Kumihimo

This summer I attended a workshop at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. As part of the workshop, we has to submit a lesson plan inspired by the objects in the exhibit, From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Meyers Collection.

I admit that I planned this lesson in my head before I went to the workshop. I knew the exhibit included Asian costumes and textiles, so I felt fairly confident they would have beautiful kumihimo ornamentation. I was right. I can’t even remember where I first came across this Japanese craft; probably hunting on Pinterest for a textile craft I could use with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade art students. We make our own cardboard looms and weave using inexpensive yarn. My students love it. bracelet loomNow I’m hooked. Here is my lesson plan. Hope you can use it. All the photos are my own.

History of Kumihimo

Asian textilesKumihimo began as a type of finger braiding that was used in China, Korea and Japan. The oldest form of Kumihimo used in Japanese clothing and religious ceremonies is believed to be from the Nara Period (710 to 794 CE). Like many Asian crafts, Kumihimo is all about detail, with many versions having a specific pattern, use and meaning. There are many types of stands made to hold the strings to weave Kumihimo and many types of fibers can be used, like silk, nylon, hemp and even leather.

Translated as a “gathering of threads”, one of the most widely known and studied versions of Kumihimo are the silk Japanese braids used on Samurai armor in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185 to1333 CE) through the Muromachi Period (1336 to1573 CE). The cords were used on helmets and to bind the armor plates together. Each suit of armor could require as much as 250 to 300 meters of braid. Kumihimo was also used to bind the hilts of swords and harnesses of horses used in battle.

With the rise of Buddhism during the Heian Period (794 to1185 CE), kumihimo braids were made by the monks for clothing and to decorate temples.

Kumihimo is still used in Japan today as a part of the kimono. The obi, the wide sash used as a belt on the kimono is secured by a Kumihimo braid called an obijime. Hand-made kumihimo obijime are on the decline because of the invention of machine-made Kumihimo, but obijime are still the biggest use of Kumihimo made in Japan today.

Luckily this ancient Asian craft has been popularized around the world today because of the invention of the foam hand-held Kumihimo looms for braid and jewelry making.

Interesting notes about Kumihimo:

  • Tea storage containers used in the Japanese tea ceremony were often secured with elaborate Kumihimo braids. The knots used were so elaborately tied it was easy to see if someone had tampered with them, so you could avoid be poisoned. Tamper-free packaging, even then.
  • A Kumihimo color pattern of lilac, magenta, blue, green, gold, and an orange specially imported from China was so powerful it could ward off “evil ghosts”. Called “Shōsō-in colors” when these were used in a belt, they were said to ward off bad luck for the wearer.
  • According to Yasuhisa Fukushima, owner of the Fukushima Store (a Tokyo kumihimo shop) and the director of the Association for Tokyo Kumihimo, 90 percent of the products created by Tokyo kumihimo artisans are obijime. “We have tried producing other accessories such as ornaments for keyholders and cords for keitaiand glasses, but these are still minor sellers compared to obijime,” he says.
  • The Japanese national treasure “Heike Noukyou” is a set of thirty-three sutra scrolls that are tied with elaborate Kumihimo braids.

Directions for kongo gumi (strong braid)– makes one 20 – inch necklace (including end caps and clasp):

Basics for kumihimo
Start-up items you’ll need , plus jewelry clasps and bail not shown.

Materials:

  • Kumihimo Foam Loom
  • Four each of two colors – 1.5-yard (54 inches) pieces of 1mm satin cord (I used 1mm hemp cord in the illustrations) – total of eight pieces
  • Eight plastic kumihimo bobbins
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Sharpie
  • E6000 industrial strength adhesive
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Tooth picks and paper to apply adhesive and protect work surface
  • Pendant with 6mm or larger bail (not shown)
  • End clasps (5.5 or 6 mm)
  • Binding thread (to bind braid before cutting it)

