Temari: From Toy to Artwork

Temari: From Toy to Artwork

Temari are Japanese thread balls with beautiful patterns and embroideries. The bright colors and delicate motifs represent the best wishes of the giver to the recipient. From Japan to America, the enchanting needlework attracts artists worldwide. Their creativity and innovation bring new vitality to this time-honored art.

History of Temari


Temari was first introduced to Japan from China in the Heian period (794-1193). Literally, at that time, Temari was called “Kemari”. In Japanese, “mari” means “ball”, “ke” means foot, and “te” means hand. Kemari is a leather-made football played by people of nobility. Japanese craftsmen began to design a new approach to producing Kemari with new methods and materials. Therefore, the silk-made Temari was born. Temari was softer than Kemari and was normally played by girls. It’s a non-competitive sport - players use their hands and elbows to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. It is also said in the Heian period that Temari balls became a New Year’s gift for young Japanese girls. From then on, Temari upgraded from a toy to a kind of art.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), it was popular for noble women to make temari balls. They improved the technique of making temari balls. They placed bells, sand, or shells inside the temari to make it sound joyful, and they added stitching and embroidery designs to the surface of the balls. These little bouncing toys were not exclusive to the nobility. As kapok cultivation became popular and silk cotton thread became more accessible, temari became widely available to ordinary citizens. This was the heyday of temari.

Types of Temari


With the development of the temari-making technique, the patterns of temari become more and more intricate and delicate. The patterns are similar to the images in a kaleidoscope, which are geometric and symmetric. Some patterns will remind you of forms of nature, such as circular petals, flowers, stars, waves, rainbows, and so forth. Just as with other Japanese craft-made artwork, the patterns, and colors of temari also have special symbolic meanings, such as sakura for summer, tortoise-shell patterns for protection from evil, and red-gold colors for good luck and prosperity.

However, temari is not confined to tradition. With modernization and globalization, many interesting new patterns and colors appear, such as the Pokemon pattern, Detective Conan pattern, and Christmas pattern. Furthermore, temari is made in different sizes and is applied to make jewelry, keychains, and phone straps.

How to make temari


Temari is an artwork of reusing materials - at first, they were made of the remnants of old kimonos. Even today, the raw materials of temari are also cheap and easy to get. Though the magnificent and complicated temari requires superb techniques that a craft master has to hone for decades, the original temari once was only a homemade craft that normal people could make. Therefore, untrained people can have a try!

  1. Materials: yarn (you can replace it with Styrofoam balls or plastic balls), a needle, colorful thread, pins, flexible tape, scissors
  2. A core ball: Roll a tight ball of yarn. The size is your option. (You can omit this process if you prepare a Styrofoam ball of a plastic ball.)
  3. Wrap the core ball: Wrap the core ball with gray or white thread until you get a smooth ball with the desired size.
  4. Make marks: As we said before, temari patterns are geometric. Therefore, we dividing the ball evenly is good. Common divisions are any even numbers from 4 to 16, such as 4, 6, and 8. If you are a beginner, the smaller the number is, the easier the technique is. Mark the sections with your pins on the top, bottom, and the middle.
  5. Use materials for guidance: Wrap the colorful guide threads from pin to pin. Wrap it and do not sew it!
  6. Stitch patterns: Stitch colored thread for the patterns with the help of the pins and guide threads. If you are new to this handwork, diamond, and star patterns are a good start!

    Voila! You've made your own handmade temari. With all the effort and time you had to take to make this, no wonder temari is a precious gift that is a blessing to give to the ones you love!

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