Noémi Speiser’s track-plan system, with the addition of color-coding for braids of two tracks.
A track-plan diagram serves both as an idealized cross-section view of a braid’s shape, and also as a flow-chart showing the track that the strands follow in the braid.
Track = pathway of strands
The lines in these diagrams represent the undulating pathway taken by the strands, they don’t represent the strands themselves. Strands could be represented in these charts, but not as lines. Since this is a cross-sectional view, strands would be shown by adding dots to the tracks. That would make a diagram specific to a particular number of strands/ loops. These diagrams are more general – they apply to braids of different numbers of loops. (Any of these braid types requires a certain minimum number of strands, but can also have many more.)
A loop = 2 strands, on opposite layers of the track-plan (and sometimes in two separate tracks, see 2-track / ‘Even’ braids below)
Each loop-transfer moves a whole loop: one strand in the upper layer of the braid, and one strand in the lower layer. The two strands, or shanks of the loop move in parallel, and separately, along different sections of the track plan, as they do in the braid itself. If the transferring loop is turned, its two shanks cross each other – forming an ‘X’ halfway between the two layers – as they pass to the opposite layer of the braid.
Track bumps = braid’s ridges (in cross-section)
The undulating ‘bumps’ in the diagrams show the over-under pathway taken by the strands, forming the lengthwise ridges (columns of slanted strands) of an actual braid. The diagrams show these ridges in cross-section.
When looking at an actual braid, you only see the diagonally slanted “overs” passing across every ridge; you can’t see the corresponding path of the “unders”, but this shows clearly in the track-plan diagram. The exception is a flat braid, you can simply turn it over to see the ‘under’ thread passages, moving across each ridge with the opposite slant of the ‘overs’ on the other side.
Track bumps = loop transfers (turned or straight)
An upper and lower pair of track bumps represent a loop transfer. If an upper bump is connected to the lower bump by 2 lines forming an X directly between the the upper and lower bump, that indicates a turned (crossed/ reversed) loop transfer.
If a pair of upper and lower bumps have no X-like connection directly between them, that indicates a straight loop transfer (open, unreversed, not turned). I’ve also marked every turned transfer with an “X” and every straight/open transfer with an “0” above the charts.
2-track vs. single-track braids
The undulating lines in each track-plan form either one, or two ‘tracks’. Each track is closed – like a circle – but it really represents the continuously downward-spiraling pathway taken by a set of strands as each strand interlaces diagonally down the braid, repeating the exact same cycle of over-unders the whole way down.
The number of turned loop transfers in one cycle determines whether the strands will all follow the same track, or whether they will follow two separate tracks.
You can demonstrate this by using your finger to trace the lines in any of these braid diagrams.
On any diagram with an odd number of of turned transfers, your finger will trace over the whole track-plan before it comes back to its starting point. The whole track-plan is one closed track, intersecting with itself.
On any diagram with an even number of turned transfers, your finger will trace over only half the track-plan, before it comes back to its starting point. Strands in those braids follow two different, intersecting tracks/pathways, shown here in in red and blue to differentiate them.
2 Non-intersecting tracks
Zero – no turns – counts as an even number in this case. In a divided braid the two tracks followed by the upper and lower shanks are very obviously separate – they don’t even intersect. In a double-tubular braid, as long as you never turn any loops, the upper shanks form a tube within a separate tube formed by the lower shanks (or vice versa, depending on how you exchange loops). [Hmmm, I should work up some track plans for those!]
‘Edge’ color-pattern in 2-track braids
In “even” (2-track) braids shown in diagrams above, the one set of shanks that follows the red track, and the other set of shanks that follows the blue track may interlace with each other, but they never follow each other over the same bumps/nodes. In the actual braid these two sets of shanks never pass over the same ridges. That’s what makes “Edge” type color-patterns of lengthwise striping possible in 2-track braids. (With bicolor loops, that is – and only if you begin braiding by holding the two shank-colors of the loops in the appropriate up-down configuration on the fingers for that particular braid’s Edge pattern.)
In 2-track braids of only single-color loops, the two shanks of each loop also follow different tracks, and show up in different ridges. However you can’t tell that just by looking at the braid, since in that case the the colors in all the ridges are the same.
Each red/blue diagram here is a graphic illustration of the exact Edge pattern possible for that particular “two-track” braid, shown here in cross-section. Each Edge pattern involves lengthwise striping, but it has a different appearance in different braid types.
These color-coded track plans have at least one very practical use: they can be used almost in a direct one-to-one ‘mapping’ onto the fingers when you are trying to figure out the dark/light loop set-up positions for any 2-track braid’s “Edge Pattern”.
