I just got another question about making smooth loop-starts, by which I mean braids that start with a looped opening on top, and no fringe—no visible ends of thread at the top of the braid. I’ve pasted in and expanded my reply as the second half of this overly-long post. [10/21/'11—I just added a video demo'ing one way to make a loop start with no loose ends]
The first half of this post started out as a reply to another reader’s comment on ways to braid longer loop braids. (At some point I’ll probably cleave this post into two–once I get more photos and or videos made for them.)
So, for strategies for longer loop braids, keep reading; for loop-starts without ends, skip down to the second half of this post…
LONGER loop braids:
The longest loop braid I ever made is the center braid in the photo above, also shown at the far right in my header pic. It’s over 21 feet long. It’s a 7-loop square braid of embroidery floss, that started out with a 9-yard-long warp (27 feet, or just over 8 meters). The finished braid is about 7 yards and one foot (6.5m)—didn’t have much take-up. With such fine thread it took me most of a day to braid half of it. That was after spending hours on setting up—this was my first experiment with ultra-long warps and I had no idea how to manage them. It was a ridiculous scene, with loops spread and tangled all through the living room and into the kitchen. (Don’t do it that way!) After that first day I was pretty bored with the braiding, so I took another week, just braiding a little bit at a time, to finish it off.
For this braid, I used both methods I describe below. I use these methods all the time, but not usually on such mega-long braids—that was a test braid, just to see if it could be done. I love that hank of braid though, it’s very fun to play with—coil up various ways, tie knots in, etc.
My two main strategies for braiding longer loop-braids:
1. The center-start (sorry, no photo) This is the first strategy because it is the quickest and easiest—always start with this one and add the second method if this alone will not be enough.
I begin braiding at the center-point of an extra-long loop bundle, braid to one end, tie off, then start from the center again and braid the other half.
I start by tying each loop separately. (Not tied together.) Each loop is as long as I want the finished braid to be, plus extra length for take-up, and extra for the bit at the ends that can’t be braided. I align the loops side by side, and then make a big fat slip-knot of all the loops together, at the approximate center of this loop-bundle, not at the end. Then I tie that center-knot onto a fixed point and start braiding the first half of the braid from the knot outward. (Unless that half is itself too long to braid with, in which case I move on to step 2, see below the first set of photos). After braiding to the end of the first half of the loop bundle, I pull out the center-start slip knot. I then tie the already braided half of the braid onto my fixed point, and begin braiding the second half of the braid—again, outward from the center point.
A fun variation of the center-start is what I call the “handshake start” (photos below). This is a good one if you want half the braid to be in different colors than the other half (though they don’t have to be in different colors). You prepare one set of loops for half the braid, each loop tied separately. The knots are at the bottom of the loops, where you will be inserting your fingers. Then one-at-at-a-time you thread a strand for the other half of the braid through that first set of loops, and tie it into a loop that is linked around 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 —10/16]
I actually rarely use a header cord for this (the red string in the photo below)–I tend to use one of the two bunches of loops as the header, and just tie it into a knot and hang it over the bar of my C-clamp.
Either way works–you braid outward on the first set of loops, all the way to the end, then braid outward from the middle on the second set of loops. There will be a tight “handshake” join at the centerpoint of the braid. (I don’t recommend braiding over the top of a table—I just did that here to display the loops more clearly.)
2. Shorten the loops.
If, after tying the central slip knot in the loop bundle, each half of the loop-bundle is still too long (longer than the maximum comfortable length for stretching the loops all the way out to the sides for tightening), I estimate how long I would like the loops to be, and I tie a slip-knot (like the first stitch in a crochet chain) partway down each loop at that point. This shortens the loops to the optimal length for braiding.
There are two directions the slip-knot can be tied in—be sure to tie it so the knot will only come undone if you pull on the extra loop-length below the knot, and not when you pull from within the shortened loop.
