Even though I’m a hand braider, I’ve always been fascinated by braiding machines and their history. The antique hand-crank braiding machine in my photos below was on display at Paradise Mills, the old Macclesfield silk weaving factory we toured at Braids 2012 in the U.K. This was the oldest braiding machine I’d ever heard of – from the early 1800’s – and I got to crank it in person! It didn’t occur to me at the time, but from the height of the crank, I now wonder if this machine was meant to be worked by child laborers – if so it’s a poignant contrast to the toy I review further down.
(*Jump to braiding machine history and resource list here)
I love watching youtube videos of braiding machines in action – from antique to high-tech:
(Click your back button to return here from linked youtube pages)
1.5 min video of lovingly refurbished New England Butt Co. braiding machines in action (round braider circa 1960, flat braider circa 1920, flat braider 1880’s). Great closeups of braids, and machine parts in action.
Below are some links to video clips of the gorgeous, intricate, antique braiding machines and braids at la Maison des Tresses et Lacets – the braiding machines at this still-functioning braid factory in France were originally water-wheel-powered!:
1-minute video clip of two of their braiding machines at work, the first one making a flat braid, and the second one making what I think is a tubular braid (diamond patterns in orange and blue).
Two more videos about this amazing factory that show the waterwheel, also machines braiding unusually shaped decorative braids: 2.5 minutes, No voice-over; and 5 minutes, with French narration
Simple modern braiding machine, not too different from the antique machines except in speed, 1-minute video
Aviation composite braiding (ultra-hi-tech factory in the Netherlands, same basic idea, but horizontal, and braiding around a solid core): 3-minute video (a fun one! You have to skip one ad in the beginning, but it’s worth it.)
BIGGEST, most humongous ever (this link cuts to the middle of a long corporate brag in German to the best part): About 1 minute (from 5:18 to 6:28). These enormous ropes are square braids – I think of ten strands. Almost exactly like a 5-loop fingerloop braid!
Makiko Tada’s amazing braiding machines for composite fiber industrial braids, I think these intricate tracks are forming integrated multiples of square braids – 1-minute video
Lo and behold a toy hand-crank braiding machine recently came out that was brought to my attention on the Braids and Bands discussion group – made by Spinmaster, called the Cool Maker KumiKreator Friendship Bracelet Maker (I am not being paid for this review btw, or for any clicks on links within it, and in fact I suggest using this product in ways the manufacturer does not recommend.)
Most online reviews of Spinmaster’s KumiKreator and 2-in-1 Kumikreator are by parents who received a free Kumi kreator in return for their review, or are getting revenue from clicks on product links within their site. There are also some reviews by disgruntled parents who didn’t have the patience to go through the instructions slowly and carefully, and are dismayed when the machine jams up because they loaded it wrong (see Notes and Tips below). I am a hand braider, not a parent, and I bought this to use myself. I have taught both preschool and elementary school though, so I do have some insight into what would be hard or easy for children in using this toy. Almost all children will need adult help at first, but if they are 9 or older they will probably be able to use it on their own after some practice.
Children 8 and under will need adult help in setting up the bobbins for braiding; and also in putting the clasps onto the ends after the braiding is done. The actual cranking of the handle to produce the braid is the easiest part, yet takes some co-ordination and effort, I imagine any child would feel very proud and productive cranking hard and watching a braid form. Teenagers and adults will feel the fascination and reward of watching a simple cranking motion produce in a few minutes what would take a good half-hour or more (as well as a lot of practice beforehand) to braid by hand.
Finishing the braid with the included tape and plastic clasps is much simpler than standard methods of finishing braided jewelry, because there are no knots to tie, or glue to fuss over. The clasps seem surprisingly secure, but they are not easy to open and close, most kids will probably prefer to roll their bracelets on and off.
All children will need adult help in learning how to use the machine, and the adult needs to be willing to read (or watch the video) and carefully follow the directions for each step of the set-up. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t catch them all just by a quick scan-through of the directions, or a quick watch-through of the video. I had to refer to them step-by-step during the first set-up – ie pausing the video to perform each step. The steps are not hard to do, or to remember later, but each one is important for the KumiKreator to operate correctly. See my Notes and Tips below for troubleshooting if a jam or other problem occurs.
The Kumikreator seems to be priced around $17-25. I don’t have links to sellers here, but you can find it some craft and ‘big-box’ stores, as well as online. It is sturdy plastic. I have subjected mine to fairly heavy use without anything wearing out (yet). According to another review, the so-called 2-in-1 KumiKreator is the exact same product, but in a different color (purple), and comes with some spools of thinner thread as well as spools of the original thicker thread. The thinner thread is a longer length, so can make thinner, longer braids – long enough for a short necklace. (see tips below for using your own thread for even longer braids.)
This KumiKreator toy is an actual braiding machine, but with a very different mechanism from that of a standard “horn gear” braiding machine (compared in footnotes*). It produces a strong, round, intricate braid that is a common type of hand-worked Kumihimo braid, but is uncommon to non-existant as a factory-made braid. The Japanese name for this braid-form is Kongoh-gumi meaning firm, round braid. Kongoh braids are typically made by hand, either on a round wooden braiding stand called a marudai, or on a stiff slotted card or foam disk.
(Btw: the braids in photo below are sorta ‘hacked’ – the machine and its included spools make braids more like the magenta/blue/orange bracelet in photos further down.)
This machine braids 8- or 12-strand Kongoh braids. 12 strands is equivalent to a 6-loop fingerloop braid, but most Kongoh color-patterns are quite different from those of the loop braids I teach on this blog, so I am finding them very fun to make! All samples in photos (with the exception of one bracelet) are 12-strand braids in my own thread: cotton embroidery floss and crochet thread, and wool, silk, or linen thin weaving and knitting yarns. One of the two finished bracelets (photo further down) is 8-strand, made with the included KumiKreator synthetic thread and plastic clasp.
