The class I taught at Braids 2012 was two days on how to make “double braids” as a solo fingerloop braider. There were two main things I was hoping to get across:
First of all, a procedure for making 6 and 8-loop double braids (“double-square,” “double-flat”, and many other doubled braid shapes) as a solo braider. Secondly, but just as importantly, an understanding of the basic structure of these braids, so that all 12 or so of their shape variations would make sense—and therefore be easier to remember and to braid.
Sub-themes were ways to “tweak” the loop transfers or exchanges for interesting color pattern variations, a 10-loop version of the procedure, and a couple of neat ways to start a braid.
Above are two 6-loop double-flat braids with contrasting borders created by linking rather than exchanging the loops while connecting the 2 halves of the double braid. I love the way both these braids are turning out! The braider on the left is Cally Booker, and on the right is Sandy Jessett. I must not have remembered to switch the camera to the “macro” setting when taking close-ups, because almost none of my other close-up braid shots from the class were in focus:
Below are some double braid samples I photographed for my article in the conference’s Proceedings. (These are mostly of 10 loops, but I had many more 6 and 8-loop samples in the class for students to work from.)
I had been a little worried that it might get boring for the participants to focus on double braids for two whole days! Luckily that didn’t seem to be the case at all. These were some pretty committed braiders, many of them bringing a lot of experience and all bringing a lot of enthusiasm for loop braiding.
In the photo above, at the very back in a turquoise sweater is Asami Nakai, who came all the way from Japan to take both loop braiding classes. She is a scientist specializing in braids (either as an engineer or a physicist?)—so she is very familiar with braid theory and with braiding machines, but not with hand braiding. She had no trouble on the first day, and on the second day she started making an 8-loop double braid before I taught it!—just from reading the directions in my handout the night before!
Left-to-right: Jean, Apple, Jacqui, Mally, Cally, Dominic, Alison, Veronica, Sandy (Tulvi or Mari behind Alison?)
Veronica Johnston and Sandy Jessett both worked so intently on their braiding that they even skipped breaks to stay in and braid. At some point in the class I had teased Veronica (I hope not too badly!) about being a perfectionist—it was clear that she couldn’t stand the idea of having a mistake in any of her sample braids. But her drive for perfection led her to try what few loop braiders ever dare to do: unbraid! This is quite possible to do with loop braiding—by carefully reversing your braiding moves. It isn’t even completely necessary to understand the original mistake in order to fix it—when you get back to it, you just unbraid the wonky bit any way you can, then unbraid a bit further to make sure all is in order, and then start braiding ‘forward’ again. I think Veronica was the only one in this class who did this. Successfully, too! (like braiding, unbraiding can have its pitfalls, but what do you have to lose? Plus, it can help you understand the structure of the braid, instead of just knowing it as a memorized sequence of moves.)
Ok, I have to sneak this photo in, even though it has no visible braids (unless those bows on Sandy’s shoes are braided?) We all got to pick out a FREE and gorgeous woven bag in several available colorways at the registration table on the first day of the conference. Check out the bag that Sandy scored, and the shoes that she just happened to have brought with her to the conference!
Sandy had volunteered to be my class helper and she helped me hugely–esp. in setting up the classroom (which entailed a lot more than it might seem, what with all the desks, class handouts, braid samples, and yarn to arrange/distribute.)
Above is Cally Booker, a weaver (her website is beautiful!) I wish I had taken a picture of the whole group at some point—unfortunately Tulvi Turo and Mari Voipio don’t show up in these random class shots I managed to catch. Here’s a later photo I took of Laverne taking a photo of Tulvi and Dom (at a beautiful little costume museum near the conference).
Tulvi works as a conservator of ancient/ antique books and documents in Estonia. She came to Braids 2012 because of her interest in the loop braided seal strings she finds on many of these old documents. (see the amazing photo in this article by Joy Boutrup on an old document with these seal strings.)
Mari was only with this class for the first day, and she spent much of that day helping others in the class, which is a role she’s used to—she teaches loop braiding (along with lucet, sprang, tablet-weaving and probably more!) in Finland.
Below is Jacqui Carey (braider, author, and researcher, plus teacher and keynote speaker at Braids 2012) talking to Europa Dawson, another Braid Society member I was very excited to meet.
