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Friendship Bracelets Tutorial 1: The Forward Knot

I've been asked to teach how I make bracelets. Well if i'm to do that, I'd say it's best that I start at the very beginning.

Step one: Choosing string

This may seem really simple, but let me explain why this is important. DMC is the most well-known and respected name in embroidery floss. However there are cheaper alternatives. Back when I was still just starting, there was a K-mart not far from my home and they had their own brand of floss at about half the cost of DMC. When there is so little profit when it comes to making bracelets, it seemed like a smart thing. However I had worked out an interesting maze of a bracelet in purple and white. Mind you, this is more than 25 years ago, but I remember it vividly because of what happened. I typically wash my bracelets (Basically just get them wet so the knots tighten and then once dry the bracelets break in and become softer. If you don't do this, you should really consider as it makes them feel nice and sell more easily) and did so as usual with this purple and white one. This time, the color ran. That's to say the purple bled onto some of the white and wrecked how awesome the pattern was. The few cents I saved had backfired and cost me all that work as well the hours spent making it. I learned my lesson. Find good reliable embroidery floss, even if it costs a bit more.

Step two: Choosing your work surface

This one is really up to you. However, I'm going to explain why I use what I use and why the other ways seem counter-productive to me. I've seen people safety-pin the loop of the bracelet to their jeans or a pillow. I've seen tape used to hold it to a table. There is even some weird clip with string-holding nubs sold as a friendship bracelet-making device. In fact I've seen many ways people choose to make friendship bracelets, but the truth is that the easiest to use and the way to make consistently good work is a clipboard and a large binder clip.

There are a few reasons why I swear by this. First is it's quite portable. If you have your work taped to a table or clipped to a pillow, you're probably limited to just working in the house. Next it can be quite versatile. Here are just some of the benefits. One, you can shift your work up and re-clip it so that you're consistently working the same distance from the clip. This will make your work cleaner and neater looking vs working continuously farther from its anchoring point. Two, you can have marks on the board to give you an idea of what the finished size should be. Very helpful when creating something new on the fly and you need to know approximately where the halfway point should be. Those points of measurements can be disguised as stickers with things you're interested in. Three, stickers of your favorite rock band or interesting events can lead to conversations in public places and might actually help lead to a sale. Four, the hole on the clipboard meant to hang it on the wall can be used to hold your completed works (tie them on or use a carabiner). So now your work surface has also put saleable items on display. Five, as you're working, people may notice how tedious the work is and see the final product. This will help you justify the price you're selling them for. Finally, there is the notion that perhaps one day you decide you have the skills to go big. Perhaps really big. There is no way I'd want to make a bag or some other huge work trying to use tape or safety pins. It just wouldn't work. I may need more binder clips on my really big works, but the skills I learned while making the smaller ones on how to shift and hold my work in place also works well when getting on to more advanced works.

Step three: Begin knotting!

We first will cut our string to around 2 meter lengths. This is the length I usually start with as it's typically plenty for making a bracelet and it's a quarter of the length you get when buying DMC floss, which comes in 8 meter lengths. So if you cut the string in half and half again, you will have your 2 meter length. I do this because it's cost efficient; if I used longer lengths I'd have leftover string that simply couldn't be used due to it being shorter than 2 meters. But you may find this won't work on a design you desire to make. Most of my patterns are based on using each color as evenly as possible so that there isn't one string that runs out before the others. I'm just telling you this so you're as best prepared as possible.

The loop

Also sometimes referred to as the buckle, the loop gives the friendship bracelet an easy way to tie it to your wrist once completed. A braid will give it a much more professional look and it's best to make sure you have centered it properly. So now you have 1 meter lengths to work with. In my demonstration I'll be doubling up the strings - this isn't necessary, but is how I prefer to tie my works. Single string knots are much smaller and take longer to complete. They also don't last as long because they are also thinner and more susceptible to wear and tear. And once you get to bigger projects like a bag, the doubled-up strings make adding string to your project easier.

All laid out

Here I've chosen distinctly different colors to make it easy to see what's going on so that you can follow the steps without confusion. Due to a total lack of terms here as I'm relatively self taught, I'll be referring to the string that's doing the work of making the knot as the one 'traveling'. We start with the string on the far left. This string will travel over the ones to its right.

The knot used is simple and is called a half hitch. It looks like a figure 4 then pulled up through the loop that’s formed.

Be careful to not drag the string too harshly against the one that's underneath. But pull the knot firm. Not too tight, but firm. This tension will be the skill you need most. It's what will set the beginner apart from a world-classed knotter. Relax. it will take some time and practice to get the hang of it.

You do the same knot with the same strings a second time and draw it firmly to complete the first knot, forming what is known as a double half-hitch knot.

Notice how the traveling string has dropped from where it first started to a space lower? This is how and why these knots work diagonally. Next, the traveling string goes and ties over the next string to the right. Twice just like the first time.

Repeat until you have no more string to its right. Once there it's no longer the traveling string and becomes just like the others and the next traveler is up.

Again we start at the furthermost left and you may notice it's at the highest point that we work our way down through the rest. The furthest left string becomes the traveler and it's just a repeat of what you did with the first row. In fact all rows in this exercise are just the same. So basically you are on the way to your first bracelet.

Now no matter how well you tie them, the bracelet will have a curl to it. This is natural. However you may notice that some parts curl more than others. This is due to changes in the tension of your knots. Your goal should be to keep that tension so even that your work is a constant curve. That takes practice. I was making this basic kind of bracelet for quite some time before I moved on to anything else, which meant I totally mastered the basic skill before going on to bigger or different projects. Truthfully, that was because this was all I was shown how to make. I enjoyed working with different color combinations and noticed that once the first row was in, that was it. The choice was made and that was just how the bracelet was going to look. That same truth is true no matter how big or small a work is or how complex the pattern is. Setting up the colors from the start is crucial to having it come out the way you intended.

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