Each upper node or bump on a track plan corresponds to a particular loop transfer in the braid – marked x or o on these charts for ‘turned’ or ‘straight’. Furthest left and right bumps correspond to the left hand’s leftmost loop transfer, and the right hand’s rightmost loop transfer. Any inner bumps likewise correspond to any inner loop transfers in between those two outermost ones. The color of any of those upper ‘bumps’ on the diagram must be the upper-shank color of all the loops that the taken loop will go THROUGH. The taken loop must arrive at its new finger with its own upper shank matching the color of THAT bump or node on the diagram. (So, if the taken loop will be turned, it must start out mounted with the opposite shank color ‘up’!)
‘Odd’, Single-track braids
Braids of only one track can’t have a true Edge pattern, because with only one track, all the shanks follow each other down every ridge. With bicolor loops these ‘single-track’ braids tend to have much more asymmetrical color-patterns than those of two-track “even” braids, as well as pattern repeats that are twice as long. Any of these braids can be set up in a pattern that I call “50-50 Zig-zags” in flat braids, or “Dark-Light Alternations,” “Broken Edge” or “Stairstep Edge” in other braids. In a braid of all Dark/Light bicolor loops, this is the color pattern with the longest possible stretch of all Dark strands, followed by the longest possible stretch of all Light strands, along each ridge of the braid. The resulting appearance is usually striking, and is different (I think!) for each structural braid variation.
Track plans compared to braiding machine tracks:
Track plans are very similar to the metal tracks that bobbins of thread follow in a standard braiding machine. In braiding machines, stationary but rotating gears propel the bobbins along the undulating tracks. When loop braiding, your fingers do the propelling, interlacing the strands along the same type of repetitive over-under “tracks” as a braiding machine, or as a braider using either free ends, or ends wound onto bobbins and suspended on a braiding table.
(That is, for these “woven on the diagonal” plain-weave or twill braids – which include most of braids I teach here on the blog. There are other types of braids that can’t be diagrammed with track plans, like twined braids and spiral braids, for example.)
Here are two videos on Youtube from DIY’er Andreas Siegler about his homemade braiding machine – in the first video he uses a single dummy bobbin to demonstrate how the gears propel bobbins around the undulating track of a braiding machine: DIY Maypole Braider – How does it work? (his videos will open in separate tabs).
In this video, he demonstrates his finished braiding machine with all 16 bobbins installed (equivalent to an 8-loop braid), braiding a ‘harness’ – a braided covering around a bundle of electrical wiring.
Tubular 2-track braids: Strands in each track proceed in a “1-way” circle, in opposite rotational directions
The braiding machine in the link above is an archetypal “Maypole” braider – it braids a hollow, tubular braid. The strands follow two separate, closed tracks: one set of bobbins always proceeding clockwise, and the other set of ‘opposing’ bobbins always proceeding counterclockwise, these two sets interlacing with each other consistently on the same (opposite) sides of each ‘bump’ of the track. This creates a tubular braid. (If the operator were to set up all the counterclockwise bobbins with dark thread, and all the clockwise bobbins with white thread, an “Edge” color-pattern would result, of dark-light lengthwise striping along the braid.)
In loop braiding, the exact same tubular result is achieved by the braider turning one loop transfer on the far left, and one on the far right of the braid. One set of shanks will proceed clockwise around the braid, and the other set of shanks will proceed counterclockwise around the braid, interlacing with each other in the same rotational direction for the whole length of the braid. (Trace either the red or blue track of the Square braid, or the Hollow Double braid’s diagram above with your finger to see this).
The square braid, as well as hollow variations of other braids, are tubular braids in this sense. I tend to think of the square braid as a ‘solid’ braid, more equivalent to a “solid rectangle” double braid than to a hollow double braid, since is has no open hollow area within. However, in terms of how its two sets of strands circulate, the square braid and the hollow double braid are both tubular. This is why Noémi Speiser refers to the square braid as a tubular braid. (plus, it’s not quite square, anyway! More of a rounded trapezoid).
Loop braiding “overs” and “unders” – how do they happen?
When a loop is pulled through another loop or loops, an “under” and an “over” occur on both layers of the braid, in mirror-image fashion. The upper shank of the taken loop goes UNDER the upper shank of the “around” loop or loops. This over-under builds one of the braid’s lengthwise ridges on the upper layer of the braid.
The lower shank of the same taken (‘through’) loop goes OVER the lower shank of the “around” loop. However, if you were to turn the braid over to look at that bottom layer, that through shank would also be an UNDER, with the “around” loop’s shank passing OVER it, just as on the upper layer of the braid.
The braider doesn’t have to think or even know about all these unders and overs! The braider only thinks about the ‘throughs’, but in actuality, each ‘through’ is creating a pair of under-overs, and building onto a pair of ridges, one on the upper layer and one on the lower layer of the braid.
© 2019 Ingrid Crickmore