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Making Cords for Ply-split Braiding 
An Overview
 

Well made, evenly twisted and plied cords are essential for ply-split braiding, and cord making is one of the key creative elements. While we cannot describe in detail all the fine points of cord making, our intent is to survey the methods and equipment to assist you in finding the right method for your needs.  These tools are alternately called cord makers, cordmakers, cord twisters, and rope makers.

Method

Approximate Equipment cost

Pros

Cons

Comments and references

Single-hook on hand or electric drill: folding method

$30

Low cost

Folding methods are very difficult without a helper. A very long work space is needed (4 times the final cord length). Time consuming.

See Peter Collingwood's description in Weavers (available free online) or Linda Hendrickson's discussion on the HGA website.

Single-hook on hand or electric drill: parking-hook method

$30

Low cost. Much easier and less demanding of space than the folding method. 

Special care is needed to assure that each ply has the same degree of twist.

Julie Hedges Ply-split Braiding: An introduction to designs in single course twining; including methods for Waves, Zigzags, Basket Weave Designs and Cordmaking. This excellent book may be purchased in the USA from Louise French and in England from the author.

Drill-powered 4-hook cord maker

$174 plus cost of the drill

Fast, uniform, easy tension control. Best for making many cords.

Noisy due to electric drill, a bit heavy if not using sled and table or other support for the drill.

 Bradshaw cord makers may be purchased from Louise French.

Apollo 4-hook cord winder

$250 including airmail to the USA.  £130 plus P&P in UK. We have learned that this is no longer available

Fast, uniform, easy tension control. Twist may be accurately counted. Light weight and good balance.

Hand cranking is slower than the powered cord makers. More costly than other cord makers.

Jennie Parry is the exclusive distributor of the Apollo Cord Twister.  Ships from UK.   E-mail parry.jennie@gmail.com

Lacis Cord Maker/Fringe Twister

$50

Light and portable, low cost

Battery life is limited. Only makes Z-twist cords and has small hooks. Not acceptable for making many cords, but OK for casual or travel use.

Cord Maker/Fringe Twister available from Lacis and many craft suppliers. 

Hand fringe twister.

$20

Low Cost

Tedious. Slow. Non-uniform as tension cannot be reliably maintained and the threads tend to pull out of the alligator-clips.

Not acceptable for the long cord and tight cords needed for ply-split braiding.

 

Single-hook methods: 

1. Folding the twisted yarn 

Doubtless the lowest cost way to make a 4-ply cord is to use a Single-hook on an electric or hand drill. Diagram by Peter Collingwood, used by permission of Jason Collingwood Tighten a sturdy hook into the chuck of the drill. Attach two very long strands to the hook and tie the other end of the strands to a stationary point. Use the drill to twist a long ply to the proper initial over-twist. Then, under tension, fold the long plied strands in half, and then in half again. Attach the ends to the drill's hook and the stationary point as before. Reverse the drill to create a counter-twist. See Peter Collingwood references in the Resources section below for more detail.

The folding method is simple in principle, but very difficult to accomplish since tension must be maintained at all times. A second person as helper may be required. Because the final cord length is ¼ of the initial length of the twisted ply, a very long work space is needed to make with cords long enough for ply-split braiding.

 

 

The Spinster - Cord Maker available from crafts stores and websites is a low cost combination of hand-drill and hook.  

 

 

 

 

 

Single-hook methods: 

2. Using parking-hooks 

 In her book Ply-split Braiding, Julie Hedges describes a much better way of using a Single-hook  twister.  

Three plies "parked" and one being overtwisted

Three plies "parked" and one being overtwisted

Rather than fold the yarn after the initial over-twist, she twists each ply separately. Then she parks the twisted yarn on a hook near the front end of the setup while keeping tension in the twisted ply between the parking hook and the outend. After each ply is twisted, all four plies are placed on the drill hook and counter-twisted. 

Four overtwisted plies on the hook for counter twisting

Four overtwisted plies on the hook for counter twisting

The advantage of this is space saving (no folding needed) and labor saving (no helper needed). A single parking-hook will do, but it is better to use four; the outend has four hooks as well. Some degree of care is needed to assure that each ply has the same amount of initial over-twist.

 

Four plies on the outend after counter twisting.

Four plies on the outend after counter twisting. 

 

 

4-hook cord makers: 

1. Drill-powered 4-hook cord maker 

The powered cord making head is designed to be driven by a variable speed electric drill. We have used both cordless and corded drills, but prefer the latter since battery life is an issue with cordless ones. The Bradshaw quickly applies the initial over-twist, and then by releasing the head it does the controlled counter-twist without effort. S-twist or Z-twist is selected by reversing the drill rotation direction. Although the drill-head combination can be used hand-held, we find that use of a simple wooden holder that slides along a table is easier for both measuring the yarn and applying the twist. See Video: Using a Drill-powered 4-hook cord maker and our diagrams at  Making cords with a Powered Cord Maker for a detailed example of its use. Also see Cord Maker Holders for some construction guidance for the holders or sleds.

