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 “Start Here!” tutorial didn’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 a couple of nice color patterns, 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 (V-fell) braids here )
Square, flat and 3/4-flat braids of 5 loops:
(explained 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 doesn’t matter which color you start with, though…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. The middle two braids are a square and a flat braid made with bicolor loops—each loop has one blue and one yellow shank, same starting set-up of colors for both braids. (see my bicolor loop tutorial for several other color patterns for square braids.)
The rightmost three braids (square, flat, and 3/4-flat) are made with 4 bicolor loops of orange and white, plus one single-color black loop (same initial color set-up for all three).
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—this subtraction makes a big difference to the color pattern (see explanation for 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 vertical color bands, as in the two above (the orange/white, and blue/yellow square braids), as well as various busier patterns, depending on how you arrange the loops onto the fingers before you start braiding.
Counting the pattern-repeat:
In a 5-loop braid, all the loops will come back to the same fingers after every 5 braiding cycles (=10 loop transfers). 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 on images to enlarge.)
Bicolor loops are a different case—i.e. where two yarn colors are tied together into one loop. The color pattern of the blue-yellow square braid above has a one-row (one-cycle) repeat. The flat and 3/4 flat bicolor loop braids have a doubly-long pattern repeat of 10 full braiding cycles.*
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 similar thick-thin 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! (For some reason my camera focused on the wood grain instead of the braids in all these photos.)
A few of these braids have all single-color loops, but most have a mix of bicolor and single-color loops. The blue-pink-grey 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.
[note: I just posted a tutorial for this color pattern— Bracelet with Chevrons. I'm also planning to make a mini-tutorial for the color-pattern of the orange, black, and white flat braid next to it—'Kaitlyn's pattern' ]
The blurry black, white, and gold braid towards the left side is also a ‘chevrons over bicolor stripes’ pattern. It has gold chevrons from 2 single-color gold loops, followed by 5 bicolor black/white loops.
Here’s another humble little wool square braid with the chevrons+bicolor stripes. (its mid-section is wonky from having been tied around something.) One little difference is that the colors of the bicolor columns switch in each section (the first video in my Bracelets with Chevrons tutorial shows how to do that).
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 black, B red, C red, D black
R: A white, B white, C white
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.
The lower of the 2 braids below is how this 7-loop pattern turns out when braided as a square braid:
Above it is a 9-loop version with a very similar color pattern. It has 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? Maybe you want “rainbow color order” in your braid (I have the Braid Society’s current Swap theme on my brain!). Or maybe you want to line up very close shades of blue, from light to dark, in your braid’s chevrons, so the colors seem to meld together… (this makes a nice braid pattern, but requires having a lot of close shades of one color.)
The colors in each lengthwise column of the braid will line up in the following order—which is the same order that the loops rotate onto each of your fingers as you braid.
Loop #1: Somewhat arbitrarily, I always start counting at the loop that will be the first to move from the left to the right hand. For a V-fell square or flat braid that first loop will be the left A-finger (index finger) loop.
Loop #2 in the color sequence is the loop that will be the second one to “jump off” the A-finger of that same hand. That’s the loop that is currently on the left B-finger. (finger codes are shown in this diagram)
Loop #3 is the loop that will be the third loop to leave the left hand’s A-finger, which currently is on the C-finger.
Loop #4 : This might be the left D-loop (little finger loop)—but if there is no loop on the left D-finger, then #4 is the loop on the right hand’s A-finger. Even though it is currently already on the right hand, it will be on the left hand’s A-finger by the time its turn in this sequence comes round.
#5, 6, 7 follow in the same manner: B, C, (D) of the second hand. Again, this hand’s lowest loop will be followed by the other hand’s A-loop, loop #1.
Loop sequence for a V-fell square or flat braid: (the type of square braid I teach on this blog)
This is the order you should follow in placing loops onto your fingers at the start of braiding. The colors will line up down your braid in this order!
Left A, B, C, (D), followed by Right A, B, C, (D), followed by Left A, B, C, (D), etc., etc… (keeps repeating down the braid)
Always remember that the next loop after the d-finger (or other lowest loop) will be the loop on the a-finger of the other hand—the highest loop of the other hand. (For a braid of more than 7 loops, the highest loop is the thumb loop.)
It actually doesn’t matter which finger you choose to call “#1″. Any loop could be called the “first” loop, as long as the color-sequence you want on your braid is loaded onto your fingers in the circular order listed above… I just find it simplest to start the sequence with the first loop that will move over to the other hand.
So, for setting up a light-to-dark-blue braid of 7 loops: if you’ve started out by putting the lightest blue loop on the left index, or A-finger, just keep loading slightly darker ones onto B, then C, and then D. The next-darker blue loop should be put onto the right hand’s A-finger. You might keep going with darker and darker blues all the way to a midnight blue on the last loop (which in this case will be on the right C-finger), or you might want to make the last loop 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!
Now that you know the loop sequence on your fingers, you can plan any color sequence you want. And 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 mount them onto your fingers in the order I show above.
For A-fell braiding, it’s the opposite order: D, C, B, A one hand, followed by D, C, B, A 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. (just counting in one direction—say from the left hand to the right hand). Each of the loops will follow each other and make that “jump” across from left to right in a set, constantly repeating order, including the loops that are currently on the right hand. Once you are used to making the braid, you should be able to figure out what that sequence is, note it down, and plan your color pattern based on that sequence. (Double braids do not necessarily all have the same loop-sequence. A difference in the number of loops, or in the order in which the loop transfers are made, can result in a different loop-sequence.)
Everything gets more complicated (and fun and surprising!) when you use bicolor loops. The loop color will alternate at every point in the braiding cycle where the loop is turned. Because of this, a full pattern repeat will sometimes be twice as long as in a braid that only has single-color loops.
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.
In fact you could put your “first”/ lightest loop on any of these fingers. But it might seem a little strange if you didn’t start with a d-finger!
Here’s how the loops follow each other if you start at the Left a-finger (the first loop that will be transferred, but not the first loop that will move to the other hand):
Left a, b, Right d, c, a, b, Left d
To me it seems more intuitive 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 will count all the loops on one hand before starting on the loops of the other hand.
(c) Ingrid Crickmore
I’ve found that a really good way to get ideas for colors and patterns is to look at other people’s braids! 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 like many different types of color combinations, but with braiding I tend to get stuck in certain ones. 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. Braids are so small compared to larger textiles, or paintings, clothing etc. I used to quilt, and I loved piecing together interesting and unusual color combinations. But with braids, I find I tend to stick to my tried-and-true color combos, and just assume that, say, close shades won’t work well together. Or that a “jumble” of many different colors won’t work, either. I guess it’s because I am so interested in the structure of braids, and a simple, but high-contrast color scheme tends to emphasize the structure. Then along comes a student who makes a wild rainbow braid and lo and behold I love it! Or one who puts several very subtle, close pale colors together and gets a shimmery, subtle braid like nothing I’ve made before. These have been great lessons for me (that I still have trouble remembering!).
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. This is something that I loved to do when I was into quilting/ piecing fabric (to me, combinations of just “pretty” colors are a little boring in quilts).
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 were easy for me and others were a real stretch—”just white”, and “citrus” in particular.
I’ve always tended to use highly contrasting colors in my braids. 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.
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 and hemp braids have a wonderful bounce and softness after you wash them. (These braids have been used as hat-strings.)
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. I’ll be out of town again much of August, but will answer as soon as I return. Any types of braids, also any types of colors and color patterns—monochrome to multi, clashing to harmonious.
* 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.]