Fingerloop braiding with 5 loops is easy to learn and can make a wide variety of braids. Above are just a few variations of square and flat five-loop braids. The loop braiding method I teach can easily be extended up to 7 and 9-loop square and flat braids, which are bigger and have even more color-pattern possibilities (see my other tutorials)
NEW: For an even easier intro to loop braiding, see my more recent tutorial on 3-loop braids, —Strong, pretty cords and flat braids, that are super-fast to make…Eight- and nine-year-olds can learn these with adult help.
The diagram below outlines the basic 5-loop method, click on it once, and then once again to enlarge it to full size:
For tips on how to make your bundle of loops for braiding, see my photos just below the videos—I don’t spell this out in the videos themselves.
The video below shows the loop set-up, demos the braiding moves for a square braid very slowly, gives tips for trouble-shooting and for efficient ways to hold the loops.
(If it’s too slow for you, try following my 7-loop video, but using only 5 loops. That video moves a bit faster.)
Btw—don’t braid over the top of a table, off the edge is much better. (See other ideas below the videos.) I just do this in the videos because the table makes a good background.
Also, when you first start the braid, don’t worry if the loops are somewhat tangled or twisted at the very top. That very first part will not show after the braid starts developing. If it is extreme, it’s easier to fix after the braid is done—you just untie that initial knot, shake/comb out the twists, and retie the knot.
The other videos give more tips, and also show how to make a flat, wide, ribbonlike version of this square braid, using almost the exact same method, just one small difference.
Part 2 (below) has more slow braiding practice and general braiding tips. If it’s too slow and ‘talky’ for you, slide the little bubble below the screen to skip ahead. Or skip down below the video and check out my written tips and photos, and the flat braid videos.
At the end of this video, I start to show how to divide the braid into two little braids for making a loop at the end of the braid. This got cut off, but is also explained in the videos on making a flat, wider, ribbon-like version of the braid further along in this tutorial.
[You can also start a braid this way, to have a loop at the top of the braid, or to have a loop at both ends.]
Setting up your loops—photo tutorial:
Cut 5 double-length strands, fold each one in half and tie all the ends together in an overhand knot. Experiment with colors. The braids can look very different depending on the color set-up of the loops. Smooth cotton yarn or string is probably the easiest material to braid with. My 3-loop tutorial gives several suggestion and links for good yarn for 3 and 5-loop braids. I make most of the samples on this blog with embroidery floss, but that’s fairly thin for 3 and 5-loop braids, so I usually teach and make videos using something thicker. (“Too thin” just means it would take longer to finish the same length braid, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it.)
See photos below for an easy way to tie this loop-bundle onto a fixed point before you start braiding:
In the photos, please ignore the knots at the bottom of the loops! Your five loops should each be a single, folded strand with no knots at the bottom. Those knots might get in the way when you are first braiding. (They are used with bicolor loops)
You can tie onto anything available. Best if it’s between waist and shoulder height, and gives you enough room to extend your arms all the way out to the sides.
I usually use a short header cord tied into a loop, and hang it over the handle of an upside-down C-clamp (G-clamp) clamped onto the edge of a table. I never braid over the top of a table except in the videos—it makes a good backdrop to show the loops, but it’s a terrible position for braiding.
Flat, wide braid and a divided/split braid—2 variations of this square braid:
My first videos above showed how to make a square braid. You can also make two other types of braids with these same braiding moves: A flat braid and a divided braid.
A ‘divided’ braid is like braiding two little braids at the same time. It’s how you form a loop or buttonhole in your braid. It’s also a first step to learn before making a flat braid.
A flat braid will be twice as wide as the square braid, and thinner. It might not look all that different while you are braiding it. But, after it’s done, the braid can be opened (book-style) and spread out to be flat. That’s because the upper and lower layers of the braid were only connected along one edge, whereas the square braid’s upper and lower layers are connected along both edges.
Or, if you are over-tightening your flat braid, it may braid in a more squished-together shape, rather than folded in half. In this case, the braid will end up less flat and wide, and will have more of an oval cross-section when it is done. I call this outcome a “3/4-flat” braid. It’s actually a nice shape, with its own distinctive color patterns (see photos). However, it is an indication that you are pulling too tightly, and in general should loosen your tension when you braid, except for when you are specifically trying to get a 3/4 flat braid.
My photo below shows two 3/4-flat braids (the third pink and black one, and the third orange and black one).
