Originally used as religious decoration in Buddhist ceremonies dating as far back as the 6th century, the Japanese later began using the art of kumihimo, or braiding, to make colorful additions to clothing, armor and everyday household items. In modern times it’s used mostly as an embellishment for jewelry, including the use of decorative beads intertwined amongst the fibers. Although kumihimo patterns look complicated, with enough patience and practice you’ll be able to add beads to your designs with ease.
Separate your thread into four strands of equal length. Determine ahead of time how long your completed strand should be, as that will determine how long the strands should be. It also depends on the size of beads you’ll be using, since those also take up extra space. There’s no possibility of adding to a strand once you’ve braided it, so choose your length carefully. If you’re unsure, leave the strands long, at least 3 feet or more; it’s better to have too much left over at the end than not enough.
Fold the strands and mark the center with pen. You should now have eight “strands” made from both ends of the original four stands.
Wrap the thread around eight bobbins. It should be done evenly--not too tight or loose, or you could end up with an uneven appearance. When you’re done you should have about 5 or 6 inches of thread between each bobbin. Mount these strands onto the kumihimo disc, pushing them through the center hole and separating them into eight directions; two threads should run up to the top two slots, two down to the bottom two slots, two towards the left, and two towards the right. Turn the disc over.
Braid your thread. You can start wherever you like, but generally people start from bottom to top. Lift the left-hand thread at the bottom and insert it in the slot directly to the left of the upper threads. Then take the upper right thread at the top and bring it to the slot to the right of the remaining bottom thread. Turn the disc counter-clockwise and repeat.
Add your beads as you go. Seed beads are small and light, and a good choice for beginner projects. You can use a bead spinner to help you if the beads are very small, but normally you won’t need one. Braid the strands tightly after adding a bead, to help keep it in place.
Finish braiding your project, then cut the bobbins and pull the ends of each strand out of the kumihimo disc. Line them up evenly, and make a single knot tying everything off. If you want a fancier or more traditional finish, use a separate strand to make a single knot around all the other strands and cut them to form a tassel.
You can alternately add the beads as you wrap the strands around the bobbin before you begin braiding, but make sure they don’t slide or you could end up with beads where you didn’t want them. Adding a single knot between beads will keep them in place, as long as you untie the knot as you braid the strand.