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Hang happiness with heavenly himmeli

Yomiuri Shimbun photos

Himmeli in various shapes and sizes

By Yumi Miyaki / Yomuri Shimbun Staff WriterHimmeli, a traditional Finnish hanging ornament made out of straws arranged into a geometric pattern, goes well in any type of room.

When hung from the ceiling, the simply designed mobiles gently sway in the air. “Gazing at himmeli gives one a sense of a breeze so slight it cannot be felt on your skin,” said himmeli artist Mutsuko Yamamoto. “That’s how I relax on a busy day.”

The word himmeli comes from the German himmel, meaning heaven. In medieval central European houses, the ceiling was covered with a large cloth to keep dust and bugs from falling into food during harvest festivals.

Straw ornaments attached to the hems of the cloth were later adopted in Finland and came to be called himmeli. The ornaments were used to pray for strong harvests and good health. These days, however, himmeli are used mostly as Christmas decorations in Finland.

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    Himmeli made with paper drinking straws

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    Himmeli as a table decoration

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Himmeli in Finland are made of rye straw. As very little rye is grown in Japan, Yamamoto has been growing it in a small field over the past eight years. After harvest, she dries the straw and groups the pieces according to size so she can use different thicknesses of straw for each piece of art. The natural material gradually darkens after being hung for a while, and that change is also part of the object’s charm, she said.

You can search online to find shops selling straw to make himmeli. If you cannot find any, use commercially available straws. Yamamoto has even made himmeli out of paper straws.

“It’s actually easier to work with commercially available straws if you make himmeli with children,” she said.

Making an octahedron is recommended for beginners. Cut a straw into three at equal lengths, set them in the shape of a triangle, pass a thread through them and tie the two top ends tightly together so the three straw parts firmly make a triangle (Photo 1).

Pass the thread through two more straw pieces and tie them to one corner of the triangle twice. Repeat this step four more times to make five triangles in all (Photo 2).

Add one more straw piece and then tie one end of the thread to the other to form a pyramid (Photo 3).

Use a different thread to tie the tips of the two remaining triangles to make an octahedron (Photo 4).

“It’ll create a beautiful silhouette if it is hung near a window. Alternatively, you could even use it as a table ornament,” Yamamoto said.

Adding Japanese-style flair

Bigger himmeli are popular in Finland as they are usually hung from high ceilings. However, this would not be very well suited to Japanese houses.

Yamamoto recommends placing himmeli on a shoe shelf by your front door or in a tokonoma alcove, which are commonly used to display art or flowers in traditional Japanese rooms.

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