Bicolor loops are loops made out of two colors, tied or linked together. They can create very different braid patterns than the patterns you can get from single-color loops.
With bicolor loops you can also make really dramatic pattern-changes in your braid. And not just in these mega-loop braids that I’ve been posting about lately. Here’s another one, though: (click twice on any photo to see the braid structure)
I promise I won’t post any more Spanish bicolor samplers! [this was the third consecutive post on my blog showing bicolor Spanish braids!]
Before I leave them though, I’m posting this booster for bicolor loops (and a tutorial, see below). Bicolor loops add so many patterning possibilities to any kind of loop braid, which is why they have been used worldwide in connection with both fingerloop and hand-held loop braiding. In the old English braiding manuscripts they were called departed bowes, or boes—a bow being a loop.
A bicolor loop is simply two lengths of yarn of different colors tied together at each end. That’s what makes the magic: as you braid, every time a loop is turned the opposite color emerges on the braid. These color changes can line up on the braid to create interesting patterns. And those patterns can be altered very easily mid-braid (another magical thing about bicolor loops).
Bicolor loops are the easiest way to get lengthwise color stripes in a square or rectangular loop braid. This is always a striking look–at least to a braider. Since braids are made on the diagonal, you just don’t expect to see up-and-down vertical striping. It isn’t possible when you use loops of single colors (unless you get into more complicated stuff like linking loops within the braid).
[See mini-tutorial below for braiding the lengthwise stripe ‘Edge’ pattern and two variations]
I love lengthwise striped braids for tying knots, really brings out the shape of the knot:
With bicolor loops it’s easy to dramatically vary the color pattern mid-braid.
It can be very eye-catching on a braid to have one or two bicolor color patterns separated by the lengthwise striping pattern that I call ‘Edge’.
You can also get interesting patterns by mixing bicolor and single-color loops:
In the photo above, any lengthwise stripe of color down a braid was created by a certain set-up of bicolor loops in the braid – just one of many possible bicolor loop patterns.
All are square braids except for the black/white/gold braid.
[The black/white/gold braid is a hollow double braid of 8 loops – the set-up for that particular pattern is included in my hollow double braid tutorial.]
[The mixed bicolor/solid-color loop square braids in the photo are taught in More square braid color set-ups.]
With certain so-called unorthodox braids, if you use bicolor loops and make all the loop transfers without turning the loops (unreversed/ open), you can make braids with completely different colors on the bottom and top surface of the braid:
The video in An Unorthodox Braid Tutorial demoes how to make a 7-loop version of the above braids (with black and white on top, and a lower layer of blue).
If you already know how to fingerloop braid but haven’t played around much with bicolor loops, try it now:
Set up for a square braid, using whatever number of loops you are comfortable with, all loops bicolor (dark-light) and of the same two colors.
Easiest set up: Cut 5 lengths of dark and 5 of light (for a 5-loop braid), then tie 2 at a time together at one end (use an overhand knot, not a square knot).
Then take all the untied ends together and tie them into one big overhand knot–that will be the top of the braid.
I like to use a larks-head knot “lasso” to fasten my loop bundle to a fixed point, because it’s easy to remove later:
Fasten the header string onto a fixed point.
‘Edge‘ pattern: (this color-pattern was called “lace Bastonne” in 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts)
Set up the loops on your fingers such that the loops on one hand have all dark shanks in upper position on your fingers, and the loops on the other hand have all light shanks in upper position.
Start braiding a square braid–all loop transfers turned (reversed/ crossed)*.
[see my 5-loop introductory video tutorial here]
By the way, if you happen to use the A-fell loop braiding method for square braids (index finger reaching through ALL the loops of its own hand to fetch the opposite hand’s c- or d-loop), you can use that method instead of the V-fell method I show here. If you braid slentre-style (palms facing the floor), just make sure that you poke the index finger through BOTH/ALL the other hand’s closer loops on the way to fetching the far one–that’s how a square braid is made.
Like magic, each loop will turn dark-shank-up when it arrives on the ‘dark loop hand’, and turn light-shank-up when it goes back to the ‘light loop hand’. And along the developing braid you’ll start to see lengthwise dark and light stripes along the 4 ridges of the braid. (beautiful for a drawstring that will be knotted, or for any kind of knotwork). In the old English loop braiding manuscripts, braids with this type of lengthwise striping were sometimes called “Bastonne,” or “Bordered,” or “with the Edge.”
