Learn the braids in my tutorial for 7-loop square and flat braids first, and braid a few of those before following this 9-loop tutorial. This is not a beginning-level tutorial! This braid requires using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops.
Below is a photo-tutorial showing my method for braiding 9-loop square braids, using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops. It’s a very revised version of my how-to on 9 and 11-loop braids that was published in L-MBRIC in 2008. I split it into 2 separate tutorials for this blog, completely rewrote them, and included more and larger photos.
Check out the videos below the photo-tutorial, too…I’ve gotten complaints about how slow-paced they are, so you may prefer the photo-tute, but they do demo how the hands move, which is difficult to show in photos. Slide the bubble under the videos to fast-forward ahead/ skim through if necessary.
Notes on historical references, so-called ‘unorthodox’ variations, how I learned 9-loop braids, etc, follow the photo-tutorial.
9-loop photo tutorial, showing my “thumb” method:
Start with 5 loops on the left hand, one per finger, and 4 on the right (thumb to ring finger—no loop on right little finger). The thumb holds loops in “hitchhiking” position always, never tucked-down. Tucking it down twists the loop and makes it difficult to find the correct shank, plus causes other problems.
You don’t need to have a curve in your thumb like mine. After a little practice, the light tension of the loop will keep it in place on the thumb. Bear with the loop popping off at first! Just pick it back up and keep going. After half a braid this will ease off, and after a braid or two it’ll virtually stop. For the first braid, just practice the movements, don’t worry about making a perfect braid. Thumbs up!
The photo shows a side view. Seen from above, the overall hand shape should be curved—like a C-shape. The fingers are the top of the C and the thumb is sort of like the bottom of the C, but sticking upward. The thumb and the fingers are separate, not held close together. Most of the time, the thumb is quite independent of the fingers. (In the photo above, if you could look down on my hand from above, the thumb is to the right of the index finger, not next to it.)
Adjust this C-hand-shape so your thumb can be comfortably held pointing upward, with finger and thumb loops all gently taut (i.e. not sagging, but also not tight). When the arms move back and forth to tighten the braid, the thumb keeps its loop gently taut, and stays in hitchhiking position while the hand and fingers swivel around it.
L = left, R = right
th, a, b, c, d = thumb, index, middle, ring, little finger
The d-fingers (little fingers) are the “fetchers” or operator fingers, just as in the 7-loop braid.
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. On the thumb, neither shank looks obviously higher or lower. But one shank does correspond to an upper, and the other to a lower shank.
In hitchhiking position, the upper shank of the thumb-loop should be the shank that is closer to the opposite hand. The lower shank should be further from the opposite hand.
step 1. First loop transfer: Operator finger goes through all the L loops except the thumb loop. The “upper” shank of the thumb loop is closer in this photo. (see also “hand position” photo further down, after photo #3.)
Then the operator finger 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. The shank that was in lower position on the left hand will now be in upper position on the right hand.
Hand positions →
(for braids of any number of loops)
When you are getting ready to poke the operator finger through the other hand’s loops, be sure the other hand is held as in this photo! At the wrist, the hand bends away from the operator finger, NOT toward it, and then is curved in a c-shape with the fingers pointing toward the operator finger, little finger closest and the other fingers ranked behind it.
This is important for making a smooth, easy path for the operator finger to go through. Create a tunnel of loops so the operator finger can slide straight through them. To do this, the little finger sticks out the furthest and the others are staggered each a bit behind. And, also important, the loops are held at the middle or tips of the fingers, not at the base.
(loops on the active hand, in contrast, can be held at the base of the fingers.)
Palms should face each other, not upward, during the braiding moves. (If palms face upward, your finger has to weave in and out of the loops to get through them, which slows down the braiding procedure significantly—especially with this many loops.)
The active hand temporarily turns palms-down in order to hook down onto the thumb-loop (see right hand in photo 3 above).
step 2. Shift the left loops:
Now the remaining loops on the left hand are shifted upward one finger-position, to fill the empty thumb position, and free 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 new and very different loop shifting move: Move the tip of the thumb and index toward each other, and stick the thumb into the a-loop from the opposite direction that the finger is inserted. Then lift the loop off the finger and onto the thumb.
