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 post (Starts with No Ends) also started out as a reply to a question—How to start a braid with a loop/ eyelet, and with no visible ends of thread at the top of the braid. The answers to these two questions are somewhat related, which is why I haven’t yet split this overly-long post into two…

Warning: both sections are long and wordy. (here’s why)

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.

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 with loops that are too long is hard on the back, neck, and shoulders, plus the top of the braid probably won’t be well-tightened no matter how much you strain. That’s why I never braid with loops that are too long to spread all the way apart into a straight line.

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. Update: Rodrick Owen just informed me that the technique shown at 30secs into the video is weft twining.

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.

Solo braider strategies for braiding longer loop-braids

The longest loop braid I ever made is the center braid in the first photo above, also shown at the far right in my header pic. It’s a 7-loop square braid that I made in 2007, just as a test to see if it was possible. I used the same two techniques I always use for making longer loop braids, but this time I used 9 yards, the total length of the floss in my skeins. (I made each loop from two skeins of floss tied together.) I call that braid my “Whole 9 Yards” braid, although the finished braid actually ended up about 7 yards and one foot (22′, or 6.7m), due to take-up.

I use two main work-arounds when I want a longer braid: First and easiest, starting braiding from the midpoint/ center of the loop-bundle. This can double the length of your normal maximum-length braid. Secondly — only if necessary — shortening the ends of the loops temporarily into what I call “caterpillars”, preferably on only one (the longer) half of the start from the center, or if necessary, on both halves. This is a lot more time-consuming than starting from the center!

step 1. The center-start
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. Below I describe 3 different ways to start from the center.
(Basic, Handshake, Exact)

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

Details: There are a few ways to do this, probably more than the ones I describe below. In the first way I describe, the center point you start from will probably not be the mathematically exact center-point of the braid (and I sometimes place the start off-center on purpose, if I only want to shorten loops at one end). This is my usual method.

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 bits at both ends that can’t be braided all the way. If I don’t want to use my second longer-length strategy as well (see step 2), I make sure that the loop bundle is no longer than the width I can spread my arms apart (which is two times my normal maximum length for a braid).

I align the loops side by side, and then at the mid-point I make a big fat slip-knot of all the loops together. NOTE: I don’t tie a string around the loop bundle to do this, it would not hold the loops securely enough while braiding. I tie the slip-knot with the whole loop-bundle. I tie this slip-knot at the approximate center of this loop-bundle, not at either of the two ends. (a slip-knot is a knot you can pull out easily later—like a single crochet-chain stitch)

Then I take a piece of string and fasten it just below the center-knot, to serve as a header-cord. (Exactly the way I show in my Start Here 5-loop braid photos—treat this big center-knot just like the top-of-the-braid overhand knot in those photos). Do not include the other ends that you wont be braiding yet within the header cord, it should only surround the loops you will be braiding. 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). I tighten carefully at that second start from the center, so there won’t be a loose area, or any loose threads at the center/ join between the two halves of the braid.

That’s the type of center-start that I use the most. (Though for a braid of more than 9 loops, or one that is more complex than a square braid, I often start by parking the loops at each end of the braid onto a comb, so two combs total. But there are pros and cons to doing it that way, described further down, with photos.)

The next type of center-start I’ll describe is the “handshake” start, which is easily placed in the exact center point of the braid. A Handshake-start braid will have a distinctive but not bad-looking ‘join’ area at the center point:

TheHandshake Center-start” 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.

I only have photos of this start used as a loop for the top of a braid, not as the center of a whole braid. Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see the “handshake” join area at the top of the loop more clearly. Looking only at the loop, and not the rest of the braid below the loop, imagine the loop section spread out as a long braid with that handshake join at its center.)

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.

Prepare one set of loops for half the length of the braid, each loop tied separately. Then one-at-at-a-time, 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. If you tightened well at both starts from the center, 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]
Exact center-start
(The join area here won’t be completely invisible, but it won’t be as obvious as the “handshake join” above. The most seamless-looking join is a variation of the Basic Center-start, described further down.)

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. Then make the last loop out of two half-length loops linked together, “handshake” style. (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–you’ll probably have to cut them a tiny bit longer than half the length of the others.) Stretch all the loops out together, treating the two linked loops as if they were one long loop.

