Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Braid Styles of the 1850s (and 1880s): Grecian Plaits

The COIFFURE, intended for a soiree, is composed of a Grecian braid passing over the top of the head. Against this lies a basket plait, which is crossed by a Circassian braid, that likewise confines the ends of the Grecian braid below it.  Frizzled puffs are worn in front, with drooping sprays of jasmine. The yellow jasmine is especially admired for this purpose.
Coiffure for a soiree with Grecian braid, Circassian braid, basket plait, Harper's 1855
I'm not attempting this entire coiffure (at least, not yet).  Instead, it's the Grecian plait across the top of the head that's of interest. Once again, the instructions are taken from The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine (1856).  Like the other "fancy plaits", I've found no instructions calling for "Grecian plaits" in the 1860s: however, they remain a familiar concept, with several prose references. By 1881, they're back as a mainstream hairdressing option.
Grecian plait is woven as follows: Take a tolerably thin lock of hair, divide it into two equal parts, take from the outside of the left hand portion a very small piece of hair-about a sixth part-pass it over into the centre, and unite it with the right hand portion: do the same from the right hand portion, and pass it over into the centre, and unite it with the left hand portion; proceed thus: taking the small and even-sized lock alternately from the left and the right hand portions until all is plaited. Be careful to keep this plait very smooth.
This is basically a modern "fishtail" braid.  It's also, apparently, the specific plait used to make soutache or Russian braid.

Step 1: Divide the hair into two sections.
Hair divided into two sections for Grecian plaits.

Step 2: From the right-hand section, separate out about 1/6 of the hair on the "outside" of the section (the farthest right portion).  Take this bit of hair over the rest of the right-hand section into the center, and add it to the inside of the left-hand section.
Small section of hair crossed from right to left bunch of hair.

Step 3: Repeat on the left: take a small (1/6) portion of the hair from the far-left side of the left-hand section, and take it over all the other hair to join the inner side of the right-hand section.
Second strand crossed in Grecian plait.

Step 4: Repeat on the right side, then the left, and continue until the braid is the desired length, or no more hair is available.
Grecian plait in progress.

Braiding hair in "Grecian plaits".
Step 5: Tie off the plait.
Completed Grecian plait, from 1850s instructions.
The finished Grecian plait is noticeably flatter than a standard three-strand-plait, while still being thick.  The small sections of hair used in each pass give it an ornate appearance, while the simple passing motion allows it to progress quickly.  It does take a bit longer than doing an ordinary braid.

Comparison of Grecian plaits with three strand braids.
Normal braid (L) and "Grecian plait" (R)
And for ease of photographing, I also did this one in colored yarn.
Yarn in two sections, by color.
Step 1: Divide strands into two sections.  I used 12 strands, so that
it'd be easy to pick up 1/6 of a section at a time (it's just one strand).
First strand of yarn crossed over in Grecian plaits.
Step 2: Take 1 strand (1/6 section) from the outside of the
right/pink section, lift it over the rest of the pink section,
and place it on the inside edge of the left/purple section.
Second strand of yarn crossed over in Grecian plaits.
Step 3: Take 1 strand from the outside of the left/purple section
and lift it over the rest of the purple section,
 to the inside of the right/pink section.
Third strand of yarn crossed over in Grecian plaits.
Step 4: Take another strand from the outside of the left section,
and lift it over the entire section (including the new purple bit), putting
it on the inside of the right section, next to the previous pink thread.
Fourth strand of yarn crossed over in Grecian plaits.
Do the same on the right.

Twelve strands into Grecian plaits, colors crossed over.
One neat thin about doing two-color braid is how,  after twelve
passes (six on each side) the two sections have switched places.
Colors alternating in two-shade Grecian plait.
Make the braid as long as you want, then tie it off as normal.

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