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:
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.
BTW—Don’t braid over the top of a table! It’s good for photographing the loops, but not for braiding. Off the edge is much better. Also, don’t worry if the loops seem kind of tangled or twisted at the very top of the loop bundle when you first start the braid. Just pull the first few braiding moves tight. Any initial “messy bits” will get covered up by the braid.
Part 2 (below) has more slow braiding practice and tips. If it’s too slow and ‘talky’ for you, skip ahead in the video—slide the little bubble below the screen forward—or skip down and check out my written tips and photos below the videos. Past the middle of the video I braid faster. Near the end of this second 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 at the end, but is also explained in the 2 videos further along in this post that demo making the flat, wide version of the 5-loop braid.
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!
~Photo tutorial for 5-loop square and flat braids~
Setting up your loops:
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.
See photos below for an easy way to tie this loop-bundle onto a fixed point before you start braiding. (I borrowed some of these photos from my bicolor loop magic tutorial, please ignore the 2-color loops that are knotted together at the bottom! Your five loops should each be a single, folded strand, as shown in the first video, with no knots at the bottom. Those knots might be a nuisance when you are first braiding–save bicolor loops for a little later.)
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 used to tie a long header cord onto the back of a kitchen chair, like the photo above. Or onto anything—a tree, drawer-handle, etc. That way works fine, but now I usually tie a short header cord into a loop and drop it onto the handle of a c-clamp fastened to the edge of a table. (I fasten the C-clamp upside-down, with the handle sticking up). That way the in-progress braid is easy to remove –I can just lift the header loop off the c-clamp, with no untying. I never braid over the top of a table except when taking photos and videos—it makes a good backdrop to show the loops, but it’s really a terrible position for braiding.
Flat, wide braid and a divided/split braid – 2 variations of this square braid:
My diagram and videos above show how to making a square braid. You can also make two other shapes, using almost the same braiding moves: A flat braid and a divided braid.
A flat braid will be twice as wide as the square braid, and thinner. The flat braid should look almost just like a square braid while you are braiding it. The difference is that the upper and lower layers of the braid are only connected along one side, instead of along both. So it might look folded lengthwise, or kind of cupped rather than square. Leave it this way while you are braiding. After it’s done, the braid can be opened (book-style) and spread out to be flat.
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 is a “3/4-flat” braid. It’s a nice shape, with a distinctively different look to the color-patterns than a truly flat braid, but it’s an indication that you are pulling too tightly, and should try loosening your tension when you braid, especially when trying for a flat braid.
(See the third and the last braids in my photo below, counting from the left edge—they are 3/4-flat versions of the flat braid on their left.)
A divided braid is like braiding two braids at the same time—you’re essentially still braiding a square braid, but letting it split into an upper layer and a lower layer: two small, flat, separate braids, one on top of the other. This is very useful for dividing your square or flat braid to form a loop or buttonhole at 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 require a new move: a different way of hooking the loop to take it off the index finger. With a divided braid you will use this new move for all the loop transfers. For a flat braid you will use it only on one side—say for all the loop transfers from the right hand, while using the move you already know on the left side of the braid. (I describe the new move below the following videos.)
The videos below show and explain both of these moves as I braid a short flat braid with a buttonhole-type loop at the top and bottom of the braid. The braid looks very different from the braids in the photo above because those braids were made with embroidery floss. In the following video, I used sport-weight yarn and then doubled it to make it even thicker, so the loops would show more clearly.
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. As long as your operator finger goes through the loop, it would even be ok to take the upper shank instead of the lower one—either way the loop wouldn’t turn over. But it’s better ergonomically to hook downwardly, since you’re already hooking downwardly for the original move.
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 (a straight/ open/ unreversed loop transfer) on one side of the braid, and the move you learned first (a turned/ crossed/ reversed loop transfer) on the other side of the braid. Use a mantra 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
If you tighten too hard, the braid doesn’t stay folded lengthwise while you are braiding. Instead, it is forced open and compresses toward the center, which narrows the braid and makes it thicker along the midline.
Try not to pull hard on your loops (and never yank or jerk them, that causes uneven tightening). It may look as though I’m pulling hard on my loops in the videos, but I’m not at all. I do spread the loops all the way apart so there’s a straight line of loops between one hand and the other, but even when I’m braiding fast, the tension on the loops is light and gentle.
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.]
My 9-loop photo tutorial is a little more detailed than this one—has more photos of the braiding steps, and explains some things about the basic V-fell 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 at the bottom of the page! Spiral braids are great braids, really beautiful and fun and easy to learn—I have videos for them but nothing written up in a post, just go to the bottom of my tutorials page to find the links to those videos. (Including left-handed versions—the spiral braids are “handed,” unlike these square braids).
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, and I’ll put it in this post –it would be really good to have more photos here… (leave a note under ‘comments’ and I’ll email you.) There are many color pattern possibilities plus different yarns/threads (ribbons?) that can be used to make very different-looking braids. Also mixing different types of yarn–thick and thin/ dull and shiny etc can have interesting effects. I’ve haven’t tried very much of this, and would like to do more…
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 article I know on it is in Strands, issue 16, 2009—Strands being the yearly print journal of the Braid Society. The article was by Noémi Speiser, entitled: The Nun’s Book, 2008.67.1, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, UK.
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.