Unorthodox braids

Unorthodox braids can only be made (easily) by fingerloop braiding. This isn’t very common—most braids can be made by more than one braiding method.  Square braids, for example, can be made with hand-held loop braiding, kumihimo stand-and-bobbin techniques, or various free-end braiding techniques, as well as by finger-held loop braiding. To a somewhat obsessed fingerloop braider like me, this makes unorthodox braids a very special type of braid!

Unorthodox braids (UO braids in Masako Kinoshita’s terminology) have peculiar braiding structures that are hard to diagram but easy to accomplish:  Typically, instead of going through all the loops on a hand, the operator finger skips over one or more of them.  This can be a common mistake while making a square braid. In an unorthodox braid you just do it on purpose—and consistently throughout the whole braid.  Other odd combinations of moves qualify as ‘unorthodox’ too, such as going under a loop, or through one or more loops “backwards”.

11-loop unorthodox fingerloop braids

11-loop unorthodox braids. Underside of top braid is solid orange, of lower braid is solid black. These two are D-shaped braids. Many other types of unorthodox braids can be made with 11 and more loops.

The resulting braids usually have a different appearance on the upper vs lower surface. They can be domed, convex/concave, or beveled in shape.  The ones that combine “over” with “under” whole loop moves are usually thick and fairly flat, but still have a somewhat different appearance on the upper and lower surfaces.

When making an unorthodox braid, turning versus not turning the loops doesn’t have exactly the same results as with square braids or double braids. Unorthodox braids can’t be made to divide into two separate layers. And they cannot be braided so as to open up/ unfold like the flat version of a square braid. Turning or not turning the loops does result in color pattern differences (when using bicolor loops), and may slightly change the overall shape of the braid.

The classic, worldwide favorite Unorthodox braid is the “broad lace of V bowes” in somewhat different A-fell and V-fell forms.  This 5-loop unorthodox braid is apparently even more widespread than the 5-loop square braid.  According to Noemi Speiser, in places where only one loop braid is known, it is invariably this 5-loop unorthodox one. That’s because it is even easier to make than a square braid. Slentre loop braiding of Denmark and the Faroe Islands is an example—only this one braid is known from the Slentre fingerloop braiding tradition.

A 5-loop unorthodox braid has one left and one right loop transfer in each braiding cycle, and feels very similar to making a 5-loop square braid. The only difference is that your finger only goes through one loop instead of two (on its way to fetching the same loop on the other hand that you would fetch for a square braid). You simply skip the other loop.

It’s so easy to skip a loop that the braider doesn’t think anything of it. But that skip isn’t a “nothing” in the braid’s structure. It’s actually a very complicated thing to chart out, and would be very hard to accomplish if braiding with free ends or bobbins instead of loops on fingers. That skip causes the braid to not form on two layers, like square and double braids. Instead it’s, um,…complicated!

If you use more loops than 5 to make this type of braid, things get even more interesting. The more loops you use, the more combinations of over, under, and through-loop moves are possible on the two sides of the braid. Each combination makes a different braid structure. Some of these braids are quite different in appearance—unlike square braids of more and more loops, where all you get is a bigger square braid—the exact same structure, just with longer floats on the 4 ridges of the braid.

However, if only over and under whole-loop moves are used in a braid—no “through-loop” moves at all (the braiding finger only going between loops and never through any)—the resulting braid will not be unorthodox. Instead it will be a much simpler braid, quite orthodox, and only half as complex as a square braid of the same number of loops. That’s because, if there are no through-loop moves, each loop simplifies down to one single braiding element instead of two separate ones—both shanks of the loop will stay together throughout the braid. (This is also a common type of loop braid worldwide.)
The braid may be a flat “over-under” plait, similar to a pigtail braid, or perhaps a round braid of some kind, but in either case the two shanks of each loop will form only one braiding element—staying together throughout the braid.

It’s the combination of “throughs” with “overs” and/or “unders” that create the complex braids that Noemi Speiser christened “unorthodox”. She doesn’t ever discuss any two-pass unorthodox braids of more than 5 (or 7?) loops, though.

It might actually be the case that some of my unorthodox braids of many loops (but only two loop transfers) have never been braided before.  I don’t mean to imply that no-one else would be able to think them up or make them. It’s just that, back when loop braiding was widespread and common, there would be no incentive for a single braider to bother with using more than 9 finger-held loops.

Braids of many loops can be made much more efficiently by several braiders co-operating on one braid, than by one braider using “too many” loops. And apparently that’s what braiders did in previous eras.

But braids done by multiple braiders rarely have only 2 transfers per braiding cycle. It’s much more common for co-operating braiders to each make two loop transfers, so 4 in all. (Or even to make four each, as in so-called “spanish” braids.) In any of these, each transferred loop only goes through one or two other loops…not a lot of possible through-over-under combinations.

On the other hand, it’s very intuitive and natural for a solo braider to make 2-transfer braids. In other words, one loop transferred on/ from the left hand, followed by a mirror-image loop transfer on the right hand. If each hand is holding several loops, there are many possible combinations of “through,” “over,” and “under” braiding moves the transferring loop can make. Some of these braids look similar to each other, but there are quite a few very different-looking ones.

At some point, I hope to get around to posting about some of these fun unorthodox braids of many loops. If you are interested, you can experiment and find some on your own.  My 9-loop and 11-loop tutorials have a little info about possible unorthodox variations in the ‘notes’ sections following the tutorials. Leave a comment below or contact me by email if you are interested, and I can give you some more info, plus maybe scrape a post together a little sooner—ie a real tutorial, with photos and video.

To experiment:
Try out various combinations of “through”, “over”, and “under” whole loop moves for the operator finger to do on the way to taking and transferring the loop (the highest loop on the other hand, for a V-fell braid, which means the index or thumb loop).  It’s best to be consistent within a braid—stick with one combination per braid, so you can really see what kind of structure it produces.  In other words, on both sides follow the same pattern of through’s, overs, unders for each loop-transfer.

Mixing regular “through”-loop moves with “under-whole-loop” moves will give an identical result to mixing “through-loop” moves and “over-whole-loop” moves. That’s because the “under” moves are “overs” when you look at the other side of the braid, and vice versa.  This type of combination will tend to result in variously D-shaped braids (or peaked/ triangular braids). The main difference between the over and the under versions being whether the upper or lower surface is the rounded one (assuming you switch the direction you turn the loops! – see below).  Using both under and over whole-loop moves (along with “throughs”) creates flatter braids. Both ways make great braids.

Again, if your operator finger only goes over and under whole loops, and not through any, your braid simplifies down to an orthodox braid of doubled strands, with only half as many braiding elements as “regular” loop braids. Include a few regular “through”-loop moves if you want a more intricate braid…

Another interesting factor with unorthodox braids is the direction you choose to turn your loops. Turning the loops from above versus from below makes much more of a difference to the appearance of an unorthodox braid than to a regular, orthodox square braid. (This is actually quite related to what I already mentioned about “overs” being “unders” when viewed from the other side.) It’s worth trying any unorthodox braid both ways—they may seem like quite different braids.

© 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 at the bottom of the screen). 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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