Thursday, 13 January 2011

3-d Braid made out of Plaited Braid Stitch


(The Bag, the Ring etc, are all on hold due to further experiments with PBS and major reorganisation of my stash). 

This post continues on from the last..

Before I talk about PBS some more I need to wind back a little. 

Exploring Plaited Braid Stitch Generally

A while ago I mentioned that I was quite interested in the provenance of PBS.  I think I posed the question: ‘where did it come from, it seems to just pop up?’ Added to which, a colleague had suggested that she felt there were strong indications of yet other ways of making the stitch.  This made me more curious about its origins, technically as well as stylistically. 

There are various theories about how it must have begun (Naalbinding +/Braid Stitch, etc) and it seems to me that, the less we know about it, the more we can speculate and investigate… 

I don’t think what you’re about to read solves the mystery, but it might just shed a bit of light, perhaps, on possible routes the stitch took to arrive at the Elizabethan’s doorstep?  It’s all purely hypothetical mind you and just rather curious, that such a complex interlaced embroidery stitch can actually be made into a 3-d braid. 

Personal Experiments with Structure of PBS

So, I carried out my own ‘experiments’ into the intrinsic nature of PBS and that’s really the substance of this post and the next. 

I suppose I feel I understand the stitch more now and these experiments certainly raise some interesting questions in my own mind about other complex stitches and their cultural origins.        

Starting point

So, taking ‘Braid’ from its name and linking it to its structure, which is essentially woven, you can imagine how thrilled I was when I received Jacqui Carey’s book ‘Sweet Bags’ to read that she likens the stitch to “a 4-twill braid”. 

As exciting as that appeared, I couldn’t begin to figure out how you get from stitched version to 3-d braid version?? 

Pretzel Starting Point

Then I realised she begins her PBS differently to that of Leon Conrad and Mrs Christie’s versions.

Its interesting to note that each of these researchers has their own interpretation of how to start the stitch.  This got me thinking…

The thing to note though, is that all three contributors concur that to start the stitch you first have to make a Pretzel shape (somehow).

However, Ms Carey’s version, being in my view, more straightforward to understand, showed me that it might in fact be possible to ‘manipulate’ the beginning of the stitch (I’ve already shown you this example) in such a way as to start it with a single chain stitch:

triquestra reminder

Silver Triangular PBS

This silver triangle is what I ended up with and intriguingly, it led me in a totally new direction, but for now I just want to pose the question: Does it remind you of anything?  If it does, hold that thought because I come back to this in the next post.

Borrowing from the Vikings

So with Ms Carey’s comprehensive diagrams I put these ideas together with what I had learned about the Viking method of making tubular Ceylon Stitch and decided to try and stitch PBS on a rod.  I kind of knew it would be possible to do this without using ground fabric, because if you recall, when I had previously cut a section out, it hadn’t unravelled.

 PBS 3-Potential

How I made the PBS 3-d braid

So, I needed to look around the (now tidy) stash for something that would support the structure but not be too thick.  So I grabbed some picture-wire and made a very quick spike by bending a length of it in half and not cutting it away.


Here I’m starting PBS, the right way up, as per Ms Carey’s instructions.


Crucially, from what I read in ‘Sweet Bags’, I could see that if I were to work PBS round a spike, I wouldn’t need a knot to start.  In other words, by holding it in place with your thumb you can get the thing started.  


I wont be able to show you how to get the first few steps of the stitch going because I would like to urge you to buy this lady’s book for yourself… so below I jump several rows…

Here you can see that things are working up nicely and it feels comfortable to work this way... 


I stitched this length quickly using thin ‘gift wrap’ wire that’s covered in silver foil - the type made for wedding bouquets and suchlike. 

front 1

Here’s the reverse..

back 2

Now this is where things get interesting…below you can see I’ve finished and am starting to pull the piece off the supporting wire. 


Below it’s totally free of the wire..


After that I decided to STRETCH the braid out… (the reason I did this is because Viking knit made with silver wire is always stretched into shape).


Can you see what is happening?


Correct, it’s forming quite naturally, into 4 sides of even chain stitches, or loops.


The rest of these pictures just show the 360 degree view of the thing…

 CIMG4290  CIMG4292 CIMG4293 CIMG4294

You will notice that this way of working produces a square braid with virtually identical sides.  Furthermore it is very flexible.  (I intend to use this idea on the Embroidered Ring, I just need to be able to translate it  into suitable silver wire.)

CIMG4295   CIMG4299


Dismantling the 3-d braid

Not content with this experiment, I then decided to unravel the piece to really see how its formed..

Below you can see there are, what look like, 2 chain stitches or loops that alternate back and forth.  Incidentally, one of the corners of the braid has slightly more compact ridges.  The fact that all four sides are the same surprised me because I expected the back to remain obvious, but it doesn’t because it turns itself inwards to form the core of the structure.   

From this, its my personal view that when I sew PBS, it should ‘appear’ totally symmetrical, because this braid has 4 even sides and PBS is after all, a 4-cord plait (I discuss this in more detail next time). 


The evenness of the interlace pattern, I believe, is essential to getting the aesthetics of the stitch right e.g. it should be perfectly balanced, or symmetrical.   

Finally here are the close-ups of my pulling it all out.







Below I’m at the end of my PBS ‘dissection’, and at this point I had another possible ‘idea’… (more about that next time…)


Loop Braiding

‘Loop Braiding’ has been dated to as  far back as the Bronze Age.

