Before learning 9-loop square braids, learn the braids in my 5-loop square braid tutorial, and then the 7-loop square braid, and braid a few of those before following this 9-loop tutorial.
Notes on historical references, so-called ‘unorthodox’ variations, how I learned 9-loop braids, etc, follow the photo-tutorial.
9-loop video, part 1 of 2
(these 2 videos assume that you already know how to braid with 7 loops, so they are not at slo-mo practice speed, except for the parts that demonstrate how to use your thumb in braiding.)
The video below shows the divided and flat variations of the 9-loop braid:
[Click to see Dominic's chunky flat 9-loop braid bracelet in tarred hemp!]
The photo-tutorial below is a rewritten version of my old L-MBRIC how-to, including even more photos. I’ve split the original into 2 tutorials, this one on 9-loop square braids and a separate one on 11-loop square braids.
Following the photo-tutorial are notes on: strategies for fixing mistakes, unorthodox 9-loop braids, historical references to 9-loop braids (and info about the A-fell, V-fell and Slentre methods), and how I got into loop braiding.
9-loop square braid, using my “thumb” method:
Start with 5 loops on the left hand (one per digit) and 4 on the right (thumb to ring finger—no loop on right little finger). The thumb holds loops in “hitchhiking” position, not tucked-down. Thumb-shapes vary—it isn’t necessary to have a curve in your thumb like mine, find your own way to hold the loop with the thumb pointing up.
Seen from above, the overall hand shape should be curved—kind of a C-shape. In general, the thumb is not held right next to, or even in line with the fingers. It can be quite separate. (In the photo above, my thumb is actually well to the right of the fingers.)
Adjust this C-hand-shape so your thumb can be comfortably held pointing upward, with all the loops gently taut (ie not sagging).
L = left, R = right
th, a, b, c, d = thumb, index, middle, ring, little finger
The d-finger (little finger) with no loop is the “fetcher” or operator finger, it does the main braiding move.
Palms face each other when braiding. Each loop has an upper shank and a lower shank. They are “upper” or “lower” because they lead to the upper or lower surface of the braid, as well as over the upper or lower side of the finger. This is very clear on the fingers. But on the thumb, both shanks are held more or less horizontally, so neither looks obviously higher or lower. However one shank does correspond to an upper, and the other to a lower shank. (this is an important difference, as you need to take the upper shank from above to make a square braid).
The upper shank of the thumb-loop is the shank that is closer to the opposite hand. The lower shank is further from the opposite hand.
step 1. First loop transfer: Operator finger (Rd-finger) goes through all the L loops except the thumb loop. (see also “hand position” photo further down, betw. photo #3 and photo#4.)
Then Rd rises in front of and above the thumb loop and hooks downwardly onto its nearest shank (“upper” shank), then pulls the loop through the intervening loops and off the thumb, over to the right hand:
Hooking the loop in this way will give it a half-turn as it moves onto the Rd finger—this turn is very important, or the braid would start to split into 2 mini-braids! The shank that had been in lower-shank position on the left hand will now be in upper position on the right hand.
Hand positions →
On the “passive” hand, the loops should be held nearer the tip, not at the base of the fingers, to make it easier for the active finger to go through the loops. (see photo → )
Hands face each other, not upward, during the braiding moves.
When hooking the thumb loop, the active hand temporarily turns slightly palms-down (see photo 3).
You may not be able to tunnel through the loops in one motion at first—that’s fine. But do hold the hands facing each other, with loops spaced a bit apart. If you braid with palms facing upward, or loops touching each other, you’ll have to weave laboriously in and out of the loops to get through them, which is difficult and time-consuming, yet can become an ingrained habit that is hard to overcome later.
step 2. Shift the left loops:
Now the remaining loops on the left hand must be shifted upward one finger-position, filling the empty thumb position, and freeing Ld of its loop, so it can be the next operator. [hands shift their own loops---try not to use the other hand to 'help']
First shift the L index loop to L thumb (La shifts to Lth).
