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Elmsley Rose

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Elmsley Rose

16 July 2012

Practical Matters – Plaited Braid Stitch Part III

Now for some fun!

Some uses of PBS other than in Scrolling Vines

Jeanne of the Just String blog shows her pea pods calyxes worked in PBS

The image below is from book The Embroidery at the Burrell Collection, page 106
(Sorry it’s not clearer – the original image is tiny). I’m pretty sure that the outline of the marigolds is done in PBS.


The following photos are courtesy of Kimberley Mitchell :


The Original Embroiderers Weren’t Perfect

Have a look at the following photo :


Look on the left hand side.(Click on it for a bigger image). The left hand ‘chain stitchy’ side is out of whack with the right hand ‘loopy’ side.

Also, on the right hand side at the bottom, the braid crowds in on itself as it goes around the curve to approach the top of that pale leaf.

And the Layton Jacket!

The legs of the PBS are showing on the underside of the top right vine. On the vine below it, the PBS braid rather stretches out as it approaches the edge. Maybe the embroiderer was in a hurry to finish? :-)

The Elizabethan embroiderers churned out miles and miles of PBS braid, but they were human too.
You can also see in the photo there was a a braid finished at the jacket edge with a single stitch over the last pretzel

Miscellaneous Tips

I found keeping a finger on the back of the pulled through thread helped check that I wasn’t leaving loose thread on the back, which would later work through the linen and loosen the pretzels.

I think that if you can use your needle to unpick several pretzels, you understand how the stitch is being done.

Other tips  
Yvette Stanton’s Left/Right Handed Embroiderer’s Companion Books contain important tips on 
: thread thickness: working two lines of PBS to join at a point
: working two lines of PBS to join at an angle

I think that the key to learning this stitch is learning how to do the very first pretzel. Then learning the mechanism of doing a full pretzel.  I was so scared of Plaited Braid Stitch, but now I’m just fine with it. I need to work on my tension, but I think I have a handle on it now.

I think that the next thing for me to do is to go back and look at heaps of historical embroidery and really examine  PBS, using what I’ve learnt. Particularly where it comes to width and ‘nesting’ of pretzels of the braid.

BUT I know where to go from here, and improve my PBS. I have the resources to hand - all that information I've researched for this post. :-)

Talking about braid width and intricate details of the threads used has stretched me a bit, given that I’ve only just learnt the stitch. I am absolutely indebted both to Kimberley for her help and allowing the use of her private photographs in writing this blog entry, and to Melinda for letting me borrow her brain as well as asking me to be involved with her Sampler Instructions. - this is the post I recently wrote about Melinda's sampler

Any mistakes are on my part. Do let me know in the comments if you don’t agree on any point or have something to add. I can add it into the final article with an acknowledgement if that's ok.

My blog template occasionally won’t let people make comments. You can mail me at if you have problems, and I’ll post your comment.

Finally, I hope that these tips help you learn the Dreaded Plaited Braid Stitch as well! :-)

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12 July 2012

Plaited Braid Stitch – Practical Matters Part I (published again!)

Having managed to completely loose this blog entry (except in an old draft form) I’ve redone it, and here it is again :-)

Part II is the next blog entry.

I’ll publish Part III tomorrow. It’s a bit of fun – some uses of PBS in 16th/17thC embroidery in shapes other than the classic Elizabethan scrolling vine.


There are many posts on the Net about which instructions to use for Plaited Braid Stitch (PBS), referencing many books. I’m not going to write another one. I’m going to write about my experiences of learning the stitch.


Both Melinda Sherbring (Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake from the SCA) and Kimberley Mitchell gave me many tips to help me learn the stitch for which I’d like to give them many thanks.

I would also like to thank Rachel and Francesca, my proofreaders.

There are lots of links in this post. Some lead to posts in other blogs. Where I’ve quoted directly from other blogs clicking on the words will take you to the original blog entry.


Several passes of the needle and thread form a single ‘pretzel’. This is to avoid confusion with the word ‘stitch’ which could be taken to mean either a single step in creating a pretzel, or the complete combination of stitches that form one pretzel.

I’m calling a series of pretzels the ‘braid’.  

Stitch Instructions

I learnt from the instructions in Melinda’s Sampler which I wrote about in my last post. They are a redaction of Leon Conrad’s instructions from the Fine Lines magazine.

Of the various sets of instructions available, I’ve made a list below. They aren’t in any particular order – it depends whether you like words, stitch diagrams, step-by-step photos or a video.