Left-to-right, from lower left corner: 1st braid is the thickest, crochet cotton #3 (3-ply); braids 2-5 are fine weaving wool (discontinued brand); 6-12 are dmc embroidery floss. (#9 and #11 have a single spool of pink rayon thread)
I’ve never come across a machine-made braid like this – meaning a round braid that is dense and compact in itself, rather than tubular around a core. (The fingerloop braid I call the Spiral Braid is similar – the strands all pass through the center, creating a dense, round braid.)
When you turn the crank of the KumiKreator braiding machine, the spool-holders don’t all circulate simultaneously the way they do in an industrial horn-gear braiding machine. Instead, only two spool-holders move at a time while the other spool-holders wait in slots around the circular face of the machine. The machine has 2 spool-moving gears. Each gear picks up and moves one spool-holder, moving them (in opposite directions) to a vacant slot across the circular face of the machine. In the photo below, the 2 vacant slots are at the top and bottom of the machine (left and right in the photo), but as you crank, two spool-holders will move into those vacant slots, leaving two other slots vacant, and so on.
The action is fast and clattery, not very pleasant for others in the vicinity. (But somehow not bothersome at all to the obsessed braider doing the cranking!) The growing braid is drawn upward by the white spring-loaded arm at the top of the machine.
This toy braiding machine is targeted toward young girls making friendship bracelets, and the manufacturer (Spin Master) wants to keep them all buying packs of replacement spools, in different color-assortments with enticing names. They strongly suggest only using this thread, vaguely threatening disaster if you dare to use your own thread. The spools are SMALL, and the thread is thick. Each spool holds only 20″ of this thick, braided synthetic thread, enough for one bracelet-length braid – which will use up 8 or 12 spools:
When you purchase the machine it appears to come with a huge supply of spools of thread, but since 8 to 12 of them get used up for each bracelet, they run out fast! If your child is hooked, s/he will be clamoring for replacement packs very quickly. These are not cheap – I suspect that the replacement packs are intended to be a main revenue stream for this product.
Luckily, it’s no problem to reload these spools with your own thread. I’m pretty sure that children over 9 can learn to do this too. There’s a handy slot/groove inside the spool at one end which grips the starting twist or two of the thread as you wind. With finer thread you can make much longer (and finer) braids. So far I’ve used fine weaving wool, #3 crochet cotton, and embroidery floss:
Of these threads, the size 3 crochet cotton (big purple ball in back above) is probably the easiest and most rewarding for a child to use. The bracelet comes out a bit thinner than with the Kumikreator thread, but still quite hefty, see comparison below – the 12-spool cotton bracelet ended up about the same size as an 8-spool Kumi-thread bracelet:
Two bracelets for comparison. Left bracelet was made with size 3 crochet cotton that I wound onto empty KumiKreator spools (12 spools). Right bracelet is an 8-spool bracelet made with the KumiKreator synthetic thread. Both have the Kumikreator plastic clasps, which come in two colors. Easy to attach (no gluing) but difficult to use – they are hard to snap and unsnap. In a youtube video, I saw one child simply rolling her bracelet onto her wrist without using the clasp.
Children nine or under might be able to learn how to wind thread onto a spool, but may not have the patience to load 8 to 12 of them. Their main problem with winding might be enthusiastic overwinding – winding so much on that the bulging spool won’t fit easily into the machine’s little bobbin-carriers, which would cause problems when cranking out the braid.
The spools don’t have a lot of room for thread, but if I wind neatly, I can load 3 yards of embroidery floss onto each spool, for a braid of about half that length – almost 5 feet. This is more than enough length for a necklace, or could be a drawstring or a handle for a bag, shoelaces, pet leash, etc. Winding onto twelve little spools takes patience, but the payoff is cranking out a long pretty little braid, clickety-clack!
Note: See tips from readers below about using a drill to load thread into the spools!
Note: Here’s a link to another review of the Kumikreator, on a weaving/ braiding site. It has some great insights and useful closeup shots – like one of the bobbin showing the little groove that can grip the beginning of the thread when you start filling the bobbin.
I also tried using a fine slippery rayon, doubled, but that really was a near-disaster! Even at only one spool among 11 well-behaved spools of cotton embroidery floss – the doubled rayon thread kept slipping off its spool and tying up the works. Maybe doubling it was the problem – I’ll try to find a thicker rayon thread and try that. [update: I’ve now tried both silk and linen – both turned out great. The linen looked disappointing until I washed it – improved it 100%, and it feels amazing, like quicksilver.]
(above) Silk – cobweb weight spun silk, tripled (3 ends per spool).
The spiral-pattern braid in the photo below is just under 5 feet in length (all these braids are cotton embroidery floss).
Update: Braids can be up to twice that length if each end is braided separately. My test braid below turned out about 3 yards long (9 feet/ 2.74m), and might have been a lot longer if one spool hadn’t run out of thread annoyingly sooner than all the others. I cut 6 yds of embroidery floss for each spool, but wound only 3yds onto the spool, leaving the extra 3 yds hanging (actually, after loading the Kumikreator from the centerpoint of the strands, I then bundled those loose ends up temporarily so they wouldn’t tangle). I started braiding at the mid-point of each strand, working down to the end of the strands on the spools. When I finished cranking out that first half, I then wound the opposite ends of the threads onto the emptied spools – but only after first threading each strand down through a spool-holder of the machine – this is crucially important, because on this second half of the braid, you won’t be able to load the machine after winding the spools – I found this out the hard way! I tightened the spools well to avoid looseness at the ‘join’, and then braided the other half of the warp. It’s hard to predict exactly how long the braid will turn out, because often one spool will run out of thread long before the others even though they all started with approximately the same length – this is very puzzling!
