Fingerloop braiding with 5 loops is easy to learn and can make a wide variety of braids. Above are just a few of the possible color variations of five-loop braids. They show the three basic shape variations: square cord, flat band, and 3/4-flat cord or band (oval/lozenge-shaped in cross-section). They don’t show another very useful variation – the divided “two-braids-in-one”, which is a great way to form a loop in your braid.
This method can easily be extended up to 7 and 9-loop square and flat braids, which are bigger and have even more color-pattern possibilities (check out my homepage)
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. [copyright applies, download for your own use, pin on pinterest, or share off-line with friends for free only.]:
Setting up loops for braiding: see photos just below the videos – this isn’t covered in the videos themselves.
Finishing off the end of the braid: Click here to jump down to tips on ways to end the braid (tassel, mini-braids, links to more).
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 these 5-loop videos are slower than you’d like, move the little bubble below the video forward to skip ahead. Or try following my 7-loop video, but use only 5 loops as shown here. The braiding method is very similar. The 7-loop video moves along faster.
Note: Don’t braid over the top of a table the way I braid in the videos! off the edge of a table is much better. (See other ideas below the videos.) I do this in the videos only because the table makes a good background.
Part 2 (below) has more slow braiding practice and general braiding tips. The other videos (further down) show how to make a flat, wide, ribbon-like variation of this square braid.
Setting up your loops—photo tutorial:
Cut 5 double-length strands (all the same length), fold each strand in half, and then tie all the ends together in one large 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. (“Fairly thin” just means it’ll take longer to finish the same length braid, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it!—it would make a strong, fine braid with a delicate pattern.)
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.
Putting down the loops to take a break:
Contrary to popular belief, you really can put your loops down and take breaks while braiding, without causing problems in the braid! There are several ways to do it, but I like the wide-tooth-comb method the best.
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 3rd pink, and 3rd orange braid in photo below). It’s a very common outcome with 5-loop flat braids, less common with flat braids of seven or more loops. It can be an indication that you are pulling too tightly, especially if it still happens with braids of more than 5 loops. For tips on how to avoid or achieve the 3/4-flat variation of a flat braid, see my post on flat braid pickup patterns.
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 in these videos that I do the tightening move too often (a nervous habit while I’m thinking about what to say next) and it looks as if I’m trying to pull them really tight. But even though I spread the loops quickly, it’s actually not forceful at all – I spread widely, 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.
(You can also make this type of start or finish to your braid with the square braid you learned first).
In these videos I used a thicker yarn, and then even doubled it so it would show more clearly in the video. That’s why the resulting braid looks different from the finer embroidery floss examples in the photo above. The same braiding can produce a very different look depending on the material and colors you choose to braid with.
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, the fetching finger must go straight through the loop (from below) before hooking onto it and taking it off the index finger.
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 do not stick the operator finger through the loop before hooking onto 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, especially if you are pulling the loops too hard, you may 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 first photo. It does not look folded or C-shaped during braiding. It turns out 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. This is a very common outcome when you are first learning. (Though even experienced braiders will usually get a “3/4-flat” braid instead of a flat braid if they tend to braid very tightly.) *1
Ending the braid
Tie an overhand knot at the base of the braided area, and trim off the ends to match the top of your braid.
Optional loop at the end of the braid:
Just before the end, I usually braid a loop into the bottom of the braid using “divided” braiding as taught in my second two videos above. After braiding a loop/ open area, I close the loop up by braiding a few cycles of “regular” square or flat braiding. I then use one of the finishing methods listed here to finish off the whole braid.
Tassel end: Use a thread (or the same type of string or yarn used in the braid) to wrap a few times tightly around the base of the braid and then tie in a knot, leaving the two ends hanging as part of the tassel below (a neater method is to use what’s called a “whipping” to wrap, which can hide one or both ends of the wrapped thread – see link to more info below). You might want to add a discrete little drop of glue, and then use a pin to poke through the glue and into the braid a bit, to cement the tie onto the braid.
Tassel of mini-braids at the end: The way I end most of my braids is to divide the braid into several thinner loop braids before I reach the ends of my loops. (See the third video in my Bracelet with Chevrons tutorial.) Then I tie a knot at the bottom of each mini-braid, sometimes using the whole end of the little braid, and sometimes just using one of its strands as a tie.
With a five-loop braid, you can make a fringe of either two or three mini-braids at the end. Use divided braiding with all 5 loops to make two mini-braids (cut them apart at the bottom); or use divided braiding with only 3 loops to make two mini-braids, and then braid a 2-loop braid with the remaining two loops – this will give you 3 mini-braids at the bottom of your braid.
More info here, including other ways to finish ends of braids.
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.]
Try my 7-loop square and flat braid tutorial as soon as you’ve made a few 5-loop braids and are used to their moves. 7-loop braids are more impressively square or flat, and have even more color pattern possibilities.
Likewise, try 9-loop braids after getting used to the moves of 7-loop braids. My 9-loop tutorial includes a full photo-tutorial, as well as video. 9-loop braids are still my favorite to braid, you get to use all your fingers including thumbs, and the braiding is just as fast and efficient and fun as a 5-loop braid. Once they learn this, your hands will love it (and the braids look great too)!
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 would love to hear about what you are making/ what your craft interests are. I would also love to see pics of any braids you make from this tutorial! Leave notes under ‘comments’ below, or send me an email on my contact page.
*1. It’s probably my own fault that new braiders tend to braid too tightly, because I talk about how important the tightening move is. People probably get the mistaken impression that they should pull really hard when they tighten, when what I’m trying to get them to do is to spread the loops apart widely—almost into a straight line from one hand to the other, but not with a lot of force. That will make the braid patterns neat and crisp, without strangling the braid. Pull gently, not hard, and if necessary, repeat/ “rock” the arc a couple of times – without jerking on the loops.
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… Maybe the yellow dye was actually brown originally and then faded to yellow over the last few hundred years?
Published June 5, 2011. Last updated 8/3/2019
© 2011–2019 Ingrid Crickmore
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