Saturday, April 25, 2009

Making Higo and Mutsume-ami

The last two weeks of training have progressed at such a quick and tiring pace I haven't gotten around to posting much of what we've been doing. I need to find an easier way in my now-busy schedule to write posts. We're also not allowed to bring cellphones or cameras into the shop except during lunch, so as much as I want to show pictures of class or training in action, I can't. From here on out, photos of my training will generally be limited to stills of the objects we're working with or making.

Anyone familiar with bamboo baskets knows how important strips of bamboo--called "higo" (ひご、籤) in Japanese--are in their making. To sum up a technically long and sensitive process, almost all of our training since its commencement has been spent on the practice of making higo by splitting, stripping (warihagi, 割り剥ぎ) and shaving complete "tubes" of bamboo. Specifically, we've been processing yellowish, dried, Oita-grown madake bamboo into higo strips with an intended dimension of 5mm wide by 0.6 mm thick. ("Intended" because any one of my higo right now tend to range between .5 to .65 mm thick from end to end. That doesn't sound like much but a few hundredths of a millimeter has a considerable effect on a higo's flexibility and on how weavable it is. Acquiring the ability to make countless higo each with the same thickness throughout is the first step to becoming a bamboo basket maker and one that is said to take three years.) We started with bamboo without joints, because processing bamboo with joints poses a difficult and potentially dangerous hurdle for beginners. This past week we went through the same lengthy process but with longer bamboo with joints.

On Thursday and Friday we started practicing our first plaiting: mutsume ami (六つ目編み), a relatively simple hexagonal weave. In this photo, the bamboo's skin-side faces the camera. You can see the joints as dark marks that spread out radially from the center in a zigzag fashion. You can imagine in the process of weaving these higo together that if they were too thick it would be difficult to press them together into smaller hexagonal shapes (each higo bends up and down like a wave to pass through the other higo). In fact, I had difficulty shrinking the hexagonal openings to the goal width of 10mm because the higo were too thick at the joints; I had to go back and thin them by scraping out the back side with a knife.

This webpage shows step by step how to put together a mutzume-ami plaiting, in this case the end product being a pot holder.

Next week we're scheduled to process bamboo into even longer strips that include two joints and also start our first basket project, supposedly one that involves the mutsume ami plaiting.


  1. 竹 it easy.
    You know what the 6 weaving will be on the f.... haha

  2. Interested to read about your takezaiku adventure. Would love to meet sometime..I am an American living in Saiki, my husband is a bamboo craftsman. We just returned to Japan after 20 years in the US. Check out our blog at