A small round pattern booklet comes with the machine (upper right in product photo, and sample pattern page shown below). There are other pattern books available for free online. Most of the patterns are for 8-strand braids, but a few are for the full 12 spools. I love the pattern they call ‘Dream Beam,’ shown on the pattern booklet page below. It’s the color-pattern of the lowest braid in the group shot two photos up (pink, black, and gray embroidery floss).
You can also make up your own patterns, you don’t have to use the ones in the booklet! Do follow the booklet to see which slots to use for loading bobbins, though, or the machine might jam up. See my Hack #1 below on making your own color-patterns.
You can also use Craft Design Online’s Kongoh braid pattern generator to plan color-patterns. This independent site is a great resource for braid pattern generators. On their Kongoh planner page, use the ‘minus’ icon to bring the number of strands down from 16 to 12, pick a color from the color wheel, and start designing! (Side note: Craft Design Online is also a great resource for converting uploaded images into customized gridded patterns – great for planning needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet or even pointillist or “paint-by-numbers” images).
Note 1: Using a Kongoh chart
A standard Kongoh chart like the one on CraftDesignOnline does not align exactly with the starting set-up of spools on the machine, and the little round KumiKreator pattern charts. I added all the numbers into the pics below to show how a normal Kongoh chart can be used with the Kumi machine (the real KumiKreator pattern charts are not numbered.) You wouldn’t get the Dream Beam pattern if you started by loading color #2 of the Kongoh chart into spot #1 in the machine, even if the rest of the colors follow in the correct order.
In starting position (shown above right), spool no. 2 will be the first spool to move downward once you start cranking. (spool no. 8 will be the first to move upward).
Note 2: Jams
(If you have a jam, be sure to also see tip #2 further down.)
There are two ways the machine can jam up and stop functioning. Both seem to be caused by loading the machine incorrectly, and they stopped happening once I got the hang of the set-up.
A. Thread jam A thread may be tangled or stuck – check each spool to see if its thread has gotten stuck onto the side of the spool, or around another spool-holder.
Untangle the thread, but also fix what caused it. It probably happened because you didn’t (successfully) release the white arm before you started cranking, so the growing braid wasn’t being pulled upward. Before you start cranking, you must push the white tab above the clip forward and firmly down to release the white arm. Another possibility is that you didn’t insert the spool correctly into the spool-holder, or thread the end of each strand up THROUGH the spool-holder, or tighten up on all the spools before you started cranking. (again, see tip #2 below!)
B. Mechanical jam, a.k.a. “Spool-holder jam” A spool-holder might inexplicably be occupying a slot that should be vacant, thereby blocking the next spool-holder from entering its proper slot. This can happen if you start loading the machine without paying attention to the setup directions, and happen to put a spool into the wrong slot (see the following two tips). Test to see if it’s this type of jam by pulling all the thread from the spools – eliminating the possibility of a thread jam. If the crank still won’t turn, then it this mechanical jam. This has only happened to me once, and luckily I had already saved a link to the online video that shows how to fix this. (that link is also listed in the directions that come with the machine). The video shows how to access and remove the ‘illegal’ spool-holder and replace it into its proper slot (you can’t just stick it into any visible vacant slot – the video shows how to find the right one).
Tips and hacks:
Note: See more tips and ideas from readers below this post!
Tip/ Hack 1:
Make your own patterns:
You don’t have to follow the colors of the pattern charts.
You or your child can make up your own patterns by loading any colors you want into the 8 or the 12 slots shown on the charts in the booklet. As always, before inserting any spools, crank until the two blue slots are at “12 o’clock” and “6 o’clock” and leave those slots empty. Loading spools into those slots, or starting with the blue slots not at the highest and lowest points, could result in a mechanical jam (see above). Loading into other slots than the 8 (or 12) shown in the booklet might result in a twisted muddle of threads rather than a true braid (ask me how I know!).
Follow the directions:
Probably goes without saying, but be sure to read the set-up instructions and/or watch one of the several official youtube videos demoing them (same link), while pausing it to finish each step.
There is a certain amount of scuttlebutt around the web that this toy “doesn’t work” “is crap” “jammed up the first time we used it!” “worked at first then it got stuck and my daughter is heartbroken!” – simply because toy or not, this is a real braiding machine and has to be set up correctly in order to work. Jam-ups are fixable (see Jams above) and generally a result of misuse, so they stop occurring after you learn how to use the machine. The first time I used it I found I had to go over the directions slowly and carefully, step by step, while following them – when I tried to just watch the video through first, and then do the set-up it turned out I had missed some important bits of info.
After you learn how to load the machine correctly, and teach your child, yes, it will be easy for both of you, but the first time it might not. Especially if a spool-holder happens to be in the wrong spot from the start. (If the handle won’t turn even when no thread is in the spool holders, go to “mechanical jam” above.) Again, all children will need adult help the first few or several times in setting up the spools for braiding and in finishing off the ends. Children under nine will likely always need adult help with this, but will enjoy cranking out the braid.
Tip/ Hack 3:
Using your own thread (see my own experiments further up):
Kumikreator thread is thick, plus has a slight extra thickening at the tip that keeps it from sliding out of the white clip. When using my own thread, especially if it is fine or slippery: After winding the thread onto the spools, loading the spools into the spool-holders, and threading the ends up through each spool-holder, I then tie all the strands together at the top into a knot. That knot serves as a handy bump to anchor the ends above the clip and prevent them from sliding out of the clip. (This might not be necessary with thicker thread, like size 3 crochet cotton). I load the threads into the white clip, with the knot above the clip. After that, I tug gently downward on the threads so the knot snugs down against the top of the clip. Then I tighten away any looseness in the strands leading up to the clip: I rotate all the spools ‘backward‘ to tighten them up (this is one of the steps in the set-up instructions, good to do every time before you start cranking).