The Bradshaw Cordmaker to be an ideal cord maker for heavier use for the serious ply-splitter, teachers, and group sharing. For either of these cordmakers, it is easy to control the tension and the degree of twist by measuring the take-up shrinkage. It quickly makes uniform Z-twist and S-twist cords . Its main detriment is that the operation can be noisy, but this depends on the sound level of your electric drill not the head itself.

The Bradshaw could be operated with a 1/4 inch or larger electric drill (newer models require a 3/8 inch chuck) or with hand-cranked drill if precise number of twists or quiet operation is needed. If you want to do the latter, we recommend a hand drill with two pinion gears.   We bought a used one on eBay for about $12.  The low cost hand drills with only one pinion gear work poorly with the Bradshaw head. 
  A two-pinion gear hand drill.

See a video of the Drill-powered Cordmaker here

2. Apollo Cord Winder We have learned (July 2016) that this is no longer available.

The Apollo Cord Winder is a well made 4-hook device with a built-in hand crank . It operates Apollo Cord Winder smoothly and quickly. While quite similar in operation to the Bradshaw Cord Maker, it has two advantages: it is quiet (no electric drill motor), and you can count the turns to control the initial over-twist instead of relying on the contraction of the ply length to determine the degree of twist. The plies are twisted at a 4 to 1 rate to the turns of the crank. It is lighter in weight and has good balance with the weight much nearer the hands instead of at the end of a drill, which can be an advantage over a hand-held Bradshaw/drill combination.  Like the Bradshaw, some means of holding and stabilizing the Winder during threading must be devised. It comes with a cord on the handle to secure it to a post or clamp.  We find this to be workable but less than ideal. 

This is the most costly of the cord makers discussed here. (£137.50 including outend [about $230] plus shipping.) It can be obtained from England from Jennie Parry parry.jennie@gmail.comNot currently available.

3. 4-Ply Lacis Power Cord Maker/Fringe Twister 

The Lacis Cord Maker/Fringe Twister is a battery operated device that uses two AA batteries for Lacis Fringe Twister power. It is light weight and portable. It is , however, only capable of making Z-twist cords. The battery life is sufficient for making cords for a project or two, but the limitation to Z-twist cords is a serious detriment. There are many ply-split braiding patterns that use only Z-twist cords, but there are also many that need S-twist cords. The hooks are small but adequate for most yarns. Heavy yarn or raffia would require some effort to fit in hooks or a work-around with a string loop.

 

 

This tool is simple to use. Hook the threads on the posts and push the button one direction for the initial over-twist. Then push the button the other direction for the controlled counter-twist to twist the sets of plies together into a 4-ply cord.

 

 

 

 

Other methods 

Cords can be made using a hand fringe twisters. This requires one hand twist per cord twist while LeClerc Fringe Twister manually maintaining tension; it lacks the mechanical advantage of the methods discussed above, and thus it is tedious and impractical for the hundreds of twists needed for long tightly-twisted cords. The alligator-clip clamps do not hold the strands well enough for the tensions required. We find these twisters to be unacceptable for making ply-split braiding cords. 

We have seen reports in online chat rooms of people attempting to make cords for ply-splitting using a spinning wheel. None have, to our knowledge, reported success. 

Schacht Spindle Company's Incredible Rope Machine ($42) has only three hooks. We have seen reports of testing a 4-hook model, but it shares the disadvantages of all the hand fringe twisters, mainly the tediousness of twisting long cords and maintaining good tension. 

We do not find any of these hand winding methods acceptable.

Resources 

Cord making is described in several sources: 

bulletOur own web pages cited above may be helpful. (Cord Making for Ply-Split Braiding). Also see our introductory article in WeaveZine "Portable, Addictive: Ply-Splitting!" written with Barbara J Walker. 
bulletPeter Collingwood's The Techniques of Ply-split Braiding (ISBN 0-9625586-9-9) devotes Chapter 3 to a discussion with detailed drawings of several cord making methods. Peter also describes his Single-hook method in Weavers, which is now available free online. 
bulletThe cord making section of Julie Hedges book Ply-split Braiding is very clear about cord making with good illustrations. 
bulletLinda Hendrickson has a video on using the Bradshaw cord maker.  Linda also describes a Single-hook method on the Handweavers Guild of America website .
bulletIf you still are not quite ready to make you own cords, we offer a variety of colors in 4-ply cotton cords.  {click here}

 

Acknowledgements

Our thanks to Jason Collingwood for permission to use the diagram by the late Peter Collingwood.

 
             

              

              

               

                

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