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There are several different types of braids, but they are typically created with a few basic braiding methods. Three-strand braids, or over braids, are created by alternately crossing strands of hair over the center strand. Three-strand under braids are made by crossing the hair strands under the center strand. Micro braids, or cornrows, are three-strand under braids using very small strands. Some methods of braiding use only two strands of hair which are woven to form a distinct pattern. Most braids can be created on the scalp or off the scalp, and some extend off the head, while others do not. Braiding is commonly done on shoulder-length or longer hair, although cornrowing — braids woven close to the scalp across the head — can be done on shorter hair.
One of the most common over braids is the English braid. English braids are usually off the scalp and extend from the head. When creating an English braid, the hair is brushed back away from the face and gathered in one section at the nape of the neck. The hair may also be parted down the middle of the head from front to back and formed into two sections, one gathered behind each ear. Three strands are made from each section, and the right and left strands are crossed alternately over the middle strand, pulling the hair tight as the braid forms. Among all the various types of braids, English braids are one of the simplest to do.
A very popular type of over braid is the French braid. The French braid is also called an invisible braid, because it has an inverted appearance created by crossing the three strands over each other. French braids are most easily done on damp hair. The partings may be made either with the fingers or with the end of a tail comb, a long narrow comb that comes to a point. The French braid is created by weaving in strands from the head, adding more hair each time. This creates a braid close to the scalp as opposed to off the scalp braids.
The three-strand under braid, or Dutch braid, looks different from the French braid because the strands are crossed under each other, forming a visible rope-like pattern that sits on top of the hair. The under braiding method is also the one used to create cornrows or micro braids. These types of braids require extremely small sections divided into tiny strands. They usually begin at the crown of the head and are formed very close to the scalp. Cornrowing requires a high degree of finger dexterity. It is one of the most time-consuming and challenging types of braids to master. If done well, cornrows and micro braids have a beautiful, intricate effect. They can even be left in place while the hair is shampooed, allowing them to be worn a relatively long time.
Some types of braids, including fishtail, or fish bone, and herringbone braids, are done with two strands of hair instead of three. They are created on the scalp by alternately crossing one strand over the other. The hair is pulled tightly after each cross is made, and the strands are usually quite small, 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) to one inch (2.54 cm) thick. The smaller and more even the strands in a two-strand braid, the more woven, or herringbone-like, the effect will be. Two-strand braids done tightly with small strands also resemble the skeleton of a fish, which is where the names fish bone and fishtail came from.