Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Very Long Button: Tightening

This is what Anja's breastcollar looks like right now: unfinished, but you can tell how it's going to wind up!   If the buckles match the bridle (and they will), it should be striking.

Getting the right braiding string for this particular ring and dees was hard.  I tried two different threads and actually braided a central ring with a third material, sinew, but I wasn't happy with any of them.  Too red.  Too fat.  Too shreddy.  Finally I took the "light banana" thread I'd used in the buttons, and peeled it apart.  It has three warps or whatever the term is: inner plies.  I peeled off 1/3rd and was left with 2/3rds.   I then combined two 2/3rds, making a thread fatter than my typical Topst (Topstitching).  It now measured the same diameter, or gauge, as my favorite, Heavy (Button & Craft).  This is a percentage in many of my notes:  Heavy = 1 + 1/3 Topst.
Just a note:  the sewing store calls my topstitching "heavy."

This was Anja's breastcollar up to yesterday.  Can you spot the difference?  Yup... it's the small buttons, the "white" (actually light banana) and deep turquoise ones, bracketing the longer, black-and-light-turquoise ones.  Got the middle ones backwards!  When you compare this to the bridle, you realize that Yup, I goofed.
I didn't put the white touching the ends of the long central button!  Would people notice?  I went ahead and did a lot of work on the other side of the breastcollar before my professional conscience started to bother me about it.  Tack, be it model or real, MUST be symmetrical... unless there's a darn good reason not to.  And personal pride/laziness is, unfortunately, not a darn good reason.  After a bunch of tightening, I went back and cut out the white buttons on that side and moved the deep-turqouise ones, and braided in new white ones.
Why not cut the turquoises?  in theory, you want to cut out the "worst done" ones, either color.  But with this particular breastcollar, the deep turquoise thread is hand-spun (from thinner thread), and thus has higher "value."   I know I just talked about hand-joining the "white" thread, but that was only for the ring and dees.  The buttons' light banana thread is straight off the spool.

This button is one of the longest I have ever made.  It is a 21 Part with 9 rings of interweave, 4 Bight casa (as Tom Hall uses the term).  The light turquoise has to be hand-spun up to a matching guage with the black.  It started life as Gutermann's, which is a very thin thread.  I love Gutermann's colors, but they just aren't thick enough for this type of braiding.
Here is the button after braiding, but before tightening.  I thought you might like to see the process of tightening.  Again, I haven't shown everything:  the tool I tighten with is a homebuilt needle awl.  I should put up a post about custom tools...  and about hand spinning...  If you think the above button is done, compare its ends' distance to the rings, and look at the top pictures.

It is hard to believe, but every button I braid is done twice:  once for the braiding and once for the tightening.   Why not do it tight the first time around?  Because I can't manage it, that's why.  It's too hard to see the laps, manipulate the needle, or avoid piercing the thread.  It's simply easier for me to do every button twice... and once started, a successful habit is hard to budge.
On to tightening.
In the previous picture you can see there are four ends of thread, two light and two dark (black).  I always start tightening with the outer, or foundation, button; in this case the black.  There should be a shorter end and a longer end for each color.  The shorter end is called the standing or dead end.  I start tightening with the dead end.
I am lifting up each pass as the thread goes along, following the whole thing, from the dead end onwards.  I am using the same amount of pressure each time.  Gradually a loop forms, as the slack is taken up and accumulates.
The button starts to look drunken, shrunken and weird.
Right about here you hope the heck you know what you are doing.
Notice how the light-turquoise passes are starting to stand up?  The black is becoming properly tight, and it's the other color's turn to have slack.
Who knew there was that much slack in the black?!  But this is a LONG button, one of my longest.  Ths slack is about right for the size.
Here we're starting to tighten the light-turquoise, the interweave color, beginning with its own dead end.
Around and around, just as if we were braiding it in the first place.  This sort of process really "learns" you your buttons... you see where everything goes... repeatedly!
The second color is forming up a nice long bight.  God help you if there are any pierces (one thread passing through another).  One has to be very careful with the teeny pointed scissors if there are any pierces... and there usually are a few snags.  That's why I use blunt point needles for the braiding... another subject.  : )
The important thing in miniature braiding is to maintain even tension.  Each pull of each pass has to be just exactly the same pressure.  This may sound impossible but you get into a trance state and it's not hard.
Notice how tight the whole button is getting.  It's half the size it was.
I kind of suspected I'd have to do the black a second time.  This step is unique to super-long buttons; normally, once through is sufficient for tighening.  As a general rule, thread cannot withstand working through more than about three times.  It shreds up and loses color.  After three or four you're better off ditching it and getting a new piece.  So we're up against my limits here.
And it's done.
We'll have to look at finishing, or burying the ends of the threads, another time.
I hope you have enjoyed this little lesson in tightening.


  1. I love this post . Back in September my Dad bought me " The Art of Braiding - The Basics" by Gail Hought. And I have been itching to try knots again this post is extremely inspiring ! I love being able the see the unfinished knot get tightened .
    Thank you this is just the inspiration I was needing :)

  2. You're very welcome, Rachel. Thank you and Good luck braiding!

  3. This is really coming together just lovely!