Unbraiding means undoing your braid. In the following video I demo using the V-fell and A-fell loop braiding methods to braid and unbraid a 3-loop square braid. This can also be done with 5 and 7-loop braids (see link below to a 7-loop video). This is a great way to undo back to a mistake. At the end of this video, I demo a slower way to unbraid that’s especially useful for braids of eight loops or more, since A-fell braiding can’t be done easily with more than seven loops.
See my super-easy 3-loop braid tutorial for learning how to braid 3-loop braids like the one in this video. It includes a downloadable pdf photo-tutorial covering all the braiding steps, as well as supplementary videos.
To see how to use A-fell braiding moves to unbraid a 7-loop braid, see the end of my video on 7-loop square braids. Just under the video, slide the little bubble at the left over to 23:50 minutes.
Unbraiding a single move is a good way to check that you’ve replaced a dropped loop correctly (ie without giving it an unwanted twist, or maybe not giving it a necessary twist).
A-fell braiding moves weren’t invented for unbraiding. Those moves are another way to make the same square and flat braids of 3-7 loops that I’ve been posting tutorials for here using what’s called V-fell braiding moves (see my 3 loop, 5 loop, and 7 loop tutorials). If you use A-fell moves to braid, you would unbraid by using the V-fell method that I teach on this blog.
A-fell loop braiding is the method for making basic braids that was taught in the 15th and 17th C European loop braiding manuscripts. Learning it after learning the V-fell method I teach isn’t like learning a whole new ball game, or another language—the two methods are basically very similar.
See fingerloop.org (it’s also under “Loop braiding links” in my sidebar →) to learn the A-fell method for making regular, two-transfer braids like square braids (called ‘round’ in the old manuscripts). Btw, it won’t be labeled as the “A-fell” method, or “Method 1” by most sites that teach it. It will just be called ‘finger loop braiding.’
Unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of any braid, and is the only workable way undo partway back in a braid to undo a mistake. It also works for undoing all the way back and starting over again. If you get used to unbraiding, you won’t have to dread making a mistake—which makes braiding a lot more enjoyable!
Undoing without unbraiding: I much prefer to unbraid rather than to pick/ pull out, even when going all the way back to start over again, but this way does work for undoing back to the beginning. (You will lose a little length of the strands in cutting the loops.) To completely undo a partly-done braid by pulling it out from above, cut each loop into two separate strands (and remove any knots) at the bottom, and then one-at-a-time, from the top if the braid is short, or else a little ways above the bottom of the braid, carefully tug the separate strands out. Repeat until the braid is undone. Don’t try to do this without cutting the loops into separate strands first–the loops would catch onto each other like lassos, and get hung up in a snarled mess! Use a darning needle, or something else with a narrow, slightly blunt tip to pick and pull. Once the whole braid is undone, you can re-tie each pair of 2 strands back into a loop (use an overhand knot), and start braiding again. You will lose some length by cutting and retying the loops. If you want to save as much length as possible, make kute, or “splints”, when retying: instead of retying each cut pair to each other, connect them via an extra length of yarn. That makes your working length for braiding a bit longer. You will cut off the extra ‘splint’ when the braid is finished, so it doesn’t have to match the loops. The splints should all be the same length, for ease of braiding.
Any A-fell braid can be unbraided using the equivalent V-fell method. But the A-fell method doesn’t work for unbraiding V-fell braids of more than seven loops (since there is no easy A-fell method for over seven loops).
Sending loops back is the simplest way to unbraid square and flat braids of more than 7 loops. It’s the most obvious way to undo any loop braid, in fact.
At the very end of the video above, is a very brief demo (with that minimal 3-loop braid) of how to unbraid by sending a loop back through the loops it just came through. (Use the slider below the video to skip to the end.)
Update: Sending loops back is also shown in my recent video on color-linking in a 13-loop braid. This is a very complicated braid…See the timeline under the video to find the section where I am unbraiding to fix a mistake.
To unbraid by sending loops back, carefully reverse your last braiding moves, beginning with the loop-shifting moves if those were your last moves. Since you originally shifted the loops up, now you will shift them down. This is in order to free the opposite hand’s thumb of its current loop, so the last-transferred loop can return to it—through the other loops of that hand.
For a 9-loop braid, the last-transferred loop is either the left or the right D-loop (be sure you pick the correct side—it’ll be the hand that’s holding one more loop); for an 11 or 13-loop braid it’s a D-high loop. After you send it back to the thumb of the opposite hand, you’ll need to untwist the turn, if any, that you gave to the loop when you first took it. The loop should have no twist in it after you leave it back on the thumb!
