Bicolor loops are loops made out of two colors, tied or linked together. They can create very different braid patterns than the patterns you can get from single-color loops.
With bicolor loops you can also make really dramatic pattern-changes in your braid. And not just in these mega-loop braids that I’ve been posting about lately. Here’s another one, though: (click twice on any photo to see the braid structure)
I promise I won’t post any more Spanish bicolor samplers!
Before I leave them though, I’m posting this booster for bicolor loops (and a tutorial, see below). Bicolor loops add so many patterning possibilities to any kind of loop braid, which is why they have been used worldwide in connection with both fingerloop and hand-held loop braiding. In the old English braiding manuscripts they were called departed bowes, or boes—a bow being a loop.
A bicolor loop is simply two lengths of yarn of different colors tied together at each end. That’s what makes the magic: as you braid, every time a loop is turned the opposite color emerges on the braid. These color changes can line up on the braid to create interesting patterns. And those patterns can be altered very easily mid-braid (another magical thing about bicolor loops).
Bicolor loops are the easiest way to get lengthwise color stripes in a square or rectangular loop braid. This is always a striking look–at least to a braider. Since braids are made on the diagonal, you just don’t expect to see up-and-down vertical striping. It isn’t possible when you use loops of single colors (unless you get into more complicated stuff like linking loops within the braid).
[See mini-tutorial below for braiding the lengthwise stripe 'Edge' pattern and two variations]
I love lengthwise striped braids for tying knots, really brings out the shape of the knot:
With bicolor loops it’s easy to dramatically vary the color pattern mid-braid.
It can be very eye-catching on a braid to have one or two bicolor color patterns separated by the lengthwise striping pattern.
You can also get interesting patterns by mixing bicolor and single-color loops:
In the photo above, any lengthwise stripe of color down a braid was created by a certain set-up of bicolor loops in the braid—just one of many possible bicolor loop patterns.
All are square braids except for the black/white/gold braid (it’s a hollow double braid of 8 loops).
In the pink and black square braid on the far left, there is one all-pink loop, and the rest of the loops are bicolor pink+black loops set up for that striping pattern. The all-pink loop is “lost” in the pink columns, and only stands out in the black columns. This is a great 2-color square braid pattern.
In the upper right braid the single-color magenta loop contrasts across both of the bicolor-loop color bands. (Actually that is an 11 or 13-loop braid with two magenta loops, making a slightly wider contrast area. One magenta loop would give a similar effect in a 5 or 7-loop braid.)
Update—I show the color-pattern set-ups for these braids in a more recent post: “More square braid color set-ups“
With certain unorthodox braids, if you use bicolor loops and make all the loop transfers without turning the loops (unreversed/ open), you can make braids with completely different colors on the bottom and top surface of the braid:
If you already know how to fingerloop braid but haven’t played around much with bicolor loops, try it now:
Set up for a square braid, using whatever number of loops you are comfortable with, all loops bicolor (dark-light) and of the same two colors.
Easiest set up: Cut 5 lengths of dark and 5 of light (for a 5-loop braid), then tie 2 at a time together at one end (use an overhand knot, not a square knot).
Then take all the untied ends together and tie them into one big overhand knot–that will be the top of the braid.
I like to use a larks-head knot “lasso” to fasten my loop bundle to a fixed point, because it’s easy to remove later:
Fasten the header string onto a fixed point.
Set up the loops on your fingers such that the loops on one hand have all dark shanks in upper position on your fingers, and the loops on the other hand have all light shanks in upper position.
Start braiding a square braid–all loop transfers turned (reversed/ crossed)*.
[see my 5-loop introductory video tutorial here]
By the way, if you happen to use the A-fell loop braiding method for square braids (index finger reaching through ALL the loops of its own hand to fetch the opposite hand’s c- or d-loop), you can use that method instead of the V-fell method I show here. If you braid slentre-style (palms facing the floor), just make sure that you poke the index finger through BOTH/ALL the other hand’s closer loops on the way to fetching the far one–that’s how a square braid is made.
Like magic, each loop will turn dark-shank-up when it arrives on the ‘dark loop hand’, and turn light-shank-up when it goes back to the ‘light loop hand’. And along the developing braid you’ll start to see lengthwise dark and light stripes along the 4 ridges of the braid. (beautiful for a drawstring that will be knotted, or for any kind of knotwork). In the old English loop braiding manuscripts this type of pattern was sometimes called “bordered,” or “with the edge.” I call it “Edge.”
