Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Braid a Handfasting Cord

When Michael and I got married this summer, we decided we wanted our wedding to be small but meaningful, and incorporating a number of meaningful elements that weren't entirely standard to the 'traditional' modern American wedding.

One of the things we did in the ceremony was to have a handfasting ritual as a part of the service - a European custom that has been adopted by many Neopagans and others seeking alternatives to the traditional liturgical wedding ceremony.  Historically, handfastings were common law marriages, necessary in areas where there was no local clergy, so that couples could be legally wed before they were able to have it sanctified by their religious institution.  Today, the custom can be an element of a clergy-led legal wedding ceremony, as it was in ours.  I think it would also be a lovely element for a marriage reaffirmation.

What happens is that the hands of the couple are literally bound together by a length of cord, symbolizing the bond formed by marriage and the understanding that the future is knitted together, each one's actions connected to the other's wellbeing.  There is no longer two separate paths, but one path braided together.

I wanted a handfasting cord that we could keep, and so I made this for us.  Ours was long enough to wrap our hands, but I have since seen examples of cords long enough to wrap around the couple's waists, to completely bind them together.

If you decide to do this, keep in mind that it will be much shorter after it's been braided, and increase length accordingly.

The three cord elements we chose were specific to us - brown leather to represent Michael, ivory silk ribbon with pearl edging to symbolize me, and a length of sheer forest green ribbon to symbolize our union (the predominant color of our ceremony was green).

The findings are easily found at any of the major craft stores, and are a good idea to provide the rope with a bit of weight so it hangs well during the ceremony.  Almost anything could be used in place of these, including old jewelry, watch fobs, something 'borrowed' or 'blue', etc. By all means, choose something meaningful to the two of you!

The ones I used were selected for their symbolism - the peacock is a bird sacred to Juno (or Hera), the Roman/Greek Goddess of Marriage.  The keys are symbolic of the household we are creating together.  In Norse custom, these were a symbol of Frigga (the Norse Goddess of Marriage and the Home), and it was Norse custom for the man to present the woman with the keys to his hearthstead when they got married - to put her in charge of his home. (In return she would offer him a sword, to defend the home with. I confess, we left that part out - although we did give the groomsmen pocket knives!)

To make a handfasting cord the way I did, you'll need the following:

6 feet (or more) leather cord
6 feet (or more) thick ivory ribbon with 'pearl' edges
6 feet (or more) sheer 1/2" green ribbon
3 feet additional sheer 1/2" green ribbon, cut in 2
Thread or thin florist's wire in a color that matches one of the cord elements
2 or more weighted findings large enough to dangle from the ends of the cord

The three ribbons need to be braided together - as you can see from the picture, the various widths and textures provide an interesting pattern, even though this is just a simple three strand braid. 

In order to manage such a long length, I tied the three strands together on the back of a dining room chair, and then stood up to do the braiding, moving back little by little until I got to the end.  Make sure you won't be interrupted through this! It doesn't take a terribly long time, but you won't be able to stop in the middle.

When you get to the end, about 2 inches remaining, wrap it closed with a length of thread or florist wire, then flip up the loose edges and wrap them as well, so  they can be cut close and not be seen.

Untie it from the chair, and do the same on that end.

Now, use an 18" length of ribbon, and wrap that to cover the thread or florist tape.  At some point, before you finish, thread your finding onto the ribbon (the ones I used had holes for this), and then tie the ribbon off into a bow.

That's it!  There is plenty of room here for personal creativity, so that you can create a handfasting cord as unique and wonderful as your relationship is.

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  1. This is lovely! Thank you for sharing. My hubby and I did a handfasting for our wedding ceremony 10 years ago. People who came to the wedding said that it was one of the most meaningful ceremonies they'd ever seen. I love to see them being incorporated into modern day weddings.

  2. If I had known about it I would have loved to at ours! I loved incorporating lots of different things into ours, not following any one wedding style. We did the unity candles. Maybe at a vow renewal ;)

    1. We did a unity candle too - I hadn't heard of that until yours!

  3. Thank you, Lauren! It was a very meaningful part of our ceremony as well. Definitely a custom that has a place today!

  4. I love your handfasting cord. The colors, the shape, the textures and, of course, the symbolism.

  5. Thank you, Magaly! I really enjoyed putting it together!

  6. Beautiful hand-fasting chord! I do not suppose you have the material to make me one for my wedding in August? Yes, I could braid one myself, but I did notice your peacock and if you know where to get another one, I would simply buy one of these from you. I figure some old skeleton keys (we have several doors in our Victorian house to use them on), along with the peacock, would be perfect. And unlike you, I will be receiving a sword at our ceremony. ;)

    Regardless, thank you for the wonderful inspiration and I hope you still monitor this site, so I can get a response.

    Far vel