In response to several requests, I’ve added instructions for the color set-ups for almost all the braids shown in photos. Some additional color set-ups for square braids can be found in a more recent post (click here).
At the very end of this post is a section on color ideas — a few hints and tricks for coming up with good color combos for braids.
It’s really fun to try out different color patterns in a braid. A little 7-year old at one of our regular music campouts used to spend hours at our camp every day making 3-loop braids, and for each one the color combination was a big deal—she would pick it out quickly, but then dwell on, admire, and talk about it before, during and after the braiding process.
It was very funny to listen to, because it was essentially no different from many of my own (more interior) monologues when I’m braiding…
My square and flat braid tutorials don’t have much info about color patterning, so this post is an attempt to fill some of that in.
I’ll show the color set-ups for some nice color patterns for square and flat braids, but mainly I want to explain how to set up the loops on your fingers to get any particular color order you want in your braid. [Skip straight to the loop/color order for square and flat braids here]
By the way, it’s not at all necessary to plan your color-layouts in a particular order—this is just for fun, for those who enjoy planning and experimenting with color-patterns. Randomness works too! You’ll get great braided patterns just by picking out some colors you like and loading them on your fingers in random order.
Square, flat and 3/4-flat braids of 5 loops:
(braiding moves are taught in the 5-loop tutorial).
The first 3 braids in the photo below are square, flat and 3/4-flat, and are made with pink, pink, gray, white, black loops—in that order. It’s a circular, repeating order. You could also describe it as pink, gray, white, black, pink, or start with the white or the gray loop. (see set-up below)
The middle two braids are a square and a flat braid made with bicolor loops—each loop having one blue and one yellow shank, same starting set-up of colors for both braids, described below.
The three braids on the right are made with 4 bicolor loops of orange+white, plus one single-color black loop (braids are square, flat, and 3/4-flat, all with the same initial color arrangement on the hands).
All are five-loop braids (braiding method taught here).
The descriptions below tell you which colors to put on which fingers at the start of braiding, for each color pattern.
Fingers: A = index, B = middle, C = ring
The three pink and black braids:
5 loops—1 gray, 1 white, 1 black, and 2 pink.
Left hand: A pink, B pink, C gray
Right: A white, B black.
Depending on how you braid, the result will be:
(left to right) a square braid, a flat braid, or a 3/4-flat braid (overly-tightened flat braid)
See tutorial for the braiding methods for all three.
The two yellow and blue braids:
5 loops, all bicolor yellow/blue
Left A, B, C yellow shanks all uppermost
Right A, B blue shanks all uppermost
Left braid is square: right braid is flat
The three orange, white, black braids:
1 black loop, 4 bicolor orange/white loops)
Left A and B: orange up and white down; C black
Right A, B: white up and orange down
(left to right) a square braid, a flat braid, or a 3/4-flat braid (overly-tightened flat braid)
For the exact pattern of the two flat orange/black/white braids (“Kaitlyn’s Pattern”):
You must do the single turned transfer on the left hand loops, the way I teach flat braids in my 5-loop tutorial. If you did the single turned transfer on the right hand’s loops instead, you would still get a flat braid, but the color pattern would be a bit different. (This is only because of the bicolor loops; turning on the left vs. the right wouldn’t matter if there were no bicolor loops in the braid.)
A square braid with single-color loops will show chevron patterns on the two sides, and alternating “zigs,” for lack of a better term, on the top and bottom surfaces (see chevrons on pink square braid, black zigs on orange square braid—on the sides of the braid these ‘zigs’ connect to form the chevrons).
On a flat braid with single-color loops (like all the loops in the flat pink braid, and the one single-color black loop in the flat orange and white braid), there will be central chevrons, with a slanting pattern on the outer edges. 3/4-flat braids are missing one central column of the fully flat braid (it’s hidden under the one visible center column)—this makes a big difference to the color pattern. See more info about 3/4-flat braids in the 5-loop tutorial.
Braids made with bicolor loops are another story—they have a wider range of color patterns. Square ones can have simple lengthwise columns of color, as in the two above (the orange/white/black, and the blue/yellow square braids), or much busier patterns, depending on how you set up the loops before you start braiding.