  • Interesting background posts from Mary Corbet of the ever wonderful Needle'n'Thread blog

In Search of the Elusive Plaited Braid Stitch

Goldwork Thread for Plaited Braid Stitch

Leon Conrad’s 2 part article is the first of the ‘modern’ (turn of the 21stC) instructions.  Leon has a (now defunct) website where he has a page briefly describing the article. (Yay the Wayback Machine, since this site has now been archived)

He comments on the page that

“Although I was aware of sources which provided instructions on how to work this stitch, such as Grace Christie’s Samplers and Stitches (Batsford, London, 1930; recently reprinted), I could not get this stitch to work for me, and the result did not seem to me to look like the Elizabethan originals.”

so he re-worked the instructions to find a stitch mechanism that he believed did look like the original Plaited Braid Stitch.

Many other PBS instructions are based on this article. Tricia of Thistle Threads notes

"Fine Lines is out of print and the parent company is bankrupt, so you can’t purchase back issues as far as I know. "

Some people may have a copy of the magazine filed away

  • The Thistle Thread Blog by Tricia Nguyen when it was the Embroiderers’ Story Blog describing the embroidery and construction of the Plimoth Jacket

Step 1 - PBS (Step by Step Photo Tutorial)

Step 2 PBS Tutorial

Hit “Next” to see posts for all 19 steps, including how to taper a braid.

A relevant post from the Thistle Thread blog is

Correction to Leon Conrad/Calico Road Instructions

And finally,


A tapestry needle with an eye of a suitable size to take the thread or cord used, is used for PBS.

A Japanese needle is always the best to use with any gold thread as the eye is burr-less and will not strip the metal from the silk/cotton core. Available from Japanese Embroidery Centres, they range in price from $11 to $21 per needle, depending on it’s thickness.

Tricia notes at the Plimoth Blog "We’re using the hand made Japanese needles with it, which helps make a large enough hole in the linen for the gold to pass through, and also is gentler on the gold at the eye."


The thread used for PBS needs to be stiff

Gold threads with an artificial, silk or cotton core are the recommended threads for Plaited Braid Stitch.

Gold cord of a suitable size to pass through the fabric can also be used.

This is because they are fairly stiff.

“Work the stitch in a heavy, fairly stiff thread as the loops will tangle and pull out of shape if a soft thread is used, and stretch the fabric in an embroidery hoop or frame.”

from Mary Thomas’ Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, page 51.

Mrs Christie says the same thing on page 51 of Samplers and Stitches. (yes, the same page of this other book, funnily enough)

Using Gilt or 2% Metal Threads for PBS

Gold metal threads may be artificial (gilt) or 2% real gold that has been mixed with copper.

I used Benton and Johnson #371 passing thread when stitching – this is a very popular choice for PBS. I used the 2% #4 passing thread from Golden Threads.

2% gold threads are stiffer than gilt threads and so make it easier to make the stitch.

In the photo below, see how the 2% thread loops around the spool, because it’s relatively stiff? The B&J flops off to the front of it’s spool.


I think that the B&J looks a little like cheap Christmas tinsel when side by side with the 2%.

My photo 2 percent vs Benton


However, PBS uses a lot of thread (see the section PBS Eats Thread below), so as a cost effective option, many people choose to use gilt thread rather than 2%.

Tricia of Thistle Threads looks at gilt vs real metal threads (photos)

Some of the Suppliers

2% are available from such suppliers as Golden Threads, ThreadNeedleStreet, Hedgehog Handworks or Tanya Berlin Goldwork Thread Supplies.

Bill Barnes made a special #4 Gilt Passing Thread for the PBS stitching on the Plimoth Jacket. This thread is available from Golden Threads.

Tricia of Thistle Threads talks about gilt metal threads for 16th/17thC stitches here.

This photo shows the various threads used to make PBS. It's from the Thistle Thread Blog (Plimoth Jacket Blog).


Other Thread Options for PBS

Still more options include Japanese Thread (discussed more below) and tambour thread, which Tricia Nguyen mentions as making a nice PBS braid

Yvette Stanton from VettyCreations looks at using Benton and Johnson T71 Japanese Thread and Krenik Japan No 7. thread in this blog post

Yvette Stanton talks about experimenting with various Benton and Johnson threads (passing thread #371 and the Japanese threads T69 and T71) in this blog post, and how the wrapped nature of Japanese thread affects the appearance of the PBS braid.

