Teko-bari: Japanese "Stroking
Some Western embroidery techniques
require or are assisted by a "laying tool" or a "trolley needle" - both
are tapered implements used to align or straighten fibers. In
traditional Japanese Embroidery, an artist uses a teko-bari
While sometimes called "Japanese laying tools", they actually are quite
different. The teko-bari is used for accurate laying of parallel threads
in place as they are stitched,
was designed to be used with silk threads without causing damage to
them. Because of this high standard, the teko-bari is one of the better
tools for any fiber, be it silk, cotton, wool, rayon or other
synthetics. As the name implies, the tool is used to "stroke" threads
into place, and this allows for very precise positioning and grooming.
It was also designed to assist in removing stitches; the construction of
the teko-bari is such to aid in removing even the smallest stitches
without disturbing adjacent ones.
A teko-bari and a laying tool are
shown in the photo at left; the difference in size is immediately
visible, but this is only one of many differences.
A teko-bari is made of soft steel,
rather than hard or stainless steel; there is no chrome or protective
plating. It is hand-crafted. The soft steel shaft has an extremely
fine roughness to it so as to create a very fine, delicate "drag" on the
threads; this allows for precise control and easier handling of the
thread. A hard-finish tool doesn't allow this, since the threads
slide against the tool rather than moving in place. Yet, the teko-bari
will not damage even the finest threads - remember, these tools are
actually made for working with the finest, highest quality silk fibers.
The shaft of the teko-bari is
finer than a laying tool, with a more gradual taper and a sharper point.
It also made with a very fine burr (so fine that it's not seen without
the aid of a magnifying lens) on the taper, in order to effect that
amount of friction
that allows it to "hold" the thread and adjust it. Again, this allows
for more precise and accurate use. When in the hand, it's balanced and
If used with flat threads, the
teko-bari is placed under the thread loop and stroked in one direction
(with the grain of the thread, if there is one) to guide the stitch into
place (in Japanese embroidery, no more than three times because of the
delicateness of the silks). A wonderful part of the design is that the
upper section of the piece of steel it is made from is worked to a
square. It is rounded as it proceeds to the point. Due to the squared
section of the upper shaft, when it's put down on a flat surface, it
doesn't roll away.
A friend was able to locate a
teko-bari for me, and it has made a great difference in my work.
Although being used in temari rather than Japanese embroidery, it lives
up to its description and tradition. It's my most valuable stitching
tool, and I never work without it. Those stitchers that have similarly
taken on using them all agree that it's the perfect tool to work temari
Since teko-bari are made of soft
steel, they need to be cared for; it needs to be protected from damage
and also from moisture - it will rust (remember, it's not stainless
steel or does not have a protective coating). Protect the point
and shaft, and don't use it for any purpose other than grooming and
guiding threads in your temari work. It should not be stored in an
air-tight container, since humidity trapped in the air can cause it to
rust. While they are an investment, given proper care, it will last
through many generations of temari artists.
Teko-bari can be difficult to locate outside of Japan. There are
facsimiles on the Western market being sold as "tekobari" or
"tekobari-type" tools; they are generally no different than a slightly
altered regular laying tool or trolley needle, even though they may
"look" like teko-bari. They are not made of the same steel or
constructed with the same methods and standards, and thus don't perform
as a true teko-bari does.
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