Temari balls are created by doing surface embroidery with several colors in a variety of patterns on wrapped balls. Many of the Temari balls look like Christmas ornaments.

It is thought the concept began in China where ornate balls often appear with lions in statues and Chinese symbols. China introduced Japan to a popular game called "Kemari" or "kick ball" around the 7th century A.D. It has a timeless appeal because United States children still play a game called Hacky Sack which is a descendant of Kemari.

Temari or "hand ball" was a toy created for children of nobility to play catch. These balls were made from silk fabrics and threads from old kimonos. As cotton became available in Japan, mothers and grandmothers in the lower economic levels could now make these balls for their children. Traditionally, the balls were made for their daughters as a New Year’s gift. As the technique evolved, balls were stuffed with wadded fabric or paper and then covered with cotton cloth strips. Some were done so tightly that they actually bounced!

With the introduction of rubber, and thus rubber balls, to Japan around the turn of the 20th century, these handmade balls could have dropped out of sight, but tradition kept them alive so we can enjoy them a century later. Even today, the gift of a Temari ball as a thank you or a gift is still highly prized.

The creation of a Temari ball can seem daunting. While the technique is not hard, it would be impossible to adequately explain it all in one article. This article will focus on the highlights and give you a lot of great resources to help you get started.

Work Basket

You can create your ball from "scratch" with a Styrofoam ball, polyester batting, yarn, and sewing thread. You will cover the Styrofoam ball with the batting. Then you completely wrap the batting with a 2- or 3-ply yarn. The color should be close to whatever colored thread you are wrapping with in the next step. Once you have the ball covered with yarn, you completely cover the yarn with regular sewing thread. This will take a lot of thread, so you may want to buy the cones of thread available from quilting stores. (Approximately 250 yards of sewing thread to cover a 3" ball.) There is satisfaction in being able to create your ball from scratch, but it will take you some time! You can also buy pre-wrapped and marked balls. We carry the 3" in three colors: Red, Black, and White. They are already marked in a Simple 8 pattern.

Additional supplies include a long sharp needle with a large eye such as our Temari needles from Japan. You will need straight pins approximately 1.25" in length with colored heads. It is helpful to have several colors to help you mark your pattern. A small tape measure will be a big help. You will also need a strip of paper to use for marking your ball into the proper divisions. You can use 8.5" x 11" typing paper cut into a strip about a quarter inch wide, or even a large white mailing envelope because it has reinforcing in the paper to keep it from ripping. One resource suggested a white quilling strip. It needs to be long enough to go around the ball. Embroidery scissors are needed and if you are using metallic threads, metallic thread scissors are a must.

The threads you can use are as varied as your imagination. You can use Pearl Cotton size, Brazilian threads, Kreinik braids for sparkle, or any other thread you would like.

Dividing the Ball

Division of the ball can bea tricky process. Starting with a pre-wrapped, marked ball will definitely aid in this step. If looking at a ball as if it were a planet, it has North and South Poles, and an Equator. These areas aid you in making even divisions around your ball. Even if you have a pre-marked ball, it is recommended to go through this process to be sure everything is even. You can move the measuring threads so they are in the correct spot.

The ball is marked on the surface with a different colored thread to show your stitching grid. These lines help lay out where the actual stitches will go. This tutorial will show you how to mark the ball for a Simple 8 division. This is really brief and sort of confusing without pictures, so here is a website by Diana Vandervoort, a leading expert in Temari. (link)

The ball has three points: The Top is the NORTH POLE. The Bottom is the SOUTH POLE. The middle is the EQUATOR or OBI line. Obi is Japanese for the sash or belt worn around the kimono at the waist.

Take your marking strip and pin it to the top of your ball with a WHITE pin. Tack the paper strip at the very end. Wrap that strip around the ball so it meets back up at the top. Fold the end of the strip back where it meets the top. Now check several spots around the ball to see if the ends still match. Adjust it so the ends match for the majority of the ball. Cut off the excess of your measuring paper at the fold.

To mark your SOUTH POLE, fold your measuring paper in half and snip a tiny corner off (don’t cut through the entire paper.) When you unfold the paper, lay it around the ball. Where the notch is, put a BLACK pin for your SOUTH POLE. Do not put the South Pole pin through the paper. Test the location by moving the strip around the ball, adjusting the pin until it is centered.

To mark the EQUATOR, take the paper and fold it in half being sure the white pin is still in place. Fold it again and cut another notch as the fold. Your paper is now divided into fourths. Unfold it leaving the white pin place. Put the black pin (South Pole) in its notch.

Depending on your pattern, you will need to further divide your ball. To mark this division you move your tape around the ball and place pins in the quarter notches so that you have 8 pins spaced around the equator. If the spacing isn’t perfectly even along the equator, here’s how to fix it.

You can take the strip from under the white pin, but put the pin right back into the same hole. Fold the measuring strip back like you had it for the quarters. Fold it one more time and cut a notch. When you unfold it, you know have eighths. Lay the line along the equator so that the two ends meet. Now adjust your 8 pins along the equator making sure they are evenly spaced along the equator and between the North and South Poles.

Take your time, check and double check your marks. This may seem a little tedious, but if your marks are uneven, your stitching will be also. Depending on your pattern, it may be very apparent when you are done stitching.

Choosing the Pattern

The patterns are endless. If you change the color, how you weave over and under existing threads, or change the order you do the stitching, you create a new pattern.

For those very mathematical people out there, there can be a lot of theory involved in pattern creation. Check out this site dedicated to Temari and math! There is also a wonderful collection of patterns at this site under "Debi’s Notebook".


Despite how complicated they look, only one or two stitches are used to create these masterpieces! The most used stitch is the herringbone stitch. Here is a diagram on how to do the herringbone stitch around the divisions.

Herringbone Stitch »

That is the whole process in a nutshell. Create the ball, divide the ball, and stitch your design. Diana has several wonderful resources for beginning and advanced Temari artists.

Here is a Christmas Temari ball showing the progression. The red diamonds were completed first using three different threads: Kreinik, Brazilian, and pearl cotton #5. Then the green diamonds are woven over and under areas of the red diamonds to create this pattern. To finish the ball to look more like an ornament, a metal cap and wire loop were taken from an old glass ornament (not an antique ornament). The loop ends were poked into the ball and then an adhesive was used to glue the cap to the ball. The dangles were created from Mill Hill Beads and Treasures.

During a Nordic Needle ornament exchange one year, several lucky staff received hand-stitched Temari balls.

I hope you had fun taking a quick look at Temari and our Nordic Needle Christmas tradition.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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