How much fun is selecting fabric, lining and buttons for your French jacket? Finding the perfect trim can be another story. If you are looking for black, white or a standard color you may get lucky but what if your fabric is a wonderful mix of other colors and the trim you’re considering just doesn’t look quite right? Another issue I frequently encounter is that many of the trims are too rigid and bulky to curve around corners and the stiffness detracts from the wonderful fluid nature of these jackets.
I searched for some time and experimented with many methods to produce a soft, flexible custom braid. Finally I stumbled upon Kumihimo braiding and modified the traditional technique to create a braid I’m finally happy with. By creating your own braid you aren’t limited to the choices found in the trim section and can totally customize it to complement your jacket. There are many books and videos explaining the Kumihimo method which can be used to create round, half-round or flat braids. Since I was interested in jacket trim I focused on flat braids. Kumihimo braids are normally tightly woven and fairly rigid; not what I was looking to make. By using soft yarns and increasing the counterweight I’m able to get the desired result.
Traditional Marudi or Takadai are expensive and since this started out as an experiment, I wanted minimal financial investment. Home Depot had a round wooden disk and wooden dowels which made a serviceable stand. I cut a braiding plate from craft foam using internet photos for the design. Braiding plates are also available online; most beading suppliers carry them.
The simplest braid is an allover design. You don’t need to arrange the cords in any particular pattern. I’ll show a 10 strand braid and then explain the specific yarns I used for trim. The numbering system on this plate may differ from one you find. I’ve wound 10 bobbins (available from Beadalon and others). I’ve also used 10 different colors of embroidery floss for demonstration.
Tie the cord ends together and slip through the hole in the beading plate. Attach the counterweight. I used two large washers slipped through a surgical clamp. Traditionally a small bag containing weights is used. The weight is adjustable, depending on number of bobbins used and the desired effect. Most instructions will advise weighing all the bobbins and using a counterweight of about 50%. My bobbins each weigh 24 grams times 10 bobbins for a total weight of 240 grams. The counterweight is very important to maintain an even tension. THE MORE COUNTERWEIGHT, THE LOOSER THE TENSION. Since I wanted a soft braid I used a 75% counterweight. My bobbins weigh 240 grams, 75% of 240 is 180, so the weight of the washers plus surgical clamp is 180 grams.
Place a cord in slots 3,4,5,6,7,8,14,15,16,17. The position of each color doesn’t matter. This is just to illustrate the braiding sequence.
Move the cord in 5 to e (small case e on the right side), move 6 to E (capital E on the left side) Don’t ask why e and E (just the version I used)
Move 15 to 5 and 4 to 15.
14 to 4 and 3 to 14
16 to 6 and 7 to 16
17 to 7 and 8 to 17
Then E to 3 and e to 8
That completes a sequence. Keep repeating until you have enough braid. This took much longer to write than actually do and after a few repeats you won’t need the instructions. For each repeat you bring the center cords to the side, alternate cords on the left side, then the right side, and then move the side cords back to top. There are also many versions and videos of this pattern online if my version is confusing. Search for 10 cord flat braid and you’ll find many tutorials.
To guestimate how many strands of yarn for the width braid you want, twist multiple lengths together until you get close to the size. For the pastel braid I used 36 strands divided evenly among the 10 bobbins. I wound 6 bobbins with two strands of pom-pom yarn and two strands of metallic silver. Then 4 bobbins with one length of pom-pom, one metallic silver and one off-white angora.
Since the braid is so pliable, it can be stretched slightly to narrow it. To widen the braid, gently stretch it crosswise.
The braid is very easy to shape around curves and corners.
The jacket which appeared in Threads Magazine was trimmed with braid using these yarns from Linton Tweeds.
How long should you cut the strands? I found about 1.5 times the desired finished length plus 10-12 inches for knotting. Since I didn’t want to piece the trim around the jacket edge, I wove two lengths for each jacket. One length for the sleeve edges and pocket trim, the other length for the jacket body. I did the shorter length first to see if I liked my yarn combination and to test if 1.5 times finished length would be correct. Test a few short lengths before committing to yards of trim you might not like. If the braid is too narrow, add more strands of yarn. As you braid, the counterweight will move lower; when it gets close to the bottom of the stand just unclamp and move the counterweight up. I clamped right onto the completed braid with no damage. How long does this take!!! It isn’t fast but not as long as you might think. After doing two jackets I can braid about 20 inches per hour and need about 140 inches per jacket to do sleeves, 4 pockets, and all around the edges of the jacket body. Most sewers plan on at least 50-70 hours (and often more) so another 7-8 hours to get exactly what you want isn’t crazy. It’s great TV work; you will memorize the sequence quickly and do it without thinking.
This loosely woven trim will unravel very, very easily so I machine stitched a length of tulle to stabilize before cutting lengths for the pockets and sleeves. Secure the ends of longer lengths also.
Next post will explore different braiding patterns and incorporating threads from the fabric. I hope you enjoy this and consider using some custom braids.