Longer loop braids, and starts with no ends

The first half of this post started out as a reply to a reader’s question about ways to braid longer loop braids.

The second half of this overly-long post was a response to another question—about making smooth loop-starts, by which I mean braids that start with a looped opening on top, and no fringe—no visible ends of thread  at the top of the braid.

[This post has gotten even longer because I keep adding to it...It's still mostly text and pictures, with one or two borrowed videos.]

3 fingerloop braids by loopbraider

Center braid is 7+ yards long, but I call it my “whole-nine-yards” braid, since that’s how long the loops started out.

So, for strategies for longer loop braids, keep reading; for loop-starts without ends, skip down to the second half of this post…

LONGER loop braids:
Once in a while you may want to make a braid that is slightly longer than your comfortable reach for tightening. Or even one that is twice or more as long as that comfortable length. Straining to tighten is bad for anyone’s back, neck, and shoulders, plus the braid probably won’t be well-tightened at the beginning part where the loops were too long, resulting in an unsatisfying braid. Better to have some good strategies for making longer loop braids.

As a solo braider, I use two main work-arounds when I want a longer braid: first and easiest, starting braiding from the midpoint of the loop-bundle. Secondly — if necessary — shortening the ends of the loops temporarily, preferably on only one (longer) “half” of the start from the center, or if necessary, on both halves. I’ll describe both methods below.

The longest loop braid I ever made is the center braid in the photo above, also shown at the far right in my header pic. I call it my “Whole 9 Yards” braid, because that’s how long the loops were when I started. It’s a seven-loop square braid of embroidery floss, that started out with a 9-yard-long warp (27 feet, or just over 8 meters). Because of take-up, the finished braid ended up about 7 yards and one foot (21′, or 6.5m)
[take-up varies, you lose more length with more or thicker loops.]

Traditional 2-worker method:
The tried and true traditional way worldwide to braid longer loop braids is to cooperate with another braider. If you are interested in making longer bands or cordage and have a buddy who is as well, this is not hard to do. One of you braids, and the other stands near where the start is fastened, and does the actual tightening. This can be by beating the fell with an implement, or by using one’s hands—experiment to see what works best.

Here’s a youtube video in Spanish about the Wayuu people of Columbia and their textile crafts. (Their braiding traditions include loop braiding, ply-split, and sprang.)

Move the timeline “bubble” to 2:25 to see two Wayuu women cooperating in loop braiding an extra-long braid.

Video above @ 2min, 25sec shows 2 braiders co-operating to braid an extra-long braid.

My two main strategies as a solo braider for braiding longer loop-braids:

step 1. The center-start  (sorry, no photo) This is the first strategy because it is the quickest and easiest—always start with this one and only add step 2 (‘caterpillars’) if this alone will not be enough.

I begin braiding at the center-point of an extra-long loop bundle, braid to one end, tie off, then start from the center again and braid the other half.

There are actually a few ways to do this, and any way you can think of will probably work. In the first way I describe below, the center point you start from will probably not be the mathematically exact center-point of the braid. This is my usual method.

Version 1: Basic Center-Start
I start by tying each loop separately. (Not tied together.)  Each loop is as long as I want the finished braid to be, plus extra length for take-up, and extra for the bit at the ends that can’t be braided.  I align the loops side by side, and then make a big fat slip-knot of all the loops together, at the approximate center of this loop-bundle, not at either of the two ends.

Then I take a piece of string and fasten it just below the center-knot, exactly the way I show in my Start Here 5-loop braid photos. I hang or tie that header string onto a fixed point and start braiding the first half of the braid. (Unless that half is itself too long to braid with, in which case I move on to step 2, next section). 

After braiding to the end of the first half, I remove the header string, and pull out the big slip knot at the center of the braid. Then I use the finished half of the braid to tie onto my fixed point, and begin braiding the second half—outward from the center point again (which now has no knot).

That’s one way, and it’s the one I use the most. The next way does “locate” the exact center point of the braid, and the braid will have a distinct but not bad-looking ‘join’ area at that center point:

Version 2: Thehandshake start(photos below).  This is a great way to start if you want half the length of the braid to be in different colors than the other half (though they don’t have to be in different colors). You prepare one set of loops for half the length of the braid, each loop tied separately. The knots are at the bottom of the loops, where you will be inserting your fingers.

Then one-at-at-a-time you thread a strand for the other half of the braid through that first set of loops, and tie each strand into a loop that is linked onto the first bunch of loops. 

