It’s been weeks since the conference and I still keep having dreams about interlaced strands…
While the classes were the official focus of the conference, a lot of the enjoyment was also the fun and excitement of being around so many other people as interested in obscure textile techniques as myself, sharing some of these, seeing braid exhibits, chatting, (eating!), and exploring Manchester and the nearby city of Macclesfield. There were people from all over the world—a few familiar faces, a few whom I’d only known “virtually” before the conference, most whom I had never met before.
And there were several participants who had come specifically for the two loop braiding workshops. To me this was completely amazing and wonderful!
One of these was my ‘virtual’ friend Dominic, and it was so great to meet him in real life! Dominic was one of the first readers who ever contacted me through this blog, and has been a stalwart pal and support and contributor ever since. No surprise that he was the same way in person. As my braiding partner in Joy’s class he kept me awake and semi- functional on my one badly jet-lagged day, and his calm enthusiasm (I had always thought those qualities were antithetical!) was just great to be around.
In my dorm section, everyone from Debbie Richardson—the amazing and amazingly good-humored organizer of the whole conference—to her Braid Society pals, were not only warm and welcoming, but also hilarious. And apparently tireless. Debbie worked from the wee hours all day, the others took classes all day. Then many/most would hang out til late at night in our common-room-kitchen, cheerfully sharing techniques, braiding questions and help (as well as banter and tea) with each other and me and Laverne Waddington. The main hallway on each floor of the dorm building had separate small sections branching off, like separate pods of several private rooms in a row—each ‘pod’ with its own common kitchen area. The ‘pod’ down the hallway from ours was a very fun one as well—many of us ended up there at an impromptu party Friday night. Only party I’ve ever been to where half the people were braiding!
There was a nice feeling of community everywhere. The conference really did seem just small enough that it was eventually possible to meet almost everyone there, or a least a good half of them.
This photo is from inside the building where the classes, lectures, and lunch and tea spreads were held. I was standing on the workshop floor, looking down on one small part of the afternoon tea break. Lunch was busier, with two big tables of great food, two coffee and tea tables, and everybody happily milling, eating and talking.
I wish I had taken more pictures of the conference—I was too busy and excited to think of it most of the time. Check out Laverne Waddington’s blogpost for a wider view.
Here she is on the prowl for more of her great photos. (This was on Wednesday—our big outing day to the silk-weaving mill and museum in Macclesfield.)
And below is a photo I took peeking in on her class, just after taking the tea-break photos above—these gung-ho students of hers had stayed in to weave during the break…
Now I’ll jump to some of the loop braiding highlights (more about the overall conference later):
Mari Omura was there! I ought to have known about this beforehand, but I had been so busy the months leading up to Braids 2012 that I barely even glanced at the schedule, so I didn’t realize she would be there until I saw her the first day. She is a Japanese researcher whose special focus is the ancient history of loop braiding in Japan, Korea, and China—from the Medieval period in Japan to as far back as 2-4 centuries B.C. in China. L-MBRIC has published several articles about her work (see links to her articles below*¹), which I’ve been reading there ever since I first got interested in loop braiding. So I was very excited to see her in person and to find out that she had contributed an article to the Braids 2012 Proceedings, and would be giving a talk on her research as well. Her article in the Proceedings puts that book into two special categories for me— a compilation of articles on all the topics covered at the conference, but also a loop braiding historical reference book.
(More here about the Proceedings book *²).
Joy Boutrup’s class on multiple-worker loop braiding was was the main reason I had wanted to go to the conference to begin with, even before I knew I would be teaching there.
The photo above shows her class watching transfixed while Joy demos her own solo-braider method for making double braids of many loops: hand-held loops with kute/ cord handles at the ends of the loops (even for European double-braids). This is also a great picture of Apple and Mally (sitting)—the cheeriest of all of us, yet now I notice that here they are not laughing along with Joy and whoever is standing behind them (Carol?)—instead they are avidly taking this in and filing it away so they won’t forget the details!
(Sorry so many heads were unintentionally cut off in taking this photo!!)
This exciting and convivial class was where I finally got to learn and practice the real thing—finger-held loop braiding as a team activity. I had only once before had a very brief team braiding experience using hand-held loops, in a kute-uchi class taught by Makiko Tada–the originator (is that the right word??!) of these Braids conferences. Team braiding was really fun, just as Joy had promised. And we had not only Joy, but also the well-practiced braiding team of Apple and Mally to demo this and give us helpful hints (“don’t tighten so widely!”). I wish I had gotten a picture of the two of them working together on the braid I call the “sudarium braid“—the sight was just as amazing as I had imagined, back when I first read Noémi Speiser’s description of its method.
I’ve already written on this blog about some of the incredible work Joy Boutrup and Noémi Speiser have done in bringing to light the rich history of European loop braiding. They have done this both by deciphering often unintelligible early loop braiding documents, and also by finding and analyzing extant braid artifacts socked away in museums and private collections. Their most recently published work is a series of four monographs that are supplements to Speiser’s Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding. The series is called European Loop Braiding, Investigations and Results, parts I through IV. Parts III and IV just came out recently. I bought them at the conference and pored over them in the evenings during my tourist days in the UK after the conference. Very exciting stuff for a loop braiding nerd like me.
