Friday, March 20, 2009
Kumihimo in Coupeville
Dateline: Coupeville, WA, 3/9/09 - 3/12/09
My first experience with kumihimo, a Japanese braiding technique, was in a class taught by Candace Eisner Strick at Stitches West last year. Since then I have made several basic braids, either using beads in the braids or adding a pendant that I bought. When BraidersHand announced that they were having workshops taught by Makiko Tada, a noted Japanese kumihimo artist, I decided to attend a workshop and learn more about this technique.
Snow was on my mind as I flew into Seattle and rented a car for the drive to Coupeville, which is on Whidbey Island. Snow was predicted for the area and it was making me nervous. I hate driving in snow; that's one of the reasons we moved from New England to California. And I had an itinerary planned for the day. I was going to take the land route to Coupeville, stopping at various yarn and bead stores, including in Anacortes, a nice town that we visited a few years ago and that has a great yarn store.
As I drove to my first stop, Beads and Beyond in Bellevue, the weather was cloudy but otherwise fine. The store has been merged with a quilting store but still has a nice selection of beads. As I drove up I-5 toward Everett, where I wanted to visit Great Yarns (a store whose booth I've always enjoyed at Stitches but never seen in person), the snow started, and quickly turned into what I would call a blizzard. At the same time, unrelated to the snow, the portable gps that I had brought from home with me stopped working. I decided to cancel the shopping and get to the Whidbey Island ferry, which was not far away, as quickly as I could. I got off the highway at the next exit to see if I could get the gps working, and when I couldn't, I used my trusty iPhone to get Google Maps directions to the ferry.
As I drove, the snow got worse and worse. I started to think that I wouldn't get to Whidbey that day at all, would have to find a place to stay on the mainland. Then I turned off the highway and onto the road that leads to the ferry, and the snow vanished as suddenly as it had started. Everything was clear, there was hardly any snow on the ground, and I never saw any more snow the entire trip! I spent the short ferry ride trying to calm down after my drive through the snow.
Whidbey is a lot more rural than I expected. Coupeville is a picturesque small town. The "downtown" consists of about two blocks of Front Street, with a beautiful view of Penn Cove. There are some nice stores, including two bead stores, but their hours are so limited that it wasn't easy to get to them while taking an all-day workshop. Coupeville Yarns kindly stayed open for us so that we could go there one afternoon after the workshop.
Makiko is a lovely person and a very good teacher. She speaks excellent English. She has traveled the world teaching kumihimo. Makiko told us that she is proud of having been a student of a Living National Treasure, and our class decided that Makiko was our own Living National Treasure.
Our workshop was on making braids on the foam disk and foam plate, the simplest kumihimo devices. Makiko is the designer of the disk and plate, and she also has a new book out on braids that can be made on them. It's amazing how many different patterns can be made. Makiko brought meter-long strands of acrylic yarn in all the colors of the rainbow for us to use. That was a very good teaching device, because the acrylic was easy to work with and allowed us to focus on the patterns and techniques. The first two pictures above are some of Makiko's samples from the book; the third is the braids that I made during the workshop.
The third day of the workshop was devoted to making a scarf of organza ribbon. We pinned the ribbon to a macrame board and hand wove the strands in a diagonal pattern. The scarves look beautiful but are somewhat stiff to wear. Softer ribbon would have been more difficult to weave with.
The coffee at the hotel was not very good, but luckily I found out about Local Grown, a coffee house and marine supply store on Coupeville pier. They had strong French roast coffee, just the way I like it, and wonderful house-baked scones. I became a regular customer for the three days I was in town.
Since I had missed my shopping on the way to Coupeville, I decided to take the land route back, even though I was leaving at 4 after a full day of workshop. I was able to get to Ana-Cross Stitch in Anacortes a half hour before closing. Don't let the Cross Stitch name fool you; they also have a lot of nice knitting yarns. I was also able to visit Anacortes Beads before getting on the highway. I really like this area north of Seattle and want to consider it as a possible retirement spot, but I've yet to convince Jim that it doesn't rain there every day.
My next destination was Lacey, WA, home of the incredible Shipwreck Beads. They say they have the world's largest selection of beads, and I believe them. This is really a bead department store, and I was overwhelmed by its size. I spent four hours there, shopping for three members of my bead guild in addition to myself. Especially fun were the bins of discount bags of pearls. When I finally checked out, the cashier told me I had 5500 grams of pearls, which is over 12 pounds. Afraid to put them in my suitcase and make it overweight, I carried the bag on the plane with me. I knew I wouldn't end up keeping all of them, and sure enough, members of the bead guild were happy to buy lots of them from me.