[I just added these photos—these loops wouldn't make a particularly long braid, but they illustrate the basic idea.]

I actually rarely use a header cord for this (the red string in the photo below)–I tend to use one of the two bunches of loops as the header, and just tie it into a knot and hang it over the bar of my C-clamp.

Either way works–you braid outward on the first set of loops, all the way to the end, then braid outward from the middle on the second set of loops. There will be a tight “handshake” join at the centerpoint of the braid. (I don’t recommend braiding over the top of a table—I just did that here to display the loops more clearly.)

[new! another way to locate and start from the exact center of the loop bundle]
Invisible exact center-start
(The join area won’t be completely invisible, but it won’t be as obvious as the “handshake join” above.)
Make all but one of the loops separately, and full-length – as long as needed for the whole extra-long braid, plus extra for take-up. (The knotted end of each loop is the end that your fingers will hold.) Align these loops all together. Then make the last loop out of two half-length loops linked together, “handshake” style.
You will probably need to allow a bit longer than half a length when measuring out those two half-length loops, because the combined two loops will have two knots, not just one like your other loops. The extra knot will take up some of the length.

(Tie one half-length into a loop, then thread the other half-length through that loop and tie it. Now you have two half-length loops linked together. Make sure that the two links add up to the same length as your other loops.)

Tie a temporary header string through all the loops at one end of the loop bundle. Fasten the header string to a fixed point. Or just suspend the ends of all the loops around a fixed point. You will be braiding at quite a distance from that point, so make sure you have enough room. Start braiding. Gradually, over the first few braiding moves, the “open” loops will be caught by the join between the two linked loops, and the braid will begin forming from that exact center-point. When you have finished braiding the first half, remove the header cord, tie the finished part of the braid onto the fixed point, then braid the other half.

step 2. Shorten the loops (Caterpillars).

New: This is a video I made for my 10-loop flat double braid tutorial, in which I happen to be braiding with “caterpillars” of knotted-up loop ends. I had made my loops a bit too long for the space available in front of the camera, yet I didn’t want to cut them shorter as I planned to use the same loop-bundle for three mini-videos. Notice that the caterpillars don’t interfere with the braiding moves. (They did add time to setting up the loops). My loops were only about 6 inches too long, so these caterpillars are quite short.
Start watching at 45 seconds into the video:

I don’t have a video on making the caterpillars, but here’s a text description:

If, after setting up my start-from-the-center, each half of the loop-bundle is still too long to braid with, I shorten each loop by tying a temporary slip-knot (like the first stitch of a crochet chain) partway down each loop at a good length for braiding.

Note: There are two directions the slip-knot can be tied in—be sure to tie it so the knot will only come undone when you pull below the knot, and not come undone when you pull from within the shortened loop (above the knot)!

The knot must be tied at the same point in each loop, so the shortened loops will all be the same length. I don’t measure and mark the loops, I just do this by comparison with the previous loop.

Then, to shorten the extra length below the slip knot, I make a series of slip-knots onto that first one, using up the excess loop length—this is essentially a crochet chain. It is quickest to do by using a crochet hook, inserting it into the loop of the first slip-knot, tightening that knot up a bit around the hook, and then crocheting a “chain” with the rest of the loop-length (held as one strand).

This can also be done with one’s fingers if you don’t have a crochet hook. If you don’t know how to crochet a crochet chain, or make a chain of slip knots using your fingers, google a how-to video—it is very easy to learn. After chaining up the excess length, pull the “tail” out through the last slip knot so the chain won’t come undone. (Later on when you want to undo the caterpillars, you undo the last knot where you pulled the ‘tail’ through, then pull on the end to undo the chain of slip-knots.)

This makes a caterpillar-like, dangly object out of the excess loop-length, and reduces it to a mere 1/4 of its original length. This really does not get much in the way of the braiding moves – the caterpillars just trail along through the loops while you braid. When you you have braided down to the end of the shortened loops, you set them down on pegs or a comb, plop a rubber band around the comb above the loops so they can’t slide off, and pull out the slip knots. Then you keep braiding the rest of the way to the real ends of the loops.

If your loops are so long that the caterpillars would end up longer than 5 or 6 inches, you should fold the excess loop length one or more times before crocheting it up, which is what I had done (several times) to make the giant, overgrown “caterpillars” in the photo below for my Whole-Nine-Yards braid.