Counting the pattern-repeat:
In a 5-loop braid, all the loops will return to the same fingers after 5 braiding cycles. (A cycle of braiding is one repeat of all the braiding moves—on both hands—so 5 cycles of braiding equals 10 loop-transfers/main moves). That will usually make one full pattern-repeat on your braid—after which the same sequence of colors will repeat itself down the braid. In the pink braids above left, you can count this 5-strand color repeat down any of the vertical columns. (Click the photo to enlarge it and see the individual strands.)
Bicolor loops are a different case—i.e. where two yarn colors are tied together into one loop. The color pattern of the bicolor blue-yellow square braid above has a one-row (one-cycle) repeat. The flat version beside it has a doubly-long pattern repeat of 10 full braiding cycles (20 loop-transfers), as do the two rightmost orange/white/black braids.*
You’ll see the pattern repeat itself very clearly if you make a 2-color braid with 4 dark loops and one bright contrast-color loop. Watching that one contrast-color loop make its way around all your fingers will give you a good feel for 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 recently discovered 17th C. loop-braiding manuscript called “The Nun’s Book” describes a thick-thin 6-loop square braid (the Rose Breed).
Seven-loop braids (tutorial here):
These usually have a 7-cycle pattern repeat (7 cycles = 14 loop transfers).
Most of the wool braids below are 7-loop square or flat braids, made out of fairly thin weaving yarn. Being wool, they are already fuzzy, which is not helping the bad photo!
A few of these braids have all single-color loops, but most have a mix of bicolor and single-color loops.
Fingers: A = index, B = middle, C = ring, D = little finger
The pink-grey-blue square braid in the center has blue chevrons from 3 single-color loops (blue, light blue, blue). Its other 4 loops are each bicolor (pink + gray). This “chevrons with vertical bicolor stripes” is one of my favorite types of color-patterns for square braids.
Left: A,B,C,D all bicolor (pink shanks up and gray shanks down).
Right: A blue, B light blue, C blue
Square braid—all transfers turned.
[note: my Bracelet with Chevrons tutorial teaches this pattern.]
Blue, white and brown square braid to its left is another one of my favorite square braid color patterns. It can only be made with 8 loops, which requires using the thumb of one hand to hold a loop, as in 9-loop braids. (Check that tutorial for correct way to shift loops to the thumb, and how to tell which is the “upper” shank of a thumb loop. Shown in photos as well as in the video.)
4 white loops, 2 blue loops, 2 brown loops
Left: A and B white; C and D blue
Right: A and B white; C and D brown
Square braid. First move is to shift Right loops up one position – to Thumb, A, B, C so right D finger can be the operator for the first transfer.
Here’s a close version of that brown, white, blue braid but with only 7 loops (no thumbs):
3 white loops, 2 blue loops, 2 brown loops
Left: A and B white; C and D blue
Right: A white; B and C brown
Orange, black, and white flat braid further right—“Kaitlyn’s pattern”
1 black loop, 6 bicolor orange/white loops
Left: A black.
All other loops, both hands: bicolor with the same color up.
Flat braid—only the loops on the LEFT hand are transferred with a turn (or the pattern will not be as shown)
On the right side of the photo, the first braid has same pattern with different colors: red instead of black and brown instead of orange. (Not a good shot of this braid, hard to see the pattern)
1 red loop, 6 brown/white bicolor loops
The blurry black, white, and gold square braid towards the left side is another ‘chevrons over bicolor stripes’ pattern of 7 loops.
2 gold loops, 5 bicolor black/white loops.
Left A, B gold; C, D bicolor (black up)
Right A,B,C bicolor (white up)
square braid, all transfers turned
To its right is a version with only one single-color loop:
1 red loop, 6 bicolor white/light brown loops
Red loop can be on any finger.
Left hand: bicolor loops white up/ brown down
Right hand: bicolor loops brown up/ white down
Oops! I was wrong about this braid, sorry! I assumed it was one of the 7-loop braids, but it’s actually an 11-loop square braid of fine linen, with 2 consecutive red loops, not one. However the setup above that I crossed out does produce a nice braid with a similar look.
