How to Make a Friendship Bracelet (with minimal videos)

I came down with COVID last week with mild but still decently strong symptoms. In addition to an incredibly sore throat, various nose problems and a scary cough, I had a strong brain fog which made it extremely hard to focus on more than one thing at a time. This meant that there was a lot of time that I needed to fill, but my usual go-to of cross-stitching felt too difficult for me in this state.

While I was working on drafting up some cross stitch patterns, I remembered the existence of BraceletBook, a neat site to find small simple pixel art patterns. “What if I actually used the site for its intended purpose?”, I thought. And, hey, what do you know, it actually was a really good hobby fit for my mental state at the time! I made Pattern #97960 from BraceletBook using the two big cones of DMC 310 and DMC B5200 I got for cross-stitching so I wouldn’t dip too much into my regular supplies.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it, especially for my first attempt and my disease-addled state! I think it’s unlikely that I pursue this hobby further, as it is “the most inefficient form of weaving” according to my housemate. Still, I wanted to do this writeup because there is a surprising dearth of non-video based tutorials, especially for more complex 10+ string patterns. Hopefully this will be useful for the other old fogeys out there who also don’t like watching video tutorials!

What is a friendship bracelet?

A friendship bracelet is a type of macramé, which is a fiber art that uses knots to make patterns. Unlike traditional macramé which focuses on using a variety of knots to make shapes and goes for a more rope-like look, friendship bracelets solely use double half-hitches / clove hitches but with a variety of colors for a more vibrant look. These knots are rather confusingly referred to in the community as “forward knots”, “backward knots”, “forward-backward knots” and “backward-forward knots” based on which strand is the active strand and which direction you perform the hitch.

The essential idea behind a bracelet is to have multiple strands hanging down from a single point. You then consider each pair of strands. Pick which color to have as the next “pixel” of the band. You should make a knot with this color, using the other strand as the standing end for the knot. Be conscientious about which way you make this knot, as it will determine the strand placement for the next row and which pairs of colors you can choose from. “Forward” and “backward” knots will swap the order of strands while “forward-backward” and “backward-forward” knots will preserve the current strand order. Note that this also means that if you have a pair of strands with the same colors, it does not matter which knot you perform as strand order won’t matter afterwards.

Choosing a Pattern

Although you can just freehand tie knots with any number of strands (ex. to make the standard chevron pattern), following a pattern can lead to more complex designs. The two most popular sites for patterns is BraceletBook and friendship-bracelets.net, which will give you two kinds of patterns:

  • “normal” which will give you the knots on a diagonal (and is what I have been describing)
  • “alpha” which is short for “alphabet” which will give you a grid system so that you can write letters and more pixel style patterns

Normal patterns look like this:

while alpha patterns look like this:

Alpha patterns act more similarly to a more conventional “warp-weft” weaving system by tying knots lengthwise on several guide strings. This means that they are not reversible like traditional friendship bracelets. I didn’t explore more into alpha patterns because I already have one pixel fiber arts hobby, but this should at least help explain the difference if you’re interested in investigating more.

Materials Prep

Once you’ve picked a pattern that you like, it’s now time to get your workbench setup:

Pick your material. I used 6-strand embroidery floss because I have that on stock, but other sites recommend perle cotton or crochet yarn. Whatever material you pick, make sure you have a lot! I specifically chose to do only a two color pattern because I had two 450-yard cones, where I knew 33 yards of material wouldn’t be missed.

Determine if you’d like a special start or end. The easiest way to start and end a bracelet is to just tie a simple overhand knot with all of the strands. You could also start with a loop by folding your strands in half like in this example or do even fancier options like triangle ends (video) and teardrop loops (video). Whichever method you choose will eat up material, so ensure that you factor that in before you cut lengths. In particular, the fold-in-half method will use half as many strands but require them to be twice as long.