Undoing the twist: After the loop is back on the thumb, check along its whole length to make sure that the upper shank leads to the upper layer of the braid, not to the lower layer. This is slightly tricky at first, as the thumb holds its loop in a different orientation than the fingers.*¹ After unbraiding a few moves the process gets much more automatic and you won’t have to ponder each step.
Before sending a loop back through the loops of the opposite hand (the loops it originally came through), I wrap the end of the loop once around the tip of the finger holding it, so it will stay in place as it is pushed back through the loops. I usually use the index finger to hold it while pushing it back, rather than the little finger. [Update feb,2014 – I now have an example in a video, but it’s a very complicated braid so may be a little confusing to follow. Each loop transfer was done in two passes, so also had to be undone in two passes (actually, my right side undoing move only required one pass, since I had only braided half of that transfer). I happened to use both index fingers and one little finger in unbraiding those passes… The three “sending back” moves start around 12:03 in my 13-loop color-linking video, see the timeline below the video and drag bubble on video window to that point.]
With any kind of unbraiding, be sure to keep your eye on the fell of the braid the whole time, to make sure it IS unbraiding. You’re watching to see if a particular unbraiding move gets ‘hung up’ and the whole loop doesn’t go all the way back through the loops it originally came through. That will likely be the point where you made your initial mistake.
If you aren’t paying attention, and don’t notice that point where your loop won’t undo cleanly, your subsequent unbraiding moves will start creating a braid, instead of unbraiding. This is not a problem! It can be undone, too. It will be an A-fell braid, so use your regular V-fell braiding moves to unbraid that section back to the “hung-up” loop.
If, after being replaced on the thumb, the loop looks “hung up” and caught somewhere inside the loops it came through, just re-transfer it — take it back off the thumb using a regular “forward” braiding move to get it back onto the little finger again. Then examine the loops to see how you CAN get it back through them, and onto the thumb of that opposite hand. Maybe one of the loops on that opposite hand is twisted, and that’s why the unbraiding loop got hung up in passing through it. If it’s the index finger loop that is twisted, that’s probably not the original mistake—you probably just forgot to undo the twist in that loop after unbraiding it (in the previous unbraiding move on that side.) Or maybe the ‘unbraiding’ loop had MISSED going through one of the loops when you originally braided it – maybe your operator finger skipped over or under one of the loops, instead of going through all of them. This is a common braiding mistake. You’ll basically have to unbraid that loop with the same mistake! It will get ‘hung up’ on the loop that was skipped if you try to unbraid it correctly.
But you don’t have to totally figure out what the original mistake was when your undoing loop gets hung up. Bring it back out (braiding forward “correctly”) so it’s not hung up. Then “creatively” unbraid past that one particular sticky point!—somehow, any old how, get the unbraiding loop back onto the thumb cleanly. Either push it back while following the convoluted path it originally took (through most but over or under one of the loops), or just drop it and pull it back through from the thumb’s side of the loops. Once you get it cleanly back onto the thumb, and undo its twist, you have probably fixed the original mistake, whatever it was. (Of course, it’s helpful if you do figure it out—you can then try to avoid making that same mistake in the future.) Then unbraid a few cycles more just to make sure everything is undoing normally, before starting to braid ‘forward’ again.
Any braid can be unbraided. Just slowly work backwards through the braiding instructions, whether they are on paper, or ingrained in your muscle-memory. Undoing mistakes can actually be kind of interesting, and if you already have a mistake, what do have to lose? Plus, after you’re used to unbraiding, you can relax and enjoy your braiding more, because you’ll know that you can undo a mistake. Or choose not to. To paraphrase Elizabeth Zimmerman: Once you learn how to unbraid, you will be the boss of your braiding! (She wrote it about knitting, but it definitely applies to braiding, too…)
P.S.—My spell-checker doesn’t think “unbraid” is a word, but I just happened to come across “unbraid” in an online dictionary (Mirriam-Webster, I think) so not only is it a real word, but apparently its earliest known use is from the 14th Century! (Which is odd, because these loop braids weren’t even called ‘braids’ back then, they were referred to as ‘laces’ in the 15th C loop braiding manuscripts. And the verb wasn’t “to braid” either …can’t remember offhand what it was—maybe just “to make.” The words ‘braid’ and ‘unbraid’ must have been used in some other context, like hair, maybe?)
*¹ To check that the thumb loop isn’t twisted, make sure that the shank that leads to the upper surface of the braid is the one that is held on the “near” side of thumb—the closest shank to the opposite hand. This is with the thumb pointing upward (hitchhiking position) not tucked down.
About Loop Braiding
A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding
Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding
Alphabet braids of the 17th Century
Index to Tutorials
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