The knots have to all be at the same point in each loop, so that your working loops will all be the same length. After a few tries you’ll figure out a good way to do this. I don’t measure and mark the loops, I just do it by comparison with the previous loop.
Then, to shorten the extra length below the slip knot, I make a series of slip-knots onto that first one, using up the excess loop length—this is essentially a crochet chain. It is quickest to do by using a crochet hook and making a chain, but can also be done with one’s fingers. (if you don’t know how to crochet a crochet chain, just google a youtube video to find out how—it is very easy to do)
This makes a caterpillar-like, dangly object out of the excess loop-length, and reduces it to a mere 1/4 of its original length. If that’s not going to be short enough you can fold the excess loop length one or more times before crocheting it up.
Then simply braid with the knotted-up ends hanging down from the ends of the loops. They pull through the other loops as you braid. The limiting factor is the thickness of the yarn. The dangling “caterpillars” of knotted loop-ends probably can’t be thicker than your fingers, or they wouldn’t easily pull through loops as you braid. And they probably shouldn’t be much more than 6″ or so in length.
It works best with V-fell braiding because the active hand pulls the index loop of the opposite hand through that opposite hand’s loops, all the way across to the active hand—so it’s simple for the dangling “caterpillar” at the bottom of the loop to clear through the other loops. With A-fell it’s more awkward, since the active finger is pulling a loop through the other loops of its own hand–the knotted up “tail” or “caterpillar” ends up lying inside those loops. It’s actually ok to leave it lying there inside the loops it was just pulled through, but it bothers me for some reason! I want it to come all the way through, the way it does with V-fell braiding.
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 can also choose to locate the “center” start slip-knot at, say ¼ of the way into the loop-bundle. Then you might only need to tie up the loops on the long half into caterpillars. Just make sure that the loops on the short half are short enough that you can comfortably stretch them all the way apart when tightening them.
These are old photos that were buried in my computer files from when I made this braid in 2007, not the clearest, but I hope they can help make some sense out of my descriptions…
[just added these photos] I just found these pictures of a warped-up and in-progress braid I made a few years ago—Joe’s fiddle braid (you can see him using it on my “About Loop Braiding” page):
The braid was planned to be a little over 5 feet long; it needed a 10 foot warp plus extra to allow both for take-up and for a little extra just in case. (Wider braids have much more take-up than narrower ones.) My sample of how the braid will look is to the right—visible if you click twice on the photo—and my notes for the braid are above it. I haven’t yet tied the big slip-knot in the middle of the warp that I will braid from.
I tried to be very organized with this braid, and started out by crocheting up both ends of the braid into caterpillars, as shown above, instead of waiting until the first half of the braid was done before crocheting up the second half. That turned out to be a 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 loosely bundle up all the loops on the other half so they don’t get tangled, and wait to make up their “caterpillars” til it’s time to braid that half.
I didn’t mention this earlier, but I now always mount my loops onto two combs before starting longer braids of many loops—that way the loops on the other end of the braid will be in the correct order when I pick them off their comb to braid the second half of the braid. This is not necessary—I braided center-start braids for ages without doing this. After finishing the first half, I would just pick up the other side, separate the loops into the two left and right bunches, and start braiding. (It’s very easy to separate them correctly into the left and right bunches of loops.) There would be a small, symmetrical “god’s-eye”-like circular area between the two halves of the braid, nothing very glaring. You may find this preferable to dealing with a “perfectly” set-up loop arrangement for the 2nd half.
Here’s the problem with the “perfect” loop set-up the way I do it now:
If you braided with V-fell braiding moves on the first half of the braid, then the loops coming out at the mid-point of the braid—where you started—will be coming out of the fell in A-fell configuration. The braid is essentially turned upside-down at this point, which is the only 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. But conversely, if you now start braiding with V-fell moves on this perfectly set up and reversed 2nd half of the braid, you will start to undo what you just braided! Remember, the two methods unbraid each other. (I’ve even unbraided at this point on purpose, if the beginning of the braid had a mistake or if I wanted the midpoint to be at a different point in the pattern repeat.) Turning the braid over—making the upper surface the lower surface—may solve this. That would be the equivalent of doing the turns (reversed or crossed 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. Or turning some or all of the loops over once on your fingers. Both would likely result in that small “gods-eye”-like separation between the 2 halves of the braid.
