Kumihimo 101: 5 Easy Steps for Braiding Beads, and More Kumihimo Tips

Learning any new skill can be a challenge, and kumihimo is no exception. This ancient Japanese art of braiding produces some gorgeous beadwork — but it can be difficult to get started. Having good instructions and the right tools can make all the difference in your kumihimo experience. Read on for expert guidance to get started braiding beads today!

To learn about the history of kumihimo, check out the brief but very interesting “Kumihimo History.” For an entertaining story from one of Beadwork’s editors about learning how to do kumihimo, see “Learning Kumihimo the Hard Way: Lessons From a Beginner.”

Kumihimo Disks

Kumihimo looks complicated, but it’s actually rather easy once you get the hang of it. However, using a kumihimo disk for the first time can be tricky because there are several types. Disks are usually made of foam and can be circular (for round braids), square (for flat braids; see “Kumihimo Using a Square Disc”), or octagonal (for round OR flat braids). Some kumihimo disks have numbers printed next to the slots, some have numbers printed below each slot, and some have no numbers at all — although this is less common.

kumi tips

The instructions in the next section are for a round kumihimo disk with numbers printed to the right of the slots. Follow these instructions after stringing your cords with beads according to the instructions in your pattern.

Kumihimo 101

1. Hold the disk parallel to the floor with number 32 held away from you. Tuck the cords into the slots around the disk and place the wire/knot/button through the center hole (Fig. a). Add a weight to the wire/knot/button below the disk to maintain correct tension. The braid will form at the center hole, extending below the disk as you work. Do not allow the cords to tangle, and keep the weight suspended.

Fig. a: Load 1 strand into each of these slots: 7/8, 8/9, 15/16, 16/17 (blue thread), 23/24, 24/25, 31/32, and 32/1 (red thread).

Fig. a: Load 1 strand into each of these slots: 7/8, 8/9, 15/16, 16/17 (blue thread), 23/24, 24/25, 31/32, and 32/1 (red thread).

2. Move the bottom left cord between notches 16 and 17 up to the notch between 30 and 31. Move the top right cord between notches 32 and 1 down to the notch between 14 and 15 (Fig. b).

Fig. b: Moving the first two strands. The dotted green line shows the strand’s movement from its starting point to its new position. New positions also marked by black arrows.

Fig. b: Moving the first two strands. The dotted green line shows the strand’s movement from its starting point to its new position. New positions also marked by black arrows.

Rotate the disk one-quarter turn clockwise so number 24 is now at the farthest (top) position where number 32 used to be (shown at the top of Fig. c).

Fig. c: Moving the second two strands after making the quarter turn. The dotted green line shows the strand’s movement from its starting point to its new position. After the next quarter turn, number 16 will be at the farthest (top) position.

Fig. c: Moving the second two strands after making the quarter turn. The dotted green line shows the strand’s movement from its starting point to its new position. After the next quarter turn, number 16 will be at the farthest (top) position.

3. Move the bottom left cord between notches 8 and 9 up to the notch between 22 and 23. Move the top right cord between notches 24 and 25 down to the notch between 6 and 7 (Fig. c). Rotate the disk one-quarter turn clockwise.

4. Using the cords that are now the farthest and closest to you after the turn, repeat Steps 2 and 3 until the braid is the desired length.

5. When making beaded braids, slide each bead to the center hole and tuck it firmly under the cord that crosses to the right or left to lock the bead in place. Do not allow the bead to pop up.

More Kumihimo Tools

In addition to a kumihimo disk, it’s also essential to have bobbins and a weight. Bobbins help secure your cord ends to keep your beads from sliding off while you braid. Cut a 1/2″ slit in the back (flat) side of the bobbin, slip the end of your cord through the slit, wind the cord around the bobbin, and snap the bobbin closed.

kumi bobins

Using a weight helps maintain correct tension as you braid a kumihimo project. Tension is important to ensure that your project ends up the same length as in the pattern. For advice from Maggie Thompson on achieving correct tension and braid length, as well as other kumihimo tips, see “7 Kumihimo Tips and Tricks.”

A big-eye needle, while not crucial, is another useful tool for doing kumihimo. The entire needle is an eye, which lets you easily thread it. In addition, the needle collapses to fit through the beads. For really tiny beads, you might need to stiffen your thread ends with glue instead of using a needle.

For a complete set of kumihimo tools, including a 6″ round disk, 8 locking bobbins, a 50-gram weight, and 2 big-eye needles, get the Essential Kumihimo Tool Set.

Another optional but extremely handy tool is a kumihimo stand. Using a stand can help reduce the stress on your hands and wrists, as well as on your neck and back, while you braid. A kumihimo stand also allows you to use both hands for braiding. Plus, a stand gives you a tangle-free way to store your in-process kumihimo projects! Get Maggie Thompson’s portable Traveller Kumihimo Stand.

Kumihimo stand

Kumihimo Projects Galore

Once you have all the kumihimo tools you need and enough how-to instruction to get started, all you need are some beautiful designs! For a variety of kumihimo projects from Maggie Thompson, check out her three eBooks:

kumi ebooks

Kumihimo Made Easy: 10 Beautiful Projects to Braid
Elegant Kumihimo: 10 Projects to Braid with Seed, Shaped, and Crystal Beads
10 Kumihimo Patterns to Braid: Kumihimo Bracelet & Necklace Patterns with Shaped Beads

If you love the convenience of a kit, Maggie also has three projects currently available as kits:

kumihimo tips

Hearts Afire: a gorgeous necklace perfect for Valentine’s Day or any special occasion
Holey Tubes! Cuff in Blue: a stylish cuff bracelet made from aqua-lined sapphire AB seed beads and crystal silver rainbow O beads, with silver noodle beads and findings
Holey Tubes! Cuff in Fuchsia: a wearable cuff bracelet made from amethyst-lined fuchsia seed beads and copper O beads, with antiqued copper noodle beads and findings

Happy braiding!
Lavon Peters
Managing Editor, Beadwork magazine


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