Longer loop braids, and starts with no ends

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

Part II (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…

Fair 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.

Part I – 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 can add a lot of length to your braid, but the start-from-the-center gives you the most extra length for the least amount of effort, so I always start with that.

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, and Exact. The one I use most is the “Basic” method.

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).

Basic Center-Start This is the method I use almost all the time.
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 (‘caterpillars’–see step 2), I make sure that the total loop bundle length is no longer than the width I can spread my arms apart (this 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. Even a constrictor knot might not be tight enough if there are a lot of loops in the bundle. Instead I tie a rather giant slip-knot using the whole loop-bundle. I tie this slip-knot at the approximate center of the 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 for a header cord, and fasten it below the center-knot, surrounding only the loops I will be braiding with (not surrounding the other half of the lengths—I let those fall free of the header string). I use this header cord exactly the way I demo in my Start Here 5-loop braid photos—treat this big center-knot just like the top-of-the-braid overhand knot in my 5-loop tutorial 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 (shortening the loops), 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. For a braid of more than 9 loops, or one that is more complex than a square braid, I also often park the loops at each end of the loop bundle onto a comb before tying the center slip-knot, so two combs total. But there are pros and cons to doing it that way, described further down, with photos.

TheHandshake Center-start” I don’t use this method very often, but it’s 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. This start leaves a distinctive but not bad-looking ‘join’ at the center point. It’s also a guaranteed way to locate your join at the exact center of the finished braid (unless you happen to braid one half tighter or looser than the other half.)

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. (In the colors that you’ve chosen for one half of the length of your braid.) Each loop should be no longer than your regular maximum length. Then one-at-at-a-time, thread and tie each strand for the other half of the braid through that first set of loops, so the second set of loops is linked onto the first bunch of loops (see photos). 

[I just added the photos below from one of my Braids_and_Bands yahoo list photo-tutorials. 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 (here, the green ones), all the way to the end. Then you retie the braid onto your firm fixed point, and braid outward from the middle again, now with the second set of loops (here, the purple ones). If you tighten well at both starts from the center, there will be a tight “handshake” join at the centerpoint of the braid. (I do not recommend braiding over the top of a table!—I just did that in the photo 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 the “Two Combs” 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 one “handshake” loop. Just as if you were making bicolor loops, even if these are single-color loops. Cut all the strands the exact same length. 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 of the lengths to make the two short linked loops as described above. The long loops and the double (linked) loop will all end up the same length automatically. This way you don’t have to fuss to get the two shorter loops to add up to 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 a bit more time to preparing the loops for braiding. I do this frequently when I just want a little more length than I can get from the “center-start” method.

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 ended up being very different lengths. (It’s awkward 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 about the same point in each loop. I don’t measure and mark the loops, I just do this by comparison with the previous loop. (If there are a lot of loops, I set them all on the teeth of a comb, with a rubber band above preventing them from falling off, but leaving the loops loose and free to stretch out and work with individually).

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. You can use a crochet hook, or your fingers alone to make a chain of slip knots.

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. (A chain of looser slip knots is a very common way to organize long lengths of anything so they don’t get tangled—a hank of yarn, heavy rope, even garden hoses!)

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 be longer than 5 or 6 inches, I tie the first slip knot in the same way, but then I fold the excess loop length one or more times before tying it up into a (thicker) caterpillar chain. 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 – 13 feet in length – is hanging down in back (the unbraided loops are not chained up into caterpillars for braiding, just loosely chained up together so they wouldn’t get tangled–another use for slip knots)

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)
Note: this start 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 constricted, thicker area at the join.

These days, when I’m setting up for a Basic center-start braid, I always mount my loops onto two combs (one comb near one end of the loop bundle, and one comb near the other end). I do this first, before I tie the big slip knot in the center of the loop bundle. Each loop is mounted in parallel between matching teeth on the two combs, with no twists in the loop between the two teeth it is resting on, see photo above. I put a rubber band around the comb to keep the loops secure. The rubber band encircles the comb above the loops, and acts as a barrier that keeps the loops from falling off. (This is also how I lay loops down to take breaks while braiding.)

