Smile Politely

Susan Harum keeps Kumihimo cool in the C-U

Some people simply radiate artistic ability. Susan Harum is undoubtedly one of those people. Known in Champaign for her unique handmade leather bracelets, Harum’s take on a Japanese braiding method called Kumihimo makes her craft one of a kind.

“Kumihimo is an ancient craft that was done by the Japanese,” explained Harum, “just like other ancient crafts, it’s still around today but not a lot of people do it.”

A wooden Marudai                                  A round, wooden Marudai 

One of the most important tools in the art of Kumihimo is the Marudai, which is a frame used for the braiding. “I got my start two and a half years ago after seeing a small foam Marudai in Hobby Lobby. I thought that this would be the start of a popular trend, but surprisingly it didn’t seem to catch on,” said Harum. Since then, Harum has begun using a round wooden Marudai as well. “There’s all different kinds of Madurai’s: there are square ones, other ones that look like looms where you can make flat braids rather than round ones, and there’s some other really funky looking ones where the fabric can be braided through the top instead of through the bottom.” 

While explaining the different functions of the Marudai, Harum explains some of the struggles she runs into with the pronunciation and spelling of the Japanese crafting tools. “Being completely self-taught, there’s a lot I have trouble with pronouncing,” laughed Harum, “I have a degree in Chinese and nothing in Japanese!”

The use of silk in modern-day Kumihimo is a big part of what sets Susan Harum’s jewelry apart from others. “I would show you what a silk Kumihimo looks like but I have none to offer,” said Harum, “that’s because I have never done silk, only leather. Using leather to make my jewelry is what makes my products different.”

Thanks to the uniqueness of Harum’s Kumihimo style, applying to craft fairs is perhaps made easier. “When I’m applying to craft fairs, they’ll ask what makes my work different, and what I always tell them is that I use leather for this ancient braiding method,” said Harum, “I know of one other person in town who does Kumihimo and I’ve also seen people use beads along with the cords, but I’m still not seeing a bunch of leather so I think I’m still okay on the unique part!”

Harum’s bracelets range from using eight to twelve pieces of leather, resulting in different appearances for different numbers of pieces used. Some bracelets have delicate silver chains intertwined with the leather braiding, while others have colorful fabric swaths braided in. The bracelets with the silver chains seem to be a big hit with customers. “I was at a few different craft fairs earlier this year and I actually sold out of the bracelets with the silver chains at one in Decatur, so I wasn’t able to have any on display at The Made Fest,” explained Harum, “I am hoping to have plenty made for next year, though!”


Despite having such a unique craft, Harum faces obstacles when it comes to selling her jewelry. “The problem is that I just don’t have anywhere in town to sell them!” said Harum, “I even tried using Etsy, but it has been so bad for me that honestly, I’ve blown it off.” Although Harum has had customers on Etsy, a website made for buying and selling unique arts, crafts, and jewelry, the struggle for a steady flow of purchases is understandable. “It is tough for me to get customers on there because if you are just searching for a leather bracelet, my shop doesn’t come up,” said Harum, “there are just too many other people on there!”

Luckily, art and craft fairs have been working well for Susan Harum. The art and craft fairs this year have ranged from the Wells Street Art Festival in Chicago, to Arts in Central Park in Decatur, and the Made Fest in Champaign. “I’ve had a lot of luck with the craft fairs, which is great and I really like doing them,” laughed Harum, “but setting up and taking down those tents — horrific!”

Despite the unfortunate tent maintenance, Harum shared what she enjoys most about doing the fairs. “To actually see your customers and talk to them and let them try things on is so great,” said Harum, “I really just love interacting with the people who come out to the craft fairs!”

To see Susan Harum’s jewelry gallery, check out her website or email her at [email protected]

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