“Temari” means “hand ball” in Japanese. They are a folk art form that originated in China and was introduced to Japan around the 7th century A.D. Historically, temari were constructed from the remnants of old kimonos: where pieces of silk fabric would be wadded up to form a ball, and then wrapped with strips of fabric. As time passed, the functional stitching becoming more decorative and detailed, until the balls displayed intricate embroidery. Temari became an art and craft of the Japanese upper class and aristocracy, and noble women competed in creating increasingly beautiful and intricate objects.
Temari are highly valued and cherished gifts, symbolizing deep friendship and loyalty. The brilliant colors and threads used are symbolic of wishing the recipient a bright and happy life. Patterns on them are often geometric and symmetrical, reminiscent of kaleidoscopic designs. Traditionally, temari were often given to children from their parents on New Year’s Day. Inside the mother would have placed a small piece of paper with a goodwill wish for her child. The child would never be told what wish his or her mother. Alternately, some balls contained “noisemakers” consisting of rice grains or bells to add to the play value. It is said that traditional temari were wrapped so tightly they would bounce.
A stall at the night market in Chiang Mai, North Thailand, was where I picked up my initial temaris.