To tidy up this post a bit, I’ve moved the color set-up info for all braids in photos below to a separate page.
The last part of this post is a section on color ideas — a few tips and strategies for coming up with effective color combinations 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.
This was very funny to listen to, because it was essentially just like many of my own (more interior!) monologues when I’m braiding…
Just to be perfectly clear – it’s not at all necessary to plan your color-patterns! Randomness often works even better than planning. You can get great braided patterns just by picking out some colors and loading them on your fingers in random order. But if you decide you love that pattern and want to make it again, this post will also explain how you can do that.
The first 3 braids in the photo below are square, flat and 3/4-flat 5-loop braids, and all three braids have the same color order: pink, pink, gray, white, black loops—in that exact order. It’s a circular, repeating order, so you could also describe it as pink, gray, white, black, pink. Or you could start with the white or the gray loop. If you click to enlarge the photo, you can count this color-order down any of the lengthwise columns of the first three braids. This is the order I followed when mounting the loops on my fingers at the start of braiding. And it’s the order in which the colors moved onto (and then off) each finger as I braided.
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.
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).
The braids in the photo are of 5 loops, but square and flat braids of more loops can have similarly ‘shaped’ patterns – just more strands (and therefore more potential colors) to each repeat of the the color-pattern. More loops do create the potential for more variations of these patterns – see the photos further down of some 7-loop square and flat braids.
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 (a side surface), black zigs on orange square braid (bottom surface – on the sides of the braid each ‘zig’ forms half a chevron). Each chevron is formed from the two shanks of one loop, where they cross each other at the side of the braid.
In a braid of all bicolor loops, like the middle blue and gold braids, the two shanks of a single loop are different colors, so they don’t create a chevron where they cross each other on the two sides of the braid. The orange, white, and black square braid has four bicolor loops, and only one single-color loop – the black loop – so its only chevrons are black (on the sides of the braid, which don’t show in this photo of the bottom surface – here we just see the black ‘zigs’).
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 are central chevrons, and a slanting pattern on the outer edges. Those central chevrons in the spread-out flat braid were actually formed just like square braid chevrons – on a side surface of the braid as it was braided (the folded side) – which then became the center of the braid after it was opened flat.
3/4-flat braids (3rd from left, and last braid on right) are missing one central column of the fully flat braid, so only half of the chevron is visible. The ‘missing’ column is actually there, but it’s hidden underneath the single visible center column. This makes the braid thicker in the middle, as well as creating a big difference to the color pattern. A fully-flat color-pattern with single-color loops has left-right symmetry, whereas the 3/4-flat version does not: compare the flat vs. 3/4-flat pink braids. [Updated info about how to achieve or avoid the 3/4-flat braid shape is in this more recent tutorial: Pick-Up 3 – Flat Braids.]
Bicolor loops allow a wider range of color patterns. Square braids of bicolor loops can have lengthwise columns of color (as in the square versions of the orange/white/black, and the blue/yellow braids above), 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, each loop will return to the finger it started on after 5 braiding cycles.
A cycle, or “row” of braiding is one repetition of all the braiding moves on both hands. So 5 full cycles of braiding include 10 loop-transfers – 5 on the right and 5 on the left.
As a general rule (with some exceptions), those 5 rows / cycles of braiding create one full pattern-repeat in a 5-loop 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-pattern 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.(here’s why*)
You’ll see the color-pattern repeat itself very clearly if you make a braid of 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 maybe a contrast-color yarn that’s thicker than the other yarns – that can make a very interesting textural-patterned braid! A recently discovered 17th C. loop-braiding manuscript called “The Nun’s Book” describes a thick-thin 6-loop square braid – the Rose Breed – in which the (3?) rosebud-colored loops were thicker than the ‘stem’-colored loops, so together they swelled out from the ‘stem’ of the braid, forming a ‘rosebud’. (that link should take you to a different page – a footnote in my 5-loop braid tutorial).
Seven-loop braids (tutorial here; color-pattern set-up instructions 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.
Below is a humble little wool square braid with different colors, but almost the same pattern of chevrons + lengthwise stripes as the center-left blue/pink/gray braid in the photo above. The only difference is that the lengthwise black and gray stripes in this braid switch sides in each pattern-repeat section (the first video in my Bracelets with Chevrons tutorial shows how to do that – it’s a very basic ‘pick-up patterning’ technique).
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. Wait til you finish a full row/ cycle of braiding, and are about to start on the next one. Holding the loops carefully, jot down which loops are on which fingers:
Left: A white, B white, C white, D black
Right: A red, B red, C black
(For any bicolor loops be sure to also note down which of the two colors is in upper position on the finger.)
