HL Sofya Chyudskaya Smolyanina
A&S Documentation
Midlands Regional A&S Faire Spring 2011
Division II: Textile and Needle Arts
Costume Accessory: Kumihimo Cord
What & where it’s from
This craft is a 16-thread braided cord in the Japanese
kumihimo style. Kumihimo is a style of braiding
that uses a cylindrical device known as a marudai
(or sometimes a disc is used in modern kumihimo) to weave threads into simple or elaborate braided
designs. As threads are moved across the surface of the marudai, a patterned cord emerges through a hole
in the center (Figure 1, About Japanese Braiding).
When & how it was used
Kumihimo cords have been found dating back to around 550 CE, when early Buddhists in Japan used
them for decorative purposes in religious ceremonies (Friedman). During the Middle Ages (1185 – 1614)
they became commonly used for lacing Samurai armor, wrapping sword hilts, and harnessing horses, as
well as more domestic decorative uses such as drawstring on clothing and pouches, and decorative
knotwork (Carey)
Who could have used this particular cord
This cord was braided to be as long as possible given the length of the
threads used, with the intent that it could be divided into smaller,
matching pieces based on need. A cord such as this would likely have
been too delicate to be used as lacing for armor, but adequate for use on a
kimono (to tie back sleeves), drawstring on clothing, hair accessory, or as
a decorative tie for some household accessory.
16 threads of cotton embroidery floss
Foam disk
Cardboard floss organizers
Figure 1: Wooden marudai.
Method of construction
In period, artisans would have used the marudai as mentioned in the Overview, weighting the silk thread
with wooden bobbins (Figure 1). Since I don’t have one of those, I used a modern foam disk that can be
found in craft stores.
For the thread, silk would have been the period material in Japan. Instead, I used cotton threads which I
already had readily available. After my mom passed away a few years ago, I inherited her extensive
supply of embroidery floss. I don’t do much embroidery, so part of my inspiration for creating this braid
was a means of putting some of that floss to good use. As such my choice of materials is more about
pragmatic considerations than aesthetics. It might be possible that there were period Japanese braiders
who practiced similar pragmatism regarding choice between readily available materials and materials that
would have needed to be purchased –
especially when making braids for practical,
everyday use rather than special occasions.
The strands of floss were wrapped around
cardboard organizers and arranged on the disc
(Figure 2). The pattern comes from Christine
Grewcock’s instructions for braiding a 16strand braid, “Four-color spiral with a
diamond pattern” (Grewcock):
Figure 2: Creating 16-thread kumihimo on a foam disk.
Kumihimo patterns in period were similarly complex, if not more so than the one used in this project;
extant braids from the 12th-16th century were already incorporating designs with 40 to 144 threads (Carey
Because I was restraining myself to floss I already had on hand, some fudging of the four colors occurred.
I had four skeins of red floss, but only three of the kelly green – so the fourth green thread is a lighter
shade. I combined two skeins of white and two of silver to count as the third “color”, and the fourth
“color” is a combination of yellow and purple. Unfortunately I did not think at the time to record
specifically which color is represented by which letter on the pattern. However, judging by the photo
(Figure 2), I would guess:
A = Green
B = Red
C = White/Silver
D = Yellow/Purple
After the colors and pattern were arranged on the disk, I proceeded to braid them together until I ran out
of thread. The result is over 12 feet long.
Due to my improvised materials and methods, this work is a bit of a departure from a more authentic
representation of kumihimo.
The project gave me the opportunity to weed some of my mom’s floss supply out of my trim drawer and
use it toward a definitive, completed project that might be useful to someone in the SCA. After the A&S
Faire I am thinking about donating it to a future silent auction for a charity fundraiser, which I think
would have pleased her.
The project has also given me practice in kumihimo braiding that could be used toward future projects
with more authentic materials.
About Japanese Braiding. Melbourne Kumihimo Group. 2009. Retrieved from
Carey, Jacqui. Samurai Undressed. Devon, England: Carey Company, 1995. Many thanks to Kathy
Anderson (Wulfwen atte Belle) for sharing scanned pages of this book! 
Coyle, Debbie. “Kumihimo (Japanese Braiding): Kumihimo Class Handout.” September 2006. Shared
through a class handout from Carrie Burge, 2010.
Friedman, Jennifer. Kumihimo: An Introduction, Glossary, and Source List. November 4, 2007.
Retrieved from http://www.gflower.org/kumihimo.htm
Grewcock, Christine. “Kumihimo on a Disk.” October 17, 2007. Shared through a class handout from
Carrie Burge, 2010.
Owen, Roderick. Braids: 250 Patterns from Japan, Peru and Beyond. Interweave Press, 1995.