A Marudai is a round-top braiding stand used to make a wide variety of kumihimo braids in many different forms: round, square, rectangular, flat, triangular, and other polygonal shapes. It is considered the most versatile of the 5 basic types of kumihimo braiding stands, or dai. The word marudai comes from Japanese words maru 丸 meaning “round,” and dai 台 or “stand.”
Due to the lack of written or physical evidence, it is not known when the marudai first appeared in Japan. It is believed to be an invention of the early Edo period (1603-1868), as evidenced by its appearance in paintings and woodblock prints of the era. Round-top braiding stands are not unique to Japan; they exist in other Asian cultures as well as in Scandinavia and Europe.
The traditional, or Japanese-style, marudai is 40 cm – 50 cm (16″-20″) tall. It is designed to be used in a kneeling position on tatami mats; it may also be placed on a stand or table top. The Western-style marudai is adapted to be used while sitting in a chair. It is typically about 65 cm or 26” tall. A 30” tall marudai is sometimes used for beaded braiding.
The key part of a marudai is the braiding surface, consisting of three components:
- Kagami (Mirror) – The round surface or top of the marudai (braiding stand).
- Hekomi (well of the mirror) – A depression in the surface of the mirror leading to a central hole through which working fibers pass. It is an important design component which allows the fibers to fall into place with little to no friction near the point of braiding (the point at which all the fibers converge).
- Kagami no ana (central hole) – the hole through which the fibers pass as the braid is worked.
Method of Braiding on the Marudai
Braids on the marudai are made by passing threads in specific sequences, usually in pairs, back and forth across or around the kagami. This sequence defines the shape of the braid, but the appearance of the braid can be altered significantly by changing the colors of the threads and their order.
Each thread is attached to a weighted bobbin or tama. The number of tama can range from four to as many as 144 or more. Tama come in a variety of weights from 35 grams (just over an ounce) to as much as 900 grams (1.8 lb). Traditionally, the weight was chosen according to the number of ends of silk thread – the more ends per tama, the heavier the weight. In modern practice the most commonly used weight in Japan is 100 g; outside Japan 70 g and 85 g weights are more commonly used.
The tension of the braid is regulated by a balance between the tama and a counterweight which is hung from the braid below the kagami, not by pulling manually on the threads. Some braids do require pulling on specific threads in order to tighten the structure at certain points. The counterweight is generally 50% or less of the total weight of the tama. Less weight results in a stiffer braid, as it shortens the stitches, while more weight lengthens the stitches resulting in a more pliable braid. Learning to handle the tama correctly without exerting extra tension is one of the main challenges of braiding on the marudai.
The number of braids that can be made on the marudai is limitless, but there are several hundred known braids in the marudai repertoire.
In Japan, the most common use of marudai braids is for obi ties, or obijime. However, other modern uses include keychains, camera, cell phone and other type of straps and cords, and various types of jewelry including necklaces and bracelets.
Note: There are several independent craftsmen producing Marudai in the United States to Japanese specifications. They can easily be found on the internet.
Making your own Marudai
Michael Hattori, a Japanese-trained kumihimo braider who lives in California, has generously provided a drawing, available to members, with specifications for making a traditional Marudai. If you do build one or have one built, DO NOT omit the well or hekomi – it is a vitally important part of the marudai and your braids will not form correctly if it is left out. Although the drawing is for a traditional Japanese height Marudai, to build a Western height stand, use Michael’s directions for the mirror and simply add longer legs. You can click here to download the drawing.
This article was contributed by Michael Hattori
Article Photos contributed by BraidersHand, Washington State, USA
Harano, Mitsuko. Dentô no Kumihimo. Tokyo: Makosha, 1976.
Okamura, Kayo. Kumihimo. Tokyo: Shufu to Seikatsusha, 1976.
Sahashi, Kei. Exquisite: The World of Japanese Kumihimo Braiding. Tokyo: Kodansha International, Ltd., 1988.
Tada, Makiko. Comprehensive Treatise of Braids: Maru-dai Braids. Tokyo: Texte, Inc., 1996
Tada, Makiko. Comprehensive Treatise of Braids III: Taka-dai Braids 1. Tokyo: Texte, Inc., 1998.
Yamaoka, Issei. Dômyô no Kumihimo: Marudai, Yotsu-uchidai. Tokyo: Shufu no Tomosha, 1975.
Photo Courtesy BraidersHand, by Michael Stadler Studios