At (only) one end of this long bunch of loops, pass a temporary header string through all the loop-ends, and tie it into a loop. Fasten this header-loop to a fixed point. Or, instead of a header-loop, just suspend the ends of all the loops themselves around a fixed point.

You will be braiding at quite a distance from that fixed point, so make sure you have enough room. Start braiding. Gradually, over the first several braiding moves, the single loops will get caught up at 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.

Hint: the easiest way to measure out the loops for this start is to cut two strands for each of the long loops as well as for the “handshake” loop. Cut all the strands the exact same length – the length of the loops. Then tie each long loop together from two lengths of yarn. The long loops will each have two knots, one at each end. Then use two lengths to make the one “handshake” linked loop as described above. This way the long loops and the one handshake loop will all end up the same length automatically—so you wont have to cut the two short loops any longer than the others and fuss to get them the same length as the long loops. A few more knots to tie, but easier and quicker overall.

step 2. Shorten the loops (Caterpillars).

Short explanation: I shorten each loop to a manageable length for braiding by tying/ crocheting a chain of slip-knots (ie a crochet chain) with the “extra” length. That caterpillar-like chain dangles below the loop as I braid, and pulls easily through the other loops. This adds little or no time to the braiding moves, but does add more time to preparing the loops for braiding.

Braiding with ‘caterpillar’ ends on loops
Start watching @ 45 seconds into the video:

This video shows me braiding with caterpillars, not making the caterpillars. I made the video for my 10-loop flat double braid tutorial. Just before I started, I realized my loops were a bit too long for the space available between the C-clamp and the camera…I wanted to use the same loop-bundle for three mini-videos, so instead of cutting the loops shorter, I tied the ends up into short caterpillars. My loops were only about 6 inches too long, so these caterpillars are quite short.

Long-winded explanation:
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: I don’t start crocheting/ tying at the ends of the loops—when I tried doing it that way, the shortened loops never ended up the same length. (It’s very difficult to braid with loops of different lengths.)

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. (this is fussy to do at first, gets faster and easier with practice).

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 about 1/4 of its original length (rough estimate). Five-inch caterpillars probably contain about 20″ of extra loop length, or 40″ if you folded the extra length in half before chaining it up, and so on. If you have caterpillars on both halves of the braid, it can add up to quite a bit of extra length, in addition to the extra length you get from using a center-start. It costs some time to make the caterpillars, but they really don’t interfere with the braiding moves. Unlike bobbins and “butterfly” tie-ups, caterpillars trail easily through the loops as you braid.

When you have braided down to the end of the shortened loops, set the loops down in such a way that you can keep them in order. I put them on pegs or a comb, and stretch a rubber band around the comb–above the loops, so they can’t slide off. Then pull out the slip knots, one loop at a time. (I keep all the loops secured on the comb while doing this, including the one I am undoing.)

Then—if the loops are now short enough to braid with—put them back on your fingers and braid the rest of the way to the real ends of the loops. If they are still too long to braid with, leave the loops parked on the comb while you again shorten them to a good length, and tie up another set of caterpillars. I rarely need to use more than one section of caterpillars, but my “whole 9 yards” braid required several sections.

Caterpillars too long?
If my loops are so long that the caterpillars would end up longer than 5 or 6 inches, I fold the excess loop length one or more times before crocheting it up. Shorter caterpillars are better than longer ones, because you’ll be able to braid further before the dangly caterpillars are longer than the loops (see second photo below).

At the beginning of my Whole-Nine-Yards braid, I had to fold the excess length several times before crocheting the ‘caterpillar’ chains. That’s why they are so thick in the most of the photos below.

Each time I finished braiding one section, I would let out and then retie the caterpillars. As the loops got shorter, the caterpillars grew thinner.

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 much thicker than your fingers, or they wouldn’t easily pull through the loops as you braid.

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.

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 really a problem. It’s just fine to leave caterpillars lying inside the neighboring loops of the same hand. It feels odd at first, but it doesn’t actually get in the way of the braiding moves.

My old clothespin holder. Not as easy as pegs, but worked fine.

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. These are regular-sized embroidery floss caterpillars, not folded before crochet-chaining.

Half-done—best closeup shot of braid

[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):

Warped and ready to braid. Each loop was mounted across matching teeth on 2 combs, with no twist along the loop. After this I will tie the big center-start knot, between the two combs. NOTE: knotting up ‘caterpillars’ at both ends was a mistake!!! (see below) I should have waited to knot up the second set til I was ready to braid the second half of the braid. (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.

