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 very good for making 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.


Woman Hat Watermelon Braid

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