9 yards of warp was so long that I had to remake my caterpillars the first couple of times I braided to the end of the shortened loops. I undid the caterpillars, unfolded the extra loop length, which was still too long to braid with, and reknotted up, now with somewhat trimmer caterpillars.

These are enormously thick “caterpillars”—I had folded the excess lengths in half several times before crochet-chaining them up. This was the start of braiding from the center of my “whole-9-yards” warp. I will braid about a foot and a half, and then undo the caterpillars. Blue loop on right d-finger has just been taken from the left index finger—its “caterpillar” is trailing after it, through the left hand’s loops.

It’s not hard to braid with the knotted-up ends hanging down from the ends of the loops. They pull through the other loops as you braid. The limiting factor is the thickness of the yarn. The dangling “caterpillars” of knotted loop-ends probably can’t be thicker than your fingers, or they wouldn’t easily pull through loops as you braid. And they probably shouldn’t be much more than 6″ or so in length. Shorter is better, because you’ll be able to braid further before the dangly caterpillars are longer than the loops (see below).

Here I have braided about a foot and a half, down to the ends of my first set of knotted up “caterpillars”. The last loop through is on the left d-finger and its caterpillar is barely making it through the other hand’s loop ends, because the usable ends of the loops are now about the same length as the caterpillars. Now I will put the loops down on a holder, pull out the slip knots and refold/ re-knot-up for my second leg of braiding. (For a more reasonable-length braid, I wouldn’t have to re-knot, would now start braiding to the real ends of the loops.)

With the V-fell braiding that I teach, it’s simple for the dangling “caterpillar” at the bottom of the loop to clear through the other loops. With A-fell braiding it feels more awkward at first. The active finger is pulling a loop through the other loops of its own hand, so the knotted up “tail” or “caterpillar” doesn’t necessarily come all the way through and out of the loops. Instead it can end up lying inside those loops, along your knuckles. However this is not a problem! It’s just fine to leave the caterpillar lying there inside the loops. It really doesn’t hurt anything, or get in the way there.

My old clothespin holder. Not as easy as pegs, but worked fine. (Click on any photos for more detail.)

Half-done. Unbraided half is hanging down in back (I had loosely chained up the 13′ of embroidery floss loops so they wouldn’t get tangled)

The method is a little inefficient with mega-long braids, because you will have to undo and then redo the caterpillars a few times before finally braiding down to the real ends of the loops. It is very effective and worthwhile for getting just that extra length that you want for a specific braid, especially if it only involves making one set of knotted-up loop-ends.

Hint: Depending on how much extra length you need, instead of making caterpillars on both ends of the braid, you might choose to locate the “center” start slip-knot at, say ¼ of the way into the loop-bundle, if your excess loop length is short enough that it can be condensed into only one set of caterpillars, which you will make on the longer side of the center-start. Just make sure that the loops on the shorter half are short enough that you can comfortably stretch them all the way apart when tightening them.

1st half is done, 2nd half has been started, braided down to end of one set of knotted-up loops.

finger loop braiding, extra long lengths, 22-foot braid

Nearing the end of last knotted-up section, only a little bit remaining to braid after this section (pink floss lengths were longer than others for some reason). These are regular sized embroidery floss caterpillars, not folded before crochet-chaining.

Half-done—best closeup shot of braid

These are old photos that were buried in my computer files from when I made this braid in 2007, not the clearest, but I hope they can help make some sense out of my descriptions…

[just added these photos] I just found these pictures of a warped-up and in-progress braid I made a few years ago—Joe’s fiddle braid (you can see him using it on my “About Loop Braiding” page):

18 loops, approx 10′ long, (16 bicolor, 2 solid yellow), heavy cotton thread. Each loop is mounted over matching teeth on 2 combs, with no twist along the loop. NOTE: starting with caterpillars on both ends was a mistake!!! (see below) Finished braid sample to right. (Flat double braid of 18 loops)

The braid was planned to be a little over 5 feet long; it needed a 10 foot warp plus extra to allow both for take-up and for a little extra just in case.  (Wider braids have much more take-up than narrower ones.)  My sample of how the braid will look is to the right—visible if you click twice  on the photo—and my notes for the braid are above it.  I haven’t yet tied the big slip-knot in the middle of the warp that I will braid from.