Wait to tie up the caterpillars on the other half!
I tried to be very organized with this braid, and started out by crocheting up both ends of all the loops into caterpillars, as shown above.  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 then make caterpillars on the loops of only one of the combs—the end I will start braiding. I wait until that first half is braided before I knot up the loops on the other comb into caterpillars.

Why two combs?:
The Seamless Center-Start (photos above and below)

[This may be the only way to have a flat braid stay completely flat at the center-start area between the two directions of braiding – other center-start strategies will result in a somewhat thickened area at the join]

These days I always mount my loops onto two combs when I’m setting up for a Basic center-start braid of more than 5 or 7 loops, before tying the big slip knot in the center of the loop bundle. All the loops are mounted in parallel, with no twists and no loops crossing other loops between the two combs (see photo above). That way the loops on the other end of the braid will be in perfect [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 continue braiding, now on the other half of the braid. (It’s usually fairly easy to separate the loops into the correct left and right bunches of loops.) When I continued braiding the second half of the braid, a small, symmetrical god’s-eye-like bump or circular area would form between the two halves of the braid, nothing very glaring, especially if I made sure to tighten well at that center-point. You may find this preferable to dealing with the double-comb set-up.

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 (which is the method I teach for basic square braids), 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 (A-fell is the basic braid method taught on most other loop-braiding sites). The braid is essentially turned upside-down (end-to-end) 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.

On the other hand, if you now continue braiding with your original 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.)  This never happened to me back in the days when I didn’t put my loops on two combs. It could have happened, though, if just by chance I had ever picked all the loops up in exactly the right order, and with none of them turned.

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 might 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 result in that symmetrical gods-eye-like “blip” I mentioned earlier.

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

In an A-fell braid, if you examine the path of a loop from the fell (bottom) of the braid down to the finger it is held on, every loop on a hand passes through or around the other loops of that hand, on the way from the fell to your fingers. This is not the case in a V-fell braid—in a V-fell braid, the loops come straight from the fell to the fingers, without passing through any of the other loops held by the same hand.

So, undo these loop crossings! Do this on one hand’s loops at a time. You will undo the loops into an order that is more V-fell-like. You simply pull them through each other, in sequence, replacing them onto other fingers of that same hand. Do not move any of them to the other hand. (see note*)

When you are done, on each hand the loops should be in the opposite order on the fingers than they were before. (This will not be a problem for the braid’s color pattern.) Check along each loop from the finger all the way up to the fell of the braid to make sure that no loop passes through any other loop of the same hand. That is how the fell of a V-fell loop braid should look.

Now, when you continue 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 at the join—see photo below. (I suspect those 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 flat 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.

In progress. Starting the 2nd half of Joe’s braid. 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, compared to the four ridges of a square braid (‘ridges’ are the lengthwise-to-the-braid columns of stacked diagonal strands). 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.

Loop starts

I almost always start braids with a loop—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→. 

The simplest way to begin your braid with a loop/ buttonhole is with a knot and a tassel of ends at the start of the braid. This is the start that I teach in both my 5-loop and 3-loop tutorials. You make a bundle of loops with an overhand knot at the top, and start the braid by using “divided braiding” moves for the first half-inch or less of the beginning of the braid (all loops transferred without turning them).

An attractive variation of this starting tassel method:
Tie the knot at the top of the loop bundle lower down, leaving a very long tassel or “tail” of ends above the knot (several inches long). At the end of your braid, braid the last several inches as mini-braids (forming an ending tassel of several thin braids). Then finish the top of the braid to match: Untie the overhand knot at the top of the braid, tie the beginning ends into loops (if they are not already joined as loops), and then braid them as mini-braids to match the mini-braids you’ve already braided at the other end of your braid.

No ends at the top:
I often make this same type of divided-braid loop start, but without leaving any loose ends at the start of the braid. There are a few ways to do divided-braid starts without ends (described below). These are my most-used starts. Making the loop with divided braiding is faster than other methods, because both sides of the loop are braided at the same time. There are also some non-divided-braid ways to form a starting loop without any ends (most are based on the center-start methods I described above). They take longer, but can be very attractive and may be easier (?). I’ll get to them below the divided-braiding loop start methods.