This is a very different motion from the rest of the loop shifts. Move the tip of Lthumb and La toward each other, and insert the thumb into the a-loop (in the opposite direction to the way the finger is inserted), then lift the loop off the finger and onto the thumb. You need to do the shift this way, or the upper shank will end up on the ‘wrong’ side of the thumb.
Continue, now shifting the rest of the loops in the regular manner: insert the empty a-finger into the b-finger’s loop and remove the b-finger. Repeat with all the fingers in turn.
After the loop shifts, Ld has no loop and is ready to be the next operator. But first the loops need to be tightened—this is the most important move in the whole braiding procedure!
step 3. Tighten the fell
Spread the L and R loops widely apart in a smooth arc, so they form a straight line from one hand to the other—no angle where they meet at the fell of the braid. Don’t use a lot of force. Pulling too hard will constrict your braid and give you sore fingers. And please don’t use a “jerk, jerk, jerk” strategy for tightening, like ‘beating the fell’ in weaving—that causes uneven tightening in a loop braid. Instead, gently rock/ repeat the end of the arc once or twice to ‘snug’ the loops neatly into place at the fell of the braid. [thanks for this wording, Terri!]
In the photos and videos it may look as though I am pulling hard on the loops, but I really am not. I hold the loops with a light, even tension that feels comfortable and easy. Square braids do not need much or any force to tighten, just a wide spread. As you’ve probably realized by the time you get up to 9-loop braids, good tension is trickier with loop braiding than with other textile crafts. That’s because the loops keep getting shorter as you braid. The same amount of force, and of angle of tightening, has a greater effect on short loops than on long ones, so you’ll have to tighten even more gently (and also less widely) toward the end of the braid when loops are very short, to get a consistent appearance in the braid.
New loop braiders in particular tend to braid much too tightly (even to the point of getting blisters). But I also see the other extreme: braiders who put all their attention on the loop transfer and shifting moves, but just do a quick toss of the hands outward for tightening — paying no attention to that move at all. The tightening move MAKES the braid! It’s a good idea to pay attention to it, and do it consciously, instead of rushing through it or doing it automatically.
2nd loop transfer (mirror-image of first):
step 4. Ld (now empty) goes through the right hand’s loops: Rd, c, b, a loops, and takes Rthumb-loop with a turn by hooking the “upper” (nearer) shank from above. [photos 11-14]
step 5. Shift R loops upward one finger-position, freeing R d-finger. [no photo]
step 6. Tighten the fell. [photo 15]
Now shift the other hand’s loops up one position (right hand), to free d-finger of its loop [no photo]—should happen before (or during) the tightening move.
One braiding cycle done.
Repeat from the beginning til the braid is finished. Tie off at base of braid, either with another overhand knot, or by tightly wrapping and tying a piece of thread or string around the base of the braid. Trim off excess loops, leaving a short tassel of ends. (There are fancier ways to finish ends, google “finishing ends of braids” to get some good ideas.)
Transferring a loop without a turn
for making either a divided or a flat braid
–called unreversed in the 15th C. braiding manuscripts, open by Speiser and Kinoshita. Turn was the 17th C term for reverse or cross (speiser/kinoshita)
The operator finger will go through all the loops, including the thumb loop. From within the thumb loop, the operator finger hooks downwardly on the FAR shank of the thumb-loop to take the loop off the thumb and through the intervening loops. (sorry, no photo) Again, the active hand turns slightly palms-downward when hooking the thumb loop.
Taking the thumb loop this way means that the loop will not turn over—the shank that was in upper position the whole time the loop was on the left hand will stay in upper position when the loop transfers over to the right hand.
Making both the left and the right loop transfers this way is how you make a divided braid—good for making a loop or buttonhole. Braid this way until you see a slit forming in your braid (look at the side of the braid). When it is long enough, close the slit up by returning to the regular way of taking the thumb-loop—the way I described in the beginning of this tutorial. The thumb loop will then turn over each time it passes to the new hand, which will join the top and bottom layers of the braid into one cohesive square braid.
