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

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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 (Yay the Wayback Machine, since this site has now been archived)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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Blogger Rachel said...

I'm so glad you managed to get it all back again!

Friday, July 13, 2012  
Anonymous Mary Martin said...

Waiting impatiently for the other two posts! Great job!

Friday, July 13, 2012  
Blogger elmsley rose said...

:-) :-)

Saturday, July 14, 2012  
Blogger elmsley rose said...

Hi Mary! :-)
Part II is in the post before this one...I'll post it all as one document when I've got all feedback. Less confusing - but very long.
Part III going up today.

Saturday, July 14, 2012  

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