START HERE! 5-loop braids

5-loop braids: square, flat, 3/4 flat. Embroidery floss

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 (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, 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 a braid: Click here for some tips on ways to make a tassel, mini-braids, etc as the end of a braid.

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:

A larks-head “lasso” knot is handy for fastening…

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)

…easy to undo 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.

Kitchen chair set-up

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.

5-loop braids: square and flat (and two 3/4-flat braids—see below) Color set-ups taught here. Embroidery floss

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.

New move:
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

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.

Color patterns:
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.

–Ingrid (loopbraider)

*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 9/23/2018

© 2011–2018 Ingrid Crickmore

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33 thoughts on “START HERE! 5-loop braids

  1. Pingback: Finger loop braiding – Crafty Lady

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  3. Just a few days ago, I found your site by chance while browsing tablet weaving and inkle looms (with the hope of using up my vast stash of hand-spun yarns I made on my daily commute before I retired) and became entranced by the idea of fingerloop braiding.
    Your instructions are the clearest I’ve read, your videos are very easy to follow – and the results totally inspiring.
    I cut some pieces of string, tied them to the back of a chair, and off I went! Not tried using my thumbs yet, so a 7-loop square braid is the ‘biggest’ I’ve done yet.
    I’ve followed your tips for extra-long braids and both the ‘caterpillars’ and ‘start at the middle’ worked out beautifully, if a little fiddly initially. Now I need to start plying some of the fine linen I was planning to use for tablet weaving or on an inkle loom – but wait, I’ve just seen your beaded braiding posts …

    What is this rabbit hole down which I’ve fallen? It’s a magical one, that’s for sure, with *no equipment at all* other than one’s own bare hands.

    Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for the positive feedback on the longer loop braid tips! I haven’t heard from many readers actually trying them, so I’m really happy to hear they worked for you.
      (I love linen as a braiding fiber! Did you spin your own linen that you’ll be plying?)

      • Yes, it’s spindle-spun linen. A bit slubby, I confess (I blame that on the bus driver and the road surface, not my lack of skill …lol), and I’ll need to bleach and/or dye it, of course. I really want to get some shiny viscose or silk to add a bit of ‘oomph’ to my matt and/or fuzzy handspuns.

        The ‘longer loop’ thing: I did a mish-mash of your original ‘caterpillars’, and the suggestion by another commenter of reversing the chain and blocking the slip of the knot until unchaining is required. I need to work on that a bit to get it both secure yet easy to unchain with just a couple of fingers. I found that ‘starting in the middle’ resulted in a messy, slightly-lumpy section with a mismatched pattern, but only for a very short distance; more practice is clearly needed!

        However, given that I’ve only been doing it for a few days, and I have arthritic fingers – I’m over 70 – I’m very pleased with what I’ve done so far, and am promising the dog a new lead already. I’ve also been enthusing about it so much that I’ve been asked to demonstrate at my weekly craft guild meeting – I need to get a few jewellery findings to turn my humble beginner samples into keyfobs, bracelets etc.

        • Wow, that’s great you’ll be sharing this at your guild!
          For the “messy bit” at the start-from-the-center, try making a note of the color-arrangement of the loops on your fingers that you started with, and mount them that way when you start again from the center for the second half – but OPPOSITELY/ mirror-image, so right index finger loop matching previous LEFT index loop, etc.

          To avoid looseness at the ‘join’ area: before the second start, completely undo whatever knot or ‘cinch’ you had at the center. Re-fasten the loop bundle NEAR but not AT the center-start – tie the connector string onto a firmly braided section of the previous start, do not suspend the warp from any part of the unbraided section. Tighten the first two or three loop transfers extra-tight to get out any looseness at the join.

          Good luck, sounds like you are having too much fun with all this! If you take pics of your braids, I’d love to see them! (my email is under Contact, under the “About” tab, right end of my header menu)

  4. This looks so fun! We did little ones in art class today and now I want to make them for myself! How long should I make each loop if I want it to become a bracelet?

    • Make the loops several inches longer than you want the bracelet. Maybe even twice as long. You’ll need some extra length for the tassels and knot at the top and bottom, and some extra length of braid at both ends to tie it on. Plus, the last few inches of the loops can’t be braided (where your fingers are holding the loops), like maybe about 3 or 4 inches.
      Then, on top of that, you lose some length as you braid, because all the strands are weaving back and forth – they dont go straight down the bracelet. That loss of length is called “take-up” and it varies depending on how thick the yarn is and how tightly you braid. I’d suggest that you measure a string around your wrist – loosely, and then maybe double that length to find the best loop length (and maybe add a couple inches just in case!)
      Have fun!

