[Update: text instructions for a more complex kute-uchi braid—called Genji Uchi are at the end of this post. My more recent post on the Kute-Uchi workshop I took at Braids 2012 has more info on other types of kute-uchi braids that can be made using the same two moves I teach in this tutorial. Another mysterious hand-held loop braiding tradition was that of the amazing “mummy braids” of ancient Peru – see photos of hand-held loop braiding at the end of that post…]
I recently dashed off two video tutorials on kute-uchi braiding—a Japanese hand-held loop braiding technique. This was in answer to a youtube video request from Petr in the Czech Repuplic! He is very interested in both Kute-uchi and Kumihimo braiding—has now acquired plans for a marudai and is building it himself.
Here are the 2 videos, each demoing one basic Kute-uchi move:
Below is a video demonstrating the “Outside-Around” move, also making a 5-loop braid
The “inside-through” move is basically identical to V-fell finger-held loop braiding. But there is no equivalent to the kute-uchi “outside-around” move in traditional fingerloop braiding.
New note—I just used “bare loops” in these videos. If you use kute (handles) to hold the loops, it will be easier to control the loops and to keep track of their order. Kute are not hard to make, see these ideas from Joy Boutrup and Maskako Kinoshita. (click link, then scroll down to the footnotes on that page.) In the videos, I tried to hold all the loops spaced apart so they would be easy to see. This is not absolutely necessary or even practical, especially when braiding with more than five loops. Just try to keep them lined up in order. I didn’t actually use kute for any of the braids in the photo below, but I think silk might be very difficult to use without kute.
Once you get used to these moves, you can try using 7 loops, and then more, to make larger versions with more color-pattern possibilities.
Both these two Kute-uchi moves can make a divided, square, and flat braid, pretty much just like the braids in my “Start Here” 5-loop tutorial for finger-held loop braiding. So, for making these particular braids, there would be no need to learn all three methods—you could just pick the one you like best and learn that one.
However, combining these two kute-uchi moves can produce some very interesting braids! Here is one example, these braids are color-pattern variations of a kute-uchi braid called “Genji-uchi“:
The examples above are 16 to 36-loop braids, but all with the same basic structure—which is different from the square and flat braids of the two Kute-uchi videos above. It’s created by alternating the two basic moves shown in the videos, and requires using a multiple of four loops. [text instructions here.] Masako Kinoshita’s term for this braid-shape is Genji-uchi. Apparently it looks very similar to a kumihimo braid called Maru-genji-gumi. Here is a quote from Masako Kinoshita (who discovered and resurrected the lost art of Kute-Uchi):
Genji-uchi…shouldn’t be confused with “MARU GENJI-GUMI,” a kumihimo braid, which is structurally different. Pseudo-Genji braid [described below, in the instructions] … also is structurally different from “MARU GENJI-GUMI.”
When I learned my first Kute-uchi braids, the Outside-Around move was a big surprise to me. I had never seen anything like it with finger-held loop braiding. The braids above were very novel, too. The structure is like 2 square braids enmeshed through each other. Hard to tell in a flat photo, but the braids are very solid, and round or squarish in shape, with 8 ridges (these are the narrow vertical columns of stacked threads—a regular square braid has 4 ridges).
Then a couple of years later I had another surprise, when I learned the 14th C. European “Sudarium braid,” done with finger-held loop braiding by two co-operating braiders (traditionally), which has a very similar shape—though produced by a very different method.
You can read more about Kute-uchi on Masako Kinoshita’s website L-MBRIC:
Kute-Uchi in Japanese means loop braiding in general, including finger-held loop braiding. Finger-held loop braiding was also practiced in Japan, and probably preceded the development of hand-held loop braiding.
None of this history was known until Masako Kinoshita discovered hints to the long-forgotten technique of kute-uchi in some old Japanese manuscripts. Amazingly, the documents revealed clues to the original method used for braiding the magnificent Japanese royal, samurai, and temple braids: hand-held loops and many cooperating braiders. This was completely counter to the theories of kumihimo historians at the time—they all believed the ancient braids had been made on braiding stands (marudai), even though a marudai big enough for the most complex of these braids would have to be so large that it could not be used by a single braider sitting in one place.
This is totally parallel to Noemi Speiser’s amazing discoveries from the 17th C. English loop braiding manuscripts. Speiser and Kinoshita were both discovering and decoding ancient loop braiding texts and braids at almost the same time, on opposite sides of the earth. Both of them had to use a lot of ingenuity—the instructions in both sets of manuscripts were obscurely written, and incomplete. The 17th C. English manuscripts, which were the first ones Speiser came upon, were written as if for readers who already understood the basic method and undefined shorthand terminology—most of the essential information was simply omitted.
Apparently the old Japanese manuscripts were written in secretive, veiled terms as if the writer didn’t really want anyone to understand it. A reluctant transcriber of proprietary guild secrets, perhaps. (That’s my own wildly speculative theory about a few of the 15th C English braid instructions, too—that they purposely described a more difficult and convoluted method for certain braids than the original transcriber him/herself may have used—Laces Dawns, Piol, and the Grene Dorge of 12 bows, for example.)