I tried to be very organized with this braid, and started out by crocheting up both ends of the braid into caterpillars, as shown above, instead of waiting until the first half of the braid was done before crocheting up the second half.  It looks good in the photo, but it turned out to be a big mistake….When I picked up the loops on the other side to braid the second half of the braid, the loops were no longer all the same length! I guess when I started braiding the first half, some of the loops got stretched more than the others, shortening that loop on the other half of the braid. I had to re-do several caterpillars on the second half of the braid to equalize the lengths of the loops. So now I just set my loops up on two combs, tie the center-start slip-knot, and make caterpillars on my working half. I wait until the first half is done before I make caterpillars on the other ends of the loops.

These days I always mount my loops onto two combs if I’m setting up for a long, center-start braid of many loops. That way the loops on the other end of the braid will be in [reverse!] order when I pick them off their comb to braid the second half of the braid.  This is not necessary—I braided center-start braids for ages without doing this. After finishing the first half, I would just pick up the other side, separate the loops into the two left and right bunches, and start braiding. (It’s usually easy enough to separate them correctly into the left and right bunches of loops.) There would be a small, symmetrical god’s-eye-like circular area between the two halves of the braid, nothing very glaring. (Although I think flat braids might cinch together and not be flat at that join?) You may find this preferable to dealing with the double-comb set-up for the 2nd half!

Here’s the problem with the “perfect” loop set-up on the two combs:
If you braided with V-fell braiding moves on the first half of the braid, then the loops coming out at the mid-point of the braid—where you started—will be coming out of the fell in A-fell configuration. The braid is essentially turned upside-down at this point, which is the only physical difference between A-fell and V-fell braids. In fact, for braids of 7 loops or fewer, you could now switch to braiding with A-fell moves, and have a completely seamless join between the two halves of the braid.

Conversely, if you now continue braiding with V-fell moves on this perfectly set up and reversed  2nd half of the braid, you will start to undo what you just braided!  Remember, the two methods unbraid each other.  (This can be helpful—I’ve even unbraided at this point on purpose, if the beginning of the braid had a mistake or if I wanted the midpoint to be at a different point in the pattern repeat.) 

Turning the braid over—making the upper surface the lower surface for the second half—may solve this(?). That would be the equivalent of making any turns in the loop transfers in the opposite rotational direction than you did on the first half of the braid. I haven’t tried this, but it seems likely. Another solution may be to turn some or all of the loops over once on your fingers before starting on the second half. Assuming this works in preventing the braid from undoing, both solutions would likely result in some kind of discontinuity between the 2 halves of the braid–that symmetrical “blip” I mentioned earlier.

My preferred solution:
To continue the 2nd half of the braid with V-fell braiding, and with an almost-seamless midpoint,  I first undo the loops from their A-fell order. (see note**)

Do this by working on one hand’s loops at a time, keeping the left hand’s loops on the left hand, right hand’s loops on the right hand, and undoing the loops into an order that is more V-fell-like. You simply pull them through each other, in sequence, but leaving them on the same hand. (see note**)

When you are done, on one hand at a time check along the loops from fingers up to the fell of the braid to make sure that no loop is passing through any other loop of the same hand. The loop colors should now be in the opposite order on the fingers than they were before. (This is good! A-fell and V-fell braids have the opposite loop-orders.)

Now, when you start braiding with V-fell moves, the braid won’t undo. And amazingly, there will be almost no visible irregularity at the junction between the two halves of the braid, even though the angles of the threads will reverse themselves at that point. There will be a symmetrical float of two threads—see photo below. I suspect these centerpoint  floats would have been less glaring if I had made the turnaround point in a white/orange area instead of at the one all-black loop. But there won’t be a bump or round god’s-eye-like section at the join.

The center-start of this 7-loop wool braid shows as a wider v-shaped black float, upper left in photo. On either side of this center-point, slants of the pattern are reversed.

Braiding the first “leg” of the 2nd half of the braid. This is an 18-loop “double braid”, flat version.*

Here I have just started the second half of Joe’s braid—you can see the finished first half hanging down on the left and heading towards my lap. The bits of colored string hanging from the loops are color codes I attached to the ends of the loops. I tied a piece of embroidery floss onto the end of each loop—in color-wheel order (red, burgundy, purple, blue etc)—to help me keep track of their correct order on my fingers.  I rarely do this, but would again with a long complex braid, especially if most of the loops were the same color (makes it harder to notice that they are out of order when you make a mistake).