Cut your strands to size. Knots take a TON of material, so each strand will be quite long. I followed the guidance of this forum thread, which is for n strands, cut 5(n - 12) + 80 centimeters for each strand. In my case, my 20 strand bracelet would have a recommendation of about 120 centimeters or about 4 ft. Given that one skein of embroidery floss has 8 meters in it, it’s pretty clear that this craft eats a lot of material fast.

For the bracelet I made, I eyeball cut 20 strands for about my entire wingspan (~5 ft). This led to 8.5 inches of actual pattern (about 140 rows) with about 4-5 inches of tassel / braid on either end. This was way too big for my wrist but was about right for an ankle band.

Setup your strand holder. Now that you have a bundle of strands, you’ll need to ensure that they stay in place as you knot them. The easiest way to do this is to tie an overhand knot with all the strands and tape / pin this knot down. If you’re doing this with < 10 strands, you can probably get away with doing this off of your pants leg, but for my 20-strand system, I needed something more organized. After a lot of trial and error, setting up the knot on a vertical standing clipboard with the strands feeding into a comb + cardstock with slits was the easiest way for me to handle the strands.

For my bracelet, I used the triangle ends method, which meant that my start worked by (1) splitting the strand bundle into left and right sides and (2) gradually doing forward and backward knots across each bundle until the full width of the bracelet was achieved. Depending on your special start method, you may or may not want to clip in until after you finish the start.

The Actual Knotting

Now that you’ve got all the materials setup, you are ready to start knotting! Splay your threads in the correct order and refer to this text tutorial or this video tutorial to learn how to do the knots. I highly recommend the video over the text as knots are sneaky things. The essential bits are that each “knot” made is composed of two half hitches. The first half hitch determines placement of the knot while the second half hitch cinches the whole thing done. This means that if you make a mistake, it is decently easy to unpick the first half hitch but is more annoying to pick out the second one when sufficiently tight.

The handy mnemonic for remembering the difference between a “forward” and “backward” knot is that you make a 4 shape for a forward knot and a backwards 4 for a backwards knot. This is definitely the best way I’ve ever found to forget how to write the number 4. It’s ok because you’ll soon remember how to write it again by muscle memory of doing the knots.

Having some awareness of how the strands should be before and after the knot is a good way to double check your work. For the pattern I was doing, every other row would have each pair be the same color, so if I didn’t get that pattern after making a knot, I knew I did something wrong. Likewise, this all-same-color row was a breeze to knot through as I didn’t have to carefully consider which knot should be on top and in which direction.

Finishing (with bonus kumihimo braiding)

To finish the bracelet, you can again just do a simple overhand knot again like at the beginning or whatever special techniques you find. For the triangle ends, I essentially followed the inverse of the starting technique, using forward and backward knots to bring all of the loose strands together to the center. Forward knots helped bring the left hand side in as I gradually wrapped each following strand around the entire bundle, while backward knots helped bring the right hand side in.

As a little fun thing, I used kumihimo braiding techniques to finish off the long tassels into a more manageable braid. As far as I can tell, this is the easiest way to braid things when there are > 4 strands. Although there are more complex ways to create a braid, the simplest kumihimo technique I found was this spiral braid technique. To summarize:

  • Create a circle with evenly spaced slots. Off-the-shelf kumihimo disks have 32 slots and a hole in the center for your strand ends to fall in. For me, I took a toilet paper roll and cut 16 slots just by eyeballing and cutting in half
  • Arrange the strands so that two pairs of 2 strands are directly across from each other on the disk. (Since I had 20 strands and only 16 slots, I had 2-3 strands in each slot making a “superstrand”)
  • Perform the following algorithm until you run out of material:
    • Arrange the disk so that a strand pair is facing vertically
    • Take the bottom left strand and bring it up to the left of the top strand pair
    • Take the top right strand and bring it to the right of the bottom strand
    • Rotate the disk until a new strand pair is facing vertically

Despite my janky setup, I thought the braids turned out pretty nice! Would definitely love to try this technique with more reasonable materials.

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