KUMIHIMO INSTRUCTIONS FOR BLIND BRAIDERS
BEGINNING BRAIDING STEP-BY-STEP
We strongly recommend reading through all instructions once before starting. Some informative footnotes are later in the instructions.
SET UP FOR 8-STRAND ROUND BRAID, NECKLACE LENGTH
If you have a new loom, loosen the notches a bit by putting a scrap cord in each notch once and removing it, all the way around the loom. You can borrow the end of one of your necklace cords, without damaging it. Your octagonal loom has eight points and 32 notches. The points are marked as compass points: north, northeast, east, etc. Notch number 1 is the first one to the right of North. Notch 32 is the one to the left of North. You can place a raised dot or pin with a head into the rim at North, or cut an identifying mark.
(1) Cut eight cords (4 of one color or texture and 4 of another) about five feet (60 inches) in length. Grab them all at one end, stacking up the cords so that the ends in your hand are together and of equal length. Tie one large overhand knot in them, leaving a short tassel after the knot is pulled tight. Make sure all cords are smoothly incorporated in the knot and none are protruding untidily from the middle of the knot
(2) Positioning the knot in the center of the hole in your disk (long ends on top and short ones dangling down through the opening), place your threads in a cross shape—two cords left and right of North, two left and right of East, etc. in all four compass points. You will be using notches 32 and 1, 8 and 9, 16 and 17, 24 and 25.
ALTERNATIVE: Instead, you can opt to cut four cords 10 feet long (instead of eight cords 5 feet long), tie them together at the halfway point, and have them cross in the middle of the loom. Either way, you must have 8 cords go from the center hole to notches, then down (hanging off the rim of the loom). This method will produce a tidy end at the beginning of your braid and a tassel at the other end, whereas cutting all eight threads 5 feet long produces a tassel at both ends.
Your cords are laid out in the shape of a cross, tied together in the center over the hole. A round braid creates a spiraling pattern, so if you would like people to notice the spiral, then make sure all cords running north-south are one color or texture and those running east-west are a different color or texture.
Keep the tension between the hole and the rim just taut enough to hold the knot precisely in the hole’s center, but not taut enough to strain the cordage. The tension that comes naturally as you work should be used throughout your braid for uniformity. When placing a cord in a notch, just lay the cord on the new notch and, without pulling the cord itself tightly, lightly pull the end over the rim and around to the back, then use enough pressure to get it to slip into the notch. That’s all the tension needed for every move. (Notice, the first time around the loom will probably feel tight.)
(3) Now wrap each cord end around a flexible bobbin until the cord only has about 1-2 inches showing when it hangs down from the loom and close the bobbin. If you allow an excess of loose cord between the bobbins and the loom rim, they tend to tangle as you work. Short is better.
Wind up your cord ends by turning the rounded half of the bobbin inside out, wrapping the cord on it, and turning it back to its original position to close up the bobbin. It is designed to pinch and hold your long cord ends just snugly enough to allow you to tug on it slightly and get more cord length as you need it, without wasting time untangling the dangling cords or opening bobbins.
Once your loom is set up, you are ready to make your first kumihimo braid.
ROUND BRAID INSTRUCTIONS
The yatsu gumi, or 8-strand round braid, only requires 3 basic moves: I call it “right down, left up, rotate”.
In a nutshell, you will be trading cords repeatedly... a particular cord on the top for a particular cord on the bottom, then you will turn the disk so that you can do the same to the next pairs of cords. Here’s how it goes:
(4) Turn your disk facing you so that notches 32, 1 are up (or north). You should have two cords in each of the four compass directions: north, south, east, and west, forming a cross shape of cord pairs. You can think of it as two axes (plural of axis)—north-south and east-west.
(a) Right Down: Take the upper right cord at north (in notch 1) and move it down and to the right of the bottom two cords at south (to notch 15). Now you have one cord at the top (or north) and three cords at the bottom (or south).
(b) Left Up: Now take the left cord of the three on the bottom (south, notch 17) and move it up to the left of the north upper cord (into notch 31). You should feel four pairs showing again, but the north-south axis will have rotated counter clockwise a little, seeming to be a little off-center. The next 2 moves will fix that!
(c) Rotate: Now, turn the whole loom counterclockwise 90 degrees so that new pairs of cords are running north-south (or up-down). Notches 8, 9 are now at the top on this rotation.
(To help you remember these steps, you can chant to yourself, “Right down, left up, rotate...” After a few times around the loom, the moves become more automatic. By the way, you can choose to always rotate the loom clockwise instead, as long as you are consistent.)
(5) Now you will do the same 3 steps for the second pairs of cords.
You should have cords in notches 8, 9, 15, 16, 24, 25, 31, and 32. Notches 8 and 9 should be at top now.
(a) Right Down: Take the upper right cord (in notch 9) and move it down and to the right of the bottom two cords (to notch 23). Now you have one cord at the top, and three cords at the bottom.
(b) Left Up: Now take the left cord on the bottom (notch 25) and move it up to the left of the upper cord (notch 7).