I don’t mean that I lie the loops stretched out straight and parallel between the two combs—there’s not enough room on my table for that! It’s fine for the loops to lie together in what looks like a jumbled heap, as long as each one was loaded onto its two “matching” comb teeth correctly. One by one, I load one end of a loop onto the first comb, then run my finger along/ through the whole length of the loop before placing the other end onto the second comb such that no twist has been made in the loop, regardless of whether it looks like a tangly mess as it lies on the table.

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 using two combs to set up the loops. After finishing braiding the first half, I would tie it onto the C-clamp, pick up the other half, separate the loops into the two left and right bunches, and continue braiding. (It’s usually fairly easy to separate the loops into the correct left and right bunches of loops.) As I continued braiding, a small, 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, and in that position it IS an A-fell braid! 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. (In doing this, however, I’ve found that my A-fell braiding is always a bit looser than my V-fell braiding, which tends to make a visible difference at the center-point 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.

Part II – Loop starts, with or without ends

I almost always start braids with a loop (buttonhole-type opening), as in the tall braid in my right sidebar → ↑. 

The simplest way is to start with an overhand knot and a tassel of ends just before the loop. 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).

7-loop D-shaped braid sampler with matching ends

7-loop D-shaped braid with mini-braid fringe at both ends. (there’s also a ‘divided braid’ loop at each end, but they aren’t visible in this photo)

Mini-braids at both ends:
This is a nice-looking variation: Tie the overhand knot at the top much lower down, leaving a very long tassel or “tail” of ends above the knot (several inches long). Braid. Finish the last several inches as an ending tassel of ‘mini-braids’—the third video in my Bracelet with Chevrons post demos this. 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 to match the mini-braids you’ve already braided at the far end of your braid. The photo at left shows a 7-loop braid. I finished it with two divided braids (a divided 4-loop braid and a divided 3-loop braid) — adds up to four mini-braids, quick and easy to make with loops. At the bottom, I snipped the loop-ends, and used one strand from each mini-braid to tie off the bottom, before trimming all the ends to the same length.

No ends at the top:
I often make this same type of divided-braid loop start, but without leaving any ends at the start of the braid. (You can’t avoid ends at the bottom other than by hiding them inside an end-cap or other type of covering.)

There are more ways than one to do this, and I don’t always do it the same way. Below I’ve described some of them. (the one I use the most is divided braid loop start #3)

Making a loop at the top with “divided braiding” (as taught in my Start Here 5-loop videos, and others) is the fastest, because both sides of the loop are braided at the same time. I’ll begin by describing some ways to do this as a no-ends start to a braid. However, there are also some non-divided-braid ways to form a starting loop without any ends. Most are based on the various center-start methods I described above in the section on longer loop braids. These no-ends-starts take a little longer to braid than doing divided braiding, but they are very attractive, and may be easier to learn(?). I’ll get to them below the divided-braiding loop start methods. (click link to non-divided starts)

Divided-braid loop-start #1:
This start can only be used for single-color loops. If using any bicolor loops, try the next variation: Divided-braid loop-start #2, or use the completely different Divided-braid loop-start #3.

I think this divided-braiding loop start is the easiest one to learn, and below I’ve inserted a video for it that is also within my 3-loop tutorial. Try this! It works for any number of loops, doesn’t have to be three. I also have a photo-tutorial for this start–it’s part of the downloadable pdf document in my 3-loop braid tutorial. The video below shows me doing this start by suspending the loops onto a header cord, while the photo-tute demos suspending the loops over the bar of a C-clamp. It’s basically the same start though—pick whichever header you prefer (I now often use a shower-curtain ring, hanging around the upright rod of my upside-down C-clamp, as shown in a photo further down).

[note: For this or any ‘no-ends’ start, when suspending the loops onto a string at the top, do not tie/cinch the loops together! No knot around the loops (not even a larks-head). Cinching them together in any way at the top results in a loose baggy unbraided area at the top of the braid once that header cord is removed. Notice in the video that I use an open, loose “O” shaped header cord to hold the top of the braid, and I don’t tie ONTO the loops. I tie the ends of the header cord together with an overhand knot, far away from the loops. The loops should be able slide freely on the header cord, they should not be constricted.]

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.

(This loop set-up is exactly the same as the set-up for the Handshake loop start that I describe further on. However, the braiding for the Handshake loop start is done completely differently.)