*Double braids have eight ridges (‘ridges’ are the lengthwise-to-the-braid columns of stacked diagonal strands), compared to the four ridges of a square braid. Even though it has 18 loops, Joe’s braid is structurally not much different from a 10-loop flat double braid. In the 10-loop version these ridges are twill passages of “over 2 strands” (for the most part). The 18-loop version has the same eight ridges, just wider—each thread passing over a span of 4 threads.

Fringeless looped starts
(no tassel or loose threads at the start of the braid):

I almost always start braids with a loop—probably a confusing term since I don’t mean the loops you are braiding with, but rather a buttonhole-type loop at the top of the braid—see the photo below, and the braid (above) in the right sidebar→.  There are a few different ways to do this.

The simplest way to begin your braid with a loop/ buttonhole leaves a tassel of ends at the start of the braid. You just start your braid as I show in my 5-loop tutorial, but with a divided section at the very beginning (all loop transferred without turning them).

I often make this same type of divided-braid loop start, but without leaving any loose ends. My usual way is really hard to explain, so I’ll leave it for last, and start by describing 2 other “tassel-less” loop starts that are much easier to describe. They both have a nice look that really shows off the loop:

1. Handshake Loop-Start: I used this start on my Sudarium braids:

fingerloop braiding, 16 loops, 'handshake' looped start

‘Handshake’ loop-start, 16-loop Sudarium braid. 8 pink / purple loops were linked around 8 silver / gold loops at the start of the braid. Click twice to see the ‘handshake’ join of the two color-groups at the start of the braid.

It’s the same start as one of the “start-from-the-center” methods that I described above. Except that here, you only braid a short distance from the center on both sides, and then you bend that center-start in half and join all the loops together into one braid, which forms a loop at the top of the braid.

Here are some photos I took for the Braids and Bands spiral braid tutorial that demo this “handshake start”:

I start by tying half my loops—tying them all separately. So for a 6 or 7-loop braid, I would start by making 3 separate loops, each tied with an overhand knot at the the bottom of the loop (where fingers will be inserted).

Then I take the strands for the other 3 (or 4) loops, thread them through the first bunch of tied loops, and tie each of them at the bottom.

Now there is one group of 3 loops linked onto another group of 3 (or 4) loops. Optionally, I can thread a fine, strong header cord through both sets of loops.

Or I can just use one of the 2 sets of loops as the header “cord” for the other set.

I start braiding on only one of these 2 bunches of loops (holding the knotted ends of the loops).

I braid only a short distance.

Then I put those loops down on a holder, or for only 3 loops I might
just drop them and not bother with a holder.

Then I start in the other direction with the second bunch of loops, and braid a short distance.

At this point, I pick up all the loops, and start my main braid. That joins up the 2 ends of the short, braided section, which forms a loop/ buttonhole at the top of my (now unified) thicker braid.

I call this a “handshake loop-start.”

finger loop braiding, spiral braid, looped start

At this point or sooner I pull the header cord out of the join and hang the loop itself over the bar of my C-clamp—the loop in the braid acts as the header cord.

The spiral braid in the photo above is a 6-loop braid, so the two halves of the handshake loop are equal in thickness. That wouldn’t be the case for an odd-number-of-loops braid. Half the loop would be a little thicker than the other half.

A handshake start using bicolor loops has to be done differently.   When making the bicolor loops, make HALF as many loops as you need, but make each loop twice as long as your desired loop-length. (In the braid, each loop will be bent in half to form two bicolor loops.) Then double the left loops over—bend them in half—and suspend them through/ around the bent-in-half right loops, so that each set is linked around the other.  Each doubly-long loop will end up forming two bicolor loops, held by different fingers of the same hand. (You can do this with single-color loops, too.)  This only works for an even number of  loops. For an odd number of bicolor loops, you’ll have to tie a knot at both ends of the one odd bicolor loop (regular length, not doubly-long) and live with  two ends sticking out of the handshake area. (Cut those two ends extra long, and you can hide them later by using a needle to bury them into the braid). However, if your one “odd” loop is a single-color loop, you won’t need to leave any ends at the start of the braid—just thread your single strand around the other set of bent-in-half loops, and tie it into one single-color loop, (regular length) as in the photos above.

The Handshake looped start is really just a variation of the more basic Center-start looped start below. In some ways the Handshake version is easier because it automatically and accurately locates the center-point that you start out braiding from.