Divided-braid loop-start #1:
I think this divided-braiding loop start is the easiest one to learn, and I have a video for it that I made for my 3-loop tutorial. Try this! It works for any number of loops, doesn’t have to be three. (I also have a very clear photo-tutorial for this start within the downloadable pdf version of my 3-loop braid tutorial):

[note: don’t use a larks-head knot to fasten this start to your firm fixed object, it would constrict the top and result in a loose baggy area at the top of the braid. That is the knot I use in the Start Here tutorial, but you should not use it for any of these no-ends divided loop starts! Notice in the video that I use an open, loose “O” shaped loop to hold the top of the braid, not a tight knot..]

In the video above I am demoing with a 3-loop braid. You can do the same thing with any number of loops, though.

For braids of more than 3 loops I usually make all the loops that will go to the left hand, and then one-by-one, I form each loop that will go to the right hand after inserting it through the left loops

You then have two bunches of loops that are linked together like two links in a chain.

(So far, this is exactly like the photos I show further down for setting up the Handshake start, below this long section of “divided starts“. The following steps are completely different from the Handshake start, though)

Keeping the ends of the left and right bunch of loops separate, suspend a thick header loop of string or cord through all the loops (as shown in the video above) PLEASE don’t make a larkshead knot with the loop of cord! It should not clasp onto the loops, the loops you are braiding with must be able to slide freely on the header loop, or you will have loose, baggy strings at the top of your braided loop.

Instead of a cord, you could suspend all the loops over a sturdy prong (like the horizontal part of the handle/ screw on a C-clamp. Go to my pdf photo-tutorial for 3-loop braids to see step-by-step photos of this.

What I have recently found to be even better than a header cord, or the prong of my C-clamp, is a simple metal or plastic shower-curtain ring. I hang it over my upside-down C-clamp on the edge of a table, as shown in this photo. This has all the advantages of both the sturdy prong and the header-cord. You can get the loops onto and off the ring easily (just leave the ring open while loading the loops onto it), it’s easy to see whether the loops are suspended correctly, the loops can slide freely on the ring, and best of all—when tightening, you can stretch the loops all the way to the two sides without having them slide off, the way they might slide off the bar of the C-clamp.

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. I usually “fussy-tighten” after braiding the first half-repeat—that’s when all the loops have switched hands. (Fussy-tightening=doing some extra tightening “by hand” up at the very 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.

Unlike the “handshake start” described further down, the loops will not be linked around each other like a handshake at the top of the braid.  Instead, the upper shanks of all the loops will form the upper side of the loop/ buttonhole, and the lower shanks of all the loops will 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.

Divided Braid loop start #2, using 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 immediately above (different from the Handshake loop start). 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.

Divided braid loop start #3:
This is the way I usually make a divided-braid loop start. Here the left and right loops are not linked around each other. Instead, each double-length loop is twisted at its mid-point to form its own link. I use the same method for single-color and bicolor loops. The resulting loop at the top of the braid has a flatter join than the previous divided start methods. To me it seems quicker to set up than some of the other methods, but I warn you that the first few cycles of braiding are very fussy–the loops slip a lot and you have to keep adjusting them so they remain the same length. After the first few cycles, the loops ‘cement’ together at the upper part of the braid, and don’t slip anymore.

I’ve tried more than once to make a video on this. The way I film my hands the camera sits on a little tripod on the table and I braid with my arms wrapped around it. It works for braiding, but I couldn’t lean all the way across the table and manage to do this fussy 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! It also didn’t work to turn the camera around and position it aimed toward the front of the table (where I am comfortable setting up). The loops don’t show well when the camera is on the other side, facing the back of my hands. So I’m giving up for now and just revising this wordy explanation, plus adding 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 end up forming 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.]

To form two loops from each single loop, you need to make a link in the middle of the double-length loop. One way to do this 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. That second twist is very important! After the second twist, the loop will still look like a figure-8, but at the center the two long strands are now linked to each other, rather than simply crossing each other. Each strand bends around the other strand.

Each half of the linked figure-8 will serve as one loop in the loop-bundle. 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.

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. [or, if your yarn can be divided in half, see my note (much further down) under “Bicolor Loops” on how to make a no-ends-at-the-top “departed” bicolor loop.] 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, linked loop must be used, or all the single loops would continually pull through each other when you tried to braid.

