THE JAPAN HOUSE in London’s High Street Kensington first opened in 2018, and its aim is to increase people’s awareness and knowledge of Japan, the Japanese, and their culture. Until the 11th of June 2023, the Japan House is host to a superbly laid-out exhibition of Kumihimo – Japanese silk braiding. The braiding is a complex form of plaiting, using dyed silk threads. When, for example, hair is plaited or braided, three or more strands of hair are intertwined to form a plait. Practitioners of Kumihimo plait great numbers of often different coloured threads to create braids with beautiful repeating patterns. The most expert craftsmen and craftswomen can braid patterns using up to 140 different threads.
The exhibition shows how the threads are dyed, then spun into bobbins before finally being woven into braids. The braider uses a stand that holds the reels of thread. The threads are then plaited over each other in a repeating sequence to produce a patterned braid. Great concentration is required to maintain the sequence without making errors. A weight is hung onto the braid to hold it straight and taut whilst it is being created. In addition to examples of the various types of braiding stands, there are well-made videos illustrating braiders at work. There are many examples of finished products, including belts, fashion items, armour plating, and modern artworks. All of them are intricately patterned and incredibly beautiful.
The exhibition was set up by a Tokyo-based company, Domyo, which has been producing braided silk cords since 1652 AD. Kumihimo was a technique imported into Japan between 538 and 794 AD from the Asian mainland, and then refined and developed in Japan
When I learned that I was to visit an exhibition of braiding, I was not filled with enthusiasm. However, as soon as I entered the basement exhibition area, I realised that I was about to see a fine and most interesting display. Not only is there great beauty in the exquisitely detailed braiding, but this was also the case for the way the exhibits have been arranged. To summarise, see this exhibition if you can!