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Plaited Braid Stitch – Practical Matters Part II

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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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I like the Japanese needles because the eye is round. Metal thread does not easily flatten to go through the eye of a tapestry needle.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, Melinda!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012  
Anonymous Sara said...

I love the Japanese needles for all sorts of work. I use them with my crewel piece because the wool frays less. I also love them with gilt twist. Wondering about mixing the 2% gold in with other metal threads in a project? I know you would want the whole PBS done in the same thread and I like the look of 2% for this. Then if I went on to do couched Japanese thread in another area of the design--is this mixing of metals ok? Love this post!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012  
Blogger Rachel said...

One of the things I have discovered is that the instructions in older books tend to show only part of the story and in the orientation for left-handed stitchers. Yvette Stanton and Tricia Nguyen-Wilson both give more steps, and in an orientation for right-handers. This explains why my mother (left-handed) got to grips with PBS before I did (right-handed)!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

I imagine because the burrless eye is less wearing on the wool??
The only problem with mixing in 2% with gilt gold thread is that gilt won't tarnish and 2% will, so you'll end up with ...a changing variety of colours. It's tempting to go with gilt passing thread for PBS vine in an Elizabethan piece, and then 2% for the specialist threads (the purls for example) but they look different, and then the 2% will tarnish slowly. I actually like the tarnished look, and it's not like it turns black like silver tarnishes - just kind of gentler in colour. Not as blingy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Which is maybe I could never get to grips with those older instructions. The diagrams in different books are sometimes flipped around the vertical axis - sometimes to an LHer's advantage, although there RH and LH people can use exactly the same diagram, or whichever version best suits them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012  
Blogger Rachel said...

Certainly when I was at the course in Durham, Tracy Franklin said she had simply sat down with those diagrams one day and worried at it until it made sense! I suspect part of it is down to whether or not the stitcher is really keen to learn that particular stitch or not!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012  
Blogger Kimberley said...

I only use the handmade Japanese needles when using metal thread or GST. I use the petite tapestry needles for silk threads when I am doing detached buttonhole type stitches.

Love the blog entry! I hope you find the first part again. ;)

Thursday, July 12, 2012  
Anonymous elisabeth in CT said...

Mary Corbett over at Needle 'n Thread has promised to have a video tutorial on her method of doing the pbs. She said it should be up by summer's end.

Thursday, July 12, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

A Mary video on PBS! Great! She always does them so well :-)

Thursday, July 12, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thursday, July 12, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks - made the correction in Part I. I misunderstood.
Part I re-done. Yay!

Thursday, July 12, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thread-saving tip for those without Japanese needles (like me), using ordinary tapestry needles: pad the needle! Take a short length of silk or similar fine thread, double it, thread the loop through the eye and pass the tails though the loop to make a larkshead through the needle's eye. Cut the thread off leaving about 1cm to 2cm tails. Now thread the needle with the metal thread as normal. The silk thread in the eye greatly reduces the wear on the metal thread at the end of the needle, where it is under the most strain, but still leaves plenty of room in the eye for the metal thread. The little tassel of silk wears away and needs replacing after a few threadings.

Friday, July 13, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

That's a really great tip, Sue! Thankyou :-)

Saturday, July 14, 2012  
Blogger Kimberly Servello said...

Oh, I never saw Leon's comment on how the Elizabethan's started and stopped. That's the same way I do. Interesting.
I also never saw the cross stitch start variation.
Thanks for an informative post, Elmsley!

Sunday, February 17, 2013  
Blogger Kimberly Servello said...

Thanks for the tip, Sue. I have Japanese needles, but still like using the tapestry for goldwork. I honestly don't see much difference in wear on the gold thread between the two needles. After seriously gouging myself several times with the Japanese needles, I went back to using the tapestry needle and am content. And my embroidery is blood-free, too :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013  

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