To make a flat braid, use open/unreversed/straight transfers on the left hand’s loops, but use your original (turned) transfers on the right hand’s loops (or vice versa). The braid should braid in a c-shape, possibly looking exactly like a square braid as you are braiding it, but having a slit/ division along one side. After braiding you will manually open the braid out flat. However, if your tension is too tight, the braid will get forced into a different shape during braiding, one that I call “3/4 flat“—see my 5-loop tutorial for a photo showing the difference between “flat” and “3/4-flat” braids. 3/4 flat braids are less common with 9 loops—you really are pulling too hard if you get this braid shape using 9 loops! Read the fix-it in the 5-loop tutorial.
Finishing: Before opening it out, I first squeeze the braid inward (all up and down its length)—the opposite of stretching it, almost as if I’m trying to shorten the braid—in order to relax and loosen it from the lengthwise tension of braiding. After that, I open it out width-wise and tug the edges outward to spread it out flat and wide. I do that squeezing inward as if to shorten for all braids, not just flat ones…It makes them relax, fill out, and look better after being pulled lengthwise for the whole braiding process. I sometimes then wet or dampen the braid, gently stretch it flat, and let it dry flat or hanging over my towel rod overnight.
Kumihimo braiders have told me they steam their braids to finish them—holding them (carefully) over a kettle on the stove, for example. I usually just dunk them or hold them under running water. (if I am certain the color won’t bleed!–anytime I use a new type of yarn or thread I test it first by soaking some of it in hot water and detergent to see if any color bleeds into the water.)
There’s a pretty pattern variation of a flat 8-loop braid called Lace Dawns (or Daunce), which is described in the 15th C braiding manuscripts in a difficult A-fell method. See my more recent post for an easier, V-fell method for Lace Dawns, using the techniques in this 9-loop tutorial. This 8-loop braid might be an easier way to work your way up to using the thumbs, since you will only be using the thumb on one hand. One hand holds loops as in my 7-loop tutorial, and the other hand holds loops as in this 9-loop tutorial.
[8/9/11] Color patterns:
See my recent post on how to make and plan different color-patterns in square and flat braids.)
Most of the braids above are square braids, of various numbers of loops from 7 to 11. (Except for the 3 black/white ones, and the blue/white, and purple/white ones beside them—those are doubled square braids, rectangular in cross-section.)
All these braids have at least some bicolor loops, since I originally took the photo for my bicolor loop magic post, which includes a tutorial for 3 bicolor patterns.
9-loop square braid—abbreviated instructions
th=thumb, a=index, b=middle, c=ring, d=little/small finger.
Ld = left little finger.
Ld (underlined) = the loop on the left little finger. (my distinction—in other sources Ld (or DL) can mean either the left little finger OR its loop, depending on context)
Loop arrangement at start of braiding cycle:
Right hand: Rth, a, b, c
Left hand: Lth, a, b, c, d
1. Rd thru Ld, c, b, a, takes th (turned from above)
2. L loops shift up one position (to Lth, a, b, c)
4. Repeat in mirror image (switch L and R above).
One braiding cycle done.
~9-loop Pattern repeats~
After 9 braiding cycles (18 loop transfers) all the loops will be back on their original fingers.
On the developing braid, 9 braiding cycles will form one full color-pattern repeat (for a 9-loop braid).
~Unorthodox Braids (UO braids) of 9 loops~
Besides square and flat braids, many so-called unorthodox braids are possible with 9 loops. Unorthodox braids combine regular through-loop moves with over- or under-whole-loop moves. They tend to have interesting shapes. A world-wide, very common unorthodox braid is the 5-loop D-shaped or triangular braid (called the “broad lace of 5 boes” in the 15th C manuscripts). Below are instructions for two different unorthodox 9-loop braids. Others are possible too, and there are even more possible variations with 11-loop braids. (Loop shifts and tightening moves are the same as described above for a square braid):
For the 2 unorthodox braids below, start with loops set up just as for a 9-loop square braid. The directions below refer to whether your little finger (the “fetcher”/operator) moves through or over each of the 4 loops on the other hand before taking the thumb loop.