Below is a video showing a variation of this pattern in a 3-loop braid—here two of the bicolor loops are black and red, and the third loop is black and yellow:
Getting back to our 5-loop sample braid:
A really effective variation is to have just one loop (any loop) out of order from the Edge pattern setup. You can start a new braid off this way, or switch to this pattern from doing the Edge pattern. The cleanest way to switch is to make one (and only one) loop transfer “wrong”– ie when you take the loop with the other hand, don’t turn it as you normally would for a square braid, instead take it unreversed/ open/ unturned*. (Alternatively you could just take any of the loops and turn it manually on its finger so the “wrong” color is uppermost.) Then keep braiding normally and a pretty contrast pattern will emerge on the braid. I call it the “one-loop-wrong” pattern.
To get back to the “Edge” pattern of lengthwise striping, wait til the out-of-order-loop is about to be transferred, and, again transfer it “wrong”–without turning it*. Voila, you’ll be back to all dark up on one hand and all light up on the other. More than one student has pointed out to me that with bicolor loops, two wrongs do make a right… (Sorry!)
The 2nd variation in the picture above is one you would get if you began braiding with dark (or light) shanks in upper position on both hands. For an in-progress 5-loop braid, you can switch to it from the “edge” pattern in two ways: either by turning loops on your fingers until all the dark shanks are down (or up)—or by making the first, third, and fifth loop transfer with no turn. That equates to the first three transfers from ONE hand, say the left, while all the right hand transfers are done normally (with a turn).
For a 7-loop braid, you would make the first four loop transfers (off one hand only) unturned, alternating with regular turned transfers from the other hand.
If you had started out by using an even number of loops to braid with, you could also switch to alternating dark-light order in your braid (by taking every other loop unturned), and get alternating dark-light ‘zebra-stripe’ chevrons on your bicolor braid–see the yellow and black lanyard braid picture again. I used 6 loops in order to be able to do the alternating dark-light pattern halfway up on the far right side of the photo:
That alternating dark-light pattern doesn’t require using bicolor loops, actually. It can also be made with 3 single-color black loops and 3 single-color gold loops, set up in alternating dark-light order (but see my Color-Planning post for how to set up an ‘alternating’ order in the braid onto your fingers). But the “edge” pattern and others would not be possible with single-color loops, plus you just can’t switch to other patterns as seamlessly as you can when you are using bicolor loops. The only way to switch to a new color pattern with single-color loops is to rearrange the order of the loops on your fingers, which inevitably leaves a wonky-looking area on the braid at that point [update: unless you do some well-thought-out loop-linking to change their order].
Transferring loops “wrong” is the key to smooth pattern changing with bicolor loops. If you made all your loop transfers with no turns for a long stretch of the braid, your square braid would divide into two layers (great for a buttonhole or loop) but just a few unturned loop transfers won’t show up as a visible opening through the braid. The alternative—manually turning loops on your fingers to all be in the correct color-arrangement for the new pattern—might leave a little bulge or other mark at that point in the braid, not really a big deal.
Figuring out which loops to turn “wrong” can be tricky with some patterns, but not in getting back to the Edge pattern—you just aim to have all light shanks up on one hand and all dark shanks up on the other, and make your loop transfers turned or not turned accordingly until you’ve reached your goal. Even if one loop gets by you and ends up with its light shank up on the dark-loop hand, you can catch it on the next round (when it’s time for that loop to come back over to the light-loop hand), and transfer it without a turn then.
My more recent 7-loop square braid bracelet tutorial teaches a multicolor pattern that uses both bicolor and single-color loops–Chevrons over bicolor stripes:
See my post on planning color-patterns—explains how to order the loops on your fingers, to get a particular color-order in the braid. Also shows more examples of bicolor loops in combination with solid color loops, in both square and flat braids.
Update: that color-planning post now includes the set-up instructions for almost all the color patterns shown in its photos, including the pattern in the photo above.
*reversed (vs unreversed) are the 15th C terms; turned is 17th C; crossed (vs open) are Noémi Speiser and Masako Kinoshita’s terms. I can’t help preferring turned (vs ‘not turned’ or ‘straight’) myself, as it seems clearer than the other two. I cite them all because people have various backgrounds in loop braiding.
These terms refer to how a loop is transferred from one hand to the other–i.e. how it goes from one side of the braid to the other–whether it goes “straight” across with no turn, or gets rotated in a half-turn so that the upper and lower shanks switch positions. This makes a huge difference to the braid structure–using one or the other, or a combo of the two types of transfers is how you make a braid square, flat, or divide into two braids.