As a note, the stitch diagrams apply equally to right and left handers.
Spacing and Width of the Pretzels
Because I was only practising, I was working by simply inserting my needle into every second hole in my #28 linen fabric ground.
I’d like to emphasize here that PBS is NOT a counted stitch. It’s a surface stitch. The width and length of each pretzel are judged by eye, following the general directions of guidelines (discussed below). However, when practising, it’s a lot easier to count threads and be able to concentrate on the mechanisms of the stitch.
Spacing of the Pretzels
I found that doing it over 1 thread gave the pretzels a bunched look – they were spaced too closely together:
Doing it over 2 threads on that sized linen looked about right :
Oh! Still so wobbly at this stage – I was concentrating on stitch mechanisms, not on getting the tension of the loops in each pretzel even. One thing at a time!
You can check the evenness of your spacing by seeing if there are evenly spaced horizontal lines on the back of your work.
So, it follow that to reproduce PBS with the same spacing as a particular historical piece, check out the spacing on the back of the historical piece, if the image is available.
Mrs Christie comments that when plunging the needle into the fabric, to always scoop up the same amount of fabric.
In summary (including the information in the links above) the overall size of the braid is affected by
- pretzel width
- thread thickness
- the snugness with which the pretzels are placed one below each other (or above each other, depending on which direction you are working) the tension used in making the loops of each pretzel.
Which Direction to work the Braid In?
I found, from reading all of these sources I’ve listed and my own experiences, that it doesn’t matter whether you work PBS
- away from your body
- towards your body
- sideways (yes, I have 2 friends who do this!)
I work upsideDOWN compared to the diagram given in instructions, but working towards my body. That’s just weird, but it’s what works for me.
I really think it’s a matter of ‘work the braid in whichever direction feels most comfortable for you”.
Tricia of the Thistle Threads blog describes how to tell which direction some PBS was embroidered in.
Stitch Guidelines versus Actual Stitch Width
Normally, two parallel lines are drawn to serve as a guide for the stitching of PBS.
It’s a loopy (braid) stitch. It will end up being wider than the stitch guidelines that are drawn. Tricia of Thistle Threads talks about this issue here, where the issue was significant in embroidering the Layton Jacket.
To work out the guidelines to reproduce an existing piece of PBS, look at where the thread enters and leaves the ground. Looking at the back of the embroidery is the easiest way to see this, if that’s possible. That’s the spacing over which the two lines should be drawn.
Starting The First Pretzel
Most instructions start with 4 legs to start the first pretzel as illustrated in Mary Thomas’s diagram in her Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (page 51)
This is how it looks on the Layton Jacket
The “Cross” Start to PBS
Kimberley has very kindly diagrammed how to start with a cross stitch start :
To accompany the diagram, Kimberley wrote
“I know that there are a lot of variations, and I wish I could point my finger at ONE of them and say that it is THE way, but the truth is that there were quite obviously many different ways that it was being done during this period. Some of the differences may be due to different teachers adapting it and then teaching it “their” way. I think that it could be due to people thinking they knew it when they sat with a teacher, then going home and doing it, but perhaps going under two instead of three on one side, and three on the other. Jacqui Carey states that this particular variant was the most common method used, but it just never made any sense to me for it to be asymmetrical, so I do it the way that I have for about eight years now. If you look at the sides of the stitch, you will see what I call little legs. I count back two, slip my needle under three threads without piercing the fabric, then come up in the middle of the opening, cross over the two vertical threads, and do the same for both sides.”
If you are a step by step person rather than a diagram person, Genoveva from the HonorBeforeVictory Blog shows photos for the same start here
Tricia of ThistleThreads uses the same start.
Jacqui Carey uses the Mrs Christie/Leon Conrad start in Elizabethan Stitches.
Working the Stitch
The first pretzel doesn’t look like proper PBS. Don’t worry, it will look better in a stitch or two.
When making a new pretzel, it doesn’t look quite right until the final stitch (the lower right leg) is made.
Melinda Sherbring says
“Don’t do plaited braid in small pieces — do a large amount at one sitting, or without doing other stuff in between. It is easier to make the plaited braid look all “of a piece”, and to do it exactly the same way. “
Tighten the thread very gently after each step of a pretzel to form nice shapes, first using the needle and then finger. Pulling on the final right leg to tighten the stitch ruins the pretzel shape. Be careful when tightening not to pull the linen holes out of shape.
Shape each pretzel so
- it’s loose enough hide the ‘legs’ of the stitch and to enable the next pretzel to be ‘hooked into’ this one
- it’s tight enough to nest the pretzels nicely along the braid
- each pretzel is the same size as the existing ones.
A little flattening with a fingernail or very gently with tweezers doesn’t go astray, especially with 2% passing thread, and especially when working the stitch over a curve. Using actual finger flesh is a less good idea, as you’re not really supposed to touch your metal thread because of the dirt and acid in your fingers.
Kimberley Mitchell suggested a laying tool for this use which I think is a better idea – no dirt/acid, and tweezers can easily damage the delicate thread.
Working PBS Over a Curve
Elizabethan work contains masses of vines done in PBS as scrolling vines so it’s important to know how to work the stitch in a curve.
Kimberley Mitchell says
“As you go into a curve, gradually change to over 1 for the inner part of the curve, and gradually to over 3 for the outer part of the curve for the same pretzel.”
She also advises to practise using an “S” shape :
I’ve found that as you work around a curve, you need to keep the drawn line facing you directly. Move the frame appropriately, or else you’ll end up working the pretzels at an angle.
The hardest things to do were
- judge by eye just where you needed to change from over 2 down to over 1 on the inner curve, and from over 2 to over 3 on the outer curve. This doesn’t happen simultaneously – ie not all pretzels are over 1 on the inside and over 3 on the outside when making a curve. At the beginning and end of the curve the pretzels need to be over 1 on the inside curve and over 2 (as normal) on the outside.
- making sure that I kept the stitch *width* the same. I was going over 4 horizontally, and I had to keep checking and counting threads, even tho this is a surface stitch, not a counted stitch. You’d need to judge the distance by eye on very fine linen, of course.
If You Run Out of Thread
Finishing the Braid Neatly
To Secure the Thread on the Back
Melinda Sherbring says
“Don’t weave the end of the thread back through the stitches already worked. Instead, carry that last bit of thread under the stitches that will be worked next, and bring up the metal thread to the front on your stitching line.
Then when you work the next thread, that old tail will be trapped, and you can cut it off when you get to it.
The advantage is that the pull on the last stitch of the old thread is in the same direction as the the other stitches. It makes the join that tiny bit harder to find.”
Leon Conrad said
“I studied the reverse side to work out the stitcher’s starting and finishing points. I noticed that the finishing ends had been slipped under the stitches on the back of the work. To start a sequence, the stitcher had used a knot.”