(If the thumb goes into the index loop in the same direction as the index finger is inserted, the loop’s upper shank will end up on the wrong side of the thumb.)
Then shift the rest of the loops just as for a seven-loop braid.
Before the next transfer, the loops need to be tightened.
step 3. Tighten the fell
The thumb stays pointing up during the tightening move, and the hand and fingers swivel around it. I show this in the video (probably interminably!). Think of the thumb as the maypole, staying in place, always relatively upright, around which everything else swivels. As they say in music “it’s all in the wrist”!
During the back and forth tightening moves, the loops are held with gentle but even tension so none of them ever sag. In the photos and videos it may look as though I am pulling hard on the loops, but I really am not. Tightening a square or (especially) a flat braid doesn’t require force, just a wide spread, repeated a couple times. It’s a little trickier to achieve consistent tension in a loop braid than in knitting or other textile crafts. As the loops shorten during the course of braiding, the braider has to gradually lighten his/her own tension on the loops (and spread the loops less widely) .
Most new loop braiders braid much too tightly (even to the point of getting blisters). I sometimes see the other extreme, too: New 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! Too loose and the braid will be flabby, with saggy patterns. Too tight and the braid will lose its shape—be unevenly round instead of square, or squished-in and not fully flat. A too-tight braid will also weaken and wear out sooner, because every slight bend and movement will gradually break more and more of the fibers in each overly-stretched strand.
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 11-13]
step 5. Shift R loops upward one finger-position, freeing R d-finger. [no photo]
step 6. Tighten the fell. [photo 14]
Now shift the other hand’s loops up one position (right hand), to free d-finger of its loop [no photo]—this 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 other ways to finish ends, see Finishing below.)
Transferring a loop without a turn
for making either a divided or a flat braid:
The operator finger will go through all the loops (in the same direction, including the thumb loop). It goes all the way through the thumb loop and then hooks down on the far shank of the thumb-loop in the photo above (the “lower” shank), pulling it off the thumb and through the intervening loops.
Taking the thumb loop this way means that the loop will not get a turn when it 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.
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. If your tension is too tight, the braid will get forced into a shape 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.
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. The 8-loop Lace Dawns braid might be an easier way to work your way up to using the thumbs, since you will only be using the thumb of one hand. One hand holds its loops as in my 7-loop tutorial, and the other hand holds loops as in this 9-loop tutorial.
I usually end my braids with a loop (a divided braid section), after which I divide the braid into several thinner loop braids (see the third video in my Bracelet with Chevrons tutorial). See this note for some other ideas.
After the braid is done (and before opening it out, if it’s a flat braid) I 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 widen the braid. I do that squeezing inward as if to shorten for all braids, it makes them look better after being pulled lengthwise for the whole braiding process. Then, if it’s a flat braid, I open it out width-wise and tug the edges outward to spread it out flat and wide. I usually then wet or dampen the braid, gently stretch it flat again, and let it dry on a towel or hanging over my towel rod overnight.
Apparently Japanese Kumihimo braiders steam their braids to finish them—holding them (carefully) over a kettle on the stove, for example. I usually just dunk them in warm slightly soapy water, or hold them under running water. (If I am certain the color won’t bleed—whenever I use a new type of yarn I test it first by soaking a sample for a few hours in hot water and detergent in a clear or white container, to see if any color bleeds into the water.)
9-loop video, part 1 of 2
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!]
See my more recent post [8/9/11] on how to make and plan different color-patterns in square and flat braids.)
Many of the braids above are square braids, of various numbers of loops from 7 to 11. (Not the three black/white/plus contrast color braids in the left half of the photo, and the blue & white, and purple & white braids to their right—those are doubled square braids, which are 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.
Update: my new tutorial on color-linking in 7-loop flat braids includes the setup instructions for the two flat 9-loop braids below:
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).
