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 shape – the divided “two-braids-in-one”, which is a great way to form a loop in your braid.
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. [copyright applies, free to download for your own use, or to pin on pinterest, or to share off-line for free only]:
For tips on how to prepare your bundle of loops for braiding, see my photos just below the videos—I don’t spell this out in the videos themselves.
[Update: I just added some ideas on ways to finish off your braid: tassel, mini-braids, etc.]
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 use only 5 loops as shown here. 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.
Note: I have heard from some viewers of these videos that they did not understand that the way I demo taking the loop from one hand to the other turns the loop over! This may not seem obvious or important when you are doing it, but it’s really important. (I go on about it so long in the video that probably viewers get bored and skip that part! 🤦🏻 )
The loop you move must turn over, or the braid will start to split into two smaller braids.
Also later on, if you want to learn how to make a flat braid, you will need to know how to take the loop of only one hand with this particular ‘turn’, but the loop of the other hand without turning it. The two ways of taking the loop are both easy to do, and are crucial for making your braid turn out square, or divided (two separate braids), or flat and wide.
The other videos give more tips, and also show how to make a flat, wide, ribbonlike version of this square braid.
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. However, I ran out of time and this got cut off in the middle. You can learn it in the following videos (below), which also teach how to make a flat, wider, ribbon-like version of the 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.
New note: Contrary to popular belief, you really can put your loops down and take breaks while braiding! I do this almost every time I make a braid, usually more than once. 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). However, it is an indication that you are pulling too tightly, and in general should loosen your tension when you braid, except when you are specifically trying to get a 3/4 flat braid.
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 spread the loops apart 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, 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, 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
Update: The 3/4-flat form is not a “mistake”. It has all the same overs and unders as the fully flat form. It can be forcibly stretched out widthwise to be fully flat later, but it takes a bit of work.
I now believe that the 5-loop 3/4-flat form is only partly a result of pulling the loops too hard when tightening. I think it’s also because a 5-loop braid is so small that a flat one has barely enough width to be able to form folded in half lengthwise. It must form that way if you want the “fully-flat” version. A 7-loop flat braid is much more amenable to turning out fully flat.
The way I suggest starting a braid – by encircling it with a cord and hanging it from that cord while braiding may also contribute to the 3/4-flat result. I find that the easiest way to start beginners off, and it’s also the way I used to braid myself. However I almost never hang a braid bundle that way now. I usually hang it from an upper braided loop in the braid itself. I make a braided loop at the top of my braid and suspend the braided loop around the bar of my C-clamp before continuing with making a square, flat or whatever other shape of braid.
I also tighten flat braids a bit differently than I teach here, a way that is kind of asymmetrical and not very intuitive. When I show it to beginners they never want to do it! (I describe both these techniques in my recent post Pickup 3: Flat Braids). Between those two techniques I use, I never seem get the 3/4-flat version of a flat braid even with only 5 loops and even when I am trying for the 3/4 flat version! It’s only when I start a flat braid from that pinched-in header cord, and tighten very hard, that I can achieve the 3/4-flat shape in a braid. But when you are first braiding, I think it would be more productive to accept the 3/4 shape with 5-loop braids and wait til you are making 7-loop braids to try for the wider, fully-flat version. Symmetrical tightening moves are more natural and ergonomic, as well as being applicable to more braids than my asymmetrical flat braid tightening moves.
Just before the end, I usually braid a loop into the braid using “divided” braiding (as taught in my second two videos above). That’s because there are some fun fastening methods that are possible if you have a loop at one or both ends of your braid. Or you might want to use the loop to fasten the braid onto something else, like a key ring or a belt loop. After braiding a loop/ open area, I then close it by braiding a few cycles of “regular” square or flat braiding.
At the very end of the braid, a simple way to finish it is to let go of all the loops, tie an overhand knot at the bottom of the braided area, and trim off the ends of the loops to form a tassel.
Or, instead of tying a knot in the braid itself, you could tightly wrap and tie a thread around the braid, leaving its two ends hanging as part of the tassel below. You might want to put a discrete little drop of glue on the knot and one other place on the tie, and then use a pin to poke through the glue and into the braid a bit, to cement the tie onto the braid for a little extra insurance that it won’t slip off.
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:
For two mini-braids: Stop braiding the main braid while you still have 4 or 5 inches of loops left. Braid with “divided” braiding moves the rest of the way, then separate your two mini-braids by cutting them apart at the ends of the loops. Tie off each mini-braid separately.
For three mini-braids: Stop braiding the main braid while you still have 4 or 5 inches of loops left. Drop two of your five loops.
Braid the remaining three loops as a divided 3-loop braid. This will give you two little braids. At the bottom, cut their loops to separate the two mini-braids, and tie each mini-braid off separately.
Pick up the two loops you dropped earlier, tug them into order if they are a little messy where they emerge from the main braid, and braid them into a single 2-loop braid (videos for two-loop braids are near the bottom of my Tutorials index page). Two loops can only make one braid, not a divided braid.
See this note for some 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.]
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 bigger, with clearer patterns and more color pattern possibilities. Once you learn them, I predict that you will not go back to 5-loop braids!
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. It’s probably my own fault that new braiders tend to braid too tightly — because of the way I stress how important the tightening move is! People 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—almost into a straight line from one hand to the other, but not with excessive force and pulling. That will make the braid neat and crisp, without strangling it. Don’t pull the loops hard, just evenly and widely, and if necessary, repeat/ “rock” this arc a couple of times without jerking 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, but maybe the overall color-effect is pretty.
Published June 5, 2011. Last updated 11/28/2017
© 2011–2017 Ingrid Crickmore
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