In Britain, thin 4-sided braids have been found in archaeological sites in Llangorse, Wales dated to 9th Century. 

The examples found in Llangorse were used for seam edge trimmings…

“over the seams are stitched tiny braids or sennits”.

Loop Braiding was eventually overtaken by Tablet Weaving.  Perhaps this was because Tablet Weaving permits the work to be interrupted whereas, Finger Loop Braiding, aka Loop Manipulation, has to be completed in one session.  (See earlier post titled ‘Kentwell Hall’.)  

It would be interesting to see a length of square Finger Loop braid unravelled, but from what I have gathered so far, even with archaeological finds, its difficult to decipher if pieces are Loop braided or Tablet woven. 

Louise Mumford, a conservator in the Department of Archaeology & Numismatics at the National Museum of Wales has published an interesting article regarding English braiding before the 9th century, where she discusses an obscure 2-loop method of construction.   You can read a portion of her article at this site: BRAIDS.  (The relevant section is near the foot of the page.) 

I should also mention that Sweet Bags includes a how-to chapter on Finger Loop Braiding. 


For more information, simply Google ‘loop braiding’ or ‘4-twill braids’ and you’ll find lots more info. 

Interestingly, the website ‘Instructables’ has a video of basic instructions for a (green) square braid made out of 5 loops of Finger Loop.  The finished braid looks uncannily like the one pictured at the top of this post, you can find that here.   


Bag News: I’ve decided I’m going to use stretcher bars for the repro bag and not a slate frame after all because I think it needs to remain portable and not be too heavy. 

Now I know that the background silver will be made of ‘Ground Stitch’ I feel more confident that it wont take me too long to complete. 

It still leaves the question open as to ‘which’ silver wire I should use to blend with the silk for the flowers?  Ms Carey’s book proved to me that the image I bought from the museum, that cost £30 approx, was totally insufficient for the purpose of identifying which silver wire to use for the blending.  It appears from that image that its a thread, but it turns out to be a highly ‘coiled’, flattened wire or foil, so much so, that when stitched, behaves erratically. 


cya + Happy New Year!



  1. Really intresting experiments and conclusions! I really admire your dedication to experimenting with stitches. My personality is to avoid this type of experimentaion. . .but I'm thinking I should force myself to give it a try with some of these stitches.

  2. I cannot believe you dismantled that beautiful braid!!!

  3. Thanks Witch and Stitching,

    Just trying to 'get into the heads' of these long-gone Elizabethan folk really.

    What's interesting at this stage tho, is that the braid version looks like a even numbered, 4-strand (sailing) braid but the embroidered version looks more like the finger woven version, however, if you reverse it and finger loop braid it, you would need an odd number of loops, being 5...

    In other words, I think we could- possibly - looking at classic knotwork for its inspiration, rather than further braid analysis...

  4. I love what you are doing with this. You are going down paths that I had not even envisioned a year ago. Thanks for your dogged determination to unravel this!

  5. The photos of your unravelling remind me of a lucet braid - the fact that you are using one element as opposed to separate elements would take me to look further at those techniques as well. More comparison of visually similar historic braids are here-

    This is much of the problem with surviving braids - the ends are either cut - so without unravelling you cannot be sure if one or more elements was used, or they are encased in tassels, aiglets, or the like and cannot be seen.

    Yes, for a fingerloop, you'll need 5. Tablet weaving didn't really over-take fingerloop braiding - they were at the same time (probably by the same people) but for different purposes on the whole. In fact, there's evidence of fingerloop braiding being in use for longer than tablet weaving. Instead, Fingerloop braiding seems to be the precursor to bobbin lace making - which instead of using loops, usings pairs of threads. What is probably one of the earliest bobbin lace patterns is actually called a 'bone lase', and at the end of a book of fingerloop braid patterns but does not resemble anything we today associate with bobbin lace - it is, instead, a flat braid.

    I love reading your experiments - thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Thanks Kimberley

    I really appreciate your words of encouragement.

  7. Hi Gina

    Thanks for taking the time to provide all this detailed info. I'm going to check out that link - to be sure. I was waiting for input from braid-makers, you have supplied a lot more than I hoped for. Wonderful further 'threads' of research..(can't wait)

    Lucet similarity is fascinating because of the possible Viking link. I can see the finger loop and lace link, 'sinnets' opens a whole new chapter. If it was ever made on a support tho, e.g. a carpet woven braid, then I think I need to look at Soumak weaving or brocading more closely? 'Sweet Bags' confirms that the stitches round the wooden tassels are Soumak.

  8. Hi everyone,
    I'm going to make a little announcement on here about PBS. I'm currently waiting for a vintage book from my local library about knots. In it I think I have possibly found the origins of PBS! Basically, it was originally a knotted Lanyard, probably dating from many centuries earlier. I had virtually given up trying to find its origins but found the reference almost by accident. I will reveal all my sources and the various dots I joined up to arrive at this conclusion. At least I think its a conclusion but I dont have the book yet, so have to keep an open mind. (lets say I'm 90% sure tho.)

    I've decided to post that information on here because I think someone else might get to it before me and I just wanted to note it down somewhere that as at this date, in fact as at 6 months ago, I found a very interesting source as to its roots in the wider culture.

    I hope to post about this soon, but if someone else get to it first, so be it!