Copyright © University of Cambridge. All rights reserved.
For thousands of years people have used different ways of plaiting
and braiding fibres together to make cords for decoration, for ties
on clothes, for carrying things and anything else they needed.
Today, braids made by machines still have many of the same uses:
trimmings for clothes and furniture and woven ropes for climbing,
The instructions here tell you how to make some different braids:
some simpler, some more complicated.
You can use all sorts of things to make braids. Wool is good
because it is bouncy and also cheap. Wool strands in a braid tend
to squash together so that you can't tell them apart unless they
are different colours. String or cord can be effective if you want
to be able to see where the strands of your braid go. You could
also try some more exotic materials - how about wire, or long
grass, or elastic from a big elastic band? Think about what you
want your braid to do. Does it need to be wide or narrow? Stiff or
bendy? Stretchy or not stretchy? What colour do you want it to
You've almost certainly made a plait with three strands
before, but you may not have plaited with larger numbers.
You can plait almost anything - string, wool, cord, wire - but
string or cord are easy to start with. You need to cut strands to
plait with before you start. Remember that the finished plait will
be shorter than the strands you started with.
You might want to make a finished plait into a loop, for
example to make a bracelet. To do this you can tie the ends
together, and maybe cover them by winding some more string round.
Or you can carefully weave the ends strands of one end into the
other using a large needle.
A three-strand plait is the simplest to make.
- First, make a knot in the three strings to stop your plait
coming unravelled, and fix your strings down - you could tie them
to something or stick them to a surface with tape (be careful not
to use a surface which will be damaged).
- Start the plait by moving the left-hand strand in front of its
next-door neighbour to become the middle strand.
- Now move the right hand strand to become the middle one.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the plait is the length you want. It
helps if you keep the strands untangled below the place you are
working, otherwise the plait can easily turn into a messy tangle.
Finish the plait with another knot to stop it coming undone.
Remember: left to the middle then right to the middle then
left to the middle then right to the middle...
Other odd numbers
Plait with other odd numbers of strands in the same way.
- Fix down an odd number of strands.
- Move the left hand strand into the middle by crossing over the
strands in between.
- Then the right.
- Then the left, then the right... until the plait is long
enough. Tie a knot to finish it off.
With even numbers of strands there isn't a middle strand, so
you can't do exactly the same thing as you did for odd numbers. But
you can still make a plait.
- Tie a knot and fix the strands down. Divide the strands into
two bunches, with the same number of strings in each bunch.
- Take the strand furthest to the left of the left hand bunch and
move it to the left side of the right hand bunch.
- Then take the strand furthest to the right of the right hand
bunch and move it to the right side of the left hand bunch.
- Keep going until your plait is long enough and finish by tying
Some things to think about
Does the bottom of your plait look the same after every time
you move a strand?
If not, how many moves do you have to make until it does look
Is the answer the same if you plait with strands in different
colours as it is when you plait with just one colour?
Finger weaving is a way of making narrow, flat bands suitable
for things like bracelets. You can use any number of strands, but
four is a good place to start. Wool is a good material for finger
weaving because it is soft so the strands lie nicely. Again, you'll
need to cut your strands of wool before you start.
- Tie a knot in your strands and fix them down.
- Pick up the strand on the left hand side and take it to the
right hand side, weaving alternately under and over the strands you
pass on the way. If you're left-handed, you might find it easier to
take the right hand strand and weave it across to the left
- Now do the exactly the same again: pick up a strand from the
same side as last time, and weave it to the other side. It doesn't
matter whether you start by going under or over the first strand,
as long as you do the same every time.
- Keep weaving strands from one side to the other until you've
reached the length you want. Finish by tying a knot.
Things to think about
Can you draw your finger weaving, showing all the unders and
There are lots of ways to weave strands together to make
cords. Here are just some of them. String or wool are good for
these braids. You need to cut lengths of it before you start.
A four-strand braid
- Tie four strands together with a knot and fix them down.
- Pick up the left hand strand. Move it over the top of the two
strands to its right, and then go back under the second of these
- Now pick up the right hand strand. Move it over the top of the
two strands to its left, and then go back under the second of these
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your cord is long enough. Finish by
tying a knot.
An eight-strand braid
This is very like the four-strand braid, with different
- Tie eight strands together and fix them down.
- Take the left hand strand over five strands to its right, then
back under the last two of these.
- Take the right hand strand and go over five strands to its
left, then back under the last two.
- Keep repeating steps 2 and 3, finishing with a knot.
A twelve-strand braid
Make this braid like the four and eight-stranded ones, but
taking the strands from the outside over eight strands and back
Things to think about
Can you use numbers to write down how you made each braid? For
example, positive numbers could mean you should cross over strands
and negative numbers could mean you should go under them. So "5,
-2" would mean "go over five strands then back under the last
What other braids can you make?
Write down how to make one braid using your number system and
give the instructions to a friend. Can they make your braid from
"Fill gap" braid
This braid is a bit different. You need seven strands, and a
circular or octagonal piece of stiff card like the one in the
diagram, with eight slots round the outside and a hole in the
- Thread the seven strands front-to-back through the hole in the
middle of your card and tie the short ends in a knot at the back.
Put each strand into a slot round the outside of the card and turn
it round to put the empty slot to the top.
- Take the strand three places to the right of the empty slot out
of its slit and move it into the empty slot, crossing over the
threads in between. Now you have a new empty slot.
- Take the thread three places in the clockwise direction from
the new empty slot and move it into the empty space.
- Keep going like this until the braid is long enough.
Some More things to Look at
If you're interested in braiding and weaving, Phiala's String Page
useful. It has information about different braids and about their
uses in history. There are also instructions for some simple kinds
of weaving beyond finger weaving, and lists of books and websites
where you can find out more.
The Braid Society
has nice pictures, and some instructions for making different