Set up:

  cord layout

  • Flip foam disk over and mark north, south east west positions with sharpie (avoids the confusion of the numbers on the front until you get the basics down)
  • Measure and cut your eight 54-inch pieces of cord (four each of two colors)
  • Tie knot in one end, place tied end in the center of the hole on the kumihimo foam loom
  • Snap strings into place on loom as shown in photo (one color north and south, one color east and west). Put only one string in each slot.
  • Wrap loose cord on bobbin to within one inch of loom

Basic braiding technique for kongo gumi:

  1. Take top right cord and bring it down to the bottom to the slot just right of the two cords at the bottom.
  2. Take the left-hand cord from the three cords now at the bottom and bring it up to the slot to the left of the one cord at the top.
  3. Turn the disk one quarter turn and repeat steps 1, 2 and 3. Top-right down, bottom-left up, turn.

braid 1

Stop Position
If you stop before you finish your braid, always leave the three cords at the bottom. That way you know when you resume, you take the cord on the left, lift it to the top-left position and then turn the disk.

DSC02848

Finishing your necklace:

  1. Bind the ends of your braids with beading thread so that they will not unravel before your glue on your closures.
  2. Use a toothpick to apply your E6000 glue to the inside of your closure caps. Be sure to do this over paper to protect your worksurface from any glue.
  3. Insert your braid ends into the closure caps and let them rest for 24 hours.

DSC02855

Sources:

https://www.kcpinternational.com/2015/02/intricacies-and-uses-of-kumihimo-braids/

http://domyo.co.jp/en/history/

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2000/03/04/arts/twisted-tradition-thats-knotty-but-nice/#.Wx1FvEgvxPY

https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/GAIi8e97r03CLw

http://www.englisch.kumihimo.de/html/history.html

http://www.ee0r.com/sca/kumihimo/index.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb5vy8egtQQ

http://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat20/sub129/item2292.html

https://www.facebook.com/debra.strandberg.5/videos/1014276002051603/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kimbell Summer Institute for Teachers

#mwisdmatters

Another summer workshop at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has come and gone. I can’t say good enough things about the Education Department and this workshop at the Kimbell. I think this is the 5th or 6th Summer Institute I’ve attended and they get better every time. Lectures concentrate on the special exhibit, as do the docent led tours and studio art workshop activities.  The four days end with a sharing of lesson plans prompted by the exhibit from all the teachers in the group.

Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva, wood, Song dynasty

This year’s exhibit during the workshop was From the Lands of Asia, the Sam and Myrna Meyers Collection. An extraordinary exhibit consisting of Buddhist Sculptures, Asian Textile works and an amazing collection of Jade, which is as I understand it, the largest privately held collection of jade in the U.S. and perhaps in the world.

Jade Funerary Vest
Jade Funerary Vest, Han dynasty, 3rd – 2nd century BC, 75 x 59 cm

Connie Hatchette Barganier, the Education Manager for the Kimbell is responsible for this wonderful workshop and along with master teacher Marilyn Ivy they never fail to come up with techniques, tools and information that can be shared and implemented in my art classroom.  The group usually consists of art teachers, teachers of other subjects and just people who are art lovers.

Bi
Neolithic Bi, Sam and Myrna Meyers Collection
Meiping
Meiping, Yuan Dynasty, 14th c., 40 cm

Imagine being able to sit in the gallery and draw these items without any dirty looks from the very patient and worthy museum guards. Imagine several docent led tours stretching over the four days of the workshop, there to help you understand the exhibit and answer questions in a small group of about twenty educators. For me, it is just heaven….but I am an art teacher and I love museums. I was fascinated by the stories about how the Meyers got their first pieces of jade in a shoe box from a Philadelphia antique shop. The bought the box for a $1,000, not realizing it contained Chinese jades from the Han Dynasty to the 19th century. That’s my kind of shoe box!