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 where the two groups are linked around each other (as shown in the video above and the photo below—note: a thicker, firmer cord would be easier to use than the limp one in the photo).

In the photo above, I will tie the ends of the red header string together, making an open O-shaped loop to hang the loops from. Again, don’t tie the header string onto the loops, or use a larks-head knot around the loops as I taught in my 5-loop tutorial.

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

For the very start of braiding, 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. The shower-curtain ring has all the advantages of both the sturdy prong and the header-cord. You can get the loops onto and off the ring easily (leave the ring open while loading the loops onto it). It’s easy to see whether the loops are suspended correctly, and the loops can slide freely on the ring. Yet they can’t slide off the ring while you are doing the first tightening moves and pulling the as-yet unconnected loops out to the two sides—the way they might slide off the bar of the C-clamp.

Put the left loops onto your left fingers:
Palm angled upward, one by one insert your left fingers into the (knotted) ends of the loops, index to little finger starting with the leftmost loop. Set each loop straight on the finger, that is, making sure that the loop has no twists between your finger and the header (be it cord, curtain ring, or prong). For each loop, the upper shank on your finger should go to the top of the header, and the lower shank to the lower side of the header, with no twist along the loop.

Then load the right loops, placing them on the fingers of the right hand, little finger to index, palm angled upward, and ending with the rightmost loop.

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 with all the loops—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.

Unlike the “handshake start” that I describe 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 forms as 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 be very careful 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 are placed over the top of the bar or cord, and all the lower shanks on the fingers come out under the bar or cord. I think it’s easiest to do this on the nice solid bar of my C-clamp first, and then string a header cord or insert a shower-curtain ring through the loops before taking them off the C-clamp prong.

Divided braid loop start #3:
This is the way I usually make a divided-braid loop start. Here the loops are doubled in length. Each double-length loop is twisted at its mid-point to form its own link, resulting in two linked loops. I find this method quicker to set up than the other ones I describe. The resulting loop-start has a flatter join than the previous divided start methods. 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. But after the first few cycles, the loops ‘cement’ together at the upper part of the braid, and don’t slip anymore.

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)

This start 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. However, at least one double-length, linked loop is necessary, or all the single loops would continually pull through each other as you braid, and the top of the braid wouldn’t hold together after being taken off its header.]

To form two loops from each single loop, make a link in the middle of the double-length loop. 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 the two long strands are now linked to each other, rather than simply crossing each other. Each strand bends around the other strand.

Diagram by Jean Leader, showing a double-length bicolor loop twisted at the center to form two linked loops.

Diagram by Jean Leader, showing a double-length bicolor loop twisted at the center to form two linked loops.

Each half of the linked figure-8 will serve as one loop. 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 [or an open shower-curtain ring] THROUGH BOTH of these loops. Don’t simply hang the doubled loop over the bar! You don’t want one loop coming over the top of the bar and the other loop coming under the bar. Instead, the upper shanks of both loops (shown in red above) must come over the top of the bar, and the lower shanks of both loops (shown in blue-green) should come out under the bar.

It’s easiest to learn this twist-link with a bicolor loop, like the one in Jean’s diagram above. That way you can check to make sure that both upper shanks coming over the top of the bar are the same color, while the two shanks coming from the lower side of the bar are both the other color.

If your braid has an odd number of loops, you will have at least one single loop to hang around the bar. If this is a bicolor loop, it will leave two ends protruding from 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 split in half lengthwise, see my note (further down) on how to make a no-ends-at-the-top “departed” bicolor loop.]

After you start braiding, the single loops will eventually get firmly hooked in to the other interlaced doubly-long loops.

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

For “too-many-loop-braids”, 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, taking care that they are in the correct order and that upper shanks go cleanly to the upper side of the header without any lower shanks crossing over them, and the same thing with the lower shanks.

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. As your braid grows, it will form its own braided loop around the bar or curtain ring it is suspended from — that’s why a header string can and should be thick and sturdy. When you decide that the upper and lower braids are long enough, you will join them together: Stop braiding with divided moves, and start the flat, square, or whatever braid you happen to be making. At that point, the two separate braids will join, closing the loop, and your main braid will start to form.