See my diagram for the finger codes A, B, C, D.
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. If you want to be super-thorough, make a short sample of it and tape or sew it to your note. You might even decide to keep a sample book of your favorite braid patterns.
When you jot down your pattern notes mid-braid, you might notice that the colors you see on your fingers seem to be in a different order than you remember starting out with. Even though the circular order among the loops stays the same as you braid, they shift onto different fingers with each cycle of braiding. Any of those arrangements of loops on the fingers at the start of a braiding cycle can serve as the starting set-up for your braid’s pattern.
Below is another possible set-up for the exact same braid pattern, which is a little simpler to write down, and probably a little easier to set up on the fingers as well:
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. This is one of my favorite square braid patterns. It looks great from all sides, has a very heraldic parti-colored look to the other sides – I should have twisted the braid slightly so the photo would show the top as well as the side view:
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 forgot to note down the loop set-up and you have a braid with a great color pattern that you’d like to make again?
Or what if you have an idea for a color pattern that you haven’t tried yet, and don’t have instructions for?
How to set up a particular color-pattern ‘from scratch’:
Suppose that you want to line up very close shades of blue, from light to dark, so the colors seem to meld together. Or maybe you are looking at a braid of light-to-dark blues (7 different shades in a 7-loop braid) and want to reproduce it.
The colors in each column of the braid will stack up in the same order that the loops move onto each of your fingers as you braid.
This is also the order in which the colors move from the left hand over to the right hand (or vice-versa). 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). The B-finger loop is next. As you continue braiding, this will be the next 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 is on the left C-finger (ring finger) – this will be the third loop to leave the left hand’s A-finger.
Loop #4 : Loop number 4 will be either the left D-loop (little finger) – or, if the left D-finger has no loop, #4 will be the loop on the right hand’s A-finger (index finger). Even though it’s on the right hand now! – by the time its turn to make that jump comes round, it will be back on the left hand’s A-finger.
#5, 6, 7 follow in the same manner: B, C, (D) of the right hand. And again, the right hand’s lowest loop will be followed by the other hand’s index loop—loop #1.
Loop sequence for a 5 to 7-loop 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)
9 and 11-loop braids’ loop sequence:
Left: Thumb, A, B, C, D, (D-high)
followed by: Right Thumb, A, B, C, D, (D-high)
In the order that the colors appear down the braid, the lowest loop of one hand is always followed by the highest loop of the other hand (‘lowest’ = toward the little finger, ‘highest’ = toward the thumb). That’s the order the loops follow each other as they circulate around the fingers, and it’s also how they line up in each column of 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!)
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, even the loops that are currently already 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
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.
It might seem strange to set your ‘first’/ lightest-blue loop on a D-finger. In fact, you don’t actually have to put it on the d-finger. The order is circular, so really, 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 be arranged (in increasingly dark shades of blue) if you put your first (lightest blue) 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 (lightest), Left b;
Right d, Right c, Right a, Right b (same strange finger-order as above!);
Left d (darkest)
For light-to-dark blues in your braid, if you decided to place the lightest blue on Left A at the start of braiding, your left hand would be holding the two lightest loops and the very darkest loop of the braid! To me it seems more intuitive to start the sequence with the left d-loop, which is the loop that will be first to move from the left hand to the right hand. That’s the first loop order I suggested above. That way, even though the order on the individual fingers might seem odd, at least you would load the first three loops of the color pattern all onto one hand and the last four loops of the color pattern all onto the other hand – to me that’s a much easier way to set up the colors.
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 like alternating blue-white order (on the fingers), the actual braiding order of the loops was:
Left loops: white, blue, blue, white, followed by the 4 blue-grey loops on the right hand.
To set it up, you would place 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 color, you don’t have to think about their order in this case, but if you did need to, the order is the same as on the left hand – middle finger loop is first.
In actual practice, when I am loading loops onto the fingers, I find it easiest to physically load the index loop first, then the middle, ring, little fingers. But prior to loading, I plan which colors to put on which fingers, and I bear in mind that the index loop is really the second loop in the color-sequence of the braided pattern. The very first loop of the color pattern will be the left middle finger loop (Left B, in bold below):
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
As noted above, the finger-order on the left hand looks like alternating blue, white, blue, white. But in the braid the order will be white, blue, blue, white followed by four blue-grays, because the B-loop gets braided before 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 current A-loop (which by then will have moved to the B-finger), followed by the C-loop, followed by the D-loop, followed by the B-loop of the other hand, etc etc.
This pattern might not show up well with these paler colors, but if you substituted navy blue (or any other dark color) for this light blue, I bet it would make a great color-pattern! The wider navy section would be ‘outlined’ with white, followed by a gray section.
