TemariKai Logo

Stitch Temari, Share the Wa

        Temari  (in Japanese writing,てまり) - "te" means hand, and "mari" means ball -  is an ancient folk art form. The Japan Temari Association provides the history of Temari as originating from Kemari (a football/kickball type game), originally coming from China during the Asuka Period (538 to 710). The balls were originally made from deer hide. During the Edo Period (1603 to 1867), women in the Royal Court evolved Kemari to Onna Mari (which then became Temari), and would make brightly colored balls for the little girls. More gentle games of rolling and tossing Temari emerged. The ladies also used Temari making as an opportunity to perfect and show off (even competing) their kagari (kagari means "stitch", noun and verb),  to gain the attention and favor of their favorite princes. Home Photo 1Temari were at first made with kakagari (stitch with silk threads), and limited to the upper classes. However, when cotton threads became more easily available common people began making them using cotton (and others such as linen, wool, etc.) thread. This allowed Temari to be made by many women in all areas of Japan (and for them to become favored toys for children), and each prefecture or area established its own recognizable and known style, based on local culture and materials. Temari is a traditional, highly artistic culture and skill in that each design shows the unique characteristics of the maker's free ideas and creativity. (With thanks to the Japan Temari Association)

        Temari were/are made from previously used materials: discarded clothing and household items were taken apart, and as much as possible the fabric pieces and threads would be saved and reused (for many purposes). Materials from nature were also used. The earliest known was most likely deer hide, stuffed with pine needles and then sewn together. Later on pieces of fabric would be used. Regardless of material, the process is the same: a core filling is wadded into the shape of a ball, then wrapped with strips of fabric and then thread. The ball would then be firmly stitched together (it is said that the balls were wrapped and stitched so tightly that they actually did bounce). It became traditional for Temari made as toys to have some rice, pebbles, etc. in their center to make them rattle; modern ones may have a bell or similar rattle in their centers for good luck. Japanese aesthetic requires beauty in all things, so it was natural that creation of Temari became an art, with the functional stitching more and more decorative and detailed, until the balls displayed very intricate embroidery. Temari wholly transcended from play toys into art objects (although loving moms will still make them for their children) with the introduction of rubber to Japan (rubber balls to tend to bounce so much better, regardless of how tightly the Temari would be packed).

        Temari now represent a highly valued and cherished gift, symbolizing deep friendship and loyalty, and wishing good luck. It is traditional for a mother to make a ball for her daughter as a New Year's gift. They are also often given as gifts on auspicious occasions. Filled with both the craftsman's gentle spirit and skill, Temari are believed to bestow happiness. The brilliant color and threads used also are symbolic of wishing the recipient a brilliant (happy) life. Traditionally, becoming a craftsman in Japan was a Home page photo 2long and tedious process, beginning very early in life. You would be handed off to a master, and do nothing but watch your master while performing servant duties in the workshop for the first forty years, learning everything you can by observing - but being taught nothing. If the master feels you are sincere after forty years of humbling effort, you will be accepted to apprentice for the next thirty years, repeating over and over the patterns and designs the master has made - but never being allowed to create your own designs. It will only be after the master dies that you can then be acknowledged as a master, if you have proved yourself. To become a Temari artist in Japan today requires specific training and examination, spanning upwards of ten years to complete all certification levels (and yet also patterning, relatively speaking, after the apprentice time frame). Certification is administrated and managed by the Japan Temari Association in Tokyo, Japan.

        Patterns seen in Temari are often geometric and usually symmetrical, with many of the design elements being based upon nature. In appearance, most are very reminiscent of a kaleidoscope's patterns. Designs are formed either by their own patterns, or by the "negative (or white)" space image that is left once the pattern is stitched. Westerners will often look at a temari from the side and see a lovely upper and lower design with a wide band through the middle.  Those of the east will look directly at the top or bottom and see the image of petals created by the space where the thread does not cover. Some of the most beautiful designs in temari use very few threads.

        Modern day Temari are created by first making the core base (the mari), usually of rice hulls, old fabric, etc., which is then wrapped with  layers of yarn and then a layer of regular weight sewing thread (usually about three hundred yards for a hand-sized ball) - all of which must be placed smoothly and consistently to insure roundness of the ball. The ball is then divided with relational geometry using a thin paper strip - no defined or absolute measuring being used - into one of three standard divisions, using pins and marking threads (jiwari). Jiwari most often become integral parts of the design; other designs may require the marking threads to be the same color as the base thread wrap so as to blend into the background. After the mari is prepared, designs are embroidered with a variety of threads. The most common type used today is perle cotton (in both Japan and the West), although silk, metallic and rayon embroidery threads or embroidery ribbons are also used in modern day.  Some balls, after they had been taken in as art, were further decorated with elaborate tassels made by intricate methods of braiding and knotting. Each Temari is different - designs are limited only by the imagination of the crafter.

        Sizing of  Temari is as varied as the crafter. Any size is possible and larger ones are popular in Japan, where collections of all sizes and styles are treasured. Smaller ones may be made for personal accessories including jewelry. They may be displayed singly or collected and arranged in groups. Display styles may include hanging arrangements or multi-tiered tabletop displays. They make wonderful, unique gifts, treasured as wedding and anniversary gifts, and as mementos of friendship and special occasions.

Temarikai.com has and always will be free for personal use and enjoyment. It does require care and feeding (domain registration, server charges, and for its services such as search and TK News to be secure and ad-free, just to name a few); if you enjoy Temarikai.com and would like to help via PayPal, we thank you very much.

Last updated 1/2014 © All content Copyright 1998 - 2014 inclusive; Ginny Thompson and Puffin Stuff, Inc., et. al.  All rights reserved; no portion of this site may be reproduced, republished or used for profit without expressed written permission of the author/website owner and contributors, unless otherwise indicated on individual pages. Individuals may download one copy for private, non-profit use only.  The Japanese version of TemariKai.com is made available by permission to and through the translation services of Ai M.; full copyright protection and limits extend to the Japanese version.