A braid (also referred to as a plait) is a complex structure or pattern formed by interlacing three or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair. Compared to the process of weaving which usually involves two separate, perpendicular groups of strands (warp and weft), a braid is usually long and narrow, with each component strand functionally equivalent in zigzagging forward through the overlapping mass of the others.
The most common braid is a flat, solid, three-stranded structure. More complex braids can be constructed from an arbitrary number of strands to create a wider range of structures.
The cultural significance and roots of braiding can be traced back to the African tribes. Braids are regarded as a cultural trait of the African tribe. The history of African tribes and the cultural significance of braiding is deep and long. Braids have been made for thousands of years and for a variety of uses. For the nomadic peoples of Africa, India, North and South America, and the Middle East, braiding was a practical means of producing useful and decorative textiles. In other areas, such as the Pacific islands (where leaves and grasses are braided) and for many hill tribes, braids are made using minimal equipment. It was only when braiding became a popular occupation in the home or school, as it is in China and Japan, and when the Industrial Revolution came about, that specific tools were developed to increase production and make it easier to produce more complicated patterns of braids.
Traditionally, the materials used in braids have depended on the indigenous plants and animals available in the local area. For instance, South Americans used the very fine fibers from the wool of alpaca and llama, while North American people made use of bison fibers. Throughout the world, vegetable fibers such as grass, nettle and hemp have been used to create braids. In China, Korea and Japan silk was, and indeed still is, the main material used. In the Americas, the braiding of leather is also widespread.
African people such as the Himba people of Namibia have been braiding their hair for centuries.
Early braids had many uses, such as costume decoration, animal regalia (like camel girths), sword decoration, bowls and hats (from palm leaves) locks (such as those made in Japan to secure precious tea supplies through the use of elaborate knots), and weapons (slings, for example).
When the industrial revolution arrived, mechanized braiding equipment was invented to increase production. The braiding technique was used to make robes, with both natural and synthetic fibres, coaxial cables for radios using copper wire, and in more recent times, as a covering for fuel pipes in jet aircraft and ships, first using glass fibre, then stainless steel and Kevlar. Pipes for domestic plumbing are often covered with stainless steel braid.
Braids are also very hard to make rope, decorative objects, and hairstyles (also see pigtails, French braid). Complex braids have been used to create hanging fibre artworks. Braiding is also used to prepare horses' manes and tails for showing, polo and polocrosse.
Prehistory and history
The cultural significance and roots of braiding can be traced back to the African tribes. Braids are regarded as a cultural trait of the African people, and they can also be a fashion statement. The history of African tribes and the cultural significance of braiding is deep and long. These tribes have varied cultures, and the hairstyles are unique and used to identify each tribe. Braid patterns or hairstyles indicate a person’s community, age, marital status, wealth, power, social position, and religion.
The oldest known reproduction of hair braiding may go back about 30,000 years: the Venus of Willendorf, now known in academia as the Woman of Willendorf, of a female figurine estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE. It is in dispute whether she wears braided hair or some sort of a woven basket on her head. The Venus of Brassempouy is estimated to be about 25,000 years old and shows, ostensibly, a braided hairstyle.
In some regions, a braid was a means of communication. At a glance one individual could distinguish a wealth of information about another, whether they were married, mourning, or of age for courtship, simply by observing their hairstyle. Braids were a means of social stratification. Certain hairstyles were distinctive to particular tribes or nations. Other styles informed others of an individual’s status in society.
Braiding is traditionally a social art. Because of the time it takes to braid hair, people took time to socialize while braiding and having their hair done. It begins with the elders making simple knots and braids for younger children. Older children watch and learn from them, start practicing on younger children and eventually learn the traditional designs. In the US, you see mothers and grandmothers braiding and putting colorful beads in little children’s hair. This carries on a tradition of bonding between elders and the new generation.
Cornrow braids are not only widespread in Africa, they are also quite ancient. This clay sculpture with cornrows is from the ancient Nok civilization of Nigeria. It may be as old as 500 B.C. As Peters (1990) notes in her essay on black hairstyle history: "Hieroglyphs and sculptures dating back thousands of years illustrate the attention Africans have paid to their hair. Braids were etched into the back of the head of the majestic sphinx." 
Cornrow hairstyles in Africa also cover a wide social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity, and other attributes of identity can all be expressed in hairstyle. Just as important is the act of braiding, which transmits cultural values between generations, expresses bonds between friends, and establishes the role of professional practitioner. There are a vast variety of traditional African styles, ranging from complex curves and spirals to the strictly linear composition of this 1939 Dan style from Côte d'Ivoire.
It might seem tempting to look at the original African styles as more "natural," and our computer geometry models as more "artificial." But stylized geometric models of cornrows are quite traditional to Africa. As we can see in this traditional Mende sculpture: Mathematics is also a traditional part of African hairstyles. Like many other “Africanisms” in the new world, knowledge of African hairstyles survived the Middle Passage.
Ropes and cables
Braiding creates a composite rope that is thicker and stronger than the non-interlaced strands of yarn. Braided ropes are preferred by arborists, rock climbers and in sport sailing because they do not twist under load, as does an ordinary twisted-strand rope. These ropes consist of one or more concentric tubular braided jackets surrounding either several small twisted fibre cords, or a single untwisted yarn of straight fibres, and are known as Kernmantle ropes.
In electrical and electronic cables, braid is a tubular sheath made of braided strands of metal placed around a central cable for shielding against electromagnetic interference. The braid is grounded while the central conductor(s) carry the signal. The braid may be used in addition to a foil jacket to increase shielding and durability.
Flat braids made of many copper wires can also be used for flexible electrical connections between large components. The numerous smaller wires comprising the braid are much more resistant to breaking under repeated motion and vibration than is a cable of larger wires. A common example of this may be found connecting a car battery's negative terminal to the metal chassis.
A property of the basic braid is that removing one strand unlinks the other two, as they are not twisted around each other. Mathematically, a braid with that property is called a Brunnian braid.
Plaiting (or braiding) with kangaroo leather has been a widely practiced tradition in rural Australia since pioneering times. It is used in the production of fine leather belts, hatbands, bridles, dog leads, bullwhips and stockwhips etc. Other leathers are used for the plaiting of heavier products suitable for everyday use.
Braids are often used figuratively to represent interweaving or combination, such as in "He braided many different ideas into a new whole."
Braiding happens when a river is carrying vast amounts of eroded sediment. Sediment is deposited as islands in the channel causing the river to split up into many winding channels.
In some river and stream systems, small streams join together and redivide in many places. Such stream systems are said to be braided. These are often found in alluvial fans at the outlet of canyons. This is a result of heavy sediment deposition at high flows followed by re-erosion at low flows. See also river delta.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Braids.|
- Braid theory
- Crochet braids
- French braid
- Kumihimo, Japanese braid
- Ply-split braiding
- Kyosev, Y., Braiding technology for textiles, Elsevier, 2014
- History of Cornrow Braiding
- "Braid Hairstyles Guide - DIY". Iknowhair.com. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- Braiding and Plaiting Your Horse Retrieved 2010-2-20
- Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), Smarthistory
- Syndicated. "Trendy hairstyles".
- Grant, Bruce, Encyclopedia of Rawhide and Leather Braiding, Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge, Maryland, 1972. ISBN 0-87033-161-2