Tip/ Hack 4:
Hack the length:
You are not limited by the length of the white arm! The limiting factor for length is the amount of thread you can load onto the spools, not the length of the white arm. The Kumikreator machine can braid longer lengths – for necklaces, shoelaces, or drawstrings – if you wind thinner thread onto the spools. When making a long braid, once the arm has pulled all the way back (maybe a ten-inch braid), you can simply re-attach the white clip further down the braid, and continue cranking. However the white clip is sized to grip onto strands, not fully-formed braids, and might break off or get too loose if you force a fat round braid into it. To avoid breaking the clip: After the arm has pulled all the way back the first time, if I am making a longer braid I then hang the finished part of braid from the clip: I suspend a small lasso-like noose around the braid, and hang the noose from the clip, sliding it further down the braid when the arm has pulled back as far as it can go. See photos below.
[Update: I have now seen some online complaints about this little white clip breaking off. If it does break, I believe the machine can still be used if you simply tie the top of each braid onto the tip of the white arm.]
You can even braid up to twice as long as your ‘longest’ possible braid! This requires loading the thread onto the spools twice. Measure and cut a strand for each spool that is twice as long as the longest length you can wind on. Wind from one end onto a spool until it is full, and leave that same amount of extra length hanging off the spool. (To prevent a tangled mess, I temporarily bundle all those long extra lengths together until they will be braided.) Start braiding at the midpoint of the strands, and braid til the spools run out of thread. Then thread the other long (unbraided) ends DOWN through the spool-holders of the machine. If you want the same color-pattern, you should arrange the colors into the same circular set-up you used for the first half of the braid. After they are threaded down through the spool-holders you then wind them onto the empty spools. When the spools are all wound, insert them into the spool-holders. Use a string to suspend the already-braided portion from the white clip (as shown in photo below). Tighten each spool to remove any slack from the threads, and start cranking again to braid in the opposite direction from the first half, until the spools run out of thread for the second half of the braid. This can create a very long braid, up to 3.5 or more yards (3m or more) for embroidery floss, less for thicker thread. (I described how I did this above in the review as well, including some things to watch out for – check above for more details.)
Bear in mind that any braid will always end up much shorter than the strands you start with. That’s because the strands travel from side-to-side within the braid, not straight down. The finished braid may be less than half the length of the strands you started with.
Another way to make a necklace-length braid is shown on a French crafter’s site – see link at the bottom of this page. She makes two bracelet-length braids and attaches them together with a decorative pendant at the join. Kids could also just connect two or more bracelets together by their plastic clasps into one big necklace.
Tension: The tension is set by the spring-loaded white arm, and the resistance of the spools. Even so, there’s a learning curve with this! My first floss samples had loose gappy threads near the start, now I tighten everything up very carefully before I start cranking.
It would be theoretically possible to bypass the white arm and rig up your own simple weighted system. If you want a tighter braid you would use a lighter upward pull. Most natural fiber (cotton, wool, linen) braids plump up, relax, and look better after washing them gently in hot soapy water, really helps even out slight tensioning issues. Overall, I’ve been impressed with the relative even-ness of the tension in the braids I’ve been churning out. My pics show most of them – I don’t have a pile of “Dorian Gray” terrible ones hiding in a drawer!
In-progress silk braid looped onto clip
Braiding machine history and resources:
The first braiding machine patent is usually credited to Thomas Walford (apparently of Manchester, England) in 1748. He got another braiding machine patent in 1777.
In 1767 the first metal braiding machine was made in Germany.
Various types of braiding machines followed, but as far as I understand they were all based on the same type of mechanism that is still the main type of mechanism in braiding machines today – horn gears. According to the Maison des Tresses et Lacets website, the ‘definitive version’ (made of wood) was built by someone in Normandy named Perrault in 1783.
Jean-François Richard-Chambovet brought these Perrault braiding machines to Saint-Chamond, France (near where the Maison des Tresses et Lacets is today) in 1807. That link goes to a vivid account of how he happened to do that – it’s the starting page of a book about the effect of industrialization on family and social life in Saint-Chamond, with lots of information about the braiding and ribbon-weaving industries there.
The Manual of Braiding by Noémi Speiser includes a section about industrial braiding machines, including their history.
Braiding: From Cordage to Composites, by Sree Shankhachur Roy and Prasad Potluri, Textile Research Conference, 2016, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Well-written, concise technical overview / introduction to braids and braiding machines. PDF document (made available online by the University of Manchester – maybe just a coincidence, but Manchester U.K. was at the center of the industrial revolution, which began with textile manufacturing)
Braiding Technology for Textiles – Principles, Design and Processes, by Yordan Kyosev, 2014. This seems to be the standard textbook on the basics of industrial braiding technology. It is very detailed, definitely only for true braid and braiding machine geeks! I haven’t seen the whole book, just some of the parts that you can preview (in 2 different formats) online, but I think this would be an amazing resource for current information as opposed to historical. The paperback and e-book versions cost $140 (and that’s the sale price!) not including shipping, but you can also buy a pdf of a whole section (several chapters) for around $30 (click on the link that says “View on ScienceDirect” to buy pdf’s of individual sections or chapters). If instead you click on “google preview” it gives you a very generous portion to read – I gleaned some great tidbits I hadn’t come across anywhere else. The same author has since published a second even bigger book covering advanced braiding technology.
A brief but interesting reference I found online was in A&P Technology (a U.S. braiding company) website’s history pages:
1830’s – Henry Pearce comes over from England bringing his expertise in spinning and enabling the company to convert raw cotton into cloth. The company introduces its first braid product: Candlewicking.
[That was around the same time as the date on the cast iron braiding machine on display at Paradise Mill! I wonder if Henry Pearce’s candle-wicking braider was identical to it. This was in the days before electric lighting – lamp and candle-wicks must have been a huge demand back then. Before making this post, I had never really thought of candle wicks as an important braided item.]
Horn gears in braiding machines
The horn gear braiding machine was invented in the mid-1700’s – pretty much the dawn of the industrial revolution – and yet it is still the most common type of braiding machine today!
