False Braids

by Diana Blake Gray
Master Rugmaker

False Braids are an interesting family of rag rugs, which date to the middle 1800s. Some of the false-braid structures date to antiquity, while others first appear in Victorian times.
There are several types of false braids.

Wrapped False Braids
These false braids are worked over “core” strands that remain fixed. There are several different wrapping patterns using one or two core strands. The best known and most frequently used were the figure-8 wrap over two core strands. This can be done with one wrapping strand as shown in the photo or with two wrapping strands which creates a pretty good imitation of a 3-strand braid. These are also the false braids most commonly used to join other sorts of braids in rug making.


Wrapped False Braids were most often made as free braids which were then laced together to form the rug. A cautionary note: in the early 1900s a couple of patterns appeared which called for cotton clothesline for the core strand.

A simple figure-8 wrapped false braid

This is not a good idea. The clothesline absorbs moisture, and is slow to dry, so the rug is prone to mildew and rot. Synthetic materials (camping cord, retired climbing ropes) are a much better choice for the core strands, though fabric is still the optimal material for a soft rug.

Wrapped false braids also lent themselves to mechanization. The so-called braided rugs that show up in furniture stores and discount stores are machine-made false braids using yarns over two cores (and often top-stitched with monofilament thread). A close examination of one of these rugs will reveal that the rug is really not braided at all.

The most interesting of the wrapped false braids is made using a single core and four wrapping strands. When made in two different colors of wrapping strands, the rug is a different color front and back.

Woven False Braids
These types of false braids used multiple fixed strands of fabric (usually wool) sometimes arranged by color. A single fabric strand was then woven through the fixed strands. The fixed strands are exposed at the rug surface and are part of the design. This type of false braid can be made as a free braid, but it also lends itself to braiding-in (weaving into the edge of the rug at each pass).

At right is a 1917 photo of a woven false braid from Plain and Fancy Needlework Magazine, Chicago.

Needlemade False Braids
These false braids are made using a single strand of fabric and can appear as if they are made of 3 strands. One of these false braids is the structural precursor to naalbinding, but that’s all I’m going to say about them until I can get directions in

print, so please don’t write and ask for instructions just yet.
The oldest example of a needlemade false braid is from a cave in Germany dating to about 6,000 years ago.

Ladder Braids

Ok, technically these are real braids, not false braids, but I didn’t have anywhere else to put them neatly—and they can sometimes be mistaken for woven false braids.

In ladder braids, the initial set up allows one strand to stay in a fixed position as the other strands are braided around it. The fixed strand can be used as a drawstring to pull the braid into a curve or form a corner.

The chief use of ladder braids was to frame other types of rugs, especially hooked and knitted rugs. By mid-century, the techniques of making ladder braids had basically died out and hooked rugs were framed with 3-strand standard braids.

How to make a 6-strand ladder braid——see diagram above.

At the center bottom of the illustration are six vertical bars. These represent the 6 strands of fabrics to use for this braid. The number 3 strand will stay fixed in place as the braid is made. Ideally use a different color for it so you can spot it easily.

To make the braid: take the outside strand on the left side (#6) pass it over one strand, under one strand and over the fixed strand. Hold it in place.

Then take the outside strand on the right hand side (#1) and pass it under one strand, over one strand and under the fixed strand. Hold it in place.

Repeat the above, alternately working the left and right side strands to continue the braid

Publications in our catalog
Rugmakers Bulletin #8: Wrapped False Braids


Broomstick Rugs

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