A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding

Worldwide, the most common types of loop braids are simple, 2-pass fingerloop braids, often of 5 loops. Interestingly, there are 3 different ways to make this type of braid: the A-fell and V-fell methods, and a third method called Slentre (a.k.a. Method 1, Method 2 and Method 3). Any of these three methods can be used to make the same 3-to-7-loop braids.

For these very basic loop braids, I primarily use and teach the V-fell method—method 2.

All three of these parallel methods are probably very old. The V-fell method I teach is known from Asia and the Pacific, including India, China, SE Asia, Indonesia, Japan, and part of Russia. The A-fell method is known from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In South America and Finland, both these methods have been documented.  The Slentre method was not very widespread—it’s only known from the Faroe Islands and Denmark (though in Denmark this may be a result of fairly recent immigration from the Faroe Islands).

In a way, the A and V-fell methods are simply upside-down versions of each other. In both methods, palms generally face each other, and a loop travels between the lowest finger of one hand and the highest finger of the other hand, through the intervening loops. Only the direction of this movement differs. With A-fell braiding, the index finger fetches the the lowest loop of the other hand (usually the ring or little finger’s loop). With V-fell braiding, a low finger is the active “fetcher”—the ring or little finger—and it fetches the other hand’s index finger loop.
[V-fell method diagrammed]

Slentre loop braiding is done with the palms facing down, i.e. facing the floor for all the braiding moves. The index finger is the active braiding finger, and it reaches through the loops of the opposite hand — through (or past) the opposite hand’s index loop first, then the middle finger loop — to fetch the opposite hand’s furthest loop. Like braids made with the V-fell method, Slentre braids “grow” with a V-shaped *fell. However, with the Slentre method, the index fingers hold the loops coming from the center of the braid, and the outermost fingers (ring or little) hold the loops at the edges of the braid–this is opposite to the V-fell method. (Click here to see a photo-tutorial for the Slentre method.)

The current loop braiding revival is largely based on the A-fell method.  Oddly—considering its originally very limited distribution—the Slentre method has also been widely taught in textile and craft circles.

Until this blog (as far as I can tell), the V-fell method has not been taught at all in published sources, though historically it was practiced over a large part of the world, and is still a continuous tradition in some places.*4

To me, it has a significant advantage over the other two methods: it can be used with up to 9 loops, while both the other methods limit a braider to 7 loops, without carrying more than one loop per finger. (The Slentre method has further limitations, see footnote *5.)

The A and V-fell methods are highly complementary, as each method can undo the other’s braids. This may not sound helpful, but it is very handy for correcting mistakes!

Hand-held loop braiding
This is a form of loop braiding in which loops are held around the whole hand rather than on individual fingers. It is much less common than finger-held loop braiding—known or inferred from the past only in Japan, Peru, and Oman. It is assumed that hand-held loop braiding–where it occurred–developed as an extension of finger loop braiding, for managing greater numbers of loops. (In the Peru link, scroll to the bottom of the page to see photos of hand-held loop braiding with a braid of over 60 loops.)

With fewer loops, finger-held loop braiding has definite advantages over hand-held loop braiding: the loops are easier to keep track of, braiding moves can be more automatic, and loops of slightly different lengths can still be tensioned evenly, since fingers can adjust independently to hold loops of slightly different lengths at the same tension. (Even if all the loops in a braid start out fairly equal in length, they can sometimes become slightly different in length during the process of braiding. In certain braids this is inevitable).

Hand-held loop braiding becomes more efficient for braids of more loops (a subjective number!), and according to Noemi Speiser, for many twined braids.

Stand-and-Bobbin braiding (kumihimo and other similar traditions)
This is another braiding method. Various types of raised stands have been used, with threads or yarn wound onto bobbins and hanging down over the edge(s) of the braiding stand.

This type of braiding may seem unrelated to loop braiding, but in Japan it has been proven that loop braiding preceded and led to stand-and-bobbin braiding – kumihimo – cf Masako Kinoshita. (The Japanese term Kute-uchi is often used when referring to Japanese hand-held loop braiding, although Masako Kinoshita — who coined the term — uses it to refer to both hand-held and finger-held loop braiding).

