Unbraiding means undoing your braid by “braiding backwards”. In the following video I demo braiding and unbraiding a 3-loop braid. You can do the same thing with 5 and 7-loop braids (the second video demos it with a 7-loop braid).
Unbraiding is a great way to undo back to a mistake. At the end of the first video, I also demo another way to unbraid that works for braids of eight loops or more (here I’m demo’ing it on a 3-loop braid, but it’s the same idea).
To see “backward braiding” undoing a 7-loop braid, go to 23:50 min.s in the video below:
Unbraiding is shown at 23:50 minutes (drag timeline bubble under the video once it starts playing)
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).
My “backward braiding” moves are also known as A-fell braiding moves. These moves are another way to make the same square and flat braids of 3-7 loops that I teach on this site. (3-loop tutorial, 5-loop tutorial, and 7-loop tutorial). If you used A-fell moves to braid these braids, you would unbraid by using the method that I teach for braiding (V-fell fingerloop braiding).
These two “opposite” braiding methods are actually very similar—once you’ve learned one of them the other is a snap to pick up.
See fingerloop.org to learn the A-fell method, if it wasn’t clear from my unbraiding moves in the above videos. Btw, it won’t be called the “A-fell” method by the sites that teach it. They’ll just call it ‘finger loop braiding.’
Unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of any braid, and is the only workable way to 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!
[If you absolutely need to undo a braid by “picking” it out rather than unbraiding, see my note on a way to do this relatively painlessly. This only works for going back all the way to the beginning, not for going back to some earlier point of the braid and continuing seamlessly.]
Any braid can be unbraided by reversing your previous motions! (Or you can think of it as exactly reversing the path of the last loop you moved). 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 get 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 actually wrote it about knitting, but it applies just as well to braiding.
(The following excess verbiage mostly applies to unbraiding ‘too-many-loop’ braids, but it does also have tips on how to undo a mistake once you have unbraided back to it.)
A-fell braiding moves can’t unbraid V-fell braids of more than seven loops. That’s because there is no easy A-fell method for over seven loops.
Sending loops back is the simplest way to unbraid braids of more than 7 loops. It’s the most obvious way to undo any loop braid, actually: You simply push or pass the most recently transferred loop back through the loops you originally dragged it through.
At the very end of my first 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 sliding bubble just 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. 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 index or 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 hand—it’ll be the hand holding one more loop than the other hand.). With an 11 or 13-loop braid the most-recently transferred loop is the D-high loop. After you send it back to the thumb of the opposite hand (through the intervening loops), 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, or your subsequent unbraiding will get hung up on that loop.
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 confusing to follow. Each loop transfer was done in two passes, so also had to be undone in two passes (actually, on the right it only needed one pass, since I had only braided one pass before deciding to unbraid). I happened to use index fingers as well as a little finger for the three “sending back” moves… 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.
Undoing without unbraiding Picking/ pulling out:
I prefer to unbraid, even when going all the way back to start over again, but if you want to undo all the way back by picking out this is a way to do it without too much fussing.
At the bottom, cut each loop into two separate strands, and then one-at-a-time carefully tug the separate strands out of the braid. Use a blunt-tipped darning needle, or or the blunt “eye”-end of a regular needle to tug fine or tightly braided threads. Start tugging from the top if the braid is short, otherwise start from partway up the braid.
Repeat until the braid is undone. After the first few strands are out the others will be much looser and easier. 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!
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 a little bit of 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 to each other via an extra length of yarn. That makes your working length for braiding longer, because you’ll be able to braid all the way down to the ends of your “good” yarn. You will cut off that extra ‘splint’ yarn 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.
*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
© 2011–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
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