Europa had previously mentioned to me that she had learned loop braiding in China as a child. Then, in the second day of the workshop, when the topic arose of using thumbs to braid with, Europa casually mentioned that she had not only learned loop braiding in China in the 40′s, but had learned there how to make 9-loop braids using thumbs as well as fingers to braid with! And that many people knew how to do this—it was not considered anything special or unusual!
This was BIG news to me, and I am sure that Masako Kinoshita, editor of L-MBRIC will be very interested to hear about this as well! *²
Europa had no trouble reminding herself how to do this in class, and then went on to learning how to braid the 10-loop version of the double braid, using my “thumb” method. (She also writes that she has been practicing this at home, which is extremely gratifying for a teacher to hear!)
Jacqui also learned how to use her thumbs—first in a 9-loop square braid, then the 10-loop double braid. What with whatever else I was doing I didn’t give either of them much help after demoing it for them, especially Europa, but both of them seemed to be doing fine with using their thumbs (despite a lot of unfounded self-disparagement from Jacqui!)
There was a little time at the end of the workshop to demo a couple of ways to start a braid with no loose ends. My favorite way is easy to do once you are used to it, yet very hard to describe—so far I have no good handout on it.
Jean Leader had been kind enough to take some photos for me of the class, and she caught the hilarious (to me, anyway!) shots below of me trying to demo this start, while the observers behind and around me observe, looking first dubious and then bewildered:
I think most of them did end up taking something coherent away from the demo—Dominic was positively jubilant about being able to do this braid-start later!—What I don’t understand is how Jean managed to both photograph the demo and learn the technique!
She has since come up with what might be a much better way to teach it. She emailed me that she prefers to lay out the double-length loops on a table first, twisting them one-by-one with the same full-twist that I do while placing them over the bar of my C-clamp. That way she can see the linked shanks more clearly. Also, she doesn’t have to reconfigure/ shift the loops off the bar and back on again, the way I do. Using Jean’s method, the loops are put onto the bar with the upper shanks over the top of the bar and the lower shanks coming under the bottom of the bar from the very beginning. [more details, and Jean's diagrams here]*³
Here’s a photo I took the day before the start of my workshop, of Jean in the bus on the way back from our tour to the Macclesfield silk museum—she had hooked up a loop bundle to her bag and was braiding away!
I do this as a passenger in car trips, but haven’t yet tried it on public transportation. Ok, I have to tell this story [I hope you don't mind, Europa!]: Europa mentioned in an email that recently she was braiding on a train, and accidentally hit the man next to her in the face! However he then told her that it was his own fault—he had been leaning over to see “what the dark threads were doing!” (Europa had been braiding the mysterious and amazing double tubular shape, where colors can remain hidden and then pop out whenever the braider chooses). So she may have injured someone, but she also got him interested in loop braiding!
One of the visual treats at the conference had happened Tuesday when Alison Coates wore her beautiful handmade wool and linen Tudor period outfit—I didn’t have my camera with me that day but at least in class I was able to take this photo of her felted bag with its loop-braided drawstrings, one of the few close-ups that my camera got without blurring:
Her outfit had been a big hit with the Japanese participants—they took tons of pictures, and it occurred to me that it’s probably pretty rare for them to see traditional European costumes being worn, compared to how often traditional kimonos are worn in Japan.
On the subject of recreating traditional items, Apple Ivory and Mally Lay are “silkewomen”—they are both avidly interested in recreating items of fine (often silk) needlework from earlier eras (Medieval? or broader? let me know if you happen to read this!). They had already been braiding double braids as a team long before coming to the conference, having learned them from Tak V Bowes, Departed. They are interested in all the techniques that were used by silkworkers/ button-makers, etc, not just the braids. (In Joy’s class, when they caught sight of some of the amazing knotted items in Dom’s work-bucket, they almost fell over themselves begging him to teach them! Luckily I benefited too, Dom gave us a fantastic workshop one evening on Turks head knots, and on the last day of the conference a spontaneous and unplanned lesson on another knot—I want to post more about this later…)
It’s bordering on ridiculous how much I want to blab on about this conference and my overall trip to the UK! This is my third post, and I still haven’t gotten to the tour of the Macclesfield silk museum and weaving mill, even half of the braiders I met, or all the things I learned “on the side” at the conference—knotting from Dom, ply-splitting from Steve Pretty, details about life in a remote one-room cabin in the Yukon with no electricity from Elizabeth Kolb (‘remote’ as in ‘no road goes there’!— you have to canoe, hike, or ski a long way to get there!)…And then there was my post-conference detour to Edinburgh (I had flown in to Manchester but I flew back to the US from Edinburgh), which included many visits there to the incredible Dovecot Tapestry studio, loop-braided falconry equipment at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow…etc etc etc! And the important news about the next international Braids conference… (or did I already mention that? SEATTLE, Washington state, U.S.A, 2016!)