Here’s the correct set-up for the 11-loop braid:
2 red loops, 9 bicolor white/light brown loops
Left: Thumb and A red. B, C, D-low, D-high all bicolor (white up)
Right: Thumb, A, B, C, D all bicolor (brown up)
2nd braid from right is a flat 7-loop braid.
1 black, 2 purple, 2 dark blue, 1 light blue, 1 off-white loop.
Left: A black, B,C purple, D dark blue
Right: A dark blue, B light blue, C off-white
3rd braid from right is flat, with color-linking to keep the purple and gray colors in separate columns:
5 bicolor purple/gray loops, 2 orange loops.
Left: A,B orange C,D bicolor (purple up)
Right: three bicolor loops (purple up)
Flat braid, but each time a loop is to be turned, turn it twice, ie give the loop a 360º turn instead of a 180º turn. With this double turn, the purple shanks should always be in the upper position on fingers. (for a contrasting zig-zag section, turn loops the normal way, a 180º turn, for several cycles).
4th braid from right (pink and grey “M”-shaped zigzags) is an 8-loop flat braid that was called Lace Dawns, or Daunce in the 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts. Link goes to my tutorial for this braid. Requires using the thumb of one of the two hands.
(The classic method doesn’t require using thumbs, instead it requires making several extra moves. See other loop braiding sites for those directions.)
Here’s another humble little wool square braid with different colors, but the same pattern of chevrons+bicolor stripes as the first 7-loop pattern above. The only difference is that in this braid, the lengthwise stripes switch sides in each section (the first video in my Bracelets with Chevrons tutorial shows how to do that).
Reproducing a braid’s pattern
It can be fun to set loop colors up on your fingers at random to make a braid, but if you like that random braid pattern and you want to reproduce it later, or maybe try it with different colors, you have to know how to set the colors up in the right order on your fingers to get that particular order of colors in the braid.
The simplest way is to make a note to yourself of the color order on your fingers each time you make a braid. Even if you forgot to do this at the beginning of a braid, you can still do it while you’re in progress, once you see that it’s going to be an interesting color pattern. Just push the loops back up to your knuckles, close to the palms of your hands (for safekeeping) and jot down which loops are on which fingers:
L: A white, B white, C white, D black
R: A red, B red, C black
L and R mean left hand/ right hand–see my diagram for the finger codes. That’s all there is to it—after you finish braiding you can add the date and a note to remind yourself which braid this was. (For any bicolor loops be sure to also note down which of the two colors is in upper position on the finger.)
Don’t worry if the colors you see on your fingers seem to be in a different order than you remember starting out with. The circular order among the loops stays the same as you braid, but they shift onto different fingers with each cycle of braiding. Any of those 5 or 7 arrangements of loops on the fingers will work as the set-up position for making the same braid pattern.
Below is another possible set-up for the exact same braid pattern, which is a little easier to write down:
L: A black, B red, C red, D black
R: A, B, C all white
The lower of the 2 braids below is how this 7-loop pattern turns out when braided as a square braid. I should have twisted the braid slightly for the photo to show the front side as well—this braid pattern looks great from all sides, has a rather heraldic parti-colored look on the front and back:
Above it is a 9-loop square braid with a similar color pattern, though more white than red. (two more white loops than the 7-loop braid.)**
But what if you have a color pattern idea for something you haven’t tried yet, and don’t have instructions for? Say for example that you want to line up very close shades of blue, from light to dark, so the colors seem to meld together.
The colors in any column of the braid will line up in the same order that the loops rotate onto each of your fingers as you braid. For 5 and 7-loop square and flat braids, here is that order:
Loop #1: left A-finger (index) loop. This loop will be the first to move from the left to the right hand.
Loop #2: left B-finger (middle). As you continue braiding, this will be the second loop to “jump off” the A-finger over to the other hand. In the finished braid, this color will always be immediately after the color of loop #1.
Loop #3 will be the third loop to leave the left hand’s A-finger. Currently it is on the left C-finger (ring).
Loop #4 : Number 4 is either the left D-loop (little finger)—or, when there is no loop on the left D-finger, #4 is the loop on the right hand’s A-finger (index finger). Even though it’s on the right hand! By the time its turn to make that jump comes round, it will be back on the left hand’s A-finger.