The jade collection was fascinating. I certainly did not know that jade came in multitudes of colors based on its mineral content and that the color changes over time and with exposure to the elements and environment, like the decomposition gases in Chinese tombs or with the additional firing that produces the coveted “chicken-bone” white jade. It is even more astounding to learn that all of these jades are cut with abrasive materials, since the nephrite is harder than any diamond drill, so most likely with hand labor with sand or other abrasives.

Cong
Cong, jade, Neolithic period

The jade Cong were delicate and mysterious, their function and meaning unknown, carved with such care and placed in Chinese tombs. Perhaps scholars will discover their function one day.

Organized into three distinct sections, the exhibit also featured exquisite Asian costumes and textile works showcasing the all important silk and the technical virtuosity of needlework that characterized the Chinese, Japanese and Korean clothing of that day.

 

This section gave me the nudge for my lesson plan on Kumihimo, the Japanese art of braiding, which I’ll post on another blog.

To stand in these galleries is to get a sense of the enormity of time these objects represent and the depth of the Asian culture which is awe-inspiring and humbling.

In many ways, the Asian search for spiritual answers reminds me of many cultures, including our own, but it is in the depth of their ancient societal structure, their sense of belonging and honoring family and their ancestry is where I find the deepest lessons in this exhibit. These beautiful works will certainly occupy my thoughts for a long time.

Aisle 2

 

aisle-business-cart-1005638

 

“What’s your hurry Bud?”, I think as the teenager moved around me on aisle two. I’m grocery shopping on a Tuesday at ten o’clock in the morning.  An unusual thing for me because my retired husband shops during the school year, but now I get to browse in peace during my summer break from teaching elementary school. Adults everywhere. Heaven. It’s quiet. Even the Musak is not too loud. As I look at this kid, I realize that teaching has made me watch people in a different way. I scan the expression on faces for intent, body language for the possibility of trouble.  It’s hard to stop doing that, especially in these troubled times of violence at schools. It takes time away from that twenty year commitment to control. It’s only been a week since school’s been out.

I’m assessing him now, mildly irritated, as he moves past me, going around my cart. He doesn’t look up, intent on his phone screen. Surprise. T-shirt and jeans with a baseball cap turned backwards. Short shaggy black hair. No basket for the young, he has a few items clutched loosely under his arm. Keys in the other hand. He’s in a hurry.

And coming the opposite direction up the aisle towards me is an old man. He looks in his late eighties, white-haired and composed in a starched short-sleeved shirt and khakis, with a notebook paper shopping list in one hand. He leans heavily on his grocery cart with the other hand, but his back is straight. He glances up from his list just as the teenager approaches him. ” Hey, don’t I know you?” he says to the teenager.

All my teacher sensors go off at this point. ” I can’t help it. I think, “Don’t you be rude to that sweet old man.” I’m clutching the handle of my cart, pretending to look at something beside me on the shelf, furiously hoping…for what? Courtesy? Acknowledgement from a teenager of the old? What am I going to do if…. “Breathe,” I think.

And then it happens. The teenager stops and smiles at the old man. “Why yes sir,” he says, “Don’t you go to Midwest Church? Aren’t you Mr. Preston? I’m Ben, I saw you last Sunday. How are you?” “Oh Ben, of course, I’m great, just great, say hi to your folks for me.” says the old man. ” Yes sir, you have a nice day now.” Ben says. He moves on.

I’m stopped in my tracks. It wasn’t what the teenager said, it was the way he said it. Such a simple thing. The easy respect. It was expected of him, I knew. I suddenly wanted to hug his parents, then the kid. I can see the headlines, “Former teacher arrested at grocery store for hugging complete stranger.”

As I walked on I mentally slapped my own hand. “You didn’t give him a chance, did you?” I thought. “You thought you had his number…sheeshz.”

And maybe life is as simple as that and as hard as that. People don’t always telegraph their intentions. Disrespect isn’t always tattooed on a forehead, posted on a Facebook page or exclusive to an age. And perhaps rather than paranoia and mistrust, the key is trust, family and respect. For what will we have if that is not enough? For today it is enough for me on aisle two.

