That means that unless you're going to use Fireline or a coated beading wire, heavy hollow metal beads and crystals are not a terribly good idea.  Even if the crystal beads don't cut the thread during the braiding process, there is a strong possbility that they will while wearing.  Other beads you may want to avoid, particularly when first learning, are bead with an uneven or assymetrical shape.  During the braiding process, the beads have to catch at a certain point among the strands - I call it "tucking" - and an irregularly shaped bead may be difficult to keep tucked.  If it doesn't stay tucked, it will pop inside and the braid will look wrong.
I am sure that there are other cautions, but these are the big three.


One comment my teacher made about using beads on all eight strands, or on more than four strands, is that you don't see the braid for the beads, and it looks more like crochet than kumihimo.  My reply is "so what?"  You can play with pattern, shape and color with beads just as you would with different stringing materials.  The variety is truly infinite, and you may find yourself completely surprised by the results. 
The way the finished braid looks is greatly dependent upon how you've set up the beads (or the color) initially.  If you're using all the same beads, of course the order of the braid doesn't matter, but if you've got multiple colors or shapes you are going to want to pay attention to the initial set up.  I strongly recommend getting a copy of Anne Dilker's Braiding for Beaders, which has a layout of the possible colorways for 8-strand braids.  This is also an awesome book on how to get started.  As I noted earlier, Anne Dilker was my instructor.

About being surprised by the results - sometimes there is really no predicting how a pattern will work out.  I was experiementing with a relatively small quantity of vintage pink satin glass beads - two sizes of drops, in combination with two strands of 2.5 mm and two strands of 4 mm black onyx and I ended up with a completely square braid!   The onyx and peridot braid above has a natural spiral to it (because the fireline was so much lighter than the black silk, it pulled tighter, creating the twist), but this pink and black "thing" is like a long, retangular log.

Pattern can be achieved in the use of color with adding beads to a strand.  But this means counting carefully - it's following a pattern EIGHT TIMES.  If you're off by one bead, it can be a big deal - and mean that you have to restring an entire strand.  Or not, if you don't care. 

This rainbow was achieved by simply putting the right number of size 11 seed beads for each color, plue one vermeil bead as a break.  It was definitely tedious, and I had to redo strands several times since I kept obsessively checking the pattern along each of the eight strands.

This one was not as successful - I was playing with both color and size, and at a certain point I was off by 1 or two beads, which means that the little copper bead "breaks" were off (although you can't see it in this scan I know that it's not perfect).  To fix some of the more obvious problems, I actually had to break off some of the seed beads.


Kumihimo Journeys - Part II

NB:  I had not intended to take nearly 4 months to write more about my Kumihimo efforts, but between the holidays, my continuing obligations for The Noritake News, a herniated disc in my cervical spine, and a trip to Tucson (yah!), I completely forgot that I had started to post about my Kumihimo work.  In fact, this post was originally meant to be a cross-posting of a series of pieces I wrote for the Beading Daily forums, mostly in response to a recent Beading Daily blog entry by Leslie Rogalski, who wrote about using wire and pearls for Kumihimo.  The initial post in November was written from the perspective of learning a new craft and exploring possibilities.  The following (and subsequent posts are more about conveying what I've already learned).


I'm not an expert on Kumihimo, by any stretch of the imagination. I don't use a traditional marudai and tama, and I don't think I even want to, and if you want to really learn about the art and science of braiding, I definitely recommend reading Jacqui Carey's or Roderick Owen's books on Kumihimo and other braiding techniques. I've simply taken one class with a very good teacher, read and practiced and then extrapolated on the single technique of braiding with a foam disc, plastic bobbins and beads. In my daytime/non-beading life, I put a lot of effort into capturing "lessons learned" and publishing institutional knowledge for my company - and it seems to always carry over - I just like to educate, I guess.

The Tools:

The traditional Japanese craft calls for a wooden marudai and weighted tama (bobbins) - and you work with both hands moving opposite strands in a variety of motions to obtain specific patterns. It's very difficult to work with beads using the traditional tools. Actually, its simply difficult to work with the traditional tools, period - with or without beads. The smooth wood and the need for weighted bobbins and counterweights on the growing braid are simply not conducive to moving beads.