To continue the 2nd half of the braid with V-fell braiding, and with an almost-seamless midpoint, I first undo the loops from their A-fell order. (see note**) Do this by working on one hand’s loops at a time, keeping the left hand’s loops on the left hand, right hand’s loops on the right hand, and undoing the loops into an order that is more V-fell-like. You just pull them through each other, in sequence, but leaving them on the same hand. On one hand at a time, check along the loops from fingers up to the fell of the braid to make sure that no loop is passing through any other loop of the same hand. After you pull them out from that A-fell configuration on each hand, they should be in the opposite order on the fingers than they were before, with no loop passing through any other loop of that hand. Now, when you start braiding with V-fell moves, the braid won’t undo. And amazingly, there will be almost no visible irregularity at the junction between the two halves of the braid, even though the angles of the threads will reverse themselves at that point. There will always be a symmetrical float of two threads—see photo below. (This centerpoint float might have been less obvious if I had made the turnaround point in a white/orange area instead of at the solid black loop.)
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 8 ridges (the lengthwise, stacked columns of diagonal strands), compared to the four ridges of a square braid. Even though it has 18 loops, Joe’s braid is structurally not much different from the 10-loop 2-worker braids in the 17th C. braiding manuscripts (except that Joe’s braid is the flat variation rather than double-square/ rectangular). In the 10-loop version these ridges are twill passages of “over two strands” while in the 18-loop version they are “over 4 strands”.
Fringeless looped starts (no thread ends hanging out at the start of the braid):
I almost always start braids with a loop—probably a confusing term since I don’t mean the loops you are braiding with, but rather a buttonhole-type loop at the top of the braid—see the photo below, and the braid (above) in the right sidebar→. There are a few different ways to do this.
The simplest way to begin your braid with a loop/ buttonhole does leave a fringe or tassel of ends (as in my 5-loop tutorial braids) at the start of the braid. You just start your braid with a divided section as described in my square braid tutorials (all loop transfers open/straight/ unreversed).
I often make this same type of divided-braid loop start, but without leaving any loose ends. My usual way is really hard to explain, so I’ll leave it for last, and start by describing 2 other “fringeless” loop starts that are much easier to describe. They both have a nice look that really shows off the loop:
1. Handshake Loop-Start: I used this start on my Sudarium braids:
Here are some photos I took for the Braids and Bands spiral braid tutorial that demo this “handshake start”:
I start by tying half my loops—tying them all separately. So for a 6 or 7-loop braid, I would start by making 3 separate loops, each tied with an overhand knot at the the bottom of the loop (where fingers will be inserted).
Then I take the strands for the other 3 (or 4) loops, thread them through the first bunch of tied loops, and tie each of them at the bottom.
Now there is one group of 3 loops linked onto another group of 3 (or 4) loops. Optionally, I can thread a fine, strong header cord through both sets of loops.
Or I can just use one of the 2 sets of loops as the header “cord” for the other set.
I start braiding on only one of these 2 bunches of loops (holding the knotted ends of the loops).
I braid only a short distance.
Then I put those loops down on a holder, or for only 3 loops I might
just drop them and not bother with a holder.
Then I start in the other direction with the second bunch of loops, and braid a short distance.
At this point, I pick up all the loops, and start my main braid. That joins up the 2 ends of the short, braided section, which forms a loop/ buttonhole at the top of my (now unified) thicker braid.
I call this a “handshake loop-start.”
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.
