Posted by: cassymuronaka | March 21, 2009

All knotted up

I had to call the Taiwanese Embassy in Los Angeles when I was looking for a Chinese knotting class. This was about two years ago. And despite the fact that there are nearly half a million Chinese in L.A. County, finding a knotting instructor did not prove to be an easy task.

For a while, every call I made ended up with a referral to one particular woman who, so sorry, had just moved to Arizona.

Eventually, I went online and found a message group that referred me to a place called String Arts, located in Monterey Park, a community with a dominant Chinese population. Its owner, Helen Tse, teaches at modest prices.

Meanwhile, during my time of research, I saw a simple Kumihimo braid demonstration, which is Japanese, and I forgot about Chinese knotting for a while and pursued one particular Kumihimo cord pattern obsessively, making it in everything from Chenille to bamboo tape yarn.


And I also kept buying books on knotting. I think I’m up to five now, and they cover everything from rope used by whaling vessels and Boy Scouts to decorative Asian knot patterns that no doubt require such concentration and focus that it probably takes a week to finish one of them.

It’s not so easy to learn how to learn knots from books, though. Those little arrows that lead you through the illustrated knot patterns can also lead you straight to a nervous breakdown. And that is because while you may master the steps of laying out one complicated knot, there remains the problem of knowing where to tighten the strands and when.

Right now, if I learned every knot in those books, I could probably tie down and anchor a Carnival Cruise ship the next time one arrives in port, and then turn right around and decorate the big Buddhist Temple up the street from my Hacienda Heights house for Chinese New Year.


However, after several attempts at making the Button Knot brought me to my knees, I began to view my books less as instruction and more as Coffee Table Display Items, things you merely pick up and flip through occasionally, while patting your hand on certain pages as you croon, “pretty…. pretty.”

But two weeks ago, after yet another Kumihimo supply run to String Arts, I finally decided to take the plunge — a novice class — which turns out to be 4 one-on-one, weekday afternoon sessions sitting at Helen’s small table by the store’s entrance.

I’ve learned two knots now, and while I am admittedly not quick on the uptake, Chinese knotting is not for the focus-challenged. There are language issues. I do not speak Mandarin (or Cantonese), and Helen’s English is not fluent.  Our classes consist of me watching Helen demonstrate a knot, and then I knot and sip my cold Boba tea while Helen eats her lunch, points at me, and says “not right” a lot more often than I would wish.


While the class is supposed to be an hour and a half long, I haven’t gotten out of there in less than two hours. Part of this is due to the steady stream of Chinese women with jewelry and home décor cord repair issues to whom Helen must attend, not to mention the people actually interested in buying supplies or taking a class.

Fortunately, running late has given me a very good rationale for making a pit stop at one of my favorite fast-food joints, Dim Sum Express, which happens to be located nearby. I load up on steamed Char Siu Baos, hargows, shu mai, nasty fried fun gor and various other treats. No one complains about take-out dinner that night, trust me.



  1. A new twist for everything…beautiful! I need new necklaces!

  2. As I keep unearthing big beads, there will be more necklaces!

  3. I got hungry just reading about Dim Sum Express

  4. When we were living in China & trying to find things made in the US to take along, I returned from a summer break with a lot of the gimp we used to use to make lanyards in camp & taught my Chinese students some of the same & some very similar knots. I think it’s easier with gimp–it’s stiff & flat and tends to stay where you put it.

    • Sorry Leslie, I didn’t see this comment for a while Dunno why it didn’t show up in my mailbox.

      The plastic gimp is a good idea for a learning tool.

  5. I just got into Kumihimo and live in the Los Angeles area. If anyone wants to contact me to maybe start a group, please write me at

    • Hi Leslie,

      If I hear of any groups, I’ll email you and let you know. I think that Kumihimo is growing in popularity in this area. I mainly use my cords for jewelry.

    • Hi Leslie,

      I would like to get into kunihimo, I live in Los Angeles near the airport. Where can I buy the supplies ? Also I would like to create beaded kumihimo, any idea where I can take a class ?

      • Benita, check bead stores, which sometimes offer classes on Kumihimo. Don’t forget, too, for tutorials, if you can’t find a class.

    • Do you know where I can find Chinese Knotting Cord in the Los Angeles area?

      Thank you.

      • Chinese String Arts
        922 East Garvey Avenue Monterey Park, CA 91755-3044
        (626) 280-0699

        Helen Tse, owner

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