Iga braided cords Iga kumihimo
The finest artisan skills
Beautiful cords of silk and gold and silver
Iga Kumihimo are braided cords made in Mie Prefecture. Silk threads are mainly used often in combination with gold and silver threads.
Iga Kumihimo hand-braided cords are well-known for their rich silk threads, dyed in a vibrant range of colors, and their outstanding craftsmanship. They have a distinctive texture arising from the tactile nature of the braided interwoven silk threads and a gorgeous visual fascination created by the sheen of silk.
Iga Kumihimo have a centuries old history and the skills and continually evolving designs have been handed down through many generations of craftsmen. Nowadays, obi sash ties and other kimono accessories are seen as representing traditional Japanese culture, but in keeping with modern life, new Iga Kumihimo products such as mobile phone straps are also found in many shops. Hands-on classes in the region’s workshops are very popular with visitors for making such familiar and everyday items as key rings or bracelets.
The techniques of cord braiding were first introduced from the Asian mainland along with Buddhism, and kumihimo or braided cords were mainly used for decorating scriptures and the kesa robes worn by Buddhist priests. After the capital was transferred to the Heian Palace, kumihimo were essential as accessories for sokutai, the formal court dress of the aristocracy; even with the passage of time, still today the kuo no obi (cord used to fasten a sword) are much appreciated for their highly artistic designs and quality.
In the Kamakura period (1192-1333), kumihimo were also used to adorn samurai weapons and armor. In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), they became popular as decorative cords for tea ceremony utensils, and were known and admired across Japan. In the Warring States period (1467-1568), they were a functional and decorative part of armor, and in the Edo period (1603-1868) were an essential part of sword scabbards. The highly competitive craftsmen making armor and personal ornaments under the patronage of the Edo Shogunate spurred each other on, thus improving techniques and skills. The number of braiding techniques also increased, and kumihimo came to be used as cords on pill boxes, haori (half-coats), or tobacco cases. The coming of the Meiji period (1868-1912) was truly the end of a golden era, as the law banning the wearing of swords by samurai had a catastrophic effect on production.
General Production Process
- 1. Itowari (Thread Preparation)
Raw silk and silk threads are mainly used in combination with gold and silver threads to make delicate and beautiful kumihimo.
The raw silk threads are first measured and divided by weight according to the number of cords to be made, using one obi sash as a standard weight.
- 2. Dyeing Threads are evenly dyed in accordance with the design. To obtain subtle shades faithful to a color sample, great skill is required in mixing liquid dyes and repeated dying and drying. Seven color dyes are used, and the art of mixing and color gradation requires years of practice and the artisan to have a keen eye and to be familiar with dyes and their color effects.
- 3. Itokuri (Reeling) The dyed threads are wound around a kowaku frame using a hand-reeling instrument.
- 4. Heijaku (Measuring) The kowaku threads are then wound around a heijaku frame, and at the same time, the number of threads are adjusted in accordance with the length and the number of threads needed for braiding.
- 5. Yorikake (Twisting) Threads of the same length and weight are tightly or loosely twisted on a haccho wheel and wound onto reels; different combinations of the two types of threads will give different braid finishes.
- 6. Braiding Braiding is broadly divided into three types: round, square, and flat. Several different braiding looms and machines each with different features are used to produce the different styles of braid; commonly used traditional braiding looms are round, square, bamboo, or high looms. At the height of production in the Meiji period (1868-1912), there were more than 80 kumihimo workshops in the region; however, nowadays the number of workshops and skilled artisans have decreased, and hand-braided cords have become a very rare item. Even so, Iga Kumihimo holds a 90% share of the production of hand-braided loom cords in Japan. Like many traditional industries, mechanical looms have increasingly been introduced and mass production is now possible.
- 7. Finishing To finish the braided cord, tassels are made at both ends by carefully teasing threads out by hand, and firmly tying with thread before steaming to give a smooth and beautiful finish. As a final touch, uniform braids are made by using a rolling stand. For obi sash ties made from Iga Kumihimo, high-quality silk threads are braided at a very high density, making them very pliant and easy to tie. Elegant colors and patterns, durability, and a pleasant feel when used are all distinctive features of Iga Kumihimo.