I use a technique that is based on kimekomi (pronounced “kee may ko mee”).
Kimekomi is a centuries-old Japanese craft, traditionally used to make decorative dolls. According to legend, kimekomi was invented by a carving artist of the Kamigamo Shrine, named Takahashi Tadashige, who used wood remnants from his work at the shrine to carve dolls, then covered them with kimono fabric scraps, tucking the fabric pieces into the wooden form.
Kimekomi doll making is still a popular hobby and art form in Japan. A doll torso base, nowadays usually molded from wood composite, is marked with a pattern and then carved along the lines. Next, silk or crèpe fabric pieces are tucked into the grooves, secured by rice starch glue. The head and hands are fastened on the doll after the fabric work is done. In the finished doll, the fabric tucked into the base appears like a garment with naturally falling folds and drapes. Aside from dolls, sometimes zodiac animals or balls (“mari”) are made in the kimekomi technique.
Learn more about traditional kimekomi
If you want to learn more about Japanese doll making or maybe even try your hand at it, I recommend visiting this Japanese webstore. It has many kimekomi doll kits to choose from, a tutorial and a gallery with finished customer projects. Below is a picture of a doll that I made from one of their kits. Another Japanese doll store with a vast selection is this one with information on kimekomi styles and history as well as a picture tutorial.
My take on the kimekomi technique
I employ a modern adaptation of the kimekomi technique that uses polystyrene as base material instead of wood composite. Polystyrene is the perfect material for this technique as it is easy to cut, especially when the pattern contains curved cut lines. Surprisingly, because of its low weight it is also the most climate friendly option. Furthermore, polystyrene is water repellent and therefore mold-proof, contributing to the durability of my ornaments.
In contrast to the original kimekomi technique, I add a layer of cotton batting between the base and the decorative fabric. This adds to a smooth appearance of the outer fabric, but at the same time adds some texture and volume to the pattern and also generates a nice, smooth and satisfying hand feel when you touch or hold the finished ball.
In another deviation from the original technique, I apply a decorative cord along the cut lines instead of glueing the fabric into place. I often use delicate fabrics such as satin or cotton lawn, and therefore cannot use glue to fasten the fabric - it would seep into the fabric. Not using glue has a big advantage: my ornaments can be repaired. The cords can be removed, exchanged or reattached, and fabric pieces can be replaced or reattached. The cords - which are not glued, but merely pinned down - help to keep the fabric in place in the finished ornaments. Moreover, they highlight the pattern by setting the different fabrics apart, and give the ornaments a neat and polished look.