Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, by Noémi Speiser

—and other books on braiding by Noémi Speiser:

Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, 2000, by Noémi Speiser. Self-published.
The Manual of Braiding, by Noémi Speiser. Self-published.
(see end of page for a description of Speiser and Boutrup’s recent 4-part supplement to OEPBforLB, European Loop Braiding – parts I, II, III, and IV.)
Update—I just found out from Janis of BraidersHand that Old English Pattern Books is now out of print, unfortunately. They don’t have any more copies, but other sellers may still have some.

Noémi Speiser is probably more well known for her Manual of Braiding than for her book on loop braiding: Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding. Her Manual is the textile world’s ultimate reference, as well as manual, on braiding. It covers every known textile braiding technique in the world, plus several “braiding-like” techniques—a totally incredible variety—and includes a dense section on loop braiding. I’m sure most textile libraries and guilds have a copy, but it is somewhat obscure simply because it was self-published.

But if you are primarily interested in loop braiding, Speiser’s Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding is the one to get.

Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding is the most complete reference on loop braiding anywhere, by the world authority on braiding. It contains deep theoretical and plain practical info both. It includes instructions for every braid in the (then known) 15th and 17th Century European manuscripts on loop braiding—with the exception of the “letterbraids” (alphabet-symbol braids) which have since been decoded by Speiser’s student Joy Boutrup. Many or most of these are braids that require more than one braider working together to make them, but there are plenty of single-braider braids as well.

Both books are large, self-published, spiral-bound paperbacks, with only a few black-and-white photographs, and many diagrams and drawings. No eye-candy, but a lot of buried treasure. (At the time they were published, it was prohibitively expensive to self-publish with color photos).  A black and white drawing or diagram can give very clear structural details about a braid, but it can’t convey how beautiful it is, so unfortunately the reader might have less incentive to try it.

Old English Pattern Books is much more readable and expansive than the highly concentrated/ condensed loop braiding section in the Manual of Braiding. It’s true that a few of the more abstract sections on braid theory and structure in OEPB can seem a little overwhelming. However the instructions start from the most basic, beginning level, and are written simply and clearly. The black and white line drawing illustrations are also very clear. Don’t be scared off by the “track-plan” diagrams above the drawings—they aren’t necessary at all for learning the braids. But if you are interested in Speiser’s track-plan system for charting loop braids, the way she here pictorially connects her diagrams to the drawings of actual loops on fingers might be the easiest way to grasp that charting system—after you have learned the braids. (I still need to work on this, myself!)

OEPB is also a textile mystery-adventure story—a saga of how Speiser noticed both the old braids, as well as the obscure manuscripts that turned out to be describing them, in separate museums and private collections, and managed to put them together—deciphering the manuscripts, and figuring out the braid structures they described. This was no simple task. The 17th C. manuscripts in particular had been written using undefined and almost impenetrable terminology, with much necessary information completely omitted—apparently considered obvious by the writers. Those difficult 17th C manuscripts were the only loop braiding texts that Speiser had access to when she was first trying to determine how certain mysterious braids on museum artifacts had been made. The 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts, which she investigated later, were much easier to understand, and confirmed most of her earlier interpretations.

Most of OEPB—instructions, historical info etc—is quite  readable, and even funny at times. Speiser is very open about her frustration and delight over those 15th and 17th C braiders and their variously ultra-clear and ultra-opaque notes.  OEPB has a much more personal voice than The Manual of Braiding (which is understandable—the Manual covers so much that it has to be drier and more concise.) It’s true that some sections of OEPB may be too abstract and theoretical to take in at first—just skip them and come back later. This book has plenty for anybody who’s really interested in loop braiding, and it will keep having plenty. There’s always more to find out from it.

My only complaint is of Speiser’s complicated numbering system for the chapters and illustrations—it always takes me a while to process her combination of Roman, Arabic, and alphabet symbols.  I also think the title is much too long, and doesn’t describe the book well enough. “Old English Pattern Books” sounds too quaint and obscure for a such a ground-breaking, comprehensive reference work and instruction manual combined.

The sequels:

European Loop Braiding: Investigations and Results–Parts I, II, III, IV, by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup
Bound separately, magazine-style, A-4 size. Available together or separately from BraidersHand in the U.S. Available from the publisher in the UK. Supplements to OEPBforLB, with new research and discoveries.

These are not how-to’s or instructional works–the Letter Braid monograph alone does include brief, text-only instructions, but most of it is about Joy’s research into, and structural analysis of the braids.

These four monographs (by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup, published and edited by Jennie Parry) cover more recent discoveries and research into the history of European loop braiding, some of it stretching back several centuries earlier than the oldest of the English loop braiding manuscripts. It is a mistake to assume that fingerloop braiding is only a Medieval technique!

[Outside the purview of this series, there is evidence of loop braiding in China from two or more centuries B.C., and I'm guessing that loop braiding may have an equally long history in Europe, though actual braids don't last that long in the archeological record. Some of the older Chinese evidence is from microscopic rust-tracings of long-since disintegrated braids found on armor. (cf. Mari Omura)]

Interestingly, Scandinavia seems to have been a hotbed of loop braiding both early and late, with complex, archaic 3-person braids still being made there as recently as the 1930′s.

These 4 monographs are supplements to Old English Pattern Books, so the text is not easy to follow if you aren’t familiar with the terms and concepts covered in the earlier book. Unlike OEPB, they do have full-color “eye-candy” illustrations and photos.

Part I: Orthodox and unorthodox exchanging of loops in co-operation
Much historical information about very early multiple-worker European loop braids, extending back centuries before the earliest known manuscripts. I wrote more about it in a review for the Braid Society newsletter, since reprinted in Issue 13 of LMBRIC (scroll partway down that page to find the review).

Part II: Instructions for Letter Braids in 17th Century Manuscripts
See my info page about this monograph—17th C alphabet braids.

Part III: Loop Braiding in Swedish Bridgettine Tradition
The Bridgettine Convent in Vadstena, Sweden was instituted in 1384. A small group of nuns were in charge of the textiles of the convent church. About 40 liturgical textiles have been preserved, several with associated loop braids. Great photos of these!

Part IV: Track Plans as a Tool for Analysis; Applications of Loop -Manipulation Braids
Opening section is a detailed description of Speiser’s “track-plan” system for analyzing loop braids.
Then follow several analyses and beautiful photos of extant loop braids and objects incorporating loop braids from various museums and collections. Fascinating, especially since some of the braids have structures that were not recorded in any of the known loop braiding manuscripts. There are no instructions for these, but it is possible to figure some of them out from the descriptions, if you already understand the terminology and braids in OEPBforLB, and have a partner (or two) to braid with.

A review I wrote about Parts I and II for the Braid Society newsletter can be read on L-MBRIC, issue 13 (scroll partway through the issue to find the review).

© 2011–2014 Ingrid Crickmore
See full copyright restrictions and permissions at the bottom of the sidebar (if you are on a small screen, 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

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