Kumi himo is Japanese for “gathered threads”.
Kumihimo are colorful braided cords that have been used in a variety of ways in Kyoto culture for over a thousand years. Although the techniques for making these cords originated in China, the cords became popular in Japan and have been used for Shinto rituals, as accessories, and as ornamental features in traditional suits of armor.
Now, there are more than 40 different basic ways of braiding kumihimo. Combined with different kinds of patterns and shapes, the total number of types of kumihimo number around some 3000.
Kumihimo represents an entire culture of braiding. Kumihimo are used not only to bundle objects together, but according to their use and appearance (color and braiding style), have also come to represent gender, indicate social standing, and show wealth. Braids are seven times as strong as common textiles. Braiding is more difficult and time-consuming to make because it can’t be mechanized
Because of the above qualities, kumihimo have been held in high esteem by the nobility in the past. Those in positions of power and other noblemen used kumihimo to show off their status. Later in history, samurai employed armor, helmets and swords. Kumihimo cordage was attached to each of these as dignified decorative elements. But when the epoch of samurai culture came to an end, the culture of kumihimo fell into decline.
However, kumihimo then came to be used in new ways by women. A type of kumihimo was invented as a way of tightening or loosening an obi to make it easier for a woman to move when she wore a kimono. This way of tightening an obi by using a kumihimo cord was called otaiko. This custom spread quickly and became very popular, making kumihimo expensive in this epoch. However, some lengths of kumihimo became shortened when used in otaiko, so they eventually became affordable for even common people. In this way, kumihimo was revived and is still in use today.
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