Meanwhile, even more braid-related events are crowding into my life… I just got back from a 5-day braiding retreat up the coast learning Andean flat braids from Rodrick Owen, tomorrow I’ll be teaching braiding at a local ‘faire‘, then this coming weekend I’ll be meeting up again with Rodrick—as well as fellow Braids 2012-alumni Giovanna Imperia and John Whitley—at a second Rodrick Owen workshop down the coast.
I think it’s been three years since Rodrick’s been out here to the west coast of the U.S. to teach, so I decided to treat myself to both of his workshops. He probably understands more about complex Andean braids than anyone on the planet—from examining these braids in minute detail (in museum collections) and then recreating them. He’s made many of them both with free-end braiding—sometimes called ‘finger-weaving’—and also using hand-held loops. Hand-held loop braiding was the technique that was most likely used to make the original braids—some made as far back as 3,000 years ago. Archeologists have excavated these pre-Incan braids in burials of important personages, who were swathed in yards and yards of rich textiles…the bodies and textiles almost miraculously mummified and preserved—apparently just from the extreme dryness and cold of the surrounding environment.
Ok, time to get organized for the faire tomorrow…
*¹ I had already made teaching videos of 6 and 8 loop double braids for the workshop, and am about to make a 10- loop version, so if you were in the workshop (or in an earlier double-braid workshop) and want to access them, please contact me.
*² Re: using thumbs as well as fingers to braid with 9 loops—To me this seems very natural and obvious when using the so-called “little-finger-operating” (“V-fell” or “Method 2“) style of fingerloop braiding. The woman who first taught me a 5-loop braid told me this was possible; and I subsequently had no problem doing it, based on her verbal instruction to “add fingers to hold loops, up to a limit of 9 loops.” Yet no one else seemed ever to have heard of this—even Noémi Speiser and Masako Kinoshita—until 2007 when Masako found out that using thumbs in making 9-loop braids had been documented in a Finnish report in 1962. And now here is someone from China reporting that it was done commonly there in the 1940′s! I’m not even sure that loop braiding has been reported from China at all except in some of the more remote ethnic minority areas, so this may also be a significant report for that reason…
*³ In Jean’s drawings below, the double-length loop is bicolor, twisted one full twist, so the eventual upper shanks (red) of each of the two resulting loops are both on the same side , while the lower shanks (blue-green) of each loop are on the other side, the two sides LINKED together. The arrows serve to indicate the direction to pull the shanks a bit apart, so you can see each of them separately, and insert the bar or header-cord through the two loops (rather than between them).
No-Ends loop-start diagrams, by Jean Leader
After twisting the loops as they lie flat on a table, she inserts the bar of a G-clamp (shown here as a black line) through each loop, under the central link, and places the two resulting loops onto her fingers, with red-shank-up and blue-shank-down on both fingers. The right diagram is a detailed view of just the center of the left diagram, with the support bar now inserted. Bear in mind that, in the detail view, the two uppermost ‘amputated’ strands (one red and one blue-green) are the two shanks of one loop (its upper portion, anyway), and the two lowest strands are the two shanks of another loop. The bar has been inserted through each loop.
The upper (red) shank of each loop is linked around both lower (blue-green) shanks. You could substitute a header cord for that bar, or a nice firm shower-curtain ring is even easier, as long as you intend to start by braiding the ‘divided’ form of the braid, as for a loop or buttonhole at the top of the braid.
(If you look closely at the two photos above, you’ll see that in between the first photo and the second, I had slipped the loops onto a shower-curtain ring, and off the bar of the C-clamp,where they had been loaded using my “hang-em-over-the-bar-with-a-twist” method—in which they must be rearranged and the bar reinserted through each loop before you start braiding.)
When using bicolor loops, it’s only possible to have no ends at all at the the top of the braid if you are using an even number of bicolor loops. Otherwise, the one odd bicolor loop will leave two ends at the top of the braid (unless you use departed loops!). However, an odd single-color loop can be linked around one of the double-length loops, leaving no ends at the top.
(This is what I meant about it being a lot harder to describe than to do!)