I’ve paused momentarily in braiding the embroidery braids in Jacqui Carey’s book, Chinese Braid Embroidery, just to consolidate what I’ve been learning.

I’m finding the braids look better with the high tension that comes from the bobbins standing high up from the platform – that is, just at that point when extra thread has to be released. It goes without saying that for the first braids in Carey’s book, her advice about keeping the far bobbins as close as possible to the back uprights is excellent!

Braid JC2. I wasn’t happy with my first attempt at the purple-and-white chevrons, so I had another go. As with all braiding, I need to keep my eyes both on the bobbin movements as well as what’s happening at the braiding point.

Braid JC5. This is the green-and-white braid, reproducing one held in the British Museum. Perhaps it was the strong contrast between the very dark green and white, but (in pearl cotton 5) it has come out the best-looking braid so far. For some unknown reason, it does require ‘tweaking’ at the braiding point. As with the earlier braids in two colours, it’s very easy to mislay the bobbins and end up with a mistake, especially when working at speed; I’m getting used to “reverse braiding” and undoing any mistakes.

Braid JC1. I came across some very thin, very glossy silk-like synthetic which is two-ply. The braid ends up being 2mm wide. There appear to be inconsistencies in the way the ridges fall, but frankly I’d need a magnifying glass to analyse them; I think it all comes down to tweaking anything vaguely awry at the braiding point as soon as you detect a problem.

Importantly, this is my first attempt at joining threads as Miao braiders themselves do. With each succeeding knot and join, I got better. I need to refer to bobbin lace making for better joins. In Miao textiles, joins are disguised as part of the applique/couched embroidery process and, frankly, with such thin thread, joins are required at very short intervals. I’ve been used to warping bobbins “by hand” so far, but will upgrade to warping between two doorknobs several metres apart: the thinner the braid, the longer the thread needs to be. I wonder how long the silk threads are which Miao buy at their markets.

My aim, before too long, is to copy in all respects the tiny panel at Fig.99 in the book. I doubt it will be anything like the 8×4.5cm of the original, but I like the idea of (re-)creating a piece of Miao textile which shows the braid in context, among cross-stitch and folded silk-ribbon applique.

Photo 1. The 2ply synthetic, showing a near-empty bobbin ready for another piece of thread to be joined.

Photo 2. First attempts at braids JC1-4.

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Today, I worked braid JC2 from Jacqui Carey’s book, Chinese Braid Embroidery, creating a two-colour chevron braid; again in pearl cotton 5, one strand per bobbin, 2 metres in length, creating about 125cm/50″, about 5mm wide.

I decided to try attaching the thread to the bobbin using a Western bobbin lace-style slip knot. This worked extremely well, enabling me to quick-release thread almost with one hand. I noticed an improvement if I kept the bobbin thread about 3cm/1″ from the cuphook on the top; any lower down and you have to exaggerate the hand movements to keep out of the way of the cuphook; any higher and the thread and slip knot catch on the cuphook. I’m not intending to think about making my own bobbins until I’ve done all the braids in Jacqui Carey’s book.

Borrowing from the Japanese bobbin-and-stand tradition (the takadai in particular), I decided also to attach a cotton leader to the roller and secure the bobbin threads to that leader. This stopped the braid from slipping.

As I go, I’m imitating the photos of original Miao textiles she has published with each braid diagram, by keeping the colour schemes identical to the photos. This lends an air of authenticity to what I’m doing. Today’s was white and light purple.

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Today, an 8-bobbin braid, JC1, in single strands of pearl cotton 5. I chose a different colour for each strand to better see the braid structure. The resulting braid was 5mm wide and just 20cm/9 inches long from 1 metre lengths, not having secured the threads in any way to the bobbins.

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