Until fairly recently, it was believed that the complex and magnificent older royal, samurai, and temple braids that are now national treasures in Japan were made with stand-and-bobbin techniques, like modern kumihimo braiding. However, it is now known that they were in fact made with hand-held loop braiding–the larger ones with many braiders cooperating. (Simpler braids were probably still made with finger-held loops rather than hand-held ones).

It was only in recent centuries that the various kumihimo braiding stands were developed, and loop braiding (kute-uchi) gradually disappeared. This evolution of hand or finger-held loop braiding to using braiding stands and bobbins was very likely also the case in other countries where stand-and-bobbin braiding methods are used.

In an article in Strands, Rodrick Owen noted that Lao Mien braiders practice both loop braiding and stand-and-bobbin braiding (I gather from the article that the Lao Mien are a southern Chinese minority group?). Two Lao Mien braiders in California showed Rodrick Owen how they used stand-and-bobbin braiding to make longer lengths, but preferred loop braiding when making shorter lengths of the same braid, as it was a quicker method.*6

Stand-and-bobbin braiding is known from many parts of the world, including mainland Asia, Japan, Scandinavia, and the Middle East, and is suggested by archeological artifacts from ancient Greece and elsewhere (cf Elizabeth Wayland Barber in The Mummies of Urumchi *7 ).

The sources for most of my information about loop braiding are Noémi Speiser’s book Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, Masako Kinoshita’s site on loop braiding worldwide: Loop Manipulation Braiding Research and Information Center News (LMBRIC), and personal observation and experience.

There’s more about the three parallel fingerloop braiding methods, along with how I happened to get interested in loop braiding, in the “Notes” section following my 9-loop square braid tutorial…

More on Slentre braiding can be found in footnote *5 below.

Info pages:
Page 1: About Loop Braiding
Page 2: A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding (this page)
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


*¹ There are also many well-known fingerloop braids that are made by entirely different methods than these three common ones. For example, loop-exchange methods as for the spiral braids (‘lace bend round’) and several other braids; the so-called “spanish” braids; twined braids (often called “bends” or “chevrons” in the old loop braiding manuscripts); the “hollow lace of VII” family of braids; my double braids made by a solo braider, etc.

*² This revival of the A-fell loop braiding method didn’t spread out from surviving practitioners of a continuous tradition. Amazingly, it was re-learned from a very few 15th and 17th C English manuscripts that were widely scattered in museums and private collections, and not understood until relatively recently. Since the 1990’s they have been extensively researched, analyzed, and decoded by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup. Lois Swales and Zoe Kuhn Williams have also researched and translated many of these manuscripts and their online site (fingerloop.org) has directions for the A-fell method, along with many historic braid patterns.

*³ The 5-loop Slentre braiding method was taught in guild and fiber convention workshops across the U.S. for about 10 years by Jackie Wollenberg, from the 70’s into the early ’80’s. (Jackie learned the technique while living abroad in Denmark.)

In 1978 Slentre was described in Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot by Susan Scott Bernal, who had learned the technique from Jackie Wollenberg (Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot Spring 1978 Issue 34). In the 90’s Slentre was described by Anne Dyer in her book Purse Strings Unraveled.

Slentre may have originally been limited to the Faroe Islands. Jackie Wollenberg recently told me that although she learned it from someone in Denmark, that person had herself learned it from someone who had moved to Denmark from the Faroe Islands. (If the Faroe Islands are considered part of Scandinavia, that makes Scandinavia the only place in the world where all three of these parallel loop braiding methods have been found.)

*4 The V-fell method is described in Noémi Speiser’s books on braiding, and in Masako Kinoshita’s online journal L-MBRIC, in the introduction to its illustrated instruction series. (Kinoshita refers to this method as “Method 2″). By “not taught” I mean that until now at least up to when I started this blog, there haven’t been any step-by-step instructions published in print or on-line for learning this method.

For references to current practice of traditional loop braiding, see Masako Kinoshita’s site:
Loop-Manipulation Braiding Research and Information Center News, (LMBRIC). L-MBRIC is a semi-yearly journal published in English and Japanese formats, with a multitude of articles, none of which are referenced on the home page. You can find an index to all the previous articles in Issue 13 (scroll down issue 13 to find the index).

*5 Slentre Braiding:
Fingerloop braiding with palms facing down is very interesting historically, and works fine for making square and unorthodox braids of 7 or fewer loops and only 2 braiding moves (“2-pass” braids that have only one braiding move with the left loops, and only one braiding move with the right loops).

