About loop braiding

USES:

  • friendship bracelets
  • lanyards
  • zipper-pulls
  • drawstrings
  • shoelaces
  • cordage
  • flat bands
  • edging/trim
  • textile jewelry
  • beading
  • knotting
  • warp finishes for weaving

Fingerloop braiding, or more technically “finger-held loop-manipulation braiding,” is an off-loom, no-equipment technique for braiding cords and bands, using yarn or thread doubled into loops and held at the ends of the loops by the fingers. It has been done all over the world for thousands of years, and uses individual fingers to hold the loops.  Hand-held loop braiding—known only from Oman, ancient Japan and Peru—is essentially the same process, but is done with loops mounted around the whole hand rather than on separate fingers.

Holding the braiding strands as loops over the fingers (or hands) is simple to do, yet creates an amazing step up in efficiency of production – almost like the difference between weaving with and without a loom. For one thing, the braid can be tightened with one large simple motion, no matter how fine the threads are.  But beyond that, holding loops automatically creates a “shed” (an opening) between the upper and lower strands of each loop. This is similar to what heddles do in a loom! The braider doesn’t have to think about this at all – loops are moved as if they were simple, single elements. Yet in most loop braids, the two strands of a loop don’t end up together in the braid, they interlace separately. This is much more complicated to explain than it is to do. (And there’s no need to understand it in order to make the braids! I’m just bringing it up to emphasize how cool this technique is.)

Loop braiding is a very easy technique for making fairly complex braids. A simple, basic 5-loop braid has ten separate braiding elements—as compared to a pigtail braid, which only has three. Adults down to 11-year-olds can learn it in a quick demo.  The square braid is the first one I usually teach, but loop braiding can be used to make many types of braided cords and bands—square, flat, round, hollow, triangular and more, with a wide range of patterning possibilities.

My goal for this blog is to promote loop braiding in general, introduce beginners to loop braiding, and also to share some of my techniques for braiding comfortably with more loops than are normally used in fingerloop braiding.

My introductory tutorial is on 5-loop square and flat braids. The first video will walk you through from the beginning, from set-up to slo-mo moves for learning a square braid. [update: I know have an even easier intro tutorial -- on 3-loop braids -- in both a downloadable pdf form and as a series of videos. See my tutorials page for links to all my tutorials.]

My site doesn’t teach all the known historic types of loop braids. There are a few other loop braiding sites, as well as some books on loop braiding where you can learn many other great braids (see links in my sidebar, and my upper menu tab on Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding). None will show you my methods for braiding with 9 loops and more. Most other sources will teach a slightly different method for making the most basic braids—the “A-fell method.” Its upper limit for comfortable braiding is 7 loops. I prefer to teach basic braids using the method that is mainly known from Asia—the “V-fell method.” It allows using up to 9 loops. (See my info page on the A-fell, V-fell and Slentre methods for more about these 3 different methods for making the same basic loop braids.)

Loop braiding is faster and more efficient than free-end braiding, but it has some inherent limitations. The main ones are the number of loops one person can braid with, and how long this braid can be. In the past, braiders got around both these limitations by loop-braiding in teams. Two or more braiders would stand next to each other, and link their braids together to braid a wider braid. For longer braids, one person would hold the start of the braid, and tighten the fell (the base of the braid) each time the braider or braiders completed a cycle of braiding. If you and a friend are interested in making longer lengths of bands or cordage, this is not hard to do, and is a great way to braid longer lengths fairly quickly.

Team loop braiding is an ancient tradition–there are surviving fragments of European 2- and 3-worker loop braids that are almost 1,000 years old. There is even older evidence for it in Asia, including a statue of two braiders working together that is over 2,000 years old. It’s still a living tradition in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The problem is that loop braiding isn’t an every-day, everybody-knows-it type of craft anymore. Nowadays you aren’t as likely to have another braider handy when you want to make an extra-long square braid; or a 10-loop double-square braid like the medieval “Crowns” or “with the wave” braids; a 10 or 14-loop “letterbraid;”  a “double barleycorn” braid of 12 loops;  the lacy 3-worker braid called “Katheren Wheele” of 15 loops; or other braids that used to be made by teams of braiders.

15-loop braid, one braider–perle cotton & embroidery floss

I have learned some work-arounds for making these braids as a solo braider, and while the 3-worker ones are rather slow, the two-worker ones get quite comfortable and relatively quick to make, even versions with up to 18 loops. I derived most of my “too-many-loops” techniques from braiding with the V-fell method, which is relatively unknown in the West, and allows using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops in braiding.

Katheren Wheele braid, 15 loops, perle cotton & embroidery floss

These multiple-loop techniques have made it possible for me to figure out workable ways to braid larger and more complex braids as a solo braider. Some of these braids may never have been made before. Some are traditional braids that used to be made by teams of two or more loop braiders working together. I hope to share some of them in this blog.

I’d also like to share some techniques I use for braiding lengths that are much longer than my reach—up to several yards in length.

But even if you aren’t interested in braiding with extreme lengths or numbers of loops, you will be able to find many easy and beautiful loop braids here. Check out my “tutorials” page for links.

(For more about braiding with more loops than 7, see my “Too-many-loops” page.)

Thanks for visiting Loop Braiding!

~Ingrid

© 2010–2014 Ingrid Crickmore

See full copyright restrictions and permissions at the bottom of the sidebar (if you are on a smaller device, the ‘sidebar’ may appear somewhere other than at the side). Content of this website may not be posted or reposted online, sold, or used in fee-based workshops without my permission. It may be shared off-line with certain restrictions – see full copyright info.

Info pages:
Page 1: About Loop Braiding
Page 2: A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding
Page 3: Too-Many-Loop Braids
Page 4: Unorthodox Braids
Page 5: Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding
Page 6: Alphabet braids of the 17th Century
Page 7: About Me
Page 8: Terminology

Index to tutorials

Index to posts

4 thoughts on “About loop braiding

  1. Hello , Ingrid .Thank you for making this Website . This is Awesome !
    I was Snooping around the internet to learn a method to braid colorful wool
    Around my headphones , and I came across your Website , its really informative
    and the tutorials are easy to learn from . I am A product Design Graduate from India
    And i bet i will use your websites for the many years to come ! Thank you :-)

  2. Hi Carol, thanks so much for your faith in me!!!–I wondered why my empty you-tube channel suddenly had a subscriber! I’ve listed the braids under comments on my “welcome to my loop braiding blog” entry.
    By the way, I love your chinese knotting site–and I am especially grateful for your instructions for making the button knot with only one free end. That was exactly what I needed once for making a string of connected button knots. They look really great tied with lengthwise-striped square braids.

  3. Hey, Ingrid. Love your site already. A request: your first page image is so interesting, could you break it down for us? List the number of loops and techniques used for each braid? Thanks! Subscribed to the blog and the soon-to-be-not-empty youTube channel. 8-)

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