Unorthodox braid #1:
Through 2 loops (d,c), over 2 loops (b,a), take thumb-loop (turned from above). Keep repeating this move, L and R sides.
Unorthodox braid #2:
Over 2 loops, through 2 loops, take thumb-loop (turned from above). Keep repeating this move, L and R sides.
With many UO braids there will be a noticeable to extreme difference in the resulting braid depending on which direction you turn the transferred loop—from above or from below (number 2 above especially). So far I have only taught the “from above” turn—it is somewhat easier with V-fell braiding, but “from below” works fine, too. It turns the loop in the opposite rotational direction. Either turn produces the same braid shape with square braids. With Unorthodox braids, turning loops from above will result in a slightly-to-very different braid than turning from below.
For any braid, unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of the braid, and is usually the only way to fix a mistake. It’s usually a bad idea to drop the loops and try to unpick the braid. Instead, keep the loops on the fingers, and carefully reverse/ undo your braiding moves, last one first, beginning with the loop-shifting moves if those were your last moves. After unbraiding a few times the process becomes more straightforward and streamlined.
Before passing a loop back through the loops it originally came through, I wrap the end of the loop once around the tip of the finger that’s holding it, so it will stay in place as it is pushed back through the loops. I find it easier to use the a-finger to hold the loop when sending it back, rather than the d-finger. I demo this briefly at the end of the video in the link below.
Don’t worry about fixing mistakes in your first 9-loop braids, get used to the moves first!
A-fell and V-fell braiding moves will unbraid each others’ braids—this is a great way to unbraid 3- to 7-loop braids.
Using thumbs to braid 9-loop V-fell fingerloop braids has been documented in Finland –see L-MBRIC news, issue 11. So far the Finnish paper mentioned there is the only published reference that I know of. But it may easily have been done elsewhere as well. Loop braiding has died out as a living tradition over much of the world, and has only been revived in the west recently. So it’s hard to know the full extent of the earlier history of loop braiding.
[NEW INFO: I recently met someone who had first learned how to loop braid in China in the 1940's. She told me that she had learned there how to braid 9-loop square braids using thumbs as well as fingers, and that this was a common practice!!! More in my recent post: Braids 2012, part 3]
So far, this revival has been based on only two of the three fingerloop methods for making simple, 2-pass braiding moves: the A-fell method (method 1) and Slentre (method 3). Thumbs cannot be used to hold loops in either of these methods, as they are on the wrong side of the active finger.
Only the V-fell method (method 2) allows using all 10 fingers to hold loops. The method (though not necessarily the use of 10 fingers) has been documented in Asia, the Pacific, India, S. America, and one location each in Russia and Finland. The V-fell method is currently found as an unbroken tradition more frequently than the A-fell method (see Masako Kinoshita’s online journal L-MBRIC). But as of the time I started this blog, I couldn’t find it taught in any published or on-line sources. It is sparingly described in Noémi Speiser’s books, as well as in L-MBRIC (where it is called “Method 2″) For more info on these three methods see my “A-fell, V-fell, and Slentre” page.
~How I got into loop braiding~
The first loop braid I learned was a five-loop square braid, done with the V-fell braiding method that I teach in this blog. That was in 2006, here in California. I was taught by someone who had learned it herself in the 1990′s, in a summer camp in the northwest U.S. (Washington state). She happened to drop in on a knitting group I was attending regularly, and when the topic of knitted I-cord came up, she mentioned that she knew how to braid I-cord, and showed me how.
That was my first exposure to loop braiding. Since then I have met 2 other people who, like my teacher, had learned this V-fell method in Washington state summer camps in the 90′s. My guess is that the camp counselor who first brought it into “camp culture” there had learned it directly from an Asian or South American relative, or else learned it while traveling abroad.
Dana, the young woman who taught me, had kept up her braiding ever since she first learned it. She didn’t show me anything beyond the five-loop braid, but she told me that I could make bigger braids by adding more fingers and loops—up to a limit of 9 loops, and no more. (I still don’t know if she had been taught how to braid with 9 loops, or had figured it out on her own.) She taught me with drab pink fingering-weight knitting yarn, but told me the braids would be very pretty if I used different colors, and suggested using embroidery floss. Luckily, I jotted down some notes.
