Bunka Thread for Temari
(in Japanese this means "craft thread", and is pronounced
"bun-ka") is a popular and traditional thread used to make Temari.
Bunka embroidery is a traditional technique in Japan, done with a
punch-needle and sometimes a brush (to create textures). It has been
called "painting with thread" since tremendous shadings and textures can
be achieved; there is an extensive color selection of bunka thread.
Bunka thread found its way into temari applications long enough ago that
bunka is a traditional fiber in Japan for for temari making, second only
to silk. The original bunka was silk and it can still be obtained, but
most modern bunka is rayon. The rayon version is much more affordable,
and has a terrific sheen along with intense colors. There is a Western
equivalent known as "chainette". Many are familiar with either one
without knowing it; those slinky tassels (like on graduation
mortarboards) and fringes on costumes are done with bunka.
Bunka is actually a tubular
knitted chain, and most commonly comes in skeins but it can also come on
larger spools or bobbins. Unless it is being used in tassels or the link
it usually is "unchained" to a degree for embroidery use. The end is
worked loose, and then gently pull - it unchains itself very much like
when one had to open a bag of potatoes or onions that were in the heavy
paper bags and "sewn" closed at the top (birdseed is probably more
common in today's world). This is a diagram from vintage bunka that
shows the process:
This diagram shows the chaining
orientation at the far right, and how it "unchains". For most use the
common stage is the "2/4" state - where there is still one chain step
left intact. This is the most natural way that the cord unravels, as
well. It gives a very nice gauge for stitching. If you do go down to the
final 1/4 stage which is one thread with no chain it is finer - rather
too fine for stitching for most people but, it does work well for
marking division lines. It's easier once you start the
"unchaining" to not cut the thread off past the unchained section. Leave
a little bit of the unchained thread on the hank or bobbin, to continue
pulling out when more is needed. This way the end doesn't have to be
teased out again to restart the unchaining process. Unchained bunka is
sometimes referred to as "Rydian", but this is not too common a term.
When bunka is unchained, a much longer thread is obtained than the
length removed from the skein, usually 3 to 4 times as much. Don't
underestimate the cost effectiveness when purchasing bunka; it may seem
pricey but a skein will go a much longer way than it looks.
Unchained, bunka would be about in between pearl 8 and pearl 5 - thinner
than the "traditional" Pearl 5 but, since it has been knitted up in that
chain, it retains a unique appearance and texture after it is unraveled.
It is a flat thread, however, not a cord like pearl cotton. It can be
used alone (most commonly) or mixed with other fibers.
This photo shows a comparison of Bunka in various stages of
unchaining, set up against DMC Pearl Cotton #5. The "natural"
degree of unchaining that usually occurs is the 2/4 (most
desirable for stitching) - you really have to work to
get a 3/4 or a 1/4, but it can be done, and you should be sure
that you are consistently pulling a 2/4. A 1/4 is truly very
fine - and a 3/4 actually looks a bit ungainly.
You will see on the 2/4 example that has been smoothed with a
damp cloth, that the appearance of the chain is still visible.
When this works up on a temari it will be visible also and
adds an added effect to the overall appearance.
Notice the "curliness" of the normal or rough unchained 2/4.
This may look a bit beastly to stitch with, but it truly is
not. Use a bit of shorter working length than you might
normally, and pull the thread through the mari a bit more
slowly and carefully. It passes through the stitching surface
smoothly. Changing the amount of tension while stitching will
result in a unique texture to the completed design. Using very
loose tension will retain even more "curliness" within the
design and can look almost like the surface of a Turkish
towel, or a boucle sweater.
The texture of the 2/4 chain makes
it much more manageable than many smooth rayon threads. Bunka is also a
very versatile fiber - in addition to the different degrees of
"unchaining", you can vary the texture in several ways while stitching.
Bunka can be used "rough" or "smooth". Rough is the natural state after
unchaining; this can be varied depending on the amount of tension
applied while stitching. Using looser tension can result in a very
"boucle-like" appearance. The tighter the tension, the more it smooths
out. Additionally, lightly pulling the thread along a damp towel or
sponge will "smooth" the thread (this applies to all rayon thread,
actually, if kinks or bends need to be removed), into an almost flat 2/4
chain. The thread takes on yet a different appearance under these
conditions since the "stretch" has been removed from it. The final
outcome is almost like a satin texture.
"Rough" bunka - very loosely stitched
"Rough" bunka- normal tension
"Smooth" bunka - damped before stitching
Intact bunka, unchained, serves
wonderfully for tassels for the bottom/sides of temari. It is a very
slinky cord, with a beautiful drape (remember those graduation tassels).
While uncommon, there are instances when full bunka has been used as a
stitching thread. It makes for a very dense, deeply textured temari. One
note of caution - bunka seems to be rather prone to fading if left
exposed to bright sun for longish periods.
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