Braiding machines, although they have an apparent complex movement of bobbins, are mechanically simple and robust.
The simplest possible braiding machine has only 3 bobbins, circulated by two horn gears, making a 3-strand braid – this short video clip shows the simple figure-8 bobbin track and the developing braid. (Use your back button to return here from Youtube.)
Here’s a fantastic video on Youtube from Andreas Siegler that clearly demonstrates exactly how the horn gears operate to propel a single ‘dummy’ bobbin-carrier around the undulating track of a braiding machine: DIY Maypole Braider – How does it work? [he doesn’t use the term “horn gears” – he calls them “gears with recesses”]
Here he demo’s his machine loaded with all 16 bobbin-carriers, but with no yarn wound onto the bobbins: DIY Maypole braider – Quick review
And here he shows its first actual braiding – making a hose-like tubular braid around a bundle of wiring: DIY Maypole Braider – Braiding a wiring harness. This is exactly how wiring harnesses are braided in some industrial settings today, you can find other youtube videos in which workers are doing this exact type of braiding around bundles of wires – the worker holding and manipulating the braid around the wiring bundle just as Andreas is doing while the braid is being produced. In contrast, braiding machines that make cords and bands are not assisted by any type of hand labor – various mechanical processes reel the cordage up onto large spools. (see my video clips near the top of this page.)
Andreas Siegler has a series of videos about building this 16-bobbin braiding machine (not a tutorial – no plans given), click on his name under the videos to go to his youtube channel.
Maypole braiding machines make tubular braids, though a very slight design modification allows them to make flat braids, like the ones in the first video links to the Maison des Tresses et Lacets near the beginning of my post.
Kumikreator braiding machine mechanism – not horn gears:
Most commercial braiding machines operate by means of horn gears. The KumiKreator braider works by a very different (and inherently more clackety) mechanism that isn’t as smooth and efficient as horn gears, but it gets the job done for these Kongoh braids. You can see just by looking down at the Kumikreator in action how the two geared “spool-transporters” circulate around the face of the machine, each one ferrying a spool-holder from one side of the machine to the other, while the other spool-holders remain stationary. This in itself is quite different from how horn-gear machines function. In a horn-gear braiding machine, all the spool-holders (a.k.a. bobbin-carriers) move in tandem – no spool-holders “wait” in place while others are moved.
You would have to remove the base of a KumiKreator braiding machine and peer in underneath at the mechanism in order to see how the inner all-plastic workings literally wedge a spool-holder up and out of a slot on one side of the circle of spools; slide it into the slightly raised geared transporter; and drop it down into a new slot on the other side. This wedging up and dropping down of hard plastic parts produces the loud clacking noise. This is completely different from the way horn gears operate (see above). The patent for the KumiKreator refers to this as “elevation 1” and “elevation 2”. (The patent information is new – I couldn’t find any references to an invention or patent for the KumiKreator back in Feb 2019 when I first wrote this review – not surprising since the patent issue date is April 2019!)
Here’s a link – opens in a separate tab – to the U.S. patent for this KumiKreator machine. The patent is assigned to (owned by) Spin Master Ltd (Canada), and Fuse London Ltd (UK), and lists the inventors as Brian Whitehead, Mollie B. Jameson, Herman Chan. Includes several drawings of the whole machine (in between the abstract and the main part of the text of the patent).
It might seem sort of perverse for a loop braider to be fascinated by braiding machines, since it was the advent of braiding machines that almost killed off loop braiding worldwide. But I think hand braiding can coexist with machines in the modern world just like hand knitting, weaving, carpentry and other arts and crafts.
This little Kongoh braiding machine is fun for me as a braider to play with, but it can only make one rather minimal type of braid, and other than picking and loading the colors, my hands only get to do one repetitive and somewhat uncomfortable motion that is not soothing or graceful or “in the threads” like hand braiding. Once I’ve run out of steam with this machine, I’ll keep it around, but I will be back to the much wider possibilities of braiding with loops on my fingers, and appreciating braiding machines from a distance!
Update 3/2/2019: I just ran into the blog of another adult KumiKreator user! (Or maybe she uses it together with her oldest daughter – my grasp of French is very rudimentary.) She is a French craftsperson and mother of two young children who has been using ribbon yarn with their KumiKreator machine. Click link for one stunning example. In this one, they created a pattern in just one color, but using a contrast of shiny vs. matte ribbon yarn.
For more, here’s a link to just her posts tagged “kumihimo” – the first several pages are mostly of KumiKreator-made bracelets and necklaces. For ideas and inspiration keep clicking on successive pages when you get to the bottom of the first page. Some of the bracelets have a braided tassel attached with metal findings – a fun embellishment.
Feb-14-2019, last updated Oct-22-2020
© 2019-2020 Ingrid Crickmore
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46 thoughts on “KumiKreator toy braiding machine review”
Do you find your machine cranks smoothly? Mine hitches at a couple of points, whether loaded with bobbins or empty, and requires a bit more effort to push past the resistance. It was like this straight out of the box, and I am wondering if it is a flaw, or simply a product of the gearing system.
Mine also hitched at points as I turned the crank, but smoothed out with time. At one point I needed to disassemble it partly to deal with a jam, and I noticed it was much smoother when I put it back together. I’m not sure why, but maybe that’s worth a try if time doesn’t help?
Hmm, that catching/ hitching kind of rings a bell, but it’s now been so long since I used my kumikreator that I’m afraid don’t remember the circumstances. It shouldn’t do that – and I’m pretty sure that the times it did I was able to find a problem somewhere in my setup and fix it. However the machine is definitely clanky and clattery, not smooth as butter, so I’m not sure what level you are experiencing. Sometimes turning it faster might help?
