Temari Then and Now

Temari Then and Now

Temari is a Japanese word, and it means 'hand ball' - a humble name for a child's toy. That was what temari originally were; just a ball that a mother would make to keep the kids busy for a bit and stitched nice and tight to stand up to the inevitable abuse.They made their way from China to Japan around the 7th century.

The first temari that were recognizable as such were made from strips of rag, wound tightly with threads perhaps unraveled from a kimono or other clothing. Tight stitches would be taken over this wrapping to keep everything in place, and often they were stitched so tightly that they bounced!

Temari thread ball with needle and scissors

It wasn't long before the stitches that bound a temari started to become decidedly more decorative, however. Both free-form and geometrical patterns abounded, and temari became more of a folk art. Mothers would make temari for their children for New Years and place them on their pillows in the early morning, so that the first thing that their children would see in the new year was bright and beautiful. Sometimes they would contain a wish written on a slip of paper and carefully wrapped into the center of the ball. 

Temari remained a peasant art for some time, but eventually it was introduced to the upper class. The Court ladies went crazy for it. Everyone made temari, and each was more beautiful and intricate than the last. Competitions were held and patterns traded. Like the wedding ring shawls of Shetland and the embroidered shirts of Russia, beautiful temari became a benchmark to measure a woman's skill with the needle.They were large, intricate, and often ornamented with knots and tassels. Temari in auspicious colors are often given and received as gifts both commemorative and personal, and signify deep affection and friendship.

Japanese kiku temari ball in white and green

Though it's been a long time since court ladies vied for favor with them, the art of temari making is still alive and thriving all over the world. The mathematics involved in creating the patterns are at once simple and incredibly clever, and the patterns and variations are nearly infinite. Despite the wide differences in style, color, and pattern, temari are instantly recognizable as a beautiful expression of geometry though embroidery, and continue to amaze and delight people everywhere.

Glowing Embers temari ball with red and yellow pattern on black

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