2. TheCenter-start  Looped  Start” (pic):
(I rarely use the following method. It sounds simple, but in practice your centrally braided loop area usually isn’t in the exact center, so once you join up your loop, the right and left loops are then not the same length, and you have to shorten the longer ones to match the others. Which is a bore!)

Start with half as many loops as your braid needs, but make them twice as long as you would normally make them.
So, 3 doubly long loops for a 6 or 7-loop braid. Find the center of this long bundle…

[New info: the "invisible exact center-start" method is the best way I know of to find the exact center of the loop bundle, see above where it's described as one of the center-start methods for braiding longer braids. You will need to make one of your double-length loops a bit differently.]

…and braid ONLY the center one or two inches of the bundle–this will be a narrow 3-loop braid at the mid-point of your loops. Then bend that short braided section in half, tie a header cord around its mid-point and fasten that to a fixed point,  join all 6 loop ends together (you can thread a 7th single loop into the join area at this point if you will be braiding a 7-loop braid) and braid with all the loops. Your 3-loop braided section will form a loop at the top of the braid. At this point, you may have to retie the ends of your loops on one side of the braid to make them the same length as the loops on the other half.

3a. Divided Braid loop start: There are a few different ways or variations for making divided loop starts with no ends. I’ll start with the easiest-to-explain way and show a video for it:

For a 3-loop braid:   Tie two of your three length into loops.  Before tying the last length into a loop, pass one of its ends through both the other loops, and  then tie its two ends together into a loop.

For a braid with more loops than three:   Tie the loops that will be mounted on the left hand, tying each one separately. Then, one-at-a-time, thread each of the strands for the right hand’s loops through all the left hand loops and tie it into a loop that is linked around the first group of loops. You now have two bunches of loops that are linked together like two links in a chain. So far, this is like the set-up for the Handshake start. The following steps are completely different, though:

Holding the left and right bunches of loops separately, suspend all the loops over a sturdy prong (like the horizontal part of the handle/ screw on a C-clamp). They should be hanging together in one bunch over the prong, but do keep the left and right bunches of loops separate at the ends of the loops. The knotted ends should be at the bottom, where you will be inserting your fingers. Go to my pdf photo-tutorial for 3-loop braids to see step-by-step photos of this.

A thick, smooth header cord can be used instead of a prong—as shown in the video above. Do not use a larks head knot to clasp this bundle of loops, that is don’t follow the way I show in my Start Here 5-loop tutorial for tying a header cord below the knot!—Here the header cord should be in a large open circle, it shouldn’t hold tightly onto the loops. The loops suspended over it must be able to slide freely on the header cord, or the braid won’t tighten up evenly at the top.

What I have recently found to be even better than a header cord, is a simple metal or plastic shower curtain ring. I hook it onto my C-clamp on the edge of a table. It has all the advantages of both the sturdy prong and the header-cord—you can see easily whether the loops are suspended correctly, the loops can slide freely on the ring, and you can stretch the loops all the way to the two sides for tightening without having them slide off the ring.

Put the left loops onto your left fingers:
Insert your left fingers into the knotted ends of the loops, making sure that none of the loops is twisted at all between your finger and the prong the loops are suspended on. For each loop, the upper shank on your finger should go to the top of the prong, and the lower shank to the underside of the prong with no twist along the loop.

Repeat with the right loops, placing them on the fingers of the right hand.

Each loop should be mounted in an open circular path around your finger and the bar or header cord, not be twisted into a figure-8. (demo’d in the video above, and shown in photos in my 3-loop braid tutorial—downloadable in pdf format)

Begin braiding a divided braid—all transfers straight (unreversed/ open/ unturned). Tighten hard for the first few times, to avoid  looseness at the top of the braid.

When the loop (the divided portion of the start of your braid) at the top has reached your desired length, begin making the appropriate turned (crossed/ reversed) transfers for whatever braid you have planned, which will join up the divided loop portion.  One cohesive braid will start to form, with a loop or eyelet at the top where you began braiding.

You might expect this start to have a “handshake” type of join, since it got set up the same way as a handshake-start braid, but if you check at the top of the loop/buttonhole-start, you’ll see that the loops are not linked around each other as in a handshake join.  Instead, the upper shanks of all the loops head one way—forming the upper side of the loop/ buttonhole—while the lower shanks of all the loops head the other way, forming the lower half of the buttonhole… The buttonhole/ loop is a divided braid–two flat braids braided simultaneously, one on top of the other.