When Kinoshita came across the Japanese manuscript describing Kute-uchi braiding, the last practitioner of kute-uchi had been gone for almost a century, and the technique had been forgotten / sunk into obscurity for even longer, supplanted by Kumihimo stand-and-bobbin braiding.
Kinoshita was eventually able to prove to the initially skeptical Japanese Kumihimo community that it was Kute-uchi hand-held loop braiding rather than kumihimo that had been used to make the ancient, intricate braids that are now national treasures in Japanese museums. The larger kute-uchi braids (kikko and other patterns) were made by two to four or even more braiders working together on one braid.
I took an introductory Kute-uchi workshop from kumihimo master Makiko Tada (also here), who had learned Kute-uchi from Masako Kinoshita. It was a great workshop, and I spent a month afterward doing a lot of Kute-uchi braiding. Unfortunately I haven’t practiced it since. So I hope I am not leading anyone astray! (If any of my information here or in the videos is incorrect, please let me know.)
We learned many more braids than these enmeshed square braids, below is a photo of another type. This is a twined Kute-uchi braid (with very uneven tension!):
This is a simple version—the amazingly elaborate versions that were done in the past (I think only for royalty?) were much wider and more complex, with many rows of nested diamond shapes forming intricate patterns, not just one row of diamonds like my example. Makiko Tada has made incredible replicas of some of these ancient braids. This braiding structure is now usually done with Kumihimo braiding. A specialized braiding stand called a Karakumidai is used. Each pair of threads is wound on two bobbins which hang separately, rather than being held together as a loop, the way they were originally braided.
“Genji-Uchi” kute-uchi braid — first photo in post:
Here are text instructions for both Genji-Uchi and a very similar and possibly easier braid called Pseudo-genji-uchi:
First learn the braiding moves in both the videos above—Pseudo-genji and Genji-uchi use a combination of both those moves.
The minimum number of loops for Pseudo-Genji is four loops—2 loops on each hand. It will produce a very minimal braid, but is a good intro to learning it. I haven’t checked this, but I suspect that you might need to use a minimum of 8 loops for true Genji-Uchi — 4 may not “hold” (let me know if it works!)
An 8-loop version will look more like the braids in my photo.
The total number of loops must be a multiple of 4, (so 8, 12, 16, etc).
A great color pattern for learning Genji-uchi or Pseudo-genji-uchi:
Lengthwise columns of 2 different color-groups
Decide what colors you want half of the columns to be, and what colors you want the other columns to be.
CUT THE YARN: Half the loops should be color group X, and half should be color group Y. It’ll be easier to braid if at least one of these two groups is a single, distinctive color—say, all black. The other loops could be one other color, or a mix of colors, but they should all contrast with black (this is just to make it easier to braid. Not a rule!—later, after you’ve learned the braid, you can arrange the colors any way you want.)
ALTERNATE the two groups of colors [color group X and color group Y] when you arrange the loops onto each hand. The loops should be in x, y, x, y order on each hand. (The same, matching, order on both hands). Unlike the braids in the videos, Genji-uchi and Pseudo- g.u start with the same number of loops on each hand.
EVERY OTHER LOOP (matching on the two hands) will end up together in the braid, even though they are not together on your hands. So, in the finished braid, the ‘evens’ of each hand (say, color-group x) will all be stacked together in certain columns of the braid, and the ‘odds’ of each hand (color-group y) will all be stacked together in other columns.*
[Later, if you use bicolor loops, you can have narrower columns of 4 different color-groups.]
The columns look clearer in the braid if one of the two color-groups is a single, solid color—say all black loops for the even-number loops (color-group X). This also makes it much easier to keep the loops in the correct order on your hands while you are braiding.
BRAID in pairs of moves from both the videos:
The first 2 loop transfers (left and right) will be outside-around, and the next 2 will be inside-through. Repeat in this way for the whole braid. If you’ve lined up your colors correctly, you will be making the outside-around moves on all the X colors, and inside-through moves on all the Y colors.
For Pseudo-genji-uchi: TURN all loops when transferring them.
For true Genji-uchi : TURN only the loops that go “outside-around,” and DON’T turn the loops that come “inside-through”.
[for a separate experiment, go ahead and try transferring loops without turning any of them—you'll get an interesting result! Use a minimum of 8 loops...]
The two braids are very similar-looking. If you use bicolor loops, there will be a slight difference in where the colors end up in the vertical columns in Genji-uchi vs. Pseudo Genji-uchi…so slight you may not even notice the difference.
I’ve double-checked my old notes, and the braids in my photo are true Genji-Uchi braids. I am not 100% sure that the true Genji-Uchi braid will work with only 4 loops, you’ll probably need to use 8. (let me know what happens if you try it with 4!) I do know that the “pseudo-genji-uchi”—turning all the loops—does work with only 4 loops, I tested that when I first wrote these instructions (thinking at the time that it was the true Genji-uchi braid!).