I didn’t try it again for about 3 months, then used some embroidery floss, and was instantly hooked . Since I had been told that I could, I had no hesitation in trying 7 loops, and then 9 loops in the next day or two, at that point using my thumbs since they were the last fingers left to add.
[I recently managed to contact Dana and ask her some questions about how she learned this method. She didn't remember anything about the person who taught her at camp, or mention whether she had figured out her 9-loop method on her own, but she did confirm that, when using thumbs to carry loops, she holds them as I do, in "hitchhiking position," pointing upward.]
It only occurred to me to try braiding with 11 loops a year or more after learning how to braid with 5-9 loops. In fact, my first year or so of loop braiding I was highly focused on avoiding braiding with multiple loops on any finger. I always tried to translate those few classic braids that required holding more than one loop on a finger (gleaned from fingerloop.org), into the V-fell braiding method or something similar, so I could use my thumbs and not bother with multiple loops on a finger. [see my recent post about fingerloop.org—it's a great online resource for loop braiding.]
In the meantime, I came up with ways to make the following classic ‘multiple loop’ braids using only single loops on any digit: Lace Dawns, Piol, the “Hollow Lace of 7″ family of related braids, a close version of the Lace Endented of 8 bows, as well as a 10-loop version of the classic 8-loop Lace Bend Round.
On learning to braid with more loops:
Since starting to teach, I’ve noticed that students who have already become very adept and fast at loop-braiding with 5 or 7 loops often seem to feel that it’s harder to add 2 more loops than do braiders who have learned more recently.
I think it’s because the long-time braiders are so used to braiding quickly and automatically that they can barely remember ever braiding slowly, or having to coach one particular finger along. (One of the fun things about loop braiding is how fast and easy it becomes.) They often insist to me at first that they can’t braid with 7, or 9 loops—convinced that, since the finger can’t do the new move automatically, an insurmountable physical problem must be preventing it: “See! my little finger is too short”— “My ring finger is physically incapable of lifting high enough”, “My thumb bends the wrong way”, etc. I don’t think it actually takes them longer to learn the new step, but they seem to feel more stymied by it to begin with.
On the other hand, I don’t recommend rushing into braiding with 11 loops. With 11 loops there is no new finger to train, instead all the fingers need to have more automatic control over their loops, so you can think about the new and different step in the loop shifting, and that extra loop on the little finger. When you reach the point (with 9 loop braids) where you can keep braiding while conversing, or looking up occasionally, you can learn to handle 11 loops. Before that point I think it would be more trouble than it is worth.
Ten-loop ‘double braids’ can also be learned after 9-loop square braids. These are the classic 10-loop braids (doubled 5-loop square braids), that were traditionally made by two braiders cooperating on one braid. Using all ten fingers, a solo braider can make these with simple and efficient loop transfers and loop-shifting moves, and without carrying more than one loop per finger. (see fingerloop.org’s instructions for 2 braiders; see Phiala’s String Page‘s Multi-person braids for a single braider for her “no-thumbs” method for making these as a solo braider).
When I braid double braids that have more than ten loops, I usually carry extra loops on the little fingers first, as I show in my 11-loop square braid tutorial, then on the thumbs (using similar braiding moves).
Please leave a note to say hi! And definitely leave one if anything is unclear, it’ll help me improve the instructions/ videos.
I would love to hear about what you are making and what your craft interests are. I would also love to see photos of your 9-loop braids (and post them here if you agree!) Leave notes under ‘comments’ on any post, or send me an email.
© 2011-2013 Ingrid Crickmore . Some limited and strictly specified sharing of this document is allowed, see full copyright information in blue area at bottom of screen.
Photo-tutorial is adapted, expanded, and amended from my original version, published in the Illustrated Instruction section of M. Kinoshita’s L-MBRIC newsletter 2008 (issue 11)