Below is a video showing a variation of this pattern in a 3-loop braid—here two of the bicolor loops are black and red, and the third loop is black and yellow:
Getting back to our 5-loop sample braid:
A really effective color-pattern variation is to have just one loop (any loop) out of order from the Edge pattern setup. You can start a new braid off this way, or switch to this pattern from doing the Edge pattern. The cleanest way to switch is to make one (and only one) loop transfer “wrong”– ie when you take the loop with the other hand, don’t turn it as you normally would for a square braid, instead take it unreversed/ open/ unturned*. (Choosing to take a loop “wrong” is actually an example of consciously using ‘pick-up patterning’ to create patterns!) Alternatively you could just take any of the loops and turn it manually on its finger so the “wrong” color is uppermost. Then keep braiding normally and a pretty contrast pattern will emerge on the braid. I call it the “one-loop-wrong” pattern.
To get back to the “Edge” pattern of lengthwise striping, wait til the out-of-order-loop is about to be transferred, and, again transfer it “wrong”–without turning it*. Voila, you’ll be back to all dark up on one hand and all light up on the other. More than one student has pointed out to me that with bicolor loops, two wrongs do make a right… (Sorry!)
The 2nd variation in the picture above is one you would get if you began braiding with dark (or light) shanks in upper position on both hands. For an in-progress 5-loop braid, you can switch to it from the “edge” pattern in two ways: either by turning loops on your fingers until all the dark shanks are down (or up)—or by making the first, third, and fifth loop transfer with no turn. That equates to the first three transfers from ONE hand, say the left, while all the right hand transfers are done normally (with a turn).
For a 7-loop braid, you would make the first four loop transfers (off one hand only) unturned, alternating with regular turned transfers from the other hand.
If you had started out by using an even number of loops to braid with, you could also switch to alternating dark-light order in your braid (by taking every other loop unturned), and get alternating dark-light ‘zebra-stripe’ chevrons on your bicolor braid–see the yellow and black lanyard braid picture again. In that lanyard braid, I used 6 loops in order to be able to do the alternating dark-light pattern halfway up on the far right side of the photo:
That alternating dark-light pattern doesn’t require using bicolor loops, actually. It can also be made with 3 single-color black loops and 3 single-color gold loops, set up in alternating dark-light order (but see my Color-Planning post for how to set up an ‘alternating’ color order onto your fingers—this isn’t necessarily obvious). However, the “edge” pattern and others would not be possible with single-color loops.
Transferring loops “wrong” is the key to smooth pattern changing with bicolor loops. If you made all your loop transfers with no turns for a long stretch of the braid, your square braid would divide into two layers (great for a buttonhole or loop) but just a few unturned loop transfers won’t show up as a visible opening through the braid. The alternative—manually turning loops on your fingers to all be in the correct color-arrangement for the new pattern—might leave a little bulge or other mark at that point in the braid, not really a big deal.
Figuring out which loops to turn “wrong” can be tricky with some patterns, but not in getting back to the Edge pattern—you just aim to have all light shanks up on one hand and all dark shanks up on the other, and make your loop transfers turned or not turned accordingly until you’ve reached your goal. Even if one loop gets by you and ends up with its light shank up on the dark-loop hand, you can catch it on the next round (when it’s time for that loop to come back over to the light-loop hand), and transfer it without a turn then.
After following the tutorial above, try using a third contrast color, and otherwise following the instructions above for the ‘Edge’ pattern. Use almost the same loop set-up, except put 2 contrast single-color loops (both the same color) together on the right hand.
For a 5-loop braid, those two single-color loops would be the only right-hand loops, with 3 bicolor loops on the left hand.
For a 7-loop braid, you would have 4 bicolor loops on the left hand, 2 contrast single-color loops on the right hand (next to each other) plus one bicolor loop as well. Make sure that the one bicolor loop on the right hand is in the opposite dark/light up/down set-up of the 4 bicolor loops on the left hand.
After that, try using 3 contrast single-color loops and only two bicolor dark-light ones. Start with the three single-color loops on the left hand, and the the two bicolor loops on the right…
My 7-loop square braid bracelet tutorial teaches a multicolor pattern that uses both bicolor and single-color loops–Chevrons over bicolor stripes:
See my post on planning color-patterns—explains how to order the loops on your fingers, to get a particular color-order in the braid. Also shows more examples of bicolor loops in combination with solid color loops, in both square and flat braids.
*reversed (vs unreversed) are the 15th C terms; turned is 17th C; crossed (vs open) are Noémi Speiser and Masako Kinoshita’s terms. I can’t help preferring turned (vs ‘not turned’ or ‘straight’) myself, as it seems clearer than the other two. I cite them all because people have various backgrounds in loop braiding.
These terms refer to how a loop is transferred from one hand to the other–i.e. how it goes from one side of the braid to the other–whether it goes “straight” across with no turn, or gets rotated in a half-turn so that the upper and lower shanks switch positions. This makes a huge difference to the braid structure–using one or the other, or a combo of the two types of transfers is how you make a braid square, flat, or divide into two braids.
Last updated August 3, 2019
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