For a braid of only a few loops, I put each pair of loops onto my fingertips immediately after suspend that pair onto the bar of my c-clamp.

For braids of more loops, instead of loading all the loops onto my fingertips right away, I first put them onto a comb for safekeeping. See my You can put your loops down post for photos.
After they are all mounted over the bar and onto the comb, and I’m ready to braid, I then load them from the comb onto my fingers.

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. But after a few cycles, the loops firm up and you can braid normally. At or just before this point is your last chance to gently tug the loops so they will all be about equal in length once the braid “firms up”. Keep braiding with divided braiding moves until the divided section is long enough for your eyelet-loop, then start braiding the main section of the braid, closing the loop.

[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). In her diagram the red strand will form the upper shank of both loops, and the blue-green strand will form the lower shanks. Again, the header bar or cord is inserted through both newly-created loops, such that the two red shanks will end up on the same side of the bar, and the two blue-green shanks will be side-by-side on the other side of the bar:

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 new loops. (the two 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.

[Update: 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.]

finger loop braiding method for starting a braid with no ends at the top

Using a shower-curtain ring to hold the loops for a divided-braid loop-start with no loose ends.

Handshake Loop-Start:
I used the Handshake loop start for most of my Sudarium braids, because it emphasizes the two different “halves” of those 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 the “Handshake” start-from-the-center method that I described above. Except that here, you only braid a short distance from the center on both sides. 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 the 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. (note: It’s always necessary to do some creative tightening when joining up the two halves, since they will have loosened up some on each side – try using a finger to beat upward between the loops of each side to tighten them before doing the first combined braiding moves.)

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.

Adding an extra loop to the braid below the loop:
To avoid a thick-thin loop, you could choose to add the single ‘odd’ loop into any center-start braid after braiding the two halves of the loop, right at the point when you are joining them together into one braid. Cut that one loop a bit shorter than the others, since it will join the braid below the loop.

When you are joining the two halves of the center-start together to form the loop, place the extra loop between the two halves of the braid (knotted end at the bottom of the loop), so it will get caught up into the braid when the combined braiding moves start.

To hold it in place, put a temporary header thread through that new loop and hang it over the same attachment the main braid is attached to. Then pull the temporary header thread out of the braid as soon as a few loops have been braided through the new loop. Make sure that you place the new loop somewhere where the first braiding move will pull a loop through it, and not where it will be the first loop pulled.

Bicolor loops:
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 works with an even number of loops. If there is an odd number of bicolor loops, the single “odd” bicolor loop can’t be suspended in this way. Cut it regular length, not doubly-long, and live with two ends sticking out of the handshake join at the top of the braid. (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.

[Note: if you are using a divisible yarn like embroidery floss, you actually can make a single bicolor loop with no loose ends at the top: Divide the yarn in half – so 3 strands of floss instead of the full 6 strands – and make a “departed” loop — see pic labelled “method 1” here on fingerloop.org. This ends up doubling the thickness of the strands back to normal size, and leaves no loose ends at the top of the resulting bicolor loop.]

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.

TheBasic Center-start Looped Start”:
This makes a very nice-looking loop-start — click here for an example photo. I’ve heard that this method is commonly used to start a kumihimo braid with a loop. I rarely use it myself, though. It’s easy to do in principal, but in practice your centrally braided loop area usually doesn’t end up being in the exact center. In which case, after you join up the two halves into one braid, the right and left loops will be two different lengths, and you’ll have to shorten the longer ones to match the others. (This isn’t difficult, just time-consuming.)

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 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.

[Update: my new exact center-start method in the first half of this post is a great way to locate the exact center of a loop bundle. You will need to make one of your double-length loops a bit differently than the others. As with the Handshake start method, you would braid a short distance both ways from that center-point before joining the braid to form a loop.]

Why is this post so darned wordy??? And why don’t I have a video where I just show it all??
The short answer is that what I’m describing above is fussy and complicated!

It’s really hard to make how-to videos on fussy stuff like this. My braiding videos teach moves that I do by rote, with a camera on a stand in between me and the work, and my eyes looking through the lens. But the setting-up and preparations for making extra-long braids or most of the starts without fringe involve actions that are not rote motions, and I cannot do them easily or at all while looking through the lens of a camera, with the camera in between me and the threads. I would need a director, camera-person, editor, a few months off work, and a nice studio, rather than my crowded kitchen.

