Toho Peace Ring

One of the side activities at the Retreat was labeled Peace Ring, which had a kind of hippie-drum-circle sound to it. Fortunately it wasn’t, although I found it taxing for a different reason: I’m rubbish at sewing together tiny beads.

But I gave it a shot anyway, and can proudly say that I almost managed three rows before politely giving up; well, technically I managed two rows twice, with different errors. The first problem was that the photocopied instructions were tiny and low-resolution. That was solved when someone who had the original PDF made a quick run to the hotel business office, but even the readable instructions were iffy for a novice. The second problem was the diffuse lighting in the conference room, and while my glasses allowed close focus, they lacked magnification.

It would have gone a lot more smoothly if they’d illustrated the technique with something larger than 11/0 seed beads; still tricky, but at least I’d have known what I was doing. So I made a note to dig out a bunch of cheap wooden beads and some string when I got home, to figure out the technique.

Final result:

After the jump, scaled-up pictures of the steps in the PDF:


N Interlacements of Naiki

The marudai braid Naiki (Tada #64, Creative Kumihimo 16N) has a lot of potential for interesting two-color patterns. Someday I’ll revisit the script I wrote five years ago to identify all unique patterns for a braid, and update it to correctly handle more than Edo Yattsu and Shigeuchi, but meanwhile I can at least generate random subsets of the possible interlacements and pick through them by hand.


I replaced the crude single-page gallery that broke Randy’s browser with a custom Hugo sub-site that will eventually be a general-purpose gallery.

Coming Soon: Samurai Redressed

I have a few notes somewhere on odoshi, the braids or leather strips used to assemble yoroi armor, and had made a note to ask Makiko Tada about it if I got a chance. At the Retreat, someone happened to mention a recent post on the AKS Facebook page announcing a new Jacqui Carey book on the subject:

I did discuss it briefly with Tada-sensei at dinner, and she promised to introduce me to one of the few remaining armor-makers sometime when I’m in Tokyo.

Shigeuchi on Marudai

At the retreat this afternoon, we were discussing Makiko Tada’s adaptation of Shigeuchi for the marudai, and I pointed Randy to the tips page on Braidershand for the PDF instructions and photos of Tada-sensei making the braid.

But when I checked, the photos weren’t online anymore, and neither Google image search nor Tineye could find copies anywhere. So here they are, after the jump; click to enlarge.



Miyako Messe in Kyoto hosts the Museum of Traditional Crafts. It’s small, fascinating, free, and quite expensive, because many modern examples of the various crafts are for sale. I ended up buying two Shingen-bukuro (Samurai Man-Purse), a handmade orin (the Japanese version of the popular “singing bowl”), a bottle of saké (that I should have bought more of; who knew matcha worked so well as a saké flavoring?), and an assortment of gifts. We’ll be visiting again in March.

One of the crafts on display was kumihimo, with some finished braids shown in their usual context as kimono ties, and some small sample braids next to illustrations of the equipment used to create them. There were two I’d never heard of, so I grabbed a quick pic with my phone and promptly forgot to look them up.

One was a special stand for making the Naiki-gumi (内記組) braid, with the appropriate name Naiki-dai. I know how to make that one on a marudai, so it was mostly of academic interest.

The other sample was called Chiyoda-gumi (千代田組), a loose chain-like structure that was more weave than braid, and the stand was an elaborate construct that looked vaguely like a warp-weighted rigid heddle loom that used kumihimo weighted bobbins for tension, called a Kago-uchi-dai (籠打台).

Last night I googled it, and the one non-BL result in English was a scanned PDF of a 1985 weaving journal article by Noémi Speiser, detailing her discovery of this device while working on her long-out-of-print book The Manual of Braiding, which, it turns out, just came back into print last November, and which includes instructions for the Naiki-dai (and, apparently, the Ayatakedai).

The text, pictures, and clear instructions in her article revealed that the Kago-uchi-dai is… a warp-weighted rigid heddle loom that uses kumihimo weighted bobbins for tension.

Well, alrighty then.

