A-fell loop braiding [index finger is the active braider] and V-fell loop braiding [ring or little finger is the active braider] move the transferring loop between the same fingers and through the same loops, but in the reverse direction. In the following video I demo using both methods to braid and unbraid a 3-loop square braid. This is a great way to undo back to a mistake. At the end of the 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 with more than seven loops.
[The video below shows braiding and unbraiding a 3-loop braid. I demo unbraiding a 7-loop braid in a more recent video-tutorial on 7-loop square braids. It's toward the end of that video, at 23:50. Unbraiding a 5-loop braid is almost the same process.]
[see my super-easy 3-loop braid tutorial for learning how to braid 3-loop braids like the one in this video.]
I unbraid almost every time I make a braid. Both to correct mistakes, and also when I just change my mind about something, and decide I want to redo it differently.
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 loop braiding, aka ‘Method 1,’ isn’t just for unbraiding. It’s another way to make the same square and flat braids of 3-7 loops that I’ve been posting tutorials for here using V-fell braiding (see my 3 loop, 5 loop, and 7 loop tutorials). A-fell loop braiding is the method that was documented in the 15th and 17th C European loop braiding manuscripts for making 2-transfer braids. So if you go on from learning braids in my blog to learning braids from either those old manuscripts themselves, or from sources that are based on them, you will want to know and understand this method. It’s not 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. 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.’ (L-MBRIC is the only other loop braiding site I know of that addresses the various different methods of loop braiding.)
Unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of any braid, and is the only way go back to undo a mistake. By the time you get up to 9 and 11-loop braids, unbraiding becomes an essential part of the braiding process. There are some mistakes you probably won’t want to “live with” in a braid. Once you get used to unbraiding, you won’t have to dread making a mistake—which makes braiding a lot more enjoyable!
All A-fell braids can be unbraiding using the V-fell loop braiding method. However, V-fell braids of more than 7 loops can’t be unbraided (easily) using A-fell braiding moves. You can unbraid them, though, just a bit more slowly. At the very end of the video above, I give a very brief demo (with that minimal 3-loop braid) of how to unbraid without using the complementary braiding method. It’s a little slower, but works fine:
To unbraid a 9 to 11-loop braid, 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 loop, so the last-transferred loop can go back to that thumb (through the other loops of that hand).
For a 9-loop braid, the last-transferred loop is a D-loop; for an 11-loop braid it’s the 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. This turn/twist in the loop will be visible—check along the loop after it gets back to the thumb to see if there is a twist in it (compared to how the thumb’s loop usually looks! 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 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.
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, after being replaced on the thumb, the loop looks “hung up” and caught somewhere inside the loops it came through, just re-transfer it —use the “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. (That may not be the original mistake—it could be due to a mistake in the just-previous unbraiding move—you forgot to undo the twist in a loop after unbraiding it. Or it may be the original mistake, as well—if that mistake was in forgetting to turn or not to turn the transferred loop.) Or maybe the unbraiding loop had originally MISSED going through one loop when it was braided, and instead skipped over or under a whole loop, instead of going through it. This is a common braiding mistake.
If so, you’ll need to creatively unbraid past that one particular loop—somehow, any old how, get the unbraiding loop over or under that loop it originally skipped, so it can get back to the thumb cleanly. Just follow the convoluted path it originally took, or even carefully pull it through from the other end. Once you get it cleanly back onto the thumb and undo its twist, you have probably fixed the original mistake, whatever it was. You don’t actually need to understand what the mistake was in order to fix it. (Of course, it’s helpful if you do figure it out—you can then watch out for and 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, in “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