Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making Turtles March

I’ve been TRYING for the last several days to make a Kikko-gumi braid on the marudai. TRYING is the operative word here.

For those unfamiliar with it, Kikko-gumi is a flat braid with a hexagonal design that resembles tortoise shells. The tortoise symbolizes long life in Japan, and historically, this design was popular among the Samurai. Kikko-gumi is usually made on the takadai, but it is possible to do it on the marudai, too.

The Kikko-gumi marudai pattern came from a very nice person in the Yahoo kumi2 discussion group. (If you’re into kumihimo and you’re not a member of this group, you should be!) It’s done with 32 tama, and the movements look deceptively simple on paper. They’re even easy to remember… two groups, just a few steps in each group, and the second group mirrors the first. Repeat n times, and you’ve made your first turtle. When I first saw the instructions, I thought, “Hey, this doesn’t look hard!” Little did I know…

I already had enough tama and thread on hand, so I immediately set up my warping pegs and got started. I set up the braid with 20 ends of 40W rayon machine embroidery thread (2.7 meters long) on each tama. I chose red for the “turtle” outline and white for the rest. I like using this standard length when I’m learning a new braid. It allows for plenty of practice.

The first clue… 32 warp strands makes for a crowded mirror. When I’m setting up a braid, I often put the empty tama in their starting positions before I wind threads on them. I couldn’t even fit all 32 tama around the edge of my marudai – and it has a 14-inch mirror!

The second clue… only two colors are in this braid, and the positions of red relative to white shift at each movement. I’ve done other complex braids before, but the colors always related to each other. This is a tremendous visual aid in figuring out what you just did, what you should do next, and if you goofed up. And I didn’t know enough about this braid to set markers on certain tama.

OK… “damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” I dove in, and was oh so careful. I double checked which strands I picked up and where I put them. I made sure I maintained groupings of tama and relative spacing.. I iterated the prescribed number of times. Wow! I made a turtle! Actually, the turtle was on the side of the braid that faced away from me. The design on my side wasn’t a turtle. But I found a picture of a braid on the web that matched mine, so I figured I had done it right. Yay! “Let’s make another one!”

Now for turtle number two… I’m starting to get into a rhythm; I’m starting to remember the steps. I think I’ve finished the turtle. Oops, looks like there’s a mistake – guess it’s time to undo. I started reversing instructions mentally, and immediately got lost. So I just manually unbraided what I had done by selecting the top threads and putting them where they looked like they should go.

The third clue… the point of braiding is really complex. Threads intertwine on the sides, some cross in the center, and some toward the middle are vertical but cross others. When I picked up the top thread, it was not at all obvious where it came from. I eventually unbraided everything I had done.

Let’s start over and be really careful! OK… didn’t make a mistake until somewhere in the third turtle. Oh, well, let’s try unbraiding again, and really think about it this time. That lasted maybe four moves before I got totally lost. So I painfully unbraided the whole thing the second time.

Try number three… two turtles. I can repeat the instructions to myself, but I’m having difficulty seeing where to put the threads down. This makes me pick up the wrong threads for the next move. Rats. Undo again. You’d think by now that I could undo the right way, but I can’t.

Try number four… three good turtles before a bad one. I even put pieces of drafting tape on the mirror in various spots as visual references. They helped, but the angles of the threads are confusing. I know good braiders don’t need crutches. Maybe I’ll be good some day, but not today!

In the past, I’ve found that learning to unbraid a particular pattern to recover from a mistake is very instructive. I’ve done this more than I care to admit, but consider it good experience. So why can’t I do it with THIS braid?! Maybe if I write down the “unbraid steps”…

Try number five… two turtles. I can’t even unbraid successfully WITH written unbraid instructions, although I did manage to move pairs of threads instead of single ones. This is really getting frustrating. I don’t want to keep starting over… and over… and over…

Time to think of something… my main problem is seeing where things are, where things go, and keeping group spacing on the mirror. So I decided to bring out the big guns and make a template. The template divides the marudai into warp group sections for this braid. I used the Open Office draw program (the equivalent of PowerPoint) to make it, and sized it for my marudai. I printed only the part that would fit on one sheet of paper, and made three more copies to make the complete circle. I cut out the pieces and slipped them under the threads on my marudai. I labeled the groups as noted in the instructions, and marked the destination position of each move.

Try number six… haven’t counted the turtles, but the braid is long enough that I’ve moved the counterweight bag. This template works! Now I can see the groups, recognize them correctly, and keep them in the right place. I don’t have to “hunt” for landing sites at each movement. So far I haven’t become confused by thread angles or made mistakes. The rhythm is starting to come, and so is muscle memory. Hopefully, if I do make a mistake, the template and the written unbraid instructions will keep me on track.

Time to get back to braiding! TURTLES,… HARCH!... HUT, TWO, THREE, FOUR!

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