Loop sequence for a V-fell square or flat braid: (“V-fell” is the loop braiding technique I teach on this blog for making square and flat braids. See further below for the A-fell loop order)
Left A, B, C, (D), followed by Right A, B, C, (D)
This will be followed in the braid by Left A, B, C etc.
(keeps repeating down the braid)
In the braid, the color that lines up just under the color your little finger (or other lowest loop) is holding will be the color on the index finger of the other hand—the highest loop of the other hand. (This might be the thumb loop if you are braiding with more than 7 loops.) That’s how the loops follow each other in the braid itself.
If you know the color-order you want in your braid, follow the sequence above in placing the loops onto your fingers at the start of braiding. In each column of your braid, the colors will follow each other in that order.
Say you want to set up for a 7-loop braid of light-to-dark blues:
Put the lightest blue loop on the left index, or A-finger.
Then keep loading slightly darker loops onto B, then C, and then D.
The next-darker blue loop goes on the right hand’s A-finger.
You might keep going with darker blues all the way to a midnight blue on the last loop.
Or you might want to make the last loop or two a contrast color like gold or red…Or maybe you want a gradation of 4 light-to-dark blues followed by a gradation of 3 light-to-dark yellows… etc etc!
Once you know the loop sequence on your fingers, you can plan any color sequence you want. Also, you can look at a braid you’ve already made, and probably be able to figure out how to reproduce it—just count the colors down any of the 4 vertical columns (ridges) of the braid, and then mount those loops onto your fingers in the order I show above.
(Planning gets more complicated when you use bicolor loops. A bicolor loop’s two colors will alternate at every point in the braiding cycle where the loop is turned. When planning color-patterns with bicolor loops, be prepared for surprises!)
9 and 11-loop braids’ color-order
Left: Thumb, A, B, C, D, (D-high)
Right: Thumb, A, B, C, D, (D-high)
For A-fell and Slentre square and flat braids, it’s the opposite order: D, C, B, A of one hand, followed by D, C, B, A of the other hand. For planning purposes that doesn’t make a big difference. If you used the V-fell order to set up an A-fell braid, the color pattern would just map onto the braid heading UP the braid instead of down the braid.
Double braids (2-worker braids), and other braids with more than 2 loop transfers per braiding cycle, do not necessarily rotate around the fingers in either the A or the V-fell order. The 7-loop Spanish braid of some of my earlier posts, for example has a very different loop sequence than an A- or V-fell braid. If you want a particular color-sequence in that braid, you’ll first need to figure out the order of the loop movements. [or see below] This is the order that the loops all rotate onto any one finger, or most visibly, the order in which they will move from one hand to the other. Each of the loops will follow each other and make that “jump” across from left to right in the same, constantly repeating order, including the loops that are currently on the right hand.
Color / loop sequence for the 7-loop Spanish braid (as taught on this blog—if you do the loop transfers in a different order than I do, the color sequence will probably be different, too.) This 7-loop braid is the component braid of the 14-loop Letter braid:
Ld (little finger), a, b; then Rd, c, a, b
Or, if you prefer to start counting with the Right hand’s loops:
Rd, c, a, b; then Ld, a, b
If you wanted to set up, say, a loop sequence of light-to-dark shades of blue as a color-pattern for this braid, you would follow the sequence above when placing the loops on your fingers at the start of braiding. So you would put the lightest blue on Left d, and then darker and darker loops on La, b, and Right d, c, a, b. The sequence is circular, so it is actually identical in both options above.
You don’t actually have to set your “first”/ lightest loop on a d-finger. Any finger can hold the first loop…But if you do start with one of the other fingers, the color order of the subsequent loops becomes much more confusing!
Here’s how the loops have to follow each other if you put your first (lightest) loop on the Left a-finger (the first loop that you’ll transfer, but not the first loop that will go over to the other hand):
Left a, b, Right d, c, a, b, Left d
The left hand would be holding the two lightest loops and the very darkest loop! To me it seems easier to start the sequence with the loop that will be the first one to move over to the other hand—in this braid, one of the d-loops. That way, you can load all the loops of one hand before thinking about the loops of the other hand.