You can also use this “handshake” joining method to start a braid from the center as described above under “longer braids” —especially if you want one half of the braid to be in one set of colors and the other half to be in completely different colors. In that case you use the full number of loops for the braid in each set of linked loops—so for a 7-loop braid you would start with 7 loops linked through 7 other loops. Then you would start braiding out from the the join with one set of loops, finish that half, and then go back and braid with the other set of loops for the second half of the braid.
A handshake start using bicolor loops has to be done differently. When making the bicolor loops, make HALF as many loops as you need, but make each loop twice as long as your desired loop-length. (In the braid, each loop will be bent in half to form two bicolor loops.) Then double the left loops over—bend them in half—and suspend them through/ around the bent-in-half right loops, so that each set is linked around the other. Each doubly-long loop will end up forming two bicolor loops, held by different fingers of the same hand. (You can do this with single-color loops, too.) This only works for an even number of loops. For an odd number of bicolor loops, you’ll have to tie a knot at both ends of the one odd bicolor loop (regular length, not doubly-long) and live with two ends sticking out of the handshake area. (Cut those two ends extra long, and you can hide them later by using a needle to bury them into the braid). However, if your one “odd” loop is a single-color loop, you won’t need to leave any ends at the start of the braid—just thread your single strand around the other set of bent-in-half loops, and tie it into one single-color loop, (regular length) as in the photos above.
The Handshake looped start is really just a variation of the more basic Center-start looped start below. In some ways the Handshake version is easier because it automatically and accurately locates the center-point that you start out braiding from.
2. The “Center-start Looped Start” (pic):
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 add in a 7th single loop at this point) and braid with all the loops. Your 3-loop braided section will form a loop at the top of the braid.
3. Divided Braid loop start: I know of 2 ways to do this. I’ll start with the easiest way and show a video for it—this is a great way if you are not using bicolor loops:
For a 3-loop braid: Tie two of your three length into loops. Before tying the last length into a loop, pass one of its ends through both the other loops, and then tie its two ends together into a loop.
For a braid with more loops than three: Tie the loops that will be mounted on the left hand, tying each one separately. Then, one-at-a-time, thread each of the strands for the right hand’s loops through all the left hand loops and tie it into a loop that is linked around the first group of loops. You now have two bunches of loops that are linked together like two links in a chain. So far, this is like the set-up for the Handshake start. The following steps are completely different, though:
Holding the left and right bunches of loops separately, suspend all the loops over a sturdy prong (like the horizontal part of the handle/ screw on a C-clamp). They should be hanging together in one bunch over the prong, but do keep the left and right bunches of loops separate at the ends of the loops. The knotted ends should be at the bottom, where you will be inserting your fingers.
(A header cord can be used instead of a prong—as shown in the video above. What I have recently found to be really handy, instead of a header cord, is a simple metal or plastic shower curtain ring. Has all the advantages of both the sturdy prong and the header-cord—you can see easily whether the loops are suspended correctly, and the loops are nice and secure—cant slide off. I hook the shower-curtain ring onto my C-clamp.)
Insert your fingers into the knotted ends of the loops, making sure that none of the loops is twisted at all—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. 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)
Begin braiding a divided braid—all transfers straight (unreversed/ open/ unturned). Tighten hard for the first few times, to avoid looseness at the top of the braid.
When the divided portion is long enough, start making the appropriate turned (crossed/ reversed) transfers for whatever braid you have planned, which will join up the divided loop portion. One cohesive braid will start to form, with a loop or eyelet at the top where you began braiding.
You might expect this start to have a “handshake” type of join, since it got set up the same way as a handshake-start braid, but it really doesn’t—if you check at the top of the loop/buttonhole-start, the loops are not linked around each other as in a handshake join. There’ll be an area at the very top with a slight twist to it almost like part of a spiral braid, and then the upper shanks of all the loops will head one way—forming one side of the loop/ buttonhole—while the lower shanks of all the loops head the other way, forming the other half of the buttonhole… The buttonhole/ loop itself is a divided braid–two flat braids braided simultaneously, one on top of the other.
