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Going public with my hobby: Japanese Temari

The last two years I’ve begun a cold-weather hobby – making temari.  I remember seeing a really cool embroidered ball in a Dwell magazine and wondered what it was. After some google research, I found out it was a Japanese temari ball, made from yarn and embroidery thread.  I had been looking for something to make for Christmas gifts whilst watching HBO and Food Network marathons, and I was pretty sure that knitting was not for me.

Temari collection 2011

Temari balls originated in China, but the practice was introduced to Japan around the 7th century. Original temari balls were made from the remnants of old kimonos and used for hand ball games. After kids started playing with rubber balls, the practice of making temari turned into an art form instead of a toy-making craft. Women would compete to make beautiful and intricate patterns.

16 point temari double kiku herringbone 2012

Today, temari is still a craft practiced in Japan, but people all over the world have picked up the hobby. They are given as gifts of friendship or as a New Years gift from parent to child. On the last few temari that I’ve made, I added a loop so it can hang as an ornament or on a stand. I hope I haven’t offended any purists out there.

temari collection christmas 2012

Making temari does require a bit of concentration. To create the ball (mari) you wrap either a styrofoam ball or another core with layers and layers of yarn, then several layers of thin serger thread. Now this is where you really have to concentrate – you treat the ball like a globe, carefully marking the equator and longitude lines with pins and thread. But after you get going on the pattern, you can stitch along on autopilot while watching a movie.

dogwood temari 2011

Interested in trying it? Here are the resources that I used to get started.

  • The only book I’ve purchased on this topic, and highly recommend, is by Barbara Suess: Japanese Temari, A Colorful Spin on an Ancient Craft. Every temari that you see on this blog post, with the exception of the red ball with the mini green and white poinsettia-looking flowers on it, is based on a pattern in this book.
  • Also, her website is a great resource for ideas, patterns and step by step instructions.
  • Thread: Most of the temari that I’ve seen uses #5 perle cotton, which is thicker than embroidery floss. I buy mine from, but I’m sure your local craft store has thread (if there is such a thing as a local craft store where you live. I’m not holding my breath for one in Haiti…).
  • Other tools: The TemariKai shop on etsy offers ready-made balls without a pattern on them. This speeds up the process so you can get right to the stitching, but it’s a lot cheaper (and you get more temari street cred) if you learn how to make the balls yourself. She also sells flexible little tape measures, which help with marking the guidelines.

blue temari 2012 ice crystals pattern

red 2012 10 division temari

spindles temari 2011

layered squares temari 2011

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hadn’t heard or seen anything like those before – HOW COOL! You’ve done wonderful work – such a unique way of decorating for winter! So beautiful.

    January 19, 2013
  2. Very pretty & creative. Neat work!!

    January 20, 2013
  3. Eve #

    These are lovely! Good for you, they look beautiful. nice in other color ways too so you could scatter them about even in non holiday months. But I have to ask, what makes you think that knitting is not for you? I have had a lot of time to explore and develop my knitting curiosity (here in luanda) and I really LOVE it. Ships easily thru pouch, you can do it on plane rides, while zoning out watching movies and the final product is a gorgeous and unique addition to your (or some lucky so and so’s) wardrobe. Don’t write it off!

    January 20, 2013
    • stmemory #

      Hmm. I might consider knitting at some point. I do have some knitters in my life, family and friends, and I have a growing stash of knitted gifts, which I do love. With our next post being Haiti, I’m not sure I’ll take up knitting there, but maybe someday if we’re sent somewhere cold I’ll try it out.

      January 21, 2013
  4. Dani #

    This is so, so so neat! I love these! Do you stitch the designs on top or do you need to push the needle all the way through the ball to make the designs?

    January 21, 2013
    • stmemory #

      You pretty much just stitch around the top, although you do need quite a bit of yarn wrapped around the center core so that your needle can slide in and out easily. But you never go straight through the ball to the other end. It’s fun!

      January 21, 2013
  5. AD Robinson #

    Wow! These temari balls look great! I’m interested in trying it and wanted so badly to take Barbara Suess’s online classes, but she postponed them til the summer. I bought her book, but still feel like I need to see it in action. You’re doing a great job though!

    February 11, 2013
    • stmemory #

      Thanks! It’s a lot of fun, but definitely takes some concentration. I think I’m ready to get her second book, and would love to take one of her online classes. But in the meantime, you should give it a try!

      February 11, 2013

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