The Loom (Or Disc): The invention of the foam disc with 32 slots made working beads into braids extremely easy, since the foam slots hold the working strands in place, eliminating the need for weighted bobbins. There are two major manufacturers for the standard round 32-slot kumihimo disc - Hamanaka and BeadSmith.

When you start with the basic "fill the slot" kumihimo braid (the best one for an all-bead braid), you need to orient the 8 strands equally, and this usually works best with cardinal compass points (NESW). Both the Hamanaka and BeadSmith versions have the cardinal points marked, but for some odd reason, the Hakamata disc offsets the points by a few degrees - so when you hold the disc and the logo is parallel to the floor, the strands form an X, rather than a cross, but since you need to orient the strands to a cross (cardinal compass points), this becomes awkward. The Beadsmith disc has the markings correctly oriented and aligned with the logo, so you start out properly. I did not know it at the time, but the person who taught me how to make beaded braids - Anne Dilker of Mosshollow Pottery - was working with BeadSmith on the new disc.

Making your Own Disc. This can be done with 1/3" thick foam rubber - though you can definitely use foam core or cardboard (both of those will break down quickly, though). I've found the perfect round disc in the Children's craft section of Michaels' - it's sold as a "memo" or "pin" board, and you'll have to pull off the hanger from the back, but it the only piece of thick foam that I've found readily available. The foam stuff in the craft stores is very thin and you'll otherwise need to glue several layers together - which can be messy unless you can find the packages of pre-adhesive circles.

When you cut your slots, try to keep the cuts short (no more than 1/3 of an inch, and it does help to cut a little of the foam away from either side (look at a premade disc to see what I mean), This will help getting your strands in and out of the slots, and keep finer materials from fraying.

Bobbins: Bobbins are essential - in both large and small sizes. Even when making short braids, having your thread tails properly wrapped up helps ensure even tension. These are not sewing machine bobbins, but ones that are used by knitters. The best type are the disc shaped ones, called EZ-Bobs, which have flexible covers that pop opened with a little thumb pressure. You can get a set of 8-12 small bobbins for about $4 on eBay, or $8 for the larger ones. While you make only work with 8 strands at a time, it's always a good idea to have an extra bobbin or two around. The small sizes are good, particularly for short strands and when you are braiding with thin cording, and the larger for heavy cord, long strands or bigger beads.

Counterweights: My teacher didn't think that counterweights were necessary when using the foam disc, but I disagree, I like to use a counterweight on the braid, particularly when starting out with lighter weight strands or a combination or light and heavy weight strands. My counterweight is a drawstring bag filled with pennies - and I can adjust as needed. When using a traditional marudai and tama, the corrolation between the weight of the bobbins and counterweight on the braid need to be pretty exact.  Using a counterweight on a foam board is just a matter of determining what feels best and keeps the tension even on the growing braid.

There have also been times when I've needed to counterweight the bobbins instead of the braid. After a few uses, particularly with heavy material strands (such as satin cord), the slots stretch. If you then go back to using thinner material strands, it becomes hard to keep even tension when the braid becomes heavier than the collective weight of the bobbins. For example, when I was working on a braid with eight strands of seed beads, I needed to keep a counterweight on both the braid and on each of the bobbins (which were, individually, quite light). For the bobbins, I used brass drops I found at Metalliferous. They had holes in them, so I used either safety pins or paperclips to attach to the far end of each of the braid strands.

Stringing Materials - Non-Bead Strands

Satin Rattail - This is a smooth, shiny woven cord, soft and flexible - but also quite durable and not prone to fraying along the body. It is pretty much the most popular material for non-beaded braids. There are three sizes and two kinds of rattail. The sizes are referred to as Rattail (largest - 2 mm, and most popular weight), Mousetail (medium - 1.5 mm) and Bugtail (thinnest - 1.4 mm), and are either made from Rayon (wood-based fiber, US made. Expensive and can hard to find) or Polyester (petroleum-based fiber, Chinese made, very common and generally cheap). Both the rayon and polyester come in a wide variety of colors in the "rattail" size, and less variety in the other sizes.

Except as noted below, all of these braids were made with satin rattail. The large diameter braid (third from the top) is a twelve-strand monster.