Try not to get the loops out of order, or the color-pattern will disappear. If you notice that they are out of order, get them back into that alternating x-color, y-color order and keep going. Keep alternating the two sets of moves.
Try other color-arrangements, but always use the same two moves (2 outside-around, 2 inside-through, 2 outside-around, 2 inside-through, etc). And you must use 8, or 12, 16, 20, etc loops (a multiple of 4).
These braids can have other color patterns, the colors don’t have to be columns. In the photo, the first two braids on the left have zigzag rows of colors. I think I must have set those up with every two (or 4?) loops of each hand the SAME color, alternating with two (4?) more loops of one other color. (This zigzag stripe pattern requires at least 8 loops, can’t be made with only 4, even with the pseudo-g.u braid.)
It should be possible to squeeze a third color in as well, to get, say a black, blue, black, tan order to the stripes, when seen from certain sides of the braid. I may have done this in those first two braids by using bicolor loops—each non-black loop made from both of the two non-black colors. (I’m too lazy to go check my old notes on these samples right now, but if you are interested, just ask, I do have notes on all of them.)
Other kute-uchi braids:
These same two braiding moves can produce several other types of braids, depending on:
A-how the moves are combined
B-which if any loops are turned (left or right hands/ inside-through loops or outside around loops, both or neither)
C-whether the two hands hold an even or odd number of loops (or one hand even and the other odd). Unlike fingerloop braids, even-odd variations can cause dramatic changes to the form/shape of hand-held kute-uchi braids.
Here are some of the other possibilities (see also my account of the Kute-uchi workshop that Joy Boutrup taught at Braids 2012):
A braid with the cross-section of a tall rectangle—like a European double “solid rectangle” braid, but formed vertically;
Two square braids made simultaneously;
Four narrow flat braids made simultaneously;
an 8-column wide, flat braid similar to the European-style flat double braid)
These braids are as intricate as typical European fingerloop two-worker braids (double braids), especially if you use 10 or more loops. On top of that, they can be combined to be even twice as large/ twice as intricate, if you pair up with another braider and team braid!
Masako Kinoshita describes these kute-uchi braids on LMBRIC, in her illustrated instruction series on Kute-Uchi. The braid possibilities I itemized above would be in her list headed “Four-step Procedures,” because the braids have 4 loop transfers in each cycle (repeat) of the braiding moves. Two-step procedures make simpler braids (square, flat and divided), that have only two loop transfers in each braiding cycle.
* There will be 4 apparent columns (two each of the two color-groups), but each apparent column is really made up of 2 columns/ridges of slanting threads. If you use bicolor loops, you can use 4 color-groups, and arrange them so that each of these 8 (true) columns shows as a separate column.
About the change in my blog’s format:
Wordpress.com offers several ‘pre-fab’ blog formats (called “themes”). I liked some things about my old theme, but it had a few things that bothered me, so I’m trying this new one—mostly so the upper menu tabs will stand out better to make it easier for new readers to find what they are looking for…
[update Dec 2013 - after two years on that 'new' theme, I've just switched to yet another one. It's supposed to work better on different sized devices than the previous one did. I hope the change in appearance isn't too jarring to any regular readers.]
The main problem with a blog (for a teaching/ information-based website) is that posts on the homepage are displayed in chronological order—newest on top. This is not always good for a sequence of tutorials, especially since only some of my posts are tutorials—on my home page they are listed all jumbled together with my non-tutorial posts, purely in chronological order. That’s why I added an index to the tutorials as one of my upper menu items. I eventually found out that there’s a way to make a wordpress blog appear in a ‘website’ format, but by that time I had decided that I liked the blog format. To me a website looks more interesting if the front page changes regularly, plus with a blog it’s more obvious to readers when I add something new.
Also, because it was a blog and not a ‘website’, I didn’t feel that all the pieces had to be in place when I launched it, so it was easier to jump in and start posting. I just gradually organized it as I added new posts…
Another advantage to a wordpress.com blog—compared to a self-hosted website or a wordpress.org self-hosted install—aside from being
free [no longer quite true, now that I've upgraded], is that I didn’t have to understand anything about web design, html, etc to get started. All I needed to know how to do was to read simple directions, type, and ask a question now and then on the wordpress forum.
In case you are thinking of starting your own blog, google the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org, there’s a huge difference. Only wordpress.com gives you a prefab, functional site. Plus according to people who understand this stuff much better than I do, WordPress.com gives you much better visibility and rating in online searches than your own self-hosted wordpress.org install would—which is a very significant advantage in reaching an audience.
Anyway, I’m hoping this new theme/format will be easier to read and navigate. What do you think??? If it doesn’t work out, I may try yet another one—so if everything looks different again the next time you visit you’ll know why.
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