Color / loop sequence for an 8-loop double braid—as taught on my blog (if you do the loop transfers in a different order than I teach, the loop order/ color order would be different, too):
1st: Lb (middle finger loop is first!),
2nd: a (index),
3rd: c (ring finger),
4th: d (little finger);
Followed by the same order of loops on the other hand:
5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th: Rb, a, c, d (middle, index, ring, little finger).
To illustrate the order listed above, here is Dan Gaiser’s photo of his 8-loop flat double braid bookmark, showing two different patterns, that he kindly allowed me to share. Here’s his note:
I started out with solid color loops, alternating blue, white, blue, white on one hand and all light blue-grey on the other. Somewhere along the way the order got switched and the whites were together. The accident made a nice braid.
Accidents make the best patterns! I like both patterns, myself, though in these fairly light colors the pattern with all the whites together works much better.
But Dan’s first pattern is a nice one too, where the dark blue section is outlined with white. Even though Dan put the loops on his fingers in what looked to him like alternating blue-white order, the actual order in the braid was:
white, blue, blue, white, followed by the 4 blue-grey loops from the other hand.
On the hands, that order would be set up with the first white on the left middle finger, the next color (blue) on the index finger, the next color (another blue) on the ring finger, and the 4th color (the last of the two whites) on the little finger. Followed by the 4 blue-grey loops on the right hand – since they’re all the same, you don’t have to worry about their order.
It may be easiest to start with the A (index) finger when loading loops onto the fingers, but bear in mind that the loop on the B-finger will come before it in the braid!
1) Starting set-up for Dan’s first pattern:
Left: A blue, B white, C blue, D white
Right: A, B, C, D blue-grey
The order on the left hand looks like alternating blue, white, blue, white. But in the braid the sequence is white, blue, blue, white, because the B-loop goes first, not the A-loop. (B is the first loop that will go over to the other hand, to be followed in the next successive cycle by the loop now on the A-finger).
2) Starting set-up for Dan’s second pattern:
Left: A and B blue, C and D white
Right: A, B, C, D: blue-grey
3) For an alternating blue-white-blue-white pattern, followed by a blue-grey section:
(not shown in photo)
Left: A white, B blue, C blue, D white
Right: A, B, C, D blue-grey
Thanks for sharing the braid, Dan!
Braids are SMALL compared to larger textiles, or paintings, clothing etc. This means that two different colors that are close in value (meaning just as light or dark as each other) will meld together and look almost like one color in the braid, even if they are very different colors. They might even be colors you’ve used together successfully many times in other art or craft projects–colors that stand out quite separately in a painting, quilt or weaving. In fact even a very light color with a medium color might not have enough contrast for the braid pattern to show clearly (or a very dark and a medium).
A braid with subtle, hard-to-see colors can be very beautiful! But it may initially surprise or disappoint you if you were expecting that the pink and light blue you used would be visible as separate colors in your braid. Or that a cool braid pattern would stand out in a light green and royal blue braid. (Later you might come to really appreciate the overall color effect of that braid, though! Pattern isn’t everything!)
When I started braiding, I was immediately fascinated by the patterns that I saw in the braids, and quickly learned to always use two or more colors that had a lot of contrast in value (very dark with very light), so the pattern would stand out. Which has probably held me back from experimenting with blending colors in braids. What always seemed like a sure-fire good combo was black, white, and a nice clear or bright color that contrasted well with both the black and the white.
Another color habit of mine is to lean toward using colors that are somewhat opposites on the color wheel. These are called “complementary” colors for some reason, even though they actually clash. This may NOT be to your taste! But to me a very light gold or yellow is a great contrast in a dark burgundy or purple braid, for instance. I’m kind of a nut for gold, actually—a shiny gold rayon can be a great contrast in a dark cotton braid of almost any color.
In braids of seven or more loops, I like to use two complementary colors that are rather close in value, separated by black, or white, or even black and white—something of a very different value that will set them off (see some examples in my bracelet with chevrons post).