~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.
new: A variation to both the above unorthodox braids is to not turn any of the loops. This will not result in a divided braid, because the ‘over’ and ‘under’ whole-loop moves connect the upper and lower layers of the braid together. It will cause a slight change to either braid’s shape, and a dramatic change to the color-patterns if the braid is made with bicolor loops.
For any braid, unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of the braid, and is usually the only way to go back to a mistake and fix it. If you put down the loops and try to ‘unpick’ the braid it will likely get hopelessly tangled. See my post on unbraiding for more tips.
~Historical references to V-fell braiding with 9 loops~
Using thumbs to braid 9-loop V-fell fingerloop braids has been documented in Finland—see L-MBRIC news, issue 11. I suspect it has been done elsewhere as well. Loop braiding has died out as a living tradition over much of the world, so it’s hard to know the full extent of the earlier history of loop braiding.
[UPDATE: 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]
The recent revival of interest in loop braiding 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.
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 a young woman who had learned it herself in the 1990′s, in a summer camp for teens in the northwest U.S. (Washington state).
Since then I have met 2 other people who also 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 taught me a five-loop square braid, and told me that I could make bigger braids by adding more fingers and loops—up to a limit of 9 loops. (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 using what she happened to have with her—fingering-weight knitting yarn—but told me the braids would be very pretty if I used a mix of different colors, and suggested embroidery floss.
Luckily, I jotted down some notes. I tried it a few days later with some rather ugly yarn, and wasn’t too impressed. But about 3 months later I decided to bring my notes and some embroidery floss along on one of our summer music-camp trips. This time I was instantly hooked! Since Dana had told me it was possible, I went right ahead with 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," always pointing upward. As does Europa, the woman I met at Braids 2012 who had learned to loop braid using thumbs in China.]
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 had found Lois Swales’ and Zoe Kuhn-Williams’ Fingerloop Braiding site fingerloop.org, and I always tried to translate the few classic braids that required holding more than one loop on a finger into some other method that would allow me to use my thumbs instead…
This was because of my experience of having learned the same exact square braid by two different methods—Dana’s method, and the method taught on fingerloop.org [V-fell and A-fell, respectively]. It was when I first tried to learn the classic “Lace Dawns” braid (on fingerloop.org) that I fully realized what that meant. I was struggling along trying to learn what seemed like incredibly convoluted and strange moves—and a lot of them. Suddenly I noticed that the only thing that all those extra moves were serving to do was to bring the loop from the other hand through one extra loop on the right hand. Amazing! That beautiful, exotic-looking braid was just a plain old square braid (flat version) of 8 loops! I already knew how to make square braids of up to 9 loops using Dana’s method, why not make the braid her way and save myself all this extra work?! It just required figuring out which fingers to put the red and white colors onto to get the same color-pattern.
So, totally different methods could produce the same braid! And one way might be much simpler than another. After that, I saw loop braid instructions in a very different light – there might well be a different, easier way to make the same braid. What was almost odder was that no one else seemed to have noticed this. I had found out by then (from LMBRIC) that the method Dana taught me was a known method, used primarily in Asia. It seemed very strange that no other site mentioned it and how useful it was.
Over that first year of braiding, I came up with “thumb” ways to make the following 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 (the Spiral braid). Of these, the braid that most baffled me was the Hollow Lace of 7 bows. The original method was like neither A-fell nor V-fell braiding, and it was very hard to figure out a “thumbs” method for it. When I finally did, I still didn’t understand the braid, either the original or my “thumbs” method! My new method seemed to work in producing braids that look exactly like that group of braids, but they may not have the exact same structure.
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 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 new finger can’t do its moves 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.
Ten-loop double braids can 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. [To learn how to make these braids the traditional way, as a team of 2 braiders, see my more recent post on this].
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).
I would love to hear back from you if you learn this nine-loop braid, or any other braids from this blog! Or if you have any questions/ comments/ corrections. Leave notes under ‘comments’ below any post, or send me an email.
© 2011–2013 Ingrid Crickmore
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This 9-loop photo-tutorial is an expanded and rewritten version of my earlier how-to article on 9 and 11-loop braids, published in the Illustrated Instruction section of M. Kinoshita’s L-MBRIC newsletter 2008 (issue 11)