Coincidentally, a few months back, I got the idea of setting my card loom up vertically so I could use kumihimo bobbins to provide tension and allow the strands to freely untwist; I’ve been too busy to try it, but it seemed like it would work well, and now I know it will. 😁

Oh, and the kagouchi braid? Speiser identified the structure as identical to #2918 in The Ashley Book of Knots, and speculated that the rounded version the artisans told her about but didn’t show was likely #2919.

Tentative Takadai design

Between crude sketches, OpenSCAD, and playing with scrap wood, I think I’ve nailed down (so to speak…) the way I’m going to connect my parametric Takadai together.

  1. Instead of connecting the inner and outer arms (gedan/jōdan) with a small arm attached to the legs at one point, I'm using wedges cut from a 1x6. This is actually the "traditional" method in Japan.
  2. To stabilize it front-to-back, I used 1x6 stretchers a few inches above the ground. I can't put them at the top like table aprons, because the bobbins would constantly bang into them.
  3. To stabilize it side to side, I replaced the rear crossbar with a 1x6, which means the rear "wedges" are part of a solid board attached to both legs.
  4. That makes the biggest, most visible change possible: the torii and makitori-bō are now firmly attached to the frame by 1x6s. They can stand up to any amount of weighted bobbins, and the finished braid collects in an easy-to-reach location.
  5. Even better, that provides a perfect spot for the ratchet and pawl, replacing the chopstick brake on the makitori-bō.
  6. That rear 1x6 also made it possible to lower the hyojun-bō so that it doesn't sit on top of the gedan like an afterthought, and completely eliminate the sword pads. With a 1x6 back there, I can just cut out pads on each side and round them off.

Next up, building a tabletop version with 5/8-inch square dowels and 0.5x3-inch hobby boards. To keep it compact, it will only support 4 small koma on each arm; that’s enough for quite a few types of braid.

For simplicity, the tabletop Chibidai will be held together by wood screws, but for the full-sized unit I’ve got a bag of cross dowels from McMaster-Carr. I’ll use the Nomad to CNC-carve my comb-style koma and the ratchet.

[Update: I made the OpenSCAD script dump the cut list; obviously I’ll be rounding off a bit…]

8x hardwood balusters, 1.25x1.25:
4x legs, 26 inches
2x gedan, 27.8523 inches, mizo starts at 7.70228 inches
2x jodan, 32.0706 inches, mizo starts at 9.67062 inches
7x hardwood boards, 0.75x5.5:
1x back board with wedge cuts, 34.75 inches
2x stretchers, 25.3523 inches (gedan - 2x baluster)
2x torii/makitori supports, 11.5 inches
2x front wedges, 7 inches
2x 1-inch dowels, 8 inches
1x 0.5-inch dowel, 22 inches
22x koma, 3.5 inches
1x gravity ratchet with pawl

Parametric Takadai design

There are three basic methods for acquiring a takadai: buy, build, or kludge. They’re sufficiently uncommon that the only US retailer has an 18-month waiting list, and the two widely-available construction plans (Owen and Franklin) are for small, portable units. I have both plans, and I don’t like either one. Why not?

"The opening between the lower rails was designed so that a braider with a shoulder width of approximately 15.50 inches is able to work without leaning forward or pulling in the elbows, so that back strain is minimized." --- Carol Franklin

Franklin’s design puts the space between the rails at 18 inches, Owen’s at a bit over 16. My ribcage is 18 inches wide, so using one of these designs as-is would be like flying coach in the middle seat between two football players. It’s not gonna fly.

The two “standard” sizes available in Japan have roughly 22 and 28-inch openings, but they’re designed with a built-in kneeling platform, not a comfortable position for most Westerners. They’re also pretty darn big, with the largest one measuring 110x100cm (43.3x39.4 inches).

I don’t want to spend $650 and wait a year and a half for what is admittedly a piece of fine furniture, but I also don’t want to fly coach, so it’s time to design my own. I learned a lot from the kludged-together Bakadai, and since I can’t use the Owen/Franklin plans directly, I’m free to question every detail of construction. I’m working in OpenSCAD to make the numbers easy to tweak, and my current design (pictured above) is here.