Those color strategies work, but I also get tired of them! It’s always fun to break a color-habit and try something new, even though there’s usually a cost of a few duds to every winner…
I know that it sounds much more creative to look for new color combinations in nature, or art, but with braids I’ve found that a really good way to get new color ideas is to look at other people’s braids! (Or maybe other similarly narrow things—caterpillars?) I know this sounds very unoriginal, but actually I think it jolts me out of my ruts and opens my eyes to new possibilities.
I have gotten a lot of ideas for new color combinations from other braiders, including first-time braiders using yarn and colors I had provided—but putting them together in ways that never occurred to me.
I tend to assume that it just doesn’t work to use all close shades or values in a braid. Or to use a lot different colors in one braid…
Then along comes someone who puts together a wild rainbow braid and lo and behold it looks great! Or someone who puts several very subtle, close pale colors together and gets a shimmery, subtle braid like nothing I’ve made before.
Making a braid for someone whose favorite color is one you rarely use yourself is one way to stretch your color-appreciation. I’ve been participating in the Braid Society’s swaps and other activities—these sometimes have a color theme. “Black and white”/ “citrus”/ “just white”/ “rainbow girl” have been some recent color themes. Some of these have been a real stretch for me, yet ended up giving me new color ideas that I’ve used again and again.
Janis Saunders of BraidersHand and WeaversHand reminded me last month of a really good way to expand your color range: Try using a color that you think you hate. An “ugly” color can sometimes be fantastic in combination with another color or colors. (Try a pukey green with a contrasting pink.)
One of the things that I’ve been noticing lately in other people’s braids is how gorgeous a braid can be with subtle, close colors that merge together. Here’s an example:
It’s a kumihimo braid, not loop-braided, but that has nothing to do with why the colors work so well—that’s due to the aesthetic of the braider. The knotted finishings are beautiful, too.
These photos make me want to take a new look at my braiding materials and see if I can come up with some subtle color combos!
It might seem strange to suggest this in a post about color patterns, but it can also be very interesting to make a braid in one solid color. Particularly if it’s a lightish color, you’ll really notice the texture of the braid structure, and of the type of yarn or thread you use.
Both these braids are well-worn hat-strings. The tiny 9-loop tan-colored square braid in this photo is made out of linen shoemaker’s thread and I love the way it feels—it’s almost like quicksilver, incredibly light and supple. Linen braids are stiff until you wash them, then they are amazingly fluid and lively. It doesn’t come across well in this photo, but I also love the color. I think it may be the natural color of the linen. It sometimes looks brownish, sometimes greenish, and has a great luster. Linen is an amazing fiber for braids! totally alive, much more sensuous to me than silk. Hemp is similar, rougher-looking but has a wonderful bounce and softness after being washed. Always pretest linen and wool for color fastness before braiding with it. I usually prewash colored linen thread before braiding so it won’t bleed later and discolor the braid.
Another fun thing to try is an almost-one color braid with just one contrast-color loop. Or maybe one loop that is bicolor—with one shank the same color as the rest of the braid, and a contrast color for the other shank. In the same vein, if I’ve been making a lot of braids with bright colors it’s nice to shift gears and make some with just 2 natural, undyed-looking colors—a light and a dark shade.
I’d love to have a bigger gallery of color ideas for braids from readers. If you have links or pictures you’d like to share, please leave a note.
* For this type of flat bicolor braid, it takes 10 whole cycles (20 loop transfers), for the bicolor loops to return to the same fingers with the original shank-color facing up—the first time around the loop will come back to its starting position finger with the opposite shank-color facing up.
**This type of pattern is great for 7- and 9-loop square braids. It might not work as well with 11 loops. I find that one loop by itself—like these single black loops surrounded by other colors—can occasionally sink into an 11-loop square braid’s surface and briefly disappear, which makes the pattern a little spotty.
[Since making this blog post, I’ve noticed that my caveat above about 11-loop braids is not always true. It seems to depend on the type of yarn or thread—it’s mostly a problem with fine, thin, slippery thread like silk buttonhole twist, or fine linen, and especially when using a mix of fiber types. Most of the 11-loop square braids I’ve ever made have been with these types of thread! But in my 11-loop tutorial video’s braid, the single contrasting white loop never “disappeared”—stood out crisply throughout the braid. All the loops in that braid were of sport-weight mercerized cotton.]
© 2011–2014 Ingrid Crickmore
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