However, in my opinion that hand-position is much more limiting than the palms-facing methods.

More complex loop braids would be very difficult to make with palms facing downward.

Many known historic loop braids require more than two loop transfers for a single set of moves, and/ or carrying an extra loop on one or more fingers. I doubt either of these would be easy or possible to do using the palms-down hand position for loop braiding.

It would also be difficult for two or more braiders to work together on a braid with palms-down braiding. (This used to be a much more common practice than it is now. A high percentage of the braids recorded in the 15th and 17th C. loop braiding manuscripts were meant to be made by two or more braiders cooperating on a single braid.)

In order to connect their braids, two cooperating Slentre braiders would have to exchange their closest ring or little-finger loops–one through the other. This would be much harder than doing this maneouver with the index finger loops as in A- and V-fell double braids. A much less common type of two-braider loop exchange—the one Noemi Speiser calls a “giving-taking” exchange—might be doable with the Slentre technique, but I haven’t heard of anyone trying it. There’s no record of two-worker braids being made with Slentre.

Braids of four or more transfers in a single set of moves include all the so-called “spanish” braids, the “hollow lace of 7 bowes” (which also requires carrying double loops on two fingers), and many more, including my double braids made with a solo-braider technique, and the 17th C. letterbraids which have 8 loop transfers in each row/ cycle of braiding. In these braids, loops are transferred in both directions on each hand (left-to-right as well as right-to-left), sometimes with a turn imparted to the loop, sometimes not. I don’t think this would be manageable with palms facing the floor. (I may be wrong about this! If someone tries and has success with making these braids palms-down, please let me know.)

Only one type of braid has been recorded historically with Slentre braiding (click here to see a photo-tutorial for it). That one known historic slentre braid is a 5-loop unorthodox braid—which despite its name, is the most common loop braid worldwide, according to Noémi Speiser. It was called “a broad lace” in the European 15th C manuscripts, and taught with A-fell braiding moves. It can be made by all 3 braiding methods.

The square braid is also easy to make with the Slentre method, although the movements for its flat variation feel slightly awkward to me. (The square braid is called “round” in the old manuscripts.) For a Slentre square braid, in the photo-tutorial link above, the braider would put her finger through two loops – the index loop as well as the middle-finger loop – on her way to taking the ring finger’s loop.

I find Slentre square and unorthodox braiding movements just as easy to do as with the A and V-fell methods, but a lot harder to understand! The square braid of course forms on two layers, yet there are not two clearly visible and corresponding layers of upper and lower shanks on the fingers, as there are with A-fell and V-fell braiding.

With palms facing downward, all the threads are held in a single plane, with no apparent “upper” or “lower” threads.

When braiding with the Slentre method, you would have to turn the downward-facing hands away from each other so they are back-to-back in order to see how the shanks of the loops on the fingers relate to the developing braid. In this position, the strands that are (now) uppermost on the fingers correspond to the upper layer of the developing braid. So the “upper” side of the fingers when using Slentre braiding is actually the side that A-fell and V-fell braiders would consider the “lower” side. The resulting braid grows in what almost seems an inside-out way to me.

It was only when I finally figured this out that I could begin to understand why it is that with Slentre braiding you have to turn a loop in order to bring it to the other hand without a twist in the loop. (This is necessary for making either a flat or a divided version of the square braid.)

With Slentre it’s very simple to transfer a loop with a turn, as for a square braid, but not-so-simple to transfer a loop without a turn, as for flat or divided braids. Simply passing a loop straight across from one palms-down hand to the other causes the previous outer shank of the loop to end up on the inner side of its new finger. This gives the loop a half-turn in the growing braid, even though the braider has no sense of having turned a loop in any way.

Conversely, the braider has to do a rather awkward loop-turning maneuver in order to get the loop to go over to the other hand without a twist in the loop. The awkwardness of this move means that the flat and divided variations of square braids are a bit difficult to make, at least to me. But they are even harder to understand…You are making a two-layer braid, yet there is only one visible layer of strands on the fingers, and you have to turn a loop to make it change hands with no turn!