Pulling tightly is not a good way to braid! Square braids come out too constricted, and the “flat” ones won’t be flat. Plus it is hard on your fingers and your whole body. It’s probably my fault—I notice that in the videos I spread the loops apart too often (while thinking about what to say and show next!) and it looks as if I’m trying to pull them really tight. It’s actually a very gentle pull—wide, but not hard.
A divided braid is like braiding two braids at the same time—useful for braiding a loop or buttonhole into one or both ends of your braid. To close the loop back up, you return to the braiding moves for a square (or flat) braid.
Flat and divided braids both require a new move: a slightly different way to take the loop off the index finger. For a divided braid you do this on both the left and right sides. For a flat braid you do it only on the right side, while on the left side you do the regular move that you learned first. (I describe the new move below the following videos demoing it.)
In the videos below, I’m braiding a flat braid with a buttonhole-type loop at the top and the bottom of the braid. The flat braid in this video is much bulkier than the ones in the photo above, because I used thicker yarn, and then doubled it to make it even thicker. Other than that (and having different loop-colors), they are the same.
Flat variation of the 5-loop square braid:
Flat variation, Part 2 (below)—shows finishing the braid with a loop/ buttonhole at the bottom, and explains how to avoid the 3/4-flat version and get “fully flat” braids.
Instead of hooking onto the index loop from above the loop, the operator finger will go THROUGH the index loop before taking it, then hook down onto the lower shank, and pull the loop off the index finger. This ensures that the loop does not turn over as it passes onto its new finger. For this new move, it’s really important to go through the index loop before taking it.
For a divided braid, do this on both the left and right sides of the braid. After a few cycles, you’ll see a divided braid forming. Keep braiding this way til the slit is as long as you want it. To close up your loop or buttonhole, return to taking the upper shank of the index loop from above the loop as you first learned (and most importantly, do not stick the operator finger through the loop before taking it!) Taking the upper shank from above gives the loop a half-turn as it moves onto its new finger.
For a flat braid, do the new move on one side of the braid, and the move you learned first (for making a square braid) on the other side of the braid. Use a mantra while you braid to remind yourself which side is which. Something like “Left over, Right through” or whatever makes more sense to you.
Flat braids vs. 3/4-flat braids:
During braiding, the flat braid should actually look almost exactly like a square braid, or perhaps look sort of strangely rounded and cupped into a C-shape. This is normal—you will open the braid out width-wise and spread it flat after braiding.
However, if you are pulling the loops too hard, you will get a less-flat, less-wide braid. I call that braid a “3/4 flat” braid—it’s the third shape of two of the braids in my photo. It’s halfway between a square braid and a flat braid in width, and a little thicker in the center where 2 lengthwise columns have telescoped on top of each other from being braided too tightly.*1
For a 5-loop braid, all the loops will come back to the same fingers after every 5 braiding cycles (=10 loop transfers). That will make one full pattern-repeat on your braid—after that the same sequence of colors will repeat itself.
You’ll see this very clearly if you make a 2-color braid of 4 dark or dull loops with one bright contrast color loop. Watching that one contrast-color loop make its way around all your fingers can give you a good sense of what’s going on when you braid. It also makes a nice braid pattern. You might try it with a shiny contrast yarn of a completely different type of yarn. Or a contrast-color yarn that’s thicker than the other yarns. A 6-loop square braid of mixed thick and thin yarn is recorded in one of the 17th C. braiding manuscripts—the braid was called “the Rose Breed” (it’s in the Nun’s Book.)**2
If you are interested in making more varieties of color patterns, I highly recommend learning 7-loop square and flat braids. Two more loops = four more braiding elements, which allows a lot more color-pattern possibilities than in a 5-loop braid. Also check out my Bicolor loop tutorial. A bicolor loop is half one color and half another color. Using bicolor loops instead of—or along with—loops of a single color increases the color-pattern possibilities exponentially, which is why bicolor loops have been used all over the world for loop braiding. My tutorial will show you some tricks for using them effectively.
If you want to learn what order to place colors on your fingers to get a specific color order in your braid, check out my color-pattern planning post. This information is not strictly necessary in order to make nice color patterns! You can also just pick out some nice colors and go ahead and braid—you will get great unplanned color patterns that way.
[For 5-loop braids, I would say that of these two, the bicolor loop tutorial might be more rewarding than the color-planning one. Five loops is few enough that just by picking out some nice colors and randomly experimenting with them you can quickly get all the possible (single-color-loop) color-patterns. But with bicolor loops, there are some striking-looking color patterns that you might not happen to stumble on.]