It’s easiest to do this start with a loop, but it is also possible to start without one, if you prefer what I call a stub start: Instead of a thick cord, prong or curtain ring, suspend the loops from a very fine but strong header-thread [that is not cinched tight onto the loops], 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 if you aren’t careful, there can be a few loose, baggy threads at the top after you remove the header cord.

Braid very slowly and carefully for the first several loop transfers. The first braiding moves are a bit awkward and fussy, as the doubled loops tend to slip and get unevenly longer and shorter. But after a few transfers, the loops firm up and you can braid normally. (Approx. five transfers for a 5-loop braid, 7 for a 7-loop braid, etc.) At or just before this point fussy-tighten to make sure the top/ start of the braid looks good, with no gappy threads, and to make sure your loops are all about the same length before you keep braiding.

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 by laying each loop down on a table, giving it 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. As shown in the lower, expanded detail of Jean’s diagram, the header bar or cord is inserted through both newly-created loops, such that the two red upper shanks will end up on the same side of the bar (upper shanks are shown on the left of the bar in Jean’s diagram), and the two blue-green lower shanks will be side-by-side on the lower side of the bar (to the right of the bar in the diagram):

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. Photo by Jean Leader.

Three loop starts without ‘divided’ braiding

1. the 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 in the first half of this post (on Longer Loop Braids). 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.

The following photos demo the Handshake loop start. (They are from a photo-tutorial on spiral braids that I made for the Braids_and_Bands Yahoo list, which is available as a series of PDF documents in their file section):

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.

Tip: 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.

2. Handshake variation for 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 you have 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 since it will have two knots, one at the top of the loop and one at the bottom, you’ll have to 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, it will just need one knot, so you won’t need to leave any ends at the top of the braid. Thread your single strand around the opposite set of bent-in-half loops, and tie it into a loop, (regular length) with its single knot at the bottom, where you will insert your finger.

[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” 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.

3. theBasic Center-start Looped Start”:
This makes a very nice-looking loop-start.

14-loop "letterbraid" structure

14-loops doubled spanish braid. Starting loop is a 7-loop Spanish braid, braided at the center portion of a long loop bundle, then bent and all 14 loop ends joined to form the larger braid below the starting loop.

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 is fussy and complicated. My braiding videos teach moves that I do by rote, with a camera on a tripod between me and the work, and my eyes looking through the lens. It’s too hard to video that way for fussy little setting-up procedures… I would need a camera-person, editor, a nice studio, and no day job, rather than me in my crowded kitchen and whatever time I have left over from the rest of my life.

I have spent a lot of time writing this post, over a period of several years, to try to get 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. Luckily there is no need to learn any of it in order to make great loop braids. If you really want to, you’ll be able to decipher what you need, ask me about anything that isn’t clear, and maybe get some ideas for figuring out your own methods.

I’m happy to answer any questions if something isn’t clear—ask in the comments section below (this might help other readers who may have the same question!) or through my email contact form—nested under “About” in my header menu. I would love to hear from you!

*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?).

*For A-fell square and flat braids:
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 down from the braid to your fingers. Each loop passes through and/or around 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.

It’s a good idea to pause your braiding sometimes, and take a look at the loops coming out of the fell – the bottom of the braid – to get used to how they should look. This can be a big help later when trying to replace a dropped loop correctly, as well as for doing this (optional) center-start rearranging… Notice the path the loops follow from the fell of the braid down to your fingers. In an A-fell braid, the loop that heads out from the middle of the braid will end up on an index finger – an outer finger – after passing through all the loops of one hand. The loop that starts from an outer edge of the braid will end up on your ring or little finger as one of the two innermost loops, passing around all the the other loops of one hand. The other loops will also pass through and/ or under loops in their path from the braid to your fingers, all in a very clear sequence.

For DOUBLE braids and others:
The rearranging tips above are for square (or flat) braids. Other braids don’t necessarily have an A or V-fell.
Double braids for example: Their loops can also be rearranged back into the correct starting arrangement after the turnaround point of a center-start braid, but it will look different than the simple A or V -fell loop arrangements for square braids. After you get familiar with how loops should look at the fell, you’ll be able to figure out how to undo or redo the loops back to that same arrangement after the center-start turnaround point.

© 2011–2016 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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