Be careful about jams – if the machine jams in a big way you might break something if you try to force the crank. See my tips on avoiding and fixing jams. They are all (that I’ve seen) caused by loading the machine wrong, though I’m not quite sure how I did that the time one of the bobbin-holders was in the wrong place!
Before loading bobbins of thread into the clear bobbin-holders, be sure to rotate the handle until the two blue slots (top and bottom of the face, like 12 and 6 o’clock on an analog clock) are empty – no bobbin-holders in them. If you can’t get those two slots to line up empty, that means a bobbin-holder is definitely in the wrong place in the machine. There is a product video to show how to fix that – follow it carefully. (see my link to it under “Mechanical Jams” in my tips section above).
I’ve been doing kumihimo with a foam plate. Then I found this toy, and it makes kumihimo so much faster. Only thing is it can only do 12 stands, so there very limited pattern I can do.
I wish there’s a hand-crank kumihimo machine that do at least 16 strands.
I found something called “Rope O Magic”, however they sold out. And it’s kind of over my budget.
I hope there will be similar product made, hand crank but at least 16 strands, and of course the more the better.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and in-depth write up. I came to this post rather late as my 9-year-old daughter bought the toy braider for herself today. I showed this to her and told her how you used different threads and yarn as refills. She is very excited to use the ton of embroidery floss we have lying around. Your pictures, tips, and detailed discussion are great and so helpful.
Thanks for the info, is this you able to make 4 strands bracelets?
Sadly, no. It will do a nice 8 strand Kongoh-gumi, and 6 and even 5 strand braids but most of those are not smooth cylinders, they’re usually lumpy or twisty. Sometimes in an interesting way. If i recall correctly there are some simple 6 strand options that look nice, but I’ve seen no documentation of those.
Correction: my question was is this toy machine able to make 4 strands bracelets only? I have the handmade one and would like to try to make with this toy.
Hi Dan, I’m sorry, I still haven’t tried using only four strands with this machine. I suspect 4 strands wouldn’t work to make a successful braid. Adam Price commented further down that he tried loading only four strands into what he thought was every possible combination of different spools, and none of the combinations resulted in a true braid.
This machine is meant to be used with either 8 strands or 12 strands. The traditional, round, Japanese braid it makes is called Kongo-gumi, and that particular braid can only be made with strands in multiples of 4, but I believe it requires a minimum of 8 strands. (so 8, 12, 16, 20, 24 etc when making it by hand).
Kongo-gumi is not a typical “over-under” flat braid like the 3- and 4-strand braids you might make by hand. It’s a very tight, round braid, a little bit like a round shoelace braid.
By the way, if you experiment by loading spools into odd combinations of slots (spool-holders), or just mistakenly load some spools into the wrong slots, you many get a twisted-looking, ‘lumpy’ result. That is probably not a true braid. It is more likely a bunch of strands twisted together, or possibly a minimal braid with some unbraided strands twisted around it.
This can happen even if you thought you loaded the correct spools, but mistakenly started loading without having the two blue slots and gears lined up vertically (like 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock on an old-style clock-face). Those two blue slots must be EMPTY – not be holding any spools – when you are setting up spools for a braid. Spools will rotate into them once you start turning the crank to braid, of course, but they should be empty to start with.
Thanks for your reply. I m not sure the name of the braid style that I’d like to make with this toy machine. I have the pictures tho, how may I upload to this platform? Maybe you could figure out how does it work with this toy 🙂
WordPress doesn’t allow readers to upload photos here, but send me a quick email on my contact form and then after I reply to you, then you’ll be able to send them to me directly. I’d love to see the braid you are talking about!
Hover on “ABOUT” in my top menu line to see CONTACT in the drop-down list.
I’m not sure if the 4-strand bracelet was resolved, but I have made a successful 4-strand and currently wearing it! I loaded the 4 bobbins in sequence from the left of the empty slot at the bottom,
moving clockwise, with no spaces inbetween them. I know this seems wierd but it works.
I’m sorry I missed your comment back when you made it! That’s very cool! I slightly wonder if what you made is a twist, rather than a braid though, because i have made a few nice-looking results on the machine that could definitely be worn as bracelets, but weren’t really braids, were more like complex twists, not “over-under” interlaced. They hung together and looked good though, could definitely be worn as a bracelet. I will try your set-up the next time I get out my Kumikreator!
Thank you for this article, it’s been really interesting to read and very helpful for my daughter to get to grips with the machine. We’re trying to figure out a flower pattern, I usually do mine on a disc which she really struggles with, so I thought we could do it this way together… However, I have no idea how to do the pattern on this! I thought doing the mirror image would work as the machine seems to be a S instead of Z braid, but I can’t seem to get it right, much to my daughter’s frustration – eek! Do you happen to know how we could make a flower pattern on this? My brain is now at mush stage from trying to translate it from the original disc pattern for days haha! It’s such a lovely little machine, it’d make her day to be able to do flowers similar to I do. We love the patterns that come with it, so if it’s not possible, I’m sure she’ll understand 🙂
Hi Zara, Can you make your flower pattern with only 12 strands? If you take a photo of your disk loaded up for the flower pattern (with the first threads you are about to move on the top) and if the colors are easy to see in the photo, I can tell you how to set up that pattern on the KumiKreator, as long as it’s only 12 or 8 strands. I’d love to see it! You can’t post a photo here, unfortunately, but if you go to my Contact page and email me I’ll let you know how to send it.
(Go to top right of my blog – to the menu tab that says ABOUT.
Hover on ABOUT and the drop-down will have a CONTACT tab)
Also, if you want to try again, look in my post where I show how to translate a pattern from its kumihimo disk layout to the Kumi machine. The Kongoh chart on the left shows the colors on a disk for the “Dream Beam” pattern. On the right of that, I show the order for loading those colors onto the Kumikreator machine to get the same pattern. (The pattern may go around the braid in the opposite rotational direction from the way you usually braid with a disk, but flowers will still look like flowers in either direction.)