You should have four pairs showing again, and the new axis will have rotated counterclockwise a little making the cross shape squared off again. A good rule of thumb is to always keep your loom turned so that the axis on which you are working is running top/bottom.
(c) Rotate: Again, turn the whole loom counterclockwise so that the original 2 pairs of cords are running top and bottom (or up and down) once more. Notches 15, 16 will be at the top after this rotation.
As you work, the hanging cords will shorten and a slight tug on a bobbin will release just a half inch at a time so your cord lengths will remain one or two inches long.
Got the rhythm? Make sure that if you take a cord from the upper right, it stays on the right at the bottom. Left cords stay on the left. The braid is actually hollow down the center since all cords lie left and right of center.
You will always be following the same three steps every time the loom is rotated: “right down, left up, and rotate”. Your braid will began to emerge (hanging down) in the center hole as you work.
Repeat these steps (a), (b), and (c) repeatedly, rotating and exchanging cords until you have a braid the length you like. You will have a spiral design.
A Tip: How to Stop and Start Again Successfully.
My students like to stop halfway through a move if they know they are going to walk away from their loom. In other words, do “right down” and leave it there. It leaves three cords at the bottom and one at the top, making easy to orient the loom when you return to work on it. You just need to finish the move and continue.
Losing your place: If you put down your disk and forgot to do the three-cords-down trick, how do you know where to start again? Feel the center of your kumihimo loom. You might notice that two of the cords are lying on top of all the others—one going one way and another going the opposite. You might need to feel and lift slightly some cords until you locate the two uppermost cords. Those are the last two cords you worked with. Orient the loom so that they are running in a north-south direction (doesn’t matter whether it is upside down or not). Imagine that you just finished moving them. Now rotate the loom as always and continue braiding. This tip only works with the 8-strand round braid. Other types of braids work differently, but once you work with a braid for a while, you will come to recognize where you left off.
WEIGHTS & TIPS:
Using weights: Ideally, your braid is more firm and consistent if you hang a small weight to the bottom of the emerging braid…around 1.5 to 3 ounces. You can tie, pin, or clip about 13 marbles in a ziplock baggie to the braid, or anything of similar weight. If you have nothing to add for tension, you can frequently reach under and give the emerging braid a little tug. This stretches the knots as you work and allows the braid to be more compact.
North, South, East & West: If you are using a KumiLoom, you can ignore the compass markings when producing round braids. They are only important for describing the initial setup and start. After that, the cross-shaped layout is rotating around the loom and compass points are useless.
Creativity: Round braids are actually hollow, since the cords never cross over the dead center of the braid. So, you could conceivably cover a pencil, by holding it in place while you braid around it.
Variations: By varying the starting placement of your cords, you change the woven pattern on your braid. Half the fun is playing around with textures. The pattern naturally spirals. Whatever cords you place running north-south when you are setting up will end up spiraling around the 4 cords you place in the east-west axis, like a candy cane. You might enjoy choosing a textured and smooth combo.
What If I Make a Boo Boo?
Even if you were a sighted braider, fixing boo-boos would be only slightly easier. One would usually reverse moves until they find an odd move, fix it, and go back to braiding. I’m afraid that’s difficult for a blind braider. My best advise is to ask a sighted friend for his/her help to fix problem braids. Of course, as you know, practice makes perfect, so the more you work, the more perfect your braids become. Small missteps often are overlooked or go unnoticed.
What Can I Make with Kumihimo Braids?
Pet leashes, belts, necklaces and bracelets, eyeglass cords, lanyards, bookmarks, purse handles, keychains or key rings, fan pulls, bag ties, walking stick or broomstick hangers, shoelaces.
Where Can I Get Supplies?
Interesting cordage includes yarns, satin cord, paracord, macrame cords, microfiber cords, embroidery floss, cotton string, etc. Nothing too stretchy, though. A pleasant textured yarn to work with is cotton chenille. It’s soft, lightweight, mixes well with satin cord or rattail, and makes a nice thick-feeling braid.
Narrow braids can be made from the embroidery floss, size 18 S-Lon or C-Lon beading cord. A nice textured floss is metallic embroidery floss.
Craft supply stores have a lot to choose from usually, as do fabric shops. They are good sources for embroidery floss. Online I can recommend Fire Mountain Gems, The Satin Cord Store, and yarn.com for good cord selections. My husband’s website, PrimitiveOriginals.com offers satin rattail by the yard or spool and S-Lon beading cord, as well as kumihimo tools, including looms, and weights. An online search for specific supplies you need should give you some sources.
My name is Kathy James. I am a sighted braider, a teacher of crafts for many years, designer/producer of the KumiLoom which I created especially for my kumihimo students, and author of A Complete Guide to Kumihimo on a Braiding Loom. I am happy to answer any kumihimo questions, help you find needed supplies, or talk you through braiding problems. Just email me at email@example.com anytime.
My husband and I take our supplies to sewing and quilting events around the South, so I would love to meet any fellow braiders there. We put a note on the front page of our website saying where we will display next! Please make suggestions to me about how to improve these instructions for the blind. There’s no idea too small to mention.
Thanks to my computer penpal, David F, from Louisiana for his insight!
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