      • I’ve been teaching fingerloop braiding a lot – at SF cons, among other places. I do bracelet kits, and I’ve found that pinching the end of the thread in your thumb and forefinger, and then stretching it to your elbow, makes a good length for a bracelet (with room for knots etc). That’s the length of a bowe (loop), so double that length to measure your bowes (because it’s easier to measure 5/7/9 lengths than 10/14/18).

  5. I’ve been looking for more information on braids; thanks for this page. Just bookmarked it. I’m fascinated by braids, backstrap weaving, bobbin lace. (Took a great class with Laverne Waddington, and hope to take another someday.)

    • You’re very welcome, thanks for visiting and for saying hi! I’ve taken some great classes from Laverne, too – maybe we’ll see each other in one of her classes someday!

  6. Hi, I have just started out with loop braiding today after discovering this website, although I’m using hemp cord which I beeswaxed, I learned that I was tightening too hard and got the 3/4 flat braid that you mentioned, I have been inspired by your website and videos to learn more intricate braids, thank you

    • You’re welcome, thanks for the note, it made my day! I hope you keep having fun with braiding. If you ever want to send pics of your braids I’d love to see them (and would be great to show here!) No pressure though!!! 🙂

      • I did have fun today, making two of the 5 loop flat braid.. watching your videos, adding loops either end.. how do I send pics?

        • Email me through the contact form (hover on ABOUT in my upper menu, then you’ll see CONTACT in the drop down). Unfortunately you cant send attachments on that form, but just send me a note that you have some photos and I’ll let you know how to send them. (a WordPress safety precaution).
          Happy braiding!

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  10. Hi there–

    I found this website back in March when I wanted to remember how to do the 5-finger cord-like braid. Thanks for posting all this stuff. Now I know there’s SO much more that can be done!

    I finally posted about it today on my blog. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it:

    Again, many thanks for all the work you’ve put into making all of this information available!

    • Hi Karin, You’re welcome! Your braids look great, and I really like your idea of braiding with T-shirt fabric strips, have never thought of trying anything like that before! That’s a very fun diy blog you have, I’ll be coming back, especially for the crochet ideas…

  11. I love fingerloop braiding but have a hard time maintaining tension on long braids. Are there any tips you can give me? Or would it be better to stick to smaller lengths and then try to join them together through sewing?

    • Hi Buxey, see my post called Longer Loop Braids
      I always set up with lengths short enough that I can stretch the loops all the way apart—til the loops actually make a straight line fr one hand to the other.
      The simplest way to get extra length in the braid is to start braiding from the center of a doubly-long loop bundle (tie a big slip-knot in the middle to braid from). Finish one half, then pull out the slip-knot, turn the bundle around and braid the other half. My post will give you more ideas. It’s definitely possible to braid longer lengths, just requires some set-up. The longest braid I’ve made was over 21 feet long…[it’s the hank of 7-loop braid at the right end of my header picture]
      Good luck! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Ricky, thanks so much for the link! your braids turned out great!!! I love your bicolor idea of using several different colors for the one half of the loop–beautiful, I hope other people notice that and try that too. I just tried to email you but the webmail said it was down for maintanance–very annoying. If it doesn’t come back up in the next hour or so I’ll contact you mid-july when I’m back at my computer, don’t know if I’ll have another chance to get back online before then. Would love to include your link or the actual picture in my next post (probably wont be before the end of next month).
    Happy braiding!

  13. Heyyyy hehehe, I saw you post about you vacation, hope you’re having a great time.. !! 😉

    I will leave this picture here, just in case you have the time to take a quick peek at it hehehe
    Here’s the picture.. hope you like it..

    (yeah I don’t know how to send you a mail)

  14. WOOOOOW JUST FOUND YOUR BLOG AND IT’S AWESOME !! Really thank you for the new method and the patterns.. I just try this one, but did’t notice the new move, so I came up with something different (but cool) hehe.. Will try again tomorrow..

    Thank you !

      • Hi ricky, congratulations and thanks for trying it out!! I’d love see your braid! Sorry I didn’t reply sooner–I’m on a trip right now, mostly camping and can’t check in on a computer very often. Have you tried making a 7-loop braid? It’s really fun once your ring finger gets used to the loop-shifting. Let me know if you have any questions, I’ll try to check back in soon…

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