I smiled at the old man as I passed him. He smiled back.

I exhaled.

Construction Work

#mwisdmatters

Combine an excess of scrap cardboard and 6th grade art students. Ask for them each to build a house that has a roof, four walls, a door and at least one window. Shake well and add end-of-the school year energy, paint and about thirty glue sticks. You get a small cardboard city and a lot of fun.

Lots of good discussions about hinges, doors, roof lines, balconies and interiors. The best part is the creativity my students showed in bringing their house to life. Good choices and problem solving were encouraged.

Drawing on the Heart

4468580706There are certain things I do each school year that are not just part of a curriculum. They are necessary to me as person. Necessary as part of what I want to teach children. I’ll tell you a secret. Every teacher teaches some things drawn from their heart. It’s part of the same package; teacher as a delivery system of a predetermined set of knowledge and skills and teacher as a human that filters teaching through their experiences, beliefs and communication skills.

In my realistic moments I understand that very few of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade art students will go on to be famous artists; if fame in that sense even matters. What I do hope is that I leave behind a legacy of kindness and commitment.

Kindness, in that from something I’ve said or shown to my students that they realize there is a common thread of good, decent behavior that runs through people, no matter where you were born or what life has dealt you. This presents the age-old question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty when you are looking at humanity?” I want my students to choose half-full. Be realistic, yes. Cautious, yes. But giving, trusting and being kind is a risk that should be taken. No matter the outcome.

Commitment, in that seeing people as essentially good is a choice, and sometimes a tough choice. In the sea of negativity that my students face every day in the media, online and sometimes at home, choosing to create your own atmosphere and point of view is your right, really your obligation. It does not mean being a push-over or wearing blinders to the ugliness that exists. But choose to see the up-side. Choose to take a stand on what you like and don’t like. Choose to be kind.

So how does this connect to teaching art? What got me thinking about this is a story that I tell my fourth-graders each year. I told it last Thursday. It’s called “The Coming of the Bluebonnet” and is from a wonderful book called “Texas Tales with a Twist”. (https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Texas-Twist-Original-Enduring/dp/B0064XN59UThese are all short stories, tall tales and legends meant to be read or told aloud. (Spoiler Alert) Each spring when the bluebonnets first appear I tell a story to my fourth graders about a little Comanche girl who gives up what she most values most to save her people from a drought. She sacrifices her doll as a burnt offering and spreads the ashes to the four corners of the earth. She asks for a sign from the Great Spirit that her offering was worthy. In the morning, wherever the ashes of her doll touched a sea of bluebonnets appear. Then it begins to rain and the people are saved from the drought. The little girl gets her name, She-Who-Loves-Her-People.

I tell this story because it makes children think about giving. I tell it because it teaches about legends (I am careful to explain this is a legend) and interpreting the ideas presented in the story. Then we draw bluebonnets and talk about our state flower.

This is the concept that I really want children to understand. Visual art, like all of the arts, is a way of communicating what is important to people, a record of the good and bad ideas and events since our recorded history began. The stories, the ideas represented are what draws me to art, whether the ideas are abstract and mysterious or simple and obvious. I love the sophisticated artist and the folk artist all the same because of the thoughts that they show me. And I choose to teach that kindness, compassion, wonder, humor and understanding can all be taught through art. And that most of the wonderful ideas that humanity has cast upon the world are created, struggled for and born through the imagination and drawn from the heart. It is that idea that is important.

Child In A Strange land

 

 

It must have been like dropping onto a new planet. He had been in America for a little over four months and he is German.  In a small Texas town of just over 16,000 people, where the largest employers are two brick plants and the public school district, he was  in fourth grade.