The main problem with this start is that it doesn’t work for bicolor loops. My usual divided-braid start is the following one, no. 4—it works with both single-color and bicolor loops.
4. Divided loop start with doubly-long loops:
This is how I start most of my braids. It makes a flatter start, and can be used with bicolor and/or single-color loops. It’s a lot easier to do than it is to describe…It’s hard to photograph, since I need to use both my hands when I’m doing it. I tried to video it, but the important parts didn’t show up well at all, so I’m giving up for now and just leaving this wordy explanation, plus a new diagram from a student:
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...]
I hang doubly-long loops over a prong*, twisting each one a full twist in a certain direction (reversed on the left and right sides) such that the upper and lower shanks interlock. This will prevent the braid from falling apart at the top after you take it off the prong. (A single loop can be added as long as it is linked onto / around one of the doubled loops.) Test to make sure they are linked: insert a finger under both upper shanks of a doubled-over loop, slide that finger up to the prong, and make sure that those two upper shanks are linked around the two lower shanks.
[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 prong (or header-cord, curtain ring, etc) by slipping the prong through both halves of the loop, under the central twist:
The diagram on the right is a detail view of just the central twist shown in the left diagram, so the two cut-off strands at the top are the two sides of ONE loop, and likewise the two lower strands are the two sides of another loop, both made originally from one doubly-long bicolor loop.
In my method, I form that central twist while suspending each double-long loop over a prong, and then twisting one loop-end. Then I have to re-insert the prong—or a curtain ring—through the loops so that all the upper shanks come over the top of the prong and all the lower shanks come from below the prong. So, one by one I raise/ lift up all the upper shanks onto one of my fingers, making a space between the uppers and lowers, and slide my finger up through them—up close to the prong. Keeping the upper shanks on the top of my finger, I lift the whole bunch of loops off the prong, and then put them back on—but now with the prong inserted in between the upper shanks and the lower shanks. If I have twisted them all correctly when I set them up, they should all hold together. Any I didn’t twist correctly will not be linked, and will fall apart at the top.
(At first during all this, it’s safest to set the ends of the loops on a holder, like a set of pegs or a wide-toothed comb, while you are setting this up, and secure them by stretching a rubber band around the holder so the loops can’t slip off.)
Then I gingerly start braiding a divided braid—all loop transfers open/ unreversed/ straight. (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 I still do at least a few divided cycles to start with—those important links at the top of the loops might possibly come undone if the first transferred loops were turned.)
Everything’s a little tenuous and slippery at first—it’s a bit tricky to keep the doubled-over loops all the same length. After a few cycles, the braid “firms up” and I don’t have to be so careful anymore. When this divided area is long enough for my intended loop, I begin braiding with turned (crossed/reversed) transfers to close up the loop.
This method has certain pitfalls. But once you’re used to it, it’s quicker than the other “fringeless” loop-starts, and makes a very neat and attractive start, plus can be used with either bicolor or single-color loops.
*I have used the prong of a safety pin, but now I usually just use the straight metal bar/ lever at the top of a small C-clamp (I mount the clamp upside-down, so the horizontal bar that you turn to tighten the clamp is at the top). That bar is great for braiding from—especially once there is a loop at the top of your braid. You can slide the loop at the top of the braid over the bar, and remove it just as easily.
[New info: I recently found that a simple shower curtain ring makes a great "prong" to suspend the loops onto when I'm ready to start braiding—makes it easier to spread the loops apart to tighten the first few cycles. After those first few cycles I still prefer to put the braid back onto the straight bar at the top of my C-clamp (G-clamp), though, but maybe that's just because I'm so used to it.]
**In an A-fell braid, the loops on one hand pass through other loops of that same hand as they lead out from the fell (base) of the braid toward your fingers. In a V-fell braid, each loop comes straight from the fell of the braid toward the finger—none of the loops pass through other loops (of the same hand) on their way from the braid to the fingers.