Tsune-gumi on the Bakadai

Baka no Takadai, version 6

15 inches high, 26 inches wide, 16 inches deep. These are terrible dimensions for a Takadai, but they work pretty well for an idiot’s makeshift version: the Bakadai. The braid is coming out nicely, at least; it’s 25-strand Tsune-gumi (3/3 twill), done with a single strand of cheap medium-weight acrylic yarn per bobbin, in a simple zig-zag pattern.

Tsune-gumi on the Bakadai

I’ve had to rebuild it several times already, as I discovered where the stresses were (version 2 included a 4-kilo kettlebell for stability…). The latest version added sandpaper on the takeup bar, to keep it from unwinding the finished braid every time I pull the shed open to pass a bobbin/shuttle through; a real takadai uses a ratcheting mechanism, but I didn’t have one laying around the house, and the only tool I’ve used so far is the saw blade on my Leatherman, to cut the dowel to size.

The key components are the 8 sliding koma and their frames, which are constructed out of two sets of the Martha Stewart Knit and Weave Loom Kit, which I found on sale on Amazon for $20. Side note: I couldn’t get it to work well for weaving or single knitting, but I did make a decent double-knit scarf before I tore it apart to use for takadai parts. It’s a decent kit, but much better at $20 than the current $33 or the retail $45.

The other parts are a cheap lap scroll holder from a craft shop, a three-tier sword stand that I don’t need while my swords are off being polished, two short lengths of dowel, a bungee cord, a “bone” folding tool, a chopstick, three little strips of sandpaper, some gaffer tape, and some rubber bands and string. And a bunch of weighted bobbins, which I already had from my Marudai.

Bakadai v6 close-up

(note that the uneven thread spacing and the camera angle make it look like I’ve only got 2 threads under the chopstick at one point; there are actually 3 there)

Technical limitations:

  • held together with string and rubber bands, so not the most robust thing in the world.
  • hard to set up at a comfortable height; currently it works best standing.
  • the front bar of the scroll holder is always in the way.
  • each koma only has 5 pegs, so I'm limited to a maximum of 15 strands per side.
  • the angle from front to back is way too steep (about 20°).
  • it's too small to use my hand to create the shed, so I'm using a chopstick.
  • the scroll frame isn't deep enough; another 6 inches or so, and I could use the biggest parts from the Martha Stewart loom to create a much longer frame for the koma to slide in, and use longer pieces for the koma, allowing me to increase the number of strands and even out the spacing between them.
  • the sword stand is too close to the scroll holder. On the plus side, it's close enough that I can use the takeup bar to hold the chopstick in place while I pass bobbins through, which makes it feel more like using the real thing.
  • only one set of koma on each side, so it's limited to single-layer braids. Not that I'll be ready to try double-layer braids any time soon...

If version 6 holds up well, I won’t make any significant changes to it [okay, there will be at least one more version; the sandpaper isn’t quite enough to keep the weight of 25 bobbins from gradually unwinding the takeup bar]. Instead, I’ll focus my efforts on designing parts with OpenSCAD to be milled on a Shapeoko 3 in the Spring. I have two sets of plans, from Rodrick Owen (with errata) and Carol Franklin, and my experience with the Bakadai has already given me a few ideas that will simplify the milling.

The first thing I build will be a better-proportioned Chibi-Takadai and a set of smaller bobbins, with only the top sides milled to keep it simple. The bobbins will have to be done in two parts and glued together (with washers for weighting), and the koma will have to sit at an angle rather than running in a track; that works well on the Bakadai, and will be even better with purpose-built parts.

[Update: for version 7 I replaced the takeup bar with a 1-inch dowel, the largest size that just fit inside the rubber hooks of the bungee cord. The tension is perfect, and it didn’t unwind at all when I made another Tsunegumi braid. The only remaining modification I need to do is put longer leaders on my bobbins.]