3b Divided Braid loop start with Double-length loops:

This variation of the above method is good for bicolor loops, at least for an even number of them. When you set up your loops, cut out doubly-long bicolor loops, and only make half as many loops as your braid requires. Link the left hand’s loops (as a bunch) around the right hand’s loops. Then follow the same instructions as above. You will have to take care in mounting the bunch of loops onto the prong or header cord or shower-curtain ring. Make sure that all the upper shanks on each finger go over the same side of the prong, and all the lower shanks on the fingers go under the other side of the prong.

Above I describe a left set of doubly-long loops linked around a right set of doubly-long loops. In my favorite divided-braid loop start below, I also use double-length loops for at least two (up to all) the loops in the braid. As in the method above, each double loop will be bent in the middle to form two loops. Each doubly-long loop is twisted in the middle so that it forms its own link.

My usual divided-braid start is the following one—it works with both single-color and bicolor loops.

3c. My favorite divided braid start:

This is how I start most of my braids. It makes a flatter start, and can be used with bicolor and/or single-color loops. It’s a little fussy to do but quicker to set up than some of the other methods. I was unable to video it–I tried, but I couldn’t lean all the way across the table and manage to do this start on the far side (where the camera can focus) without A blocking the camera, B hurting my back, C messing up repeatedly, and D swearing a lot. So I’m giving up for now and just leaving this wordy explanation, plus a new diagram from a student:

finger loop braiding, 17th C. letterbraid, solo braider

this loop start is just a “divided” braid, can be made on any braid that can be made “divided” (see 5 and 9-loop braid tutorials)

Even though this start is a little fussy, it’s much quicker to set up than the other methods, at least after you are used to it. It can be done with simple 3-loop braids up to very complex ones like this letterbraid.

[I recently slightly changed how I do this, and have altered the description below so it describes my new-and-improved method...]

The first step is to make up your loops: doubly long loops as described above. Each loop will be bent in half to form two loops for braiding with. [Update - this method will work even if only one loop is double-length, the others can all be separate, single-length loops. They will eventually 'lock' into the double-length loop after you start braiding, though it will take a few braiding moves.]

Most importantly, aside from bending the loop in half, you must also make a link at the half-way point of each double-length loop. There are many ways to create this link. One way is to hold both ends of the loop, twist it once so it forms a figure-8, and then twist it once more so it has now received a full twist—a 360° rotation. After the second twist, the loop will still look like a figure-8 but at the center, instead of the two long strands crossing each other, they are now linked to each other. Each strand bends around the other strand.

Each half of the figure-8 will serve as one loop in the loop-bundle, the two loops linked around each other. Fold the figure-8 loop in half at the link, forming two loops out of one, linked together at the top of the (eventual) braid.

Now insert the bar of your C (G)-clamp THROUGH BOTH of these loops. Don’t simply hang the doubled loop over the bar! Rather, you are sticking the bar through both of the two new loops. The upper shanks of both loops must be over the top of the bar, and both lower shanks should go behind the bar and come under it. The two loops should be linked to each other at the top of the bar, not simply have their two strands cross straight over one another.

If your double-length loop was a bicolor loop, the two upper shanks now coming over the top of the bar should both be the same color, and both shanks on the other side of the bar should be of the other color.

In fact it’s easiest to learn this twist-link with bicolor loops.

(I usually twist each loop by hanging it over the c-clamp bar and then twisting one end, but it’s too hard to describe and the result is identical — it really doesn’t matter how you choose to twist your loop 360° to form that link.)

If your braid needs an odd number of loops, a single loop can be hung around the bar. If this is a bicolor loop, you will have two ends at the top of the braid—make them long and you can hide them later by “sewing” them deeply into the braid. After you start braiding, the single loop will eventually get firmly hooked in to the other interlaced doubly-long loops. However, all the loops cannot be single loops! At least one double-length loop must be used, or all the single loops would continually pull through each other when you tried to braid.

Always start braiding with DIVIDED braiding moves–don’t turn any of your first loop transfers or you may undo one of the links in your doubled loops. It is quite possible to start without an actual loop at the top of the braid though, if you want what I call a ‘stub start.’