PBS Eats Thread

Plaited Braid Stitch just eats thread. Trisha Nguyen estimated that the vines and a few small extras like flower centres for the Plimoth Jacket would need approximately 1000 metres and later found her estimate to be more or less correct.

To quote Jen Thies (PinkLeader)

I found that 50cm of the gold passing thread would work up ~2.5cm of the Plaited Braid stitch.

This is why an embroiderer needs to consider the issues of using gilt versus 2% gold metal thread for this stitch. The gilt thread is much cheaper but the 2% metal thread is easier to use to construct the stitch because it’s stiffer.

I think the 2% looks a lot better, and I know that a lot of people do. It’s easier to embroider PBS using 2% because of the extra stiffness. But if I was doing a project using a significant amount of PBS, I think I’d have to use gilt thread to remain within a reasonable budget.

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7 July 2012

Plaited Braid Stitch – Practical Matters Part II

Here's Part II - the meat of the matter. Please see the *next* post for Part I.

As a note, the stitch diagrams apply equally to right and left handers.

Spacing and Width of the Pretzels

Because I was only practising, I was working by simply inserting my needle into every second hole in my #28 linen fabric ground.

I’d like to emphasize here that PBS is NOT a counted stitch. It’s a surface stitch. The width and length of each pretzel are judged by eye, following the general directions of guidelines (discussed below). However, when practising, it’s a lot easier to count threads and be able to concentrate on the mechanisms of the stitch.

Spacing of the Pretzels

I found that doing it over 1 thread gave the pretzels a bunched look – they were spaced too closely together:

Doing it over 2 threads on that sized linen looked about right :
Oh! Still so wobbly at this stage – I was concentrating on stitch mechanisms, not on getting the tension of the loops in each pretzel even. One thing at a time!

Doing it in 2% gave me much better control over the tension of the loops in each pretzel :
Yes, this is where my camera lets me down a little, but not as badly as I thought it would :-)

You can check the evenness of your spacing by seeing if there are evenly spaced horizontal lines on the back of your work.

So, it follow that to reproduce PBS with the same spacing as a particular historical piece, check out the spacing on the back of the historical piece, if the image is available.

Pretzel Width

Yvette Stanton talks about PBS stitch width on her blog

Tricia talks about pretzel width, pretzel spacing and thread thickness

Mrs Christie comments that when plunging the needle into the fabric, to always scoop up the same amount of fabric.

In summary (including the information in the links above) the overall size of the braid is affected by  
  • pretzel width  
  • thread thickness  
  • the snugness with which the pretzels are placed one below each other (or above each other, depending on which direction you are working) the tension used in making the loops of each pretzel.
Which Direction to work the Braid In?

I found, from reading all of these sources I’ve listed and my own experiences, that it doesn’t matter whether you work PBS
  • away from your body 
  • towards your body 
  • sideways (yes, I have 2 friends who do this!)
I work upsideDOWN compared to the diagram given in instructions, but working towards my body. That’s just weird, but it’s what works for me.
I really think it’s a matter of ‘work the braid in whichever direction feels most comfortable for you”.
Tricia of the Thistle Threads blog describes how to tell which direction some PBS was embroidered in.

Stitch Guidelines versus Actual Stitch Width

Normally, two parallel lines are drawn to serve as a guide for the stitching of PBS.

It’s a loopy (braid) stitch. It will end up being wider than the stitch guidelines that are drawn. Tricia of Thistle Threads talks about this issue here, where the issue was significant in embroidering the Layton Jacket.
To work out the guidelines to reproduce an existing piece of PBS, look at where the thread enters and leaves the ground. Looking at the back of the embroidery is the easiest way to see this, if that’s possible. That’s the spacing over which the two lines should be drawn.

Starting The First Pretzel

Most instructions start with 4 legs to start the first pretzel as illustrated in Mary Thomas’s diagram in her Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (page 51)


This is how it looks on the Layton Jacket


The "Cross" Start to PBS

There is a less well known start – a sort of cross stitch start - which I personally think is neater.
Kimberley Mitchell found an example of it in a piece at the Victoria and Albert Museum :
T 13-1956 strawberry

Closeup :

And as done by Kimberley, showing the ‘cross’ from a bit of an angle :

Kimberley has very kindly diagrammed how to start with a cross stitch start :