Many of the European braids Joy presented in her class are discussed in the second half of Part IV (covering braids unrecorded in any of the surviving manuscripts, some of which are older than the earliest loop braiding manuscripts!). The 14th C. “sudarium” braid I mentioned above belongs in this category—a very unusual loop braid that wasn’t notated in any of the 15th or 17th C. manuscripts—it was analyzed and ‘decoded’ by Noémi Speiser from a museum artifact, and described in Old English Pattern Books.
(The first section of Part IV is what I am studying now—it is a detailed description of Noémi Speiser’s ‘track plan’ system for analyzing and diagramming most types of braids.)
Joy and Masako Kinoshita, another loop braiding hero of mine, had originally planned to co-teach this workshop, but Masako was unable to attend. Joy still covered both European and Japanese multi-worker loop braids. On the European day, she offered up a potpourri of 2- and 3-worker braids, including those ancient but newly-analyzed braids she has discovered in museums and private collections, and has figured out the working methods for through close examination, structural analysis, and intuition.
In one of these braids (see below–I think this may have been a 14th C. braid, but need to check back in Part IV), each of the two cooperating braiders does the moves of a 5-loop square braid on one hand, but the moves of a 5-loop unorthodox braid on the other hand (the medieval “round lace” and “broad lace of V bowes)… This would make a very lopsided braid if done by only one braider, but doubled as a 2-worker braid it is symmetrical and attractive, with unusual-looking edges.
It is not common at all in loop braiding to make a braid with quite different moves on one hand than on the other. This braid opens up many interesting possibilities for experimenting!
Another braid that Joy had recently decoded (from heretofore misunderstood 17th C. written descriptions) was one that she knew would make me very happy—it is a 7-loop Spanish braid, that was made in the 17th C using the thumbs as well as the fingers to hold loops! This was fantastic news for me—as a weirdo loop braider who does “non-period” braiding using thumbs to hold loops! I have always been sure that thumbs must have been used for loop braiding by others than just myself and Dana, the woman from whom I first learned how to loop braid. In 2008, Masako Kinoshita found out that a Finnish paper from 1962 had documented 9-loop braids being made there using thumbs as well as fingers, and here at Braids 2012, in both loop braiding classes I received unexpected news about other worldwide instances of the use of thumbs in loop braiding. (more later!)
Joy demonstrated something I had been dying to see: the mysterious “unorthodox exchange” that was apparently so prevalent in multiple-worker European loop braids from at least the 11th or 12th C. onward (up to the 1930′s in Sweden). This ancient way of exchanging loops between co-operating braiders was the focus of Part I of the recent 4-part Speiser/ Boutrup collaboration—it is surprisingly easy to do, but results in a braided structure that is very complicated to map out/ diagram. It produces very differently-shaped braids than the “regular” method of exchanging loops between two braiders, and was mysteriously left out of the 15th C loop braiding manuscripts, even though it had been the most common method previously and was notated for at least one 17th C. braid. (Noemi and Joy believe this was an intentional omission by the original notators of those instructions).
I’m running out of steam here, so I’ll continue with more on Joy’s class and Braids 2012 in a later installment—what I’ve described so far was only (a part of) the first day of her class. She taught another whole day on Japanese loop braids, as well!
*1 Here’s a partial list of Mari Omura’s articles in L-MBRIC, (scroll down the issue to find the listed article). On this site, “L-M braiding” stands for “loop-manipulated braiding”:
SCOT Braids from Fifth-century Japanese Burial Mounds “Braids on Excavated Iron Swords” L-M BRIC News No. 5, 2002-04-10
Handling Carriage Horses like Braiding—a report by Mari Omura on a symposium in Japan in 2005 on archaic loop braids, including photos of Joy Boutrup, Mari Omura, and (I think) Noémi Speiser. Masako Kinoshita presented as well. L-MBRIC News No. 9, 05-10-2010
Xi, Lace-like Fabric Fragments Excavated from Lianling Mashan Tomb No. 1 —Warring Period (402 BC-221 BC) tomb in Hupei province, China.’ L-MBRIC News No. 10, 05-25-2007
Braids in Chinese Classics, and Excavated Braids from the Warring States Chu Cemetery, L-MBRIC News No. 11, 04-15-2008 (includes a photo of someone’s hands making a replica of the type of ancient and very intricate loop braid that has been found with Chinese characters braided into it—ancient Chinese letterbraids!)
*² The Proceedings book is available through the Braid Society for £20 plus postage. (the editors were Shirley Berlin and Ruth McGregor—it’s because of them that this compilation of articles by each of the teachers/ presenters is so impressive, beautiful, and readable!) Here’s a description of it from the Braid Society’s website:
The proceedings, entitled “Threads that Move” is a 160 page, large (A4 size) paperback with full-color illustrations throughout. It contains 25 articles written by the conference speakers and tutors. Many articles [including mine] contain practical instructions. See title and contents pages here. The publication costs £20 plus p&p, depending on location. [all sales proceeds go to the Braid Society] Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.