In a recent backstrap weaving workshop from Laverne Waddington, I heard her say the same thing about weaving and warping techniques — if they are fussy or detailed she can’t and doesn’t try to teach them in photos or a video. This made me breathe a sigh of relief, and feel less guilty for not making videos for all the stuff I describe above.

I spent a lot of time writing it, in order to lay it all out there for anyone who really wants to know how I do these fussy little things. I totally understand if it’s TMI. There is also no need to learn any of it in order to make great loop braids!

I’ll continue to add photos to this post. And I’m happy to answer any questions about it—ask in the comments section or through my email contact form (under “About” in my header menu).

*Take-up refers to the length lost while braiding. Loops don’t travel in a straight path down the braid, they travel diagonally back and forth across the width of the braid, so the finished braid will be noticeably shorter than the loops you started with. Take-up varies, you lose more length with wider braids (more loops, and/or thicker thread). Probably tightness or looseness of tension would also affect take-up.

You really need to do a test swatch with your chosen material and braiding method to find out how much extra length to allow for a braid. I give the examples below just to show what the range might be:

My 7-loop “Whole Nine-Yards” square braid made with embroidery floss started out as a 9-yard-long loop-bundle, and finished as a 7 yard, 1 foot braid.

A 5.5 foot long, 18-loop flat double braid made with sport-weight cotton yarn (about twice the thickness of embroidery floss) started out as a loop bundle that was 10 feet long plus a few inches extra, though I did cut off some extra inches of unused loop-length after finishing the braid (maybe 5 or 6 inches?).

*The same loop-rearranging trick works for an A-fell center-start braid: At the start of the second half of the braid, loops will be coming out of the center-start 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 proper A-fell order.

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 and/or around the other loops of that same hand. In contrast, the loops of a V-fell braid do not pass through or around any loops (of the same hand) on their way from the braid to the fingers.

(Pause your A-fell braiding sometime, and take a look at the loops coming out of the fell, so you can compare later. 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 an outer edge of the braid will end up on your ring or little finger as the innermost loop, passing around all the the other loops of that hand)

© 2011–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
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8 thoughts on “Longer loop braids, and starts with no ends

  1. Thank you for the video on Colombian techniques detailing how two people can work together in longer fingerloop projects. At ~3min 20-30 what kind of ply-split work is this woman doing? Do you know anything more about it? It resembles at first glance a kind of Peruvian twining that Roderick Owen teaches but here she is using the tool used in ply-split work. I had no idea ply-split technique that could create such colorful patterned bands.

    • Hi Lausanne! Isn’t that a fun video?! I’ve only done a teeny bit of ply-split braiding myself, but have friends who do it and I’ve seen lots of colorful examples. My guess is that the woman in the video is doing single-course oblique twining (a.k.a. SCOT) using ply-split braiding. Long-ago Andean and Japanese braiders also made this same type of braided twining using hand-held loop braiding (though in the Andes loops were often turned in “countered” directions rather than turning all the loops of the single course in the same direction). There are other types of braided twining as well… In the Andes they also made non-twined braided structures with loops, and did a lot of mixing it up with different structures within the same braid.
      Whereas I think ply-split braiding is all and only twining.

      But in any case, yes, it’s definitely possible to create the same braided structure using very different braiding methods and tools! The resulting “look” of identical structures can seem different because of tensioning differences. Ply-split can be done a lot tighter than the typical loop-braiding, because a lot of tension can be put into the initial plying of the “rope” that the braider then splits.

      It’s nice to hear from you! I just took a workshop fr Laverne btw (boy, was I rusty!)

      [edited to be clearer — I hope!]

    • Hi Justin,
      Sorry, but no [see my new disclaimer above]. My usual start is too fussy, I can’t do it with a camera in between me and the threads. But check out my 3-loop tutorial video above—it demos a divided-braid loop-start that’s very similar to my usual one, and can be used for any number of loops.

      Another loop start that I call the “Handshake” loop start is demo’d in a video in my Bracelet with chevrons tutorial — the second video in that tutorial.

      [edited to add new info]

  2. 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 tried that early on and it didn’t work for me–when you try to braid, the butterfly bundles get stuck in the loops or even pull the loops off the fingers. Plus, just hanging there they would sometimes hook around / tangle up around each other. A chain pulls through the loops completely smoothly, and they 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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