PBS start fromKimberley

To accompany the diagram, Kimberley wrote
“I know that there are a lot of variations, and I wish I could point my finger at ONE of them and say that it is THE way, but the truth is that there were quite obviously many different ways that it was being done during this period.  Some of the differences may be due to different teachers adapting it and then teaching it "their" way.  I think that it could be due to people thinking they knew it when they sat with a teacher, then going home and doing it, but perhaps going under two instead of three on one side, and three on the other.  Jacqui Carey states that this particular variant was the most common method used, but it just never made any sense to me for it to be asymmetrical, so I do it the way that I have for about eight years now.  If you look at the sides of the stitch, you will see what I call little legs.  I count back two, slip my needle under three threads without piercing the fabric, then come up in the middle of the opening, cross over the two vertical threads, and do the same for both sides.”
If you are a step by step person rather than a diagram person, Genoveva from the HonorBeforeVictory Blog shows photos for the same start here

Tricia of ThistleThreads uses the same start.

Jacqui Carey uses the Mrs Christie/Leon Conrad start in Elizabethan Stitches.

Working the Stitch

The first pretzel doesn’t look like proper PBS. Don’t worry, it will look better in a stitch or two.
When making a new pretzel, it doesn’t look quite right until the final stitch (the lower right leg) is made.

Melinda Sherbring says
“Don't do plaited braid in small pieces -- do a large amount at one sitting, or without doing other stuff in between. It is easier to make the plaited braid look all "of a piece", and to do it exactly the same way. “
Tighten the thread very gently after each step of a pretzel to form nice shapes, first using the needle and then finger. Pulling on the final right leg to tighten the stitch ruins the pretzel shape. Be careful when tightening not to pull the linen holes out of shape.

Shape each pretzel so
  • it’s loose enough hide the ‘legs’ of the stitch and to enable the next pretzel to be ‘hooked into’ this one
  • it’s tight enough to nest the pretzels nicely along the braid 
  • each pretzel is the same size as the existing ones.
A little flattening with a fingernail or very gently with tweezers doesn’t go astray, especially with 2% passing thread, and especially when working the stitch over a curve. Using actual finger flesh is a less good idea, as you’re not really supposed to touch your metal thread because of the dirt and acid in your fingers.

Kimberley Mitchell suggested a laying tool for this use which I think is a better idea – no dirt/acid, and tweezers can easily damage the delicate thread.

Working PBS Over a Curve
Elizabethan work contains masses of vines done in PBS as scrolling vines so it’s important to know how to work the stitch in a curve.

Kimberley Mitchell says
“As you go into a curve, gradually change to over 1 for the inner part of the curve, and gradually to over 3 for the outer part of the curve for the same pretzel.”
My_PBS_simply stitch compensation
She also advises to practise using an “S” shape :

My_PBS S Compensation

I’ve found that as you work around a curve, you need to keep the drawn line facing you directly. Move the frame appropriately, or else you’ll end up working the pretzels at an angle.

The hardest things to do were
  • judge by eye just where you needed to change from over 2 down to over 1 on the inner curve, and from over 2 to over 3 on the outer curve. This doesn’t happen simultaneously – ie not all pretzels are over 1 on the inside and over 3 on the outside when making a curve. At the beginning and end of the curve the pretzels need to be over 1 on the inside curve and over 2 (as normal) on the outside.
  • making sure that I kept the stitch *width* the same. I was going over 4 horizontally, and I had to keep checking and counting threads, even tho this is a surface stitch, not a counted stitch. You’d need to judge the distance by eye on very fine linen, of course. 
If You Run Out of Thread

Secure the existing thread on the back (see the section below). You don’t need those first steps you use when first starting a PBS braid because the structure is already there, just as if you were continuing on stitching with the old thread. After securing the new thread, go on to do full pretzels, hooking into the last pretzel.

Finishing the Braid Neatly

The Thistle Thread tutorial (Steps 16 to 19) explains both how to taper the braid into a point, and how to finish the braid. The final stitch is shown here :

To Secure the Thread on the Back

Melinda Sherbring says
“Don't weave the end of the thread back through the stitches already worked. Instead, carry that last bit of thread under the stitches that will be worked next, and bring up the metal thread to the front on your stitching line.
Then when you work the next thread, that old tail will be trapped, and you can cut it off when you get to it.
The advantage is that the pull on the last stitch of the old thread is in the same direction as the the other stitches. It makes the join that tiny bit harder to find."
Leon Conrad said
“I studied the reverse side to work out the stitcher’s starting and finishing points. I noticed that the finishing ends had been slipped under the stitches on the back of the work. To start a sequence, the stitcher had used a knot.”

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