Citrus letterbraid, pt. 1

I’m almost finished madly braiding a letterbraid to send in to the Braid Society’s Traveling Exhibition*—still fiddling with the braidlets at the end.

fingerloop braiding, 17th Century, letter braid, alphabet braid, solo braider, multiple braiders

(click photos for more detail)

The orange is  DMC cotton embroidery floss, doubled, so 12-strand, and the light green is an unknown brand of silk knitting yarn of similar weight (sport? or maybe thinner). The braid is a little over ½” wide.

The color theme was “citrus” this year [this was Dec. 2010, for the 2011 Traveling Exhibition] .  I’m usually pretty open-minded about colors, but I hated this theme—every combination of citrus colors I came up with looked terrible.

Finally my sister helped me find two citrus colors that didn’t seem completely hideous together.  (Sorry about the glare in the photos—in real life the orange is duskier, and the other color is a very light green.) When the color choices resolved down to 2, it dawned on me that I should make a letterbraid.

fingerloop braiding, 17th Century, letter braid, alphabet braid, solo braider, multiple braiders

The definitive analysis of these inscription braids just came out about a year ago. Joy Boutrup, a textile scholar and student of Noémi Speiser  (the world authority on braiding) cracked the secrets of all 3 known 17th Century alphabet braids, and published instructions for making them (the traditional multi-person braiding method, which required 2 braiders working in tandem).**

fingerloop braiding, letter braid, alphabet braid, solo braider, multiple braiders

It’s an amazing accomplishment. The letter braids had stumped Noémi Speiser when she wrote her major work on loop braiding. That was  Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, 2000**, which analyzed and explained all the (then) known loop-braiding treatises from the 15th and 17th Centuries. Among a myriad of other braid “recipes”, the 17th C. manuscripts contained two different methods for braiding written inscriptions. Unfortunately they were notated with such  cryptic directions that even Noémi Speiser couldn’t decipher them—the 17th C. manuscripts were much harder to understand than the ones from the 15th C., oddly enough. (since then, another manuscript with a third method has turned up.)  In figuring them out, Joy Boutrup basically rescued a very sophisticated textile technique from oblivion…

fingerloop braiding, 17th Century, letter braid, alphabet braid, solo braider, multiple braiders

I chose the quote for the citrus reference plus it has a little bit of the sound of some of the 17th C letterbraids. One of the manuscripts actually had text suggestions for letterbraids, all of them rhyming couplets (when this you see :  remember mee). For me it also has a little ominous echo of George Orwell’s 1984.  I decided that the braid would be a bell-pull, at least theoretically, since I don’t have a bell for it yet.

fingerloop braiding, 17th Century, letter braid, alphabet braid, solo braider, multiple braiders

Almost done, on comb holder (I later unbraided this partially braided fringe, and rebraided it differently—see next post)

I can’t even imagine how Joy Boutrup  figured these braids out—but it’s even more amazing that anyone could invent them to begin with.  These were “team” braids—made by two people working together and interconnecting their braids. The way the colors get arranged on fingers to get them to come out as pixels in the appropriate spot on the braid is very non-intuitive. The charts that the two braiders follow—even the easier-to-read versions that Joy Boutrup has adapted from the original ones—don’t look like the finished letters. And you can’t see the result of any particular row/cycle of braiding until a couple more rows have gone in. You just keep following the chart for the letter, and you gradually see it emerge on the braid. (This is really fun!)

Aside from the letters there are charts for other graphic and decorative symbols as well. The design I used in this braid is one of the less interesting ones—I wanted something simple and blocky that would stand out at a distance. You could actually use the charts purely for decorative patterning rather than making words. I’m making myself wonder why I haven’t been braiding more of these! I did some samplers when I first got the monograph, and a couple of longer pieces, but then got sidetracked with other braids since. (So little time, so many braids.)

*The  Traveling Exhibition is less ‘grand’ than it sounds!—I’ve never actually seen it, but apparently it is a (non-juried) bulletin board of braids and bands representing the Braid Society that gets taken around by volunteers to textile and fiber-arts events in the U.K. in which the Braid Society has a booth.

** European Loop Braiding: Investigations and Results–Part II Instructions for Letter Braids in 17th Century Manuscripts 2009, by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup

The Letterbraid book/monograph is not (primarily) a set of instructions, despite its title. Instead, it is about a set of instructions. It’s an analysis of several manuscripts with braiding instructions from the 17th Century. The main focus is how Joy Boutrup deciphered the three braiding methods, and a detailed analysis of the braids themselves. It does include very brief braiding instructions (hidden away in the appendices), with no illustrations of the moves.

[Update: See my more recent info page on this monograph: Letterbraids of the 17th Century]

© 2010–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
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4 thoughts on “Citrus letterbraid, pt. 1

  1. Dear Ingrid

    Thank you for promoting loop braiding!! I am impressed by all the braids you have been making. Also your fantastic letter braids.
    I have to tell you though, that Noémi and Masako do not like the name Fingerloop braiding. They prefer to call it just loop braiding or if very specific, loop manipulation braiding and when detailed, either “finger held” or “hand held” loop braiding.
    I was very happy to see the inventive tubular braid with the peepholes you sent me. just now I am working on the last issue of our series which will contain several small objects with interesting braids. Among them several special tubular braids and hopefully also an overview over the recipes for tubular braids.
    Thank you for all your work in this field and for promoting it.

    with love from

    PS I use the plastic spiral back used for collecting sheet of paper. They have like little fingers, where I can park the loops in order when interrupted.

    • Hi Joy, thanks for looking and commenting, and for your nice comments–and for rescuing the Letterbraids from oblivion! By the way eventually I plan to have a “resources” page on the blog that will include all of your and Noemi Speiser’s works, this blog is very new, I am still working on setting it up.

      I’m glad you reminded about the “fingerloop” term controversy–I have always used that term because to me it sounds so simple and clear. But I do use “loop braiding” for the overall category. I am very interested in hand-held loop braiding too, Peruvian as well as Japanese. Maybe I should change my blog name, I will look into whether that’s possible.

      That is such a great idea to use the plastic notebook spines/holders! I will try that, I can imagine that popping the loops onto them would be very easy–and then they would be held on without needing a rubber band.

      I am really looking forward to your next two loop braiding installments…
      much love and thanks!

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