Temari balls are often made in Japanese culture to start a child's New Year.

Raymore woman crafts temari balls, symbols of friendship and the new year

“The world may be just going awful. But I can sit down and make something pretty. “

By Kathy Feist

Temari balls started off in 13th century Japan as fabric-stuffed handballs for girls to bat around.

Jump ahead seven centuries later to Karen Fitzgerald, a Raymore resident, who has embraced the art of the temari ball. In her home are a variety of hand stitched balls with unique geometric designs and bright, eye-catching colors.

Karen Fitzgerald enjoys making temari balls from her home in Raymore. Photo by Kathy Feist

Somewhere over time, the handballs became works of art and given as gifts that symbolized friendship and loyalty. In some parts of Japan, it is still customary for children to  wake up on New Year’s Day to a newly crafted temari ball at their bedside to usher in a bright and happy year.

Fitzgerald knew nothing of these customs when she first discovered temari balls. She and her sister Pam Dameron were curious about the unusual sounding craft while perusing a list of artisan classes available at an folk art crafts camp in North Carolina. They had just attended a woodworking camp there in 2013. Woodworking, however, was not Fitzgerald’s strong point— stitching was.

“When we were growing up, my grandmother insisted that we learn how to knit and crochet because she believed you couldn’t be a lady if you didn’t know how,” Fitzgerald recalls. “So we just started stitching and knitting and crocheting and this just seemed like an extension of that.”

The sisters enjoyed the experience so much, they took the more advanced class the following year. 

Since then, Fitzgerald has created over a hundred temari balls. “It’s fun,” she says. “It’s just really fun.”

Making temari balls is quite different from embroidering, because one is on a flat piece of cloth while the other is on a sphere. 

Temari balls can be made with a styrofoam ball, but Fitzgerald prefers the old-fashioned way using brown rice hulls poured into a nylon fabric, such as pantyhose. Sometimes, she confesses, she may opt to fill the nylon with an old sock or dryer lint. 

The process begins as yarn is first wrapped around the ball followed by a single color of embroidery thread tightly wound. White thread is then stitched vertically to create grids, sometimes as many as 20, as a base for the geometric pattern.

A grid pattern marked on the ball serves as a base for the pattern.

Finally, a design is embroidered onto the ball. Fitzgerald finds her inspirations from temari books and website information published by Barbara Suess

Right now, balls symbolizing Christmas are set about the house. A glass cylinder on the kitchen table is filled with light blue colored balls with snowflake designs. Over on the floor, a large woven basket has the unmistakable vivid red and green patterned Christmas balls. 

On her credenza are some breathtaking show pieces: one featuring the colors of the Ukrainian flag and a sunflower design, another a modern three-dimensional pattern. A pink and green colored temari ball is proudly displayed next to a Third Place ribbon won at the Aberdeen Village art show in Raymore.

Fitzgerald says it normally takes her six to eight hours to finish a temari ball. She usually does it while watching TV at the end of the day, a process she finds quite soothing. 

“The world may be just going awful. But I can sit down and make something pretty.  That’s what I really enjoy,” Fitzgerald says.

While Fitzgerald doesn’t sell her temari balls, she says she is happy to teach beginners the Japanese folk art. She can be contacted at karenfitzgerald06@gmail.com.


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