Magento CommerceHandweavers Guild of America

Making Cords for Ply-Split Braiding

Information supplied by Linda Hendrickson

Find more cord and braid resources at HGA's eShop online store.

Contact HGA at 678-730-0010 or for back issues of SS&D 159.

— supplemental information for the article by Linda Hendrickson in the Summer 2009 issue of Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot magazine.

Cordmaking takes time, but allows you to control the fiber, amount and direction of twist, diameter, and colors. Cords can be made with everything from silk to stainless steel yarn, as well as ribbon, raffia, and dental floss. (Click here for cordmaking terms.) The most efficient tool for cordmaking is a 4-hook twister head attached to an electric drill. The four hooks rotate in one direction for Initial Overtwist (IOT), and then the entire head of the cordmaker rotates in the opposite direction for Controlled Countertwist (CCT). Hand-operated 4-hook twisters are also available. Below are instructions for an alternative method using equipment you may already have-a drill and a single hook.

Materials Needed

  • A hand or electric reversible drill with an adjustable chuck.
  • A sturdy hook to fit in the drill. Make one from coat hanger wire or 1/8-inch stainless steel. Tighten the chuck as much as possible so the hook does not slip out (this is very annoying when it happens during twisting!).
  • A fixed point to serve as the outend (the furthest point away from the twisting device)-a warping post, C-clamp, or a piece of wood with a finishing nail or cup hook.
  • A warping wand or other similar device to ensure that the yarn feeds smoothly.
  • Safety glasses.

The distance between the drill hook and the outend needs to be about five times the length of the finished cord. For example, for a finished cord that is about 24 inches long, there should be 120 inches between the drill hook and the outend.

Secure the drill and lay out the outend the necessary distance apart. (This may be at opposite ends of a long table or, in order to achieve greater distance, try using a table at one end of the room and an ironing board at the other end.) Clamp the warping wand near the outend. Place the yarn on the floor and thread it through a hole in the warping wand. For efficiency, use two or more strands, and thread each through a separate hole in the warping wand. Make a slip knot near the end of the yarn and place it over the outend and tighten. Then walk over to the drill and loop the yarn around the hook. Walk back to the outend. Repeat as necessary to lay the number of strands you want for each ply. Make sure to keep the yarn under tension. When you finish laying out the yarn, cut and tie it at the outend.

To ensure that all cords have a consistent amount of twist, consider that the yarn length will shrink during overtwisting, usually between 10% to 25% (approximate percentages often used are 10% for soft hats, 15% or more for jewelry, and up to 25% for baskets). Decide on the percentage, then measure the distance between the drill hook and the outend, calculate the percentage, and tape a bright-colored piece of yarn on the table to indicate where to stop twisting. For example, if there are 120 inches of yarn from drill hook to outend, 15% shrinkage during IOT will be 18 inches (120" x .15 = 18"). Tape the yarn marker to the table 18" from the drill hook, and overtwist until the hook reaches this point.

Cords for ply-split braiding are most commonly S-twist and Z-plied. During IOT, the drill hook should turn clockwise to add S-twist. A smoother cord is produced by starting with yarn that is S-plied-that way, the overtwist is in the same direction as the ply of the yarn.

Once the yarn is overtwisted, fold it twice so that you have four plies. Keep the yarn under tension at all times. Untwist the yarn slightly at the drill hook, find the end loop, remove it from the hook, and hold it around one finger. While keeping the yarn under tension, slip the end loop over the outend. Then fold the yarn again in the same way, making four strands stretching between the drill and outend. Folding the overtwisted yarn while keeping it under tension can be a challenge when working with a length longer than your arm span.

Next ply the four overtwisted strands. Switch the drill so it turns counterclockwise. Start twisting slowly at the beginning of CCT. As you ply, you need to pull back on the drill at first to keep the tension even (because the cord will get slightly longer at first). When it starts to shorten up, the cord is almost finished. (If you twist too far in this direction, it will just come out when you release the tension.)

Tape the ends of the cords carefully before cutting, using the stickiest tape available, preferably box-sealing tape. Use a small piece, about 1/2" square. Press one end against the cord, and roll tightly between your thumb and fingers. Try to make the ends of your cords look like the ends of a shoelace, so they will slide smoothly through other cords as you work.