Of course, you don’t have to understand the structure of a braid in order to make it. I certainly didn’t with any of the first braids I learned. On the other hand, if you are interested in learning more than one or two braids, it’s very helpful to have a sense of how and why the moves work. Rote memorization only goes so far…

I should mention that I’ve been told by Slentre braiders that they feel it is easier to learn than the A and V-fell methods. (This may be true, but all three methods are very easy to learn—getting a new braider started braiding only takes a few minutes for any of them.)

I’ve also been told that the Slentre unorthodox braid can be taught to 5 and 6-year-olds, whereas I haven’t been able to teach the 3-loop V-fell method to children under 7. (with the exception of one now two very determined 5 and 6-year-olds who were both highly motivated by wanting to keep up with an older sibling!)
This may also depend on what is meant by “taught”– did they mean, as I do, that after being taught, the 5-year-old could actually braid on his or her own, with no assistance from an adult?

I write this just to point out what I have noticed myself about Slentre, since I couldn’t find many details about it anywhere, other than simple diagrams and how-to’s for the most basic braids. It is taught fairly often online and in some published sources, but never with any direct comparison to other methods for making fingerloop braids, so one might easily assume that braiding “palms-down” and braiding “palms-facing” could produce equally complex loop braids.

*6 in “Interlaced Braids, An Overview,” by Rodrick Owen, published in Strands [annual journal of the Braid Society], Issue 13, 2006. Article is on pp 11-26, his account of the Lao Mien braiders is on page 20.

*7 In The Mummies of Urumchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber mentions some of the intricate braids that were part of the textiles found with these mummies, and relates them to stand-and-bobbin techniques. Her description of a braid sounds to me exactly like a description of a typical two layer twill loop braid (like the ones I call square, double, and Spanish braids, see my Terminology page). She never mentions the technique of loop braiding, so I assume she wasn’t aware of it at the time she wrote the book—or perhaps wasn’t aware that it could be used to make such complex braids. She mentions in passing that, while in ancient (Greek?) sites the braiding bobbins are found but not the braids, here in the Urumchi sites (areas now part of China, north of India), the braids are found without any bobbins. I can’t help suspecting that the Urumchi braids were made with loop braiding rather than stands and bobbins. For one thing because loop braiding seems to have had a near-worldwide distribution, with indications that it tends to precede stand-and-bobbin braiding, and also because it is much easier for textiles to decay – narrow ones especially – than bobbins of almost any material.

*8 The fell is the lowest border or edge of an in-progress braid–the “growing” edge. Braids usually have variously-shaped diagonal fells (as opposed to weavings, which usually have a straight, horizontal fell).

The two loop braiding methods called “A-fell” and “V-fell” were named by Noemi Speiser for their fell-shapes, or rather, for the opposite and distinctively different directions of their braiding movements (the actual fell of most fingerloop braids is usually quite difficult to see, as it’s obscured by the loops themselves).

However, both A- and V-shaped fells are also produced by many other braiding methods, including other types of loop braiding, free-end braiding, and kumihimo.

The over-under structure of a braided fabric is not determined by its fell—the shape of its lower edge. That contour simply echoes/ reflects the order and direction in which the braider chooses to do the braiding moves.

A braid in which the outer strands are continually brought/braided toward the center of the braid will have a lower edge shaped like a V, at least theoretically (that is, even if this isn’t apparent by looking at the braid!). This is the case in both the Slentre and V-fell braiding methods, as well as in the way most (but not all) people braid a 3-strand hair braid. Click link to see a very clear example of a V-shaped fell in a kumihimo braid being made on a takadai (photo will open in a new tab).

A braid in which the center/innermost strands are continually braided toward the outer edges of the braid will have a fell shaped like an upside-down V–generally called an A-shaped fell. A 3-strand hair braid can also be braided in this direction (inside-outward). The resulting braid is identical to one braided in a V-fell direction, though its ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ surfaces will appear to be reversed.

A wider braided textile could be made with any one of several variously zig-zagged-shaped fells, or an A or V shaped fell, or one long diagonal, yet come out with the exact same “weave” structure to the finished fabric. If the lower edge were hemmed, or if the braider stopped braiding partway through a row, or finished the braid by braiding in sections to “catch up” the unbraided areas to form a roughly horizontal lower border, there would be no way to tell what the shape of the fell had been during the process of braiding.

© 2011–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
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