For a wide white section outlined by navy: switch the blue and white in the above set-up.
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
Here, the two whites are together and the two blues are together (both on the fingers and in the braid) so they stand out more boldly, as you can see in Dan’s braid.
3) For an alternating blue-white-blue-white pattern (“zebra stripes”), 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
Like Dan’s first pattern, this ‘zebra-stripe’ zig-zag pattern would stand out more clearly with a darker color to contrast against the white.
Value (dark or light) contrasts
Braids are SMALL (in width) compared to other textiles, or paintings, clothing etc. Because of this, two colors that are close in value (meaning just as light or dark as each other) don’t usually contrast much in a braid, even if they are very different colors. Even a light color and a medium color, or a dark and a medium color might not have enough contrast for a braid pattern to stand out clearly.
On the other hand, a braid with subtle, hard-to-distinguish 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 stand out separately in your braid. Or that a cool braid pattern would stand out in a light green and medium blue braid.
When I started braiding, I quickly fell into a pattern – or maybe a rut! – of always using two or more colors with a lot of contrast in value (very dark with very light), so the color-pattern would stand out clearly. What always seemed like a sure-fire combo was black, white, and a nice clear or bright color that contrasted well with both black and 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. Complementary colors can be jarring, especially on a larger scale—like clothes combinations, or decor. But braids are small! To me, 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.)
Examples of complementary or near-complementary color-contrasts are:
wines-to-purples + yellows-golds-oranges
wines-to-purples + yellows-to-greens
reds + greens
oranges + blues-turquoise-greens.
Again, if the two complementary colors will be next to each other in the braid, it might be good if one of them is dark, while the other is light in value. Remember that a change in lightness/darkness sometimes makes the name of the color change, without much rhyme or reason. Think “pink” compared to “red”, for example. (In English, the color pink happens to have a different name than red, but it’s in the red family of colors in exactly the same way that “light blue” is in the blue family without a separate name.) A pale pink can be a great contrast against a dark green… opposites on the color wheel, and opposites in value.
In braids of seven or more loops, I like to use two complementary colors that are rather close in value, but separated and set off by black, or white, or even black and white (you can see some examples in my Bracelet with chevrons post and my Color-linking post, among others).
Colors that “go together”
This usually implies colors that are closer on the color-wheel, like red and purple, or blue and green, etc. These are usually considered safer, more soothing color combinations. Combining very close colors like blue and blue-green can result in beautiful shimmery effects in a braid, where you don’t see a distinct pattern, but the colors kind of glow and fade in and out from each other. If you want the pattern to stand out more visibly, try using one very dark and one very light version of the two close colors – say dark purple and light pink.
Look around! (especially at small things)
My tried-and-true color strategies work, but I sometimes 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…
Maybe it would be more creative to look for new color combinations in nature, or art, but with braids a really good way to get new color ideas is to look at other braiders’ and weavers’ braids! (Or similarly small-scale things in nature? – maybe caterpillars? flowers on a stem?) I know this sounds shamefully 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 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 some very similar colors together and gets a shimmery, subtle braid like nothing I’ve made before. Or simply combines two colors I never thought of using together 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.
Try an ‘ugly’ color (or not!)
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. A color that you judge as ugly by itself can sometimes be fantastic in combination with another color or colors. (Try a pukey green with a contrasting pink – or if you are anti-pink: an icky pink with a nice green!) I have some rather weird colors of embroidery floss from ordering them online based on unreliable color swatches – it’s always fun to find a good color combination that includes one of my ‘ugly duckling’ colors.
Low-contrast color combinations
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, made out of linen thread. The tan color is a linen shoemaker’s thread, the other colors I acquired who knows where – probably weaving or embroidery threads originally (all these threads are finer than embroidery floss, but much thicker than sewing thread). I love the way linen braids feel! They are almost like quicksilver, incredibly light and supple. They are stiff before you wash them, though with a nice springiness. But after you wash them (or wear them a long time), they become amazingly fluid – drapey but lively. It doesn’t come across well in this photo, but I also love the tan/ dull brownish color of the shoemaker thread. I think it may be the natural color of the linen. It sometimes looks brownish, sometimes greenish, and has a subtle luster. Linen is totally alive, much more sensuous to me than silk. Hemp is similar – rougher-looking but has a wonderful bounce and softness after being washed. Btw, always pretest or prewash dyed linen before braiding with it! I usually just go ahead and prewash dyed linen thread or yarn after cutting it and before braiding (esp reds and purples) 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.
posted Aug/9/2011, last updated May/18/2018
© 2011–2018 Ingrid Crickmore
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