If I don’t want to have a loop at the top of my braid, I suspend the loops from a fine header-cord thread instead of a prong, and switch to braiding a ‘solid’ braid after a just a few cycles of divided braiding. This results in no (visible) loop at the top of the braid. It’s trickier than starting with a loop, because there tend to be a few loose, baggy threads at the top after you remove the header cord.

Braid very slowly for the first several loop transfers. The first braiding moves are always a bit fussy, as the doubled loops tend to slip and get unevenly longer and shorter if you aren’t careful. But after a few cycles, the loops firm up and you can braid normally. When the divided section is long enough for your intended loop, start braiding the main section of the braid, closing the loop.

This method is quicker to set up than the other “fringeless” loop-starts, and makes a very neat start.

[even newer info, 10/17/'12]:
Here’s a diagram drawn by Jean Leader after she learned how I do this. She makes the same link in each doubly-long loop that I do, but she does it a different way: by laying the loops down on a table, giving each one a full twist as shown, and then loading them onto a bar (or header-cord, curtain ring, etc). Again, the header bar or cord is inserted through both newly-created loops, under their central twist:

The arrows in the first diagram simply indicate the direction to spread the newly-created loops a bit more open, so you can see the link. The second diagram is a close-up of just the central twist, showing how the bar is inserted—lengthwise to the overall doubled loop, going through both the new loops. (both diagrams have the same orientation, neither is rotated relative to the other.) The red strand forms the upper shanks of both new loops, and the blue-green strand forms the lower shanks of both loops.

*I mount the clamp upside-down, so the horizontal bar that you turn to tighten the clamp is at the top. That bar is great for braiding from—especially once there is a loop at the top of your braid. You can slide the loop at the top of the braid over the bar, and remove it just as easily.

[New info: I recently found that a simple metal shower curtain ring makes a great "bar" to suspend the loops onto when I'm ready to start braiding—makes it easier to spread the loops apart to tighten the first few cycles. After those first few cycles I still prefer to put the braid back onto the straight bar at the top of my C-clamp (G-clamp), though, but maybe that's just because I'm so used to it.]

**In an A-fell braid, the loops on any one hand all cross each other as they head out from the braid to your fingers, passing through other loops of that same hand. In a V-fell braid, each loop comes straight from the fell of the braid toward the finger—none of the loops cross or pass through any other loops (of the same hand) on their way from the braid to the fingers.

BTW, the same loop-rearranging trick works for continuing with A-fell braiding, but you would do the opposite: at the start of the second half of the braid, loops will be coming out of the fell of the braid in V-fell configuration—So on each hand’s loops, one-by-one pull the inner loops through the outer loops, til they are all in A-fell order. (Look at the loops of an A-fell braid first when you are still – not braiding – to compare. You want to notice the path the loops follow from the fell of the braid out to your fingers. The loop that heads out from the center of the braid will end up on an index finger – an outer finger – after passing through all the other loops of that hand. The loop that heads out from the edge of the braid will end up on your ring or little finger as the innermost loop of that hand, passing around all the the other loops of that hand)

© 2011–2014 Ingrid Crickmore
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6 thoughts on “Longer loop braids, and starts with no ends

    • Hi Justin,
      Thanks for the nudge! I should try to figure out a way to show it more clearly. Videoing didn’t work. The way my camera sits on the table I can’t film the close edge of the table (where I normally set up a braid) from the right angle. I can only film the opposite side as you see in my braiding videos. I never start a braid on that far side, I set up on the close edge and then–only if I’m making a braiding video–I move the braid to the back of the table. My favorite start is a lot more complicated than the method that I did manage to video. I tried to lean over and set it up on the far side of the table while the video camera was recording, but it didn’t work at all–I couldn’t see what I was doing and neither could the camera, plus leaning across the table hurt my back. I had to trash that video (I think there was a lot of swearing involved!) I’m thinking of making a step-by-step drawing instead of a video, stay tuned…

  1. Have you tried winding a butterfly bobbin with the extra length instead of crocheting it up into a chain? When I make them, I wind them around my thumb and forefinger so they stay fairly small.

    • I did that early on and it didn’t work at all–when you try to pull them thru the loops, they get stuck in the loops or pull them off the fingers. Plus, just hanging there they would sometimes hook around / tangle up around each other. A chain pulls through completely smoothly, and the chains never tangle up with each other. You can certainly try it! Maybe if you then tightly wrap each butterfly so it’s really like a tight ‘cocoon’ it would come through the loops easily. But the caterpillars work so well that I have no incentive for trying anything else myself.

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