As he steps to my classroom doorway, I extend my hand and say hello, my name is Mrs. Strandberg, I’m your art teacher. I immediately notice his clear blue eyes and straw blond hair framing a hopeful face. He has a medium athletic build, even for a ten-year old, like a miniature rugby player and an inquisitive, engaging curiosity that beamed out from his ruddy face. His eyes light up at the Scandinavian origin of my name. I can see he thinks he’s found a European kinsman. “Are you Swedish?”, he asks in heavily accented, but perfect English. “No.” I say and register the small disappointment in his eyes. “My husband’s ancestors are from Sweden.” ” Oh.” he says, then continues, “Well you should visit there, but it is not as pretty as Denmark.” He says this without malice, to him it was simply a fact. I turn to introduce him to a room of open-mouthed fourth graders.

This was my introduction to Nikolaus (not his real name), a remarkable student whose real name was almost unpronounceable for me. “Just call me Nik.” he finally told me with an exasperated smile. Nik was born in Germany, had lived there and in Denmark and had journeyed here with his mother after she divorced. “I still have brothers and my father in Germany.” he told me matter-of-factly, “But my step-dad is great. ”

I began to look forward to his arrival each day, bursting into the room like a large and nosy puppy, full of talk. “How did you learn such good English in such a short time?”, I ask. “My mother taught me. She speaks eight languages. Don’t you speak any other languages?”, he responded, clearly feeling a little sorry for my lack. I’m reminded once again of the European custom of teaching their children different languages early in life as a necessity of living in a modern world. I wish we were that smart.  “I’m learning Japanese right now.”, he continued. ” When I grow up I want to go to Tokyo and start a business.” Nik’s curiosity is a palpable thing. He curious about the pencil sharpener, what kind of car I have, how my desk chair works with a pneumatic cylinder to raise and lower the height. His curiosity is insatiable.

I met his mother at open house that year, a slender, confident woman with a penetrating look. She spoke to Nik as if he were thirty instead of ten, clearly proud of her clever son and determined to give him the best.

But the thing that impressed me most was Nik’s ability to let criticism of his newness to the Texas culture bounce off of him.  He had a built-in confidence that was not overbearing. He knew who he was and what he was about. The other kids loved to hear him talk. He accepted the gentle teasing of his classmates about his accent with such a good-natured charm that before you knew it he was giving German lessons to the entire class and he was laughing at their Texas-twanged attempts.

Nik was a dedicated art student, but almost to a fault, critiquing his work in a running monologue, peppered with questions. “What was pastel made out of anyway? Did it come from the ground or the lab? Where could he get these in America?” This phrasing was perfect, not just Texas, mind you, it seemed all of America was open to him. In the midst of a papier-mâché dragon whose wings kept drooping he announced that his dragon was a sea serpent, and needed no wings. And why did papier-mâché smell so funny anyway?  “My sea serpent has bad-breath.”, he says.

And then, one day, just like that, he was gone. Whisked away with his mom, for a job opportunity up north. I felt a real sense of loss and kept one of his artworks pinned by my desk, a precisely drawn geometric pastel with an oriental look to it. I know that whereever he is, he is facing his world head-on, and asking questions, always questions. It makes me smile.

I hope I get to visit Tokyo one day. I have no doubt that Nik will be there, running an international conglomerate with immense enthusiasm.

Footnote

legoIt’s cold here in Mineral Wells, Texas today and we had indoor recess at my elementary school. Part of my recess gear is a tub of Legos, which includes windows, doors, propellers for making planes, wheels, basically any kind of gizmo to fill a child’s imagination.

I’m at my desk listening and watching the kids play, when I overhear one child say, ” See I made a Doctor’s office.” Uh oh. My ears perked up for a possible intervention, but I did not say anything right away. She went on describing how the patient would be lowered through a window onto a slide that deposited them neatly onto the examining table. I’m thinking, ” That would be better than sitting in a germ-laden waiting room.” “This is the doctor. He’s just finished my mom’s examination. ” Now I’m up out of my seat moving in for a full-fledged intervention before any more details emerge, when she says ” Yes Mam, your foot fungus is cured!”

Sorry mom, there are no secrets in the elementary classroom. But it made my day.