Wednesday, December 28, 2011

KIP, or kumihimo-ing in public

Just before Thanksgiving, when I participated in the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church Holiday Crafts Show, my friend Patti, a glass artist, mentioned that one of the pieces she had made the night before was a "just for me" pendant.

"You know what that is, don't you?" she asked.

I had to confess I didn't.

She explained that that's when you're creating a piece and--whoops--make a big enough mistake so that it's not sellable, but it's good enough to keep for yourself instead of scrapping it.

Behold my "just for me" kumihimo necklace:
8-strand spiral braid using C-Lon cord and four colors
 of size 8 beads (bead dropped at every pass)

The "just for me" part has added meaning in this case, however. You see, it's made from the beaded braid that I made while at the crafts show demonstrating kumihimo. For the handful of shows I did this summer and fall, I had always intended to bring the marudai and demonstrate the technique, since I don't expect anyone to know what kumihimo is, but I never managed to do so.

It was partly because it takes so long to dress the marudai, and I always put it at the bottom of the to-do list when getting stuff ready for a show. In fact, for the Mount Vernon show, I didn't even start loading the beads and winding the tama until after 11 p.m. the night before. I then got up early and did a few rounds to get the braid going before heading out.

It was partly because I knew transporting the marudai would be a pain (and indeed the bobbins got tangled in transit despite my best efforts to secure them--that's one of the mistakes that makes the braid unsellable).

And it was also partly because I knew I would be self-conscious demonstrating it.

But despite all of these barriers, I hauled the marudai to Virginia, untangled the tama, propped it on a milk crate and start braiding once I got the rest of my jewelry display set up.

The experience was all the things that people experienced in craft shows said it would be: It attracted people to my table. It allowed me to demonstrate that my work was handmade and one of a kind. It provided an opportunity to educate people about this obscure art.

But most surprising to me was how good it was for me personally to do it. Kumihimo has a very meditative, Zen-like quality. It gave me something to do with my hands.

Instead of endlessly fussing with and readjusting the items on my table, I braided.

Instead of sitting there with a smile plastered on my face trying to will passersby to stop and look at my stuff, I braided. Instead of second-guessing my pricing or my color scheme or what to order for lunch, I braided.

Instead of sounding over-eager to engage in conversation as browsers picked up my pieces, I braided. Instead of sitting there trying hard not to look bored as the hours ticked by, I braided.

Throughout the day, I was much more relaxed and the small talk was much more natural. I answered questions about kumihimo if folks asked and simply braided if I sensed they wanted to be left alone.

I discovered that kumihimo is a husband magnet. The men were endlessly fascinated--I guess it looks somehow mechanical, or anyway, different from anything they'd seen before. So the men would watch me, which let their wives linger at my table, which made everybody happy. Kids squatted down on their knees to see the beaded braid forming beneath the marudai.

And it didn't seem to matter when I messed up--and I messed up plenty.  I even noted a few times to an audience that I had goofed and was fixing a mistake. Instead of making me look like a doofus, all it did was make kumihimo look hard.

Although I caught several mistakes in time to fix them, others crept in--two beads of one color that had dropped, instead of just one; a pair of tama moved out of sequence, causing a gap--that were too far back to unbraid and fix. I decided that the braid was serving its own purpose as a demonstration tool and not to worry about it. I could cut it apart and remake it at some future point.

Late in the afternoon, in the final hour of the show, I could see I was about to run out of beads on several bobbins. I didn't want to stop, unwind, thread on beads, then rewind--all for a braid not worth keeping, so I used a trick that Rodrick Owen told us in the kumihimo class I took last spring that he uses sometimes: No one can really tell if you're braiding or unbraiding, so for that final 45 minutes or so, I braided and unbraided that last inch or so over and over again.

This display stand is special to me, too! Darling Daughter made a pair
for me for Christmas. (The source material for the decoupage
is the Washington Post, where I used to work.)

When I got home, I left the braid on the marudai for a few weeks, as I geared up for my final crafts show--the one at my office.

But when all the hubbub died down and I had some time to myself, I studied the beaded braid more closely. The mistakes weren't as obvious as I had originally thought. It definitely wasn't sellable, but it would be fine as a just for me necklace--one that would remind me of my first kumihimo demonstration whenever I wore it.


  1. This is all so cool -- the kumi, the meditative braiding, and your final product (which looks perfect to me). I enjoyed this post so much. Things to remember if I ever do a show -- find something I can be doing w/ my hands (other than playing a game on my phone -- ha!). Thanks!

  2. Hi:-)
    I like the necklace,especially,when the some kind of deeper philosophy is attached to it:-)
    I believe,all kind of beading gives us the opportunity of forcing our brains not only to think about the pattern we have on mind,or colors and beads we use,but about the quality of our liives as well.No strange,one of my American friends called Her Blog'Beads for Brains'.This is the whole truth:-)
    I have read Your Blog post with the real pleasure.I like the 'newspaper-stale'too.
    Best Greetings-Halinka

  3. The impulse to follow blogs is driven almost exclusively by content. Torque Story is the rare exception: great content, ably combined with beautiful writing; more in the tradition of the best columns. Well done and am looking forward to future installments.

  4. You're right! I feel like this while I'm beading: it'passion for something more than a beautiful object that you can wear. The process is more important than the result and you showed your passion! It's fantastic!!
    Thank you for visiting my blog, I hadn't seen this post, sometimes Blogger doesn't work well.
    Happy new year!!

  5. "I discovered that kumihimo is a husband magnet."
    Thanks for the heads-up. I've been looking for a way to find one... LOL!!!!


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