Gimp - Shiny rayon or polyster thread coiled around a multistrand cotton base, equivalent in size to bugtail. Gimp can be found in spools or unwoven from upholstery trim. It's also a difficult material to use with a foam board, particularly a new one, since the coiled/wrapped covering doesn't hold up to the constant rubbing against the slots, and the bobbins, nor against pulling and retensioning. The green braid, fifth from the top has two strands of green gimp and the last braid in the arc (on the bottom, with the green beads) used six strand of gimp and two of Super-C for the beads.

Knitting Yarn - Great stuff, particularly novelty stuff like ribbon yarns, eyelash yarns, ombres, etc.  I strongly recommend checking out the closeout pages on WEBS, for single balls of really interesting yarn.   I've had my eye on yarn made from recycled sari silk, and I'll provide an update when I finally do try it out. The one thing to be careful about is matching weights when you're mixing fiber types. Lightweight yarn should be mated with something that has a bit of body and strenght (like S-Lon or SuperLon) when other strands in the braid are made from heavier materials. The narrow pink, purple and black braid (second from top) is make with Japanese knitting ribbon paired with matching colors of SuperLon.

Embroidery Floss - Great stuff too, and this is the traditional material for making "friendship" bracelets (a type of flat braid). An all-floss braid will be very small in diameter, but quite strong. An interesting treatment is to combine on or two separated threads of metallic floss with a strand of rattail into a single strand (one of eight).

String Materials - Bead Strands

SuperLon or S-Lon: Nymo's really heavyweight cousin was invented for the shoemaker trade - this is the same stuff that holds the uppers to the soles of your shoes. Althought this was the thread I was taught to use for beaded braids, I've found that it is a bit of overkill strenghtwise and can be hard to work with when using beads that have small holes, or when you really would like to use a big-eye or twisted wire needle when threading beads. The diameter of SuperLon is just too thick to pass through most beads when doubled. I do like to pair SuperLon with lightweight yarns on a single bobbin to give them strength and durability.

Nymo: I have not had a good experience with Nymo - I've found it to delicate to withstand the constant pulling and friction on the disc. However, your mileage may vary.

Beading Silk: I'm a big fan of Gudebrod spooled silk, for both stringing/knotting and for kumihimo. There is nothing like the slide of beads on silk, and the suppleness of the finished product. While there is a lot of length on a spool (in 20 years, I've only emptied ONE spool of silk), it is still expensive and a full range of colors can be hard to find.

Pearl Cotton Embroidery Thread: This is the best substitute I've found for silk, and I've got a line on a great supplier who sells the thread on bobbins in a very wide range of colors - Threadart. Frankly, I bought the thread and figured that it wasn't going to work - that it would fray from the slots and the pulling - but it's as durable as silk (maybe more so). While the cotton is not as frictionless as silk, it's still a pleasure to use.

Metal Wire: I do confess, I was left scratching my head after seeing and reading Leslie's post on Kumihimo last week when she used wire. No disrespect intended, but the results were less than pleasing to my eye. The wire looked kinked and the finished bracelet examples looked very stiff and uncomfortable to wear. The essence of kumihimo is the evenness of the braid - each strand fitting and interlocking, creating a seamless whole. Using wire for every strand (even "dead soft") defeats that. I can see where a thin wire, married with rattail, could result in a very pleasing, albeit stiff, braid, but I'm just not on board with eight strands of stiff wire. Sorry.

Coated and Cabled Beading Wire (Beadalon, Tigertail, Softflex): Not something I would recommend under regular circumstances (see the "Beads" section for irregular circumstances). This stuff is expensive, particularly the 49 strand material that has the best drape and flexibility! Why waste it in a braid?

Fireline and Other Braided Filiments: Useful for particular circumstances (see "Beads" section for further explanation).

A note about thread color.

When creating an "all bead" braid, the color of your thread will be of minimal importance, unless you are using transparent beads. The thread is fully buried inside of the braid, so you'll usually will never see it, but if your beads are large, or irregular, the thread may be visible within the work. If you're a perfectionist (like me), you'll probably want to match your thread to your bead color regardless.

When beads are on only a few strands of a braid, color will be more important, since you'll see the bead strand thread within the body of the braid.