The top two slots on a disk are equivalent to the first two spools to the RIGHT of the top (empty) blue spool section at 12 o’clock on the machine.
In other words, the positions of the Kumikreator spools don’t line up with a kumihimo disk, they are TIPPED to to the right compared to a disk. The order is the same, just rotated slightly to the right.
Remember that the top and bottom blue spool holder slots must start out empty when you set up the machine for braiding. (See my Tips and Hacks below the charts for translating patterns from disk to machine.)
Or just send me a photo of your disk setup – I’d love to see it!
This is an amazing post. I just bought the KumiKreator for my 6 year old and we are both loving it… possibly me more. She does need help at the end adding the clasps but surprised me remembering all the details for set up and cranking from when her dad and she did it the first time.
Now I know where the “kumi” comes from and also feel more confident to hit the craft store and try some different threads. There are some good tips on where to find clasps without having to buy more branded stuff and spools we don’t need.
I showed my whole family the photo of the old machine for the wicks and they all politely looked interested – haha. But that machine from 200years ago- amazing right?
Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this post.
You’re welcome! That is so great that you and your daughter are both having so much fun braiding with the KumiKreator! I am impressed with her memory – better than mine at learning new things for sure. And yes – that old braiding machine was a mind-blower to me, too!
Thank for this amazing post. I’ve made Kumihimo braids manually, and though I’ve been weaving and braiding for a while I’m not finding that I enjoy the process as much (probably doesn’t help that my current project is a monochrome cord).
After finding your post I got the 2-in-1 KumiKreator by accident (Amazon sent me the wrong kit) and found out that the 2-in-1 has a different arm. It has a groove in the lever and a slot on the back for holding the cord when making necklaces. You can see the differences in the pics on Amazon. Since I intend to use my own materials, I’m not sure how useful the groove and slot will be, but given that the 2-in-1 is currently half the cost of the other kit, I’m going to keep it.
One more thing: if you haven’t sent this, it’s nuts (in a totally awesome way):
Incredibly slow, though.
Thanks for this info!!! I obviously didn’t check out the 2-in-1 product pics carefully enough. A slot on the back for holding the longer length of the cord sounds really useful to me, maybe I wouldn’t have to tie my extra-long braid onto the clip on the front of the arm anymore? It would be great if you could give us an update after you’ve used it a bit – like can that slot hold thinner or thicker cords than those made with the included thread?
Weird that the 2-in-1 is cheaper if it has more features! Pricing is so odd sometimes.
ps – your Lego kumihimo braiding machine link is mind boggling!
Hi thanks for all your information. I bought the kumikreator yesterday and already have learnt so much about kumihimo from you.
I really bought it to do 4 and 6 strand cord for my necklaces I carve from bone. I’ve tried every different combination of bobbins and have had no luck getting anything but a twist.
It is works well for 8 and 12 strand although a bit loose for my liking.
It’s very quick after using a marudai for years and the sense of “I made this” and of it being handmade is somewhat diminished.
Any advice on 4 strand would be helpful, otherwise I’ll go back to the trusty marudai.
Hi Adam – I doubt you can make a real kongoh braid with fewer than 4 pairs of bobbins – so 8 altogether.
That’s the fewest that CraftDesignOnline shows in their interactive planner – https://craftdesignonline.com/kumihimo/kongoh-gumi-friendship-bracelets/ (if you click on the + or – symbol above the planner, the number of bobbins increases or reduces.
It might be possible that 4 bobbins could make some kind of braid, but I’m a little doubtful.
Here’s what I would try first:
Load only the spools that I have labeled 1,2 and 7,8 in the two rightmost illustrations up above, under my heading “Note 1: Using a Kongoh chart” – that would be my best guess for the two pairs that might (?) have a chance of making some kind of braid. I’m curious too, please let me know here if you try it!
–oh, and remember to load the spools in only when the empty blue slots are at the top and bottom – like 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock on a clock.
I really doubt that 6 spools would work, though. Each pair of spools has to interact with an opposite pair of spools – only works for multiples of 4.
[edit: I must be wrong about that! – didn’t notice Laura’s report earlier that she went down from 8 bobbins to 4 or 5 and still got a braid of some kind!]
Hello, nice blog! Also, I have a question, can this toy braid only 4 strands?
That’s a great question, I never even thought to try fewer than 8 strands. I understand that 8 is the minimum number of strands for a true ‘Kongoh’ braid – a firm round, spiraling braid, so I sort of doubt 4 strands would work, but I suppose it’s possible that 4 strands might produce some other, more minimal type of braid with this machine, depending on where you placed the strands when setting up . Even with 8 strands, you must start with them in certain slots for a true braid to form. If you put them in the wrong slots, it can result in one or more oddly twisted cords, instead of a true ‘interwoven’ braid.
I’ll definitely try 4 strands next time I pull out the KumiKreator, and let you know what happens. Thinking about this, though! Even if it worked, 4 strands on a Kumikreator might be more effort in cranking than it’s worth for such a minimal braid. With loop braiding, if you use two loops you can braid a 4-strand flat braid that is very fast to braid and might be less of an effort than cranking all those bobbin holders around with only 4 of them loaded (?)… See my tutorial: https://loopbraider.com/2019/12/28/spirals-and-2-loops/
I did one braid with bobbins I loaded with various threads on hand. Because they were different thicknesses, they were also different lengths. When the first one ran out, I kept cranking to see what a 7 strand braid would look like. It looked interesting, so I just cranked along as each thread ran out, watching as the braid changed. I’m not sure if I got down to 4 or 5 before the remaining threads wouldn’t braid, but only twisted. So it definitely will make braids of less than 8. Where those bobbins are positioned will make a big difference in the result, I think. This would be a really interesting area of research!
Ingrid, this post is so great!
