Featured artist: Cindy Sprague revives ancient Japanese jewelry weaving technique

Jewelry make Cindy Sprague displays some of her bead work at her home.

Photo by Wendy Howell.

Jewelry make Cindy Sprague displays some of her bead work at her home.

Interest in the traditional Japanese braids handicraft called kumihimo, a specially braided cord, has grown in the United States, especially with the popularity of anime and Japanese film.

In Williams, artist Cindy Sprague has picked up the craft and created a line of jewelry she sells from her home and Our Mountain Home Gallery in Williams.

Kumihimo is an ancient Japanese form of braiding using multiple strands of cord and/or ribbon. Kumihimo braids are very popular for bracelets but can also be used in necklaces. Different designs and patterns are possible by changing the braiding material, varying the thickness or number of strands, using a round disk versus a square plate, and also by adding beads to a kumihimo braid.

Historically in Japan, a kumihimo was worn on a Samurai warrior’s armor, serving as both a functional and decorative accessory. In modern times, the kumihimo has been used mostly as a fashionable fasteners on the jackets worn over a kimono called the haori. They are also worn with the kimono sash called obi.

Sprague learned the art from her mother and has moved beyond basic braids to adding bead work.

“It usually takes me two hours to do a straight braid, but longer when I use beads,” she said.

Kumihimo is the Japanese art simply interpreted as the gathering of threads and friends.

Sprague said she took to the art after spending many years working with needlepoint, stitchery and knitting.

“I picked it up because I was having problems with my hands from all the stitching I had been doing,” she said. “It was too hard to continue with that needlework. So my mother taught me how to do straight braid and I went from there.”

Sprague said now that her mother has passed away, she gets advice and inspiration her friend, Karen Huntoon of Truckee, California.

Kumihimo cord was first created by a form of finger-loop braiding. Later tools such as the marudai and the takadai were employed to make more complex braids in shorter time.

“They have been doing it for centuries in Japan,” Sprague said. “Everything is done by hand.”

Sprague uses a modern kumihimo disk made of firm but flexible foam plastic with notches, which is basically a portable marudai. The marudai is the traditional wood loom used in Japan. The portable disks have 32 notches that create the tension that is usually created by tama on a marudai. The disks are convenient but are not as versatile as the marudai. On a marudai, any thickness or amount of string can be used, but on a disk only 32 or fewer strand braids can be made from thin cord. Also, marudai can make many types of braids, such as flat, four sided, and hollow. There are also rectangular foam cards, especially suitable for making flat braids.

“In traditional Japan they use a marudai ,which is the same but is wooden,” Sprague said. “It allows you to use really long strands.

Sprague said she uses several different braiding techniques in a variety of colors. She also has different techniques for knots.

“All of my bracelets include old buttons with a button loop clasp,” she said. “It involves sewing and glue and is very solid.”

Sprague’s work can be seen at Our Mountain Home Gallery located at 428 W. Route 66 in Williams.

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