Move on to 7-loop square and flat braids as soon as you’ve made a few 5-loop braids and are used to their moves. 7-loop braids are even more satisfying—bigger, and with more color pattern possibilities!
My 9-loop photo tutorial has photos of the actual braiding steps, and explains some things about the basic procedure (plus tips for good tension, etc) that hold for any number of loops…
See my Tutorials page for links to all my loop braiding tutorials. Don’t miss the Spiral braid video tutorial links—they are a bit hidden, down at the bottom of the page. Spiral braids are great braids, really beautiful and fun and easy to learn. I just have videos posted for them, nothing written up here on the blog, except for a paragraph or so on that tutorials page about making other color patterns than the spiral one.
If you have pics of any 5-loop braids you have made, please send them! You can either leave a link to your photo in the comments section, or email the photo to me as an attachment (the ‘contact’ form in the top menu doesn’t allow attachments, but I’ll reply with an address you can use). I’d love to feature more 5-loop braid photos on this blog! There is such a broad variety of possible color patterns and also effects from using different types of yarn, threads, ribbons, with both square and flat braids.
Please leave a note to say hi! And definitely leave one if you find mistakes or if anything is unclear, I’ll answer as soon as I can—I can either take more pics or make a quick video if that will help.
I would love to hear about what you are making/ what your craft interests are. I would also love to see a pic of any braids you make from this tutorial (and post them here if you agree)!
Leave a note under ‘comments’ on any post, or send me an email on my contact page.
*1. I’ve found that the 3/4-flat braid is a very common outcome when I first teach someone how to make a flat braid. I finally realized that this is my own fault—it’s because of the way I stress how important the tightening move is! The new braiders get the mistaken impression that they should pull really hard when they tighten, when what I am really trying to get them to do is to spread the loops apart widely—all the way into a straight line from one hand to the other (but not with excessive force and pulling). That will make the braid pattern neat and crisp, without strangling the braid. In a square braid, tightening too hard isn’t a big problem, though it can give you sore fingers and a rather constricted braid. But for a flat braid, tightening too hard means you will always get a 3/4 flat braid rather than a fully flat one. Just compare your braids to the examples above, and try to adjust your tightening move so you can produce either the fully-flat or the 3/4-flat braid.
For a fully flat braid, make sure the braid stays in a square or C-shape while you are braiding. Don’t pull the loops extremely hard, just evenly and widely, and repeat/ “rock” this arc a couple of times without jerking the loops. If you do open up the folded braid before it’s finished, to peek at how it will look (I always do this myself!), be sure to fold and squeeze it back into a square or c-shape before you continue braiding.
To me the tightening move really is the most important braiding move, as it’s the move that has the most effect on how the finished braid will turn out…It should be done evenly and with a gently firm touch. At a recent workshop, one of the participants suggested that I not even use the word “tighten” for this move, or the equally forceful-sounding “beat the fell” (the equivalent weaving term). She thought “snugging up the loops” would be a better way to describe the move so that she and others wouldn’t interpret it as “pull the loops as hard as you can!”
**2. The Nun’s Book is a more recently discovered 17th C loop braiding manuscript. The only in-depth article on it is in Strands, issue 16, 2009—Strands being the yearly print journal of the Braid Society. The article is by Noémi Speiser, entitled: The Nun’s Book, 2008.67.1, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, UK. It is not available online. (some textile-oriented libraries may have a copy, as well as some weaving guild libraries – if you belong to a guild, check with them.) The article includes beautiful color photos from many of the original manuscript pages, and describes all the braids except the letterbraid. It also has directions for a few, including the “Rose Breed”.
The Nun’s Book “Rose Breed” braid was a square braid of 6 loops: 3 thick loops (white, red, green) and 3 much thinner yellow loops. (Breed or bread or breadth in the 17th C manuscripts apparently meant braid.)
The 17th C. directions for making this braid are very unclear, but do stipulate starting with 3 loops of yellow on one hand—proved by the enclosed swatch to be of much thinner thread; and on the other hand, one white, one red (pink in the attached swatch), and one green loop.
Like many other 17th C braid descriptions, the “directions” were pretty useless. Noémi Speiser figured out that the attached braid sample was a square braid (both transfers turned). She writes that the thicker loops are almost 3 times as thick as the yellow loops, and swell out like rosebuds along a yellow stem.—I think I would switch the yellow and the green, myself! seems a little odd to have yellow stems, but maybe the overall color-effect is pretty.
© 2011–2014 Ingrid Crickmore
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