I wrote up my own in order to share my experiments with some friends, and then discovered you had covered all of that and much more. Thanks. Here is a link to what I wrote, which includes a few pictures:
I am a weaver, so I’m using my Swedish bobbin winder to reload bobbins. A drill will work well too, I used one for years before I got the bobbin winder. Put a dowel in the chuck and use rubber bands on either side of your bobbin to hold it where you want it.
Do you know if there are other true kumihimo machines? I would love to play with one that does a 16 strand kongoh-gumi.
I wish I knew of any! I’d love a bigger kumihimo machine too. That little hop up to 16 strands would be so great… I added the link to your review into my post above – it’s a great review, and nice that you have a closeup of the bobbin to show that little groove for gripping the leading end of the refill thread. Now I have to look up “swedish bobbin winder”! I didn’t really mind winding all those bobbins at the time, but I think I would get tired of it if I were doing it all the time. The drill I already have is probably better for me than another piece of equipment, though. Thanks for the tips about holding the bobbin in the drill!
OMG I have a Swedish bobbin winder! How dumb is that, I never thought of using it! [hitting head] Well, now I can, just have to find it and drag it out of the box it’s buried in!
LOL, spoken like a true textile nerd.
I looked around today and commented to my husband that apparently I collect things with cranks. I’ve also been playing with circular knitting machines lately. I’ve made several sweaters and hats, in the course of figuring out what the machines will do. Once I understand a gadget, I often lose interest, sadly. But weaving never seems to get old.
Been hoping to find one of these at my local craft shops but no luck yet. I originally wanted to get a maypole braided or even build one to make shoe laces and bracelets, but that would have to be a far future investment!
These braids would be great for round shoelaces! You could maybe order one online, either from one of the big stores or from ebay? I have a feeling a lot of kids and parents won’t have the patience to learn how to use it correctly, so more of these might start showing up used on ebay. For shoelaces, you might want to use a finer thread than the one that comes with. (And see Jeremy’s tip in the previous comment – I want to try that)
We’ve made necklaces with the embroidery floss too. I use a cordless drill to reload the spoils quickly. You can fit quite a bit on if you keep a little tension on the thread. I can’t wait to help my daughter make shoelaces! She’s 8 and has a little difficulty setting up.
That is so cool that you and your daughter are both excited about using this! I will try your tip about the drill – I’m a dunce with power tools though, will probably get it all tangled up…
If you have any photos you’d like to share of your daughter’s necklaces and / or your cordless drill spool-loading set-up I’d love to post them above (with full credit to you and your daughter of course!). No pressure though! Or you could leave a link to them here so readers could go to your site to see them – this wordpress comment form doesn’t allow actual photos, but (i think?) it allows links.
My husband got me a Kumi Kreator for Christmas last year. Other than the clacking sound – which is aggravating to everyone around me.. I love it. It was bought for me with then intent that I would be using my own thread ( I despise the thread it comes with) Rather than using the white clip on the tension arm, I use a cloths pin or quilt binding clip to hold any braid over 10 inches long. To the man using the cordless drill to wind bobbins… I salute you and am going to try it! For those using it for lacing… try metal aglets, you can get just basic ones or find really pretty ones.
Thanks! I didn’t know about pretty aglets! I googled around and came across the advice to also search for “bolo tips” because jewelry-making supply stores sell them under that term. The pic showed some beautiful crimp-on ones (post said it was safest to sew or glue them on as well as crimp them). I’ve been wanting to try aiglets for a while now.
any idea where to get end caps rather than to continue buying the entire set of threads with the end caps. My granddaughter and I have used your ideas for the kumi kreator. She’s very much into making them and she needs more clasps!!!
Gee, I’m not sure – I wouldn’t be surprised if the manufacturer only wants to sell their end caps with the thread, they might even make more $$$ off people buying thread refills than buying the actual machine. If I come across any info on buying just the kumikreator clasps/ end caps I’ll post that info here.
Meantime, here’s a link to a nice tutorial on how to add real metal end-caps to a braided bracelet:
There are lots of different types of end-caps, online bead and kumihimo supply stores are good sources. I don’t recommend using the magnetic kind, though, some of them pull open when you are putting a sweater or jacket on, and the bracelet falls off and gets lost without your even noticing. Pay attention to the size of the end-cap, some will be for tiny cords and some for very fat braids, you’ll probably need to measure how thick the braids are in mm to get the right size end cap.
One more thing – in the tutorial, when she says GLUE, don’t use Elmers, or other school glue/ glue for paper. It won’t stay stuck on metal or probably the braid itself either. Whatabraid recommends Weldbond, (available in most hardware stores I think) which is a good choice if a child is involved because it’s supposedly non-toxic, and a lot of glues that would work are very toxic. (BTW non-toxic doesn’t mean it’s good for her to put in her mouth! She should still try to not touch it as much as possible and wash up afterward)
If you find a good, inexpensive source for end caps please comment again here with the info, I bet a lot of readers here would be very interested! Often that type of jewelry supply gets cheaper if you buy several at a time, so if you try one and like it, you might be able to then buy several for a cheaper per-unit price.
Thanks for visiting!
Thanks so much. We’re ready to make more kumihimo bracelets and necklaces with the 5 and 9 year girls!!
Yay! If they want to send in photos of their creations, I’d love to post them above – no pressure though, only if they feel like it! Or you could leave a link to photos on your/ their own site (I think this comment form allows links).
Wow Ingrid, you HAVE been busy! Looks like you’re having so much fun!
It’s all Carol and Kim’s fault! And Elliot on the Braids and Bands list. Because of them I’m clattering away on this gizmo annoying our downstairs neighbors instead of doing what I’m supposed to be doing…
Mea culpa. 😎
Your so nerdy :o) I did not know they made machines kind of obvious when you think there are mass produced items available but they dated that far back wow! A lot of the patterns this machine makes remind me of tartin they are my favourite ones, thanks for showing me this!!!!!
I sure am! Thanks for reading!!!