This Frame Tells a Story

Published Thursday, January 18, 2024 by Bryan
A sign that reads, 'Stop, think! There must be a harder way! ~Roger Plumb' in a swirly font, with extra swirls around it.
Art that spoke to me in Eureka, CA.

I laughed the instant I saw this print in a studio storefront in Eureka, California. Amanda was instantly on board with me buying it. It sums up the way many of my projects go. Mailbox? Let's build one! Out of a hundred strips of wood! Dresser? Let's build one! With hand-cut dovetails! And a flowing-grain front!

And so, when we got home and I read where the included card said, "Fits a standard 8x10 frame," naturally my reaction was to giggle again. How could I possibly fail to stop and think of a harder way?

The print from earlier in the post mounted in a maple wood frame. The left and top rails of the frame are solid wood with the face grain oriented forward, and with subtle details along their edges. The bottom and right rails are kumiko lattice with various patterns in each square. The border inside those rails is another bit of solid maple, but with the edge grain facing forward.
The harder way I found to frame this print.

I hope level one of the story strikes you immediately. I started making a basic splined-miter frame, then stopped, thought, and found a harder way: kumiko style!1

But most kumiko work repeats a small number of patterns. That choice simplifies some of the work, by allowing the craftperson to tune their jigs just once, and then focus solely on manufacturing identical pieces (and blade sharpening). I stopped, though, and found a harder way: eleven unique designs!

And those designs are where layer two of the story lies. Starting in the bottom left, running to the bottom right corner, then turning upward and continuing to the top right corner, the squares tell the abstract story of most of my projects. Allow me to narrate.

Two squares of the kumiko lattice. The left one has a single strip of wood running from the bottom left corner to the upper right corner. The right one is the same, but with the strip running between the other two corners.
Cells 1 and 2

I start off casting about, not really knowing what I want.

One kumiko square, with three strips originating in the lower left corner, and splaying out upward and rightward to subdivide the rest of the square evenly.
Cell 3

Until an idea takes hold! Let's expand it!

Three kumiko squares. The leftmost is divided in half by a strip from the upper left to the lower right corner. The lower left is further divided by strips forming an X shape. The upper right is divided in two by a strip running from the upper right corner to the middle of the largest strip in the square. The middle square almost looks like a mirror image of the left square, but instead of an X, the lower area contains a Y shape. The rightmost square mirrors the pattern again, but this time both upper and lower triangles contain Y shapes.
Cells 4, 5, 6

What if I try this? Oh, or I could alter that bit in this way? What if I did it all that way?

A kumiko square that looks very similar to cell 5, but the division by a single piece in the upper left triangle has been replaced by two pieces in an inverted V shape, forming three smaller triangles.
Cell 7

No, a step back, this should be that way.

A kumiko square that is a large X formed by four strips, each starting in a different corner of the square, and all meeting in the middle.
Cell 8

No, wait. This has gotten off-course.

A kumiko square that introduces a fifth piece in the middle of the cell, making it look like the X of the previous cell had been stretched vertically in the center.
Cell 9

Hmmm ...

A kumiko square containing four strips that form a skewed lattice of their own, with a diamond-shapped opening in the middle.
Cell 10

Bear with me here.

A kumiko square containing four strips that form a square rotated 30 degrees, and surrounded by four equal triangles.
Cell 11

What if I ...

A kumiko square containing four tiny strips that form a square, plus four more tiny strips that connect the corners of the larger square to the smaller square.
Cell 12

... just made the thing, as expected? In this specific case, a mitered picture frame!

But look closer at the final cell. More pieces than any other square. Tiny ones. Some with cuts not seen in any other. Story level three - the script actually went this way:

A view of the whole frame. An arrow from left to right along the bottom is labeled, 'Ever increasing complexity'. An arrow from bottom to top along the right side is labeled, 'Stop,' at the X in cell 8, 'think!' at the stretched X in cell 9, and 'There must be a harder way.' along cells 10, 11, and 12.
Stop, think! There must be a harder way.

So a story-within-a-story, a joke to myself about my project process, ready to hang on my wall and give me a little jab in the ribs next time I'm stopping to think.

There are too many other details to write about in one post, and I'm failing to capture every aspect in a single photograph, so here are a couple more without comment (beyond alt-text):


1 I am not of the culture that developed the art of kumiko. I am appropriating the shapes and processes for my own use. As such, it would be more accurate to refer to this work simply as "wood lattice", since beyond the physical structure, its shapes share no intentional links with the culture of kumiko. But to acknowledge the art it is derived from, and to leave a breadcrumb trail for others who would like to learn it as well, I still use the word "kumiko" to describe it.

Categories: Woodworking