What Is Temari?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Cartwright
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Temari is a Japanese folk art that involves embroidering decorative geometric patterns on the surface of soft balls. The finished product is a temari ball, sometimes called just a temari. Originally, the balls were made of material and threads taken from worn-out silk kimonos. Nowadays, a wider range of materials are used but the process and techniques remain much the same. Temari balls are collected and displayed in groups and often given as gifts.

The core of the ball was traditionally made of wadded up cloth, but is now often wood, Styrofoamâ„¢, or a bag or envelope made from a cut nylon stocking with a small handful of rice in it. Yarn is wound around the core in a smooth, even layer. The best kind of yarn for this is thin and soft, like that used to knit baby clothes. Regular sewing thread is wound in a thick layer on top of the yarn and forms the base on which the decorative patterns are worked. Most temari balls are around 3 to 4 inches (around 7.5 to 10 cm) in diameter.


Temari designs are stitched over the entire surface of the ball. Normally, the ball is divided into sections, and these may be further sub-divided. The patterns run along division lines, fill spaces in different ways, and interlock into symmetrical geometric motifs. Although the designs are not representational, many patterns look like stylized flowers. Both the positive space of the applied design and the negative space of the base threads showing through can be important design elements. Some patterns are extremely intricate.

Color is an important part of temari design, and a wide range of shades are used. Decorative stitching traditionally uses only a few kinds of stitches and can be done with a variety of threads including regular embroidery floss, perle cotton, silk, and various metallic threads. The threads are stitched on with a sharp darning needle, which is inserted deeply into the thread layer so that the decorative thread lies smoothly on the ball. Some designs are wrapped on top of the base thread layer rather than stitched on, and a combination of stitching and wrapping can be used.

As is true in all Japanese handicrafts, precision and careful work are prized qualities in temari. Restraint in decorative techniques is also valued, so although beads or sequins are sometimes added as embellishments, they appear only in small quantities. The finished balls may have loops for hanging or tassels added, sometimes intricately knotted in traditional Japanese patterns.


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