Learn the braids in my tutorial for 7-loop square and flat braids first, and braid a few of those before following this 9-loop tutorial. This 9-loop braid requires using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops.
First is a photo-tutorial that lays out my method for braiding 9-loop square braids, using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops. Please be sure to check out the un-numbered photo I inserted between photo #3 and #4, and its accompanying tips on how to hold your hands while doing the braiding moves…(they apply to braids of more or fewer loops, too).
The video tutorial is below the photo-tutorial…I’ve gotten complaints on youtube about how slow-paced my videos are, and this 9-loop video was one of my earlier ones, so you may prefer the photo-tute. But the videos do demo how the hands move, which is difficult to show in photos. Slide the bubble under the videos to fast-forward ahead/ skim through if necessary. [Please ignore how often I repeat the tightening move – in my early videos this was a nervous habit of mine while I was trying to think!]
Notes on historical references, so-called ‘unorthodox’ variations, how I learned 9-loop braids, etc, follow the photo-tutorial. (Fingerloop braiding 9-loop braids using all ten fingers has been documented from Finland, and now from China as well.)
9-loop photo tutorial, showing my “thumb” method:
At Braids 2012, I met someone who had learned this exact method for 9-loop braids as a child in China in the late 40’s or early 50’s, where she thought it was a common practice. She said that thumbs were used just as I demo here – held upright, never tucked down.
Start with 5 loops on the left hand, one per finger, and 4 on the right (thumb to ring finger—no loop on right little finger). The thumb holds loops in “hitchhiking” position always, never tucked-down. Tucking it down twists the loop and makes it difficult to find the correct shank, plus causes other problems.
NB: You don’t need to have a curved thumb. Straight-thumbed braiders have learned this method with great success. After a little practice, the light tension of the loop keeps it in place on the thumb. Be patient and bear with loops falling off thumbs (and fingers) at first, that’s normal in the first braid or two. Just pick them up and keep going. After half a braid the frequency will ease off, and after a braid or two it’ll virtually stop. For the first braid, just practice the movements, don’t try to make a perfect braid. Thumbs up! 🙂
The photo shows a side view of the “passive” hand. The other hand will take the thumb-loop from this hand. For more of a view from above of the passive hand (although of the right hand rather than the left), see “Hand Positions” below, after photo #3
The thumb always points somewhat upward. Loops should be gently taut on the “passive” hand, so the other hand’s little finger can slide through them easily and fetch the thumb-loop without dislodging any loops.
(Loops on the active “loop-fetching” hand don’t have to be taut during the loop-fetching move. See photo #12. Do try to keep those fingers bent to prevent their loops from sliding off, though.)
L = left, R = right
th, a, b, c, d = thumb, index, middle, ring, little finger
The d-fingers (little fingers) are the “fetchers” or operator fingers, just as in the 7-loop braid.
Each loop has an upper shank and a lower shank. They are “upper” or “lower” because they lead to the upper or lower surface of the braid, as well as over the upper or lower side of the finger. On the thumb, neither shank looks obviously higher or lower. But one shank does correspond to an upper, and the other to a lower shank.
In hitchhiking position, the upper shank of the thumb-loop is the shank closest to the opposite hand — the closest thumb-shank to the camera in the photo below. The lower shank should be further from the opposite hand (almost hidden behind the ‘upper’ shank in this photo).
step 1. First loop transfer: Operator finger goes straight through all the Left loops except the thumb loop. The left fingers hold the loops lined up so that they present a ‘tunnel’ for the right little finger to pass through. (note: in this photo, the “upper” shank of the thumb loop is the closer of the two shanks. See also “hand positions” further down, after photo #3.)
Then the operator finger rises in front of and above the thumb loop and hooks downwardly onto its closest shank (“upper” shank), and pulls the loop through the intervening loops, after which the left thumb releases the loop, allowing it to transfer over to the right hand:
Hooking the loop in this way will give the loop a half-turn as it moves onto its new finger (the Rd finger). The shank that had been in lower position on the left hand will now be in upper position on the right hand. This isn’t very obvious, but is very important! If the loops don’t turn over like this, the braid you are making will split/ divide into two thinner braids. Later, when you are purposely making a divided braid or a flat braid, you will need to take the loop in a different way, so that it does not turn over (on left and right hands for a divided braid, but on only one hand for a flat braid).
Hand positions →
(In this out-of-sequence photo, the left hand is the loop-fetcher, and the right hand is the ‘passive’ hand.)
When you are about to put the operator finger through the “passive” hand’s loops, hold the passive hand as shown in this photo. At the wrist, the passive hand bends away from the active hand, not toward it. Also, the passive hand and fingers are not held straight—they are bent, with the little finger extended toward the operator finger, and the other fingers ranked behind it, loops gently taut. Loops are held near the tip or middle of the fingers, not near the palm.
Sorry about all these “shoulds” and “don’ts”! But I’ve noticed that it’s a common tendency for new braiders to do the exact opposite of everything above, which ends up making the braiding much more difficult! When I’m showing someone in person it’s simple to correct this, but I can’t jump out of your monitor and show you, which is why I’m spelling it all out in too much detail!
This hand position makes a smooth, easy path of loops for the operator finger to go through. The passive hand presents the active hand with a tunnel of loops, so the operator finger can slide through them all without having to weave in and out. That’s why the loops are held at the middle or tips of the fingers, not at the base, and are lined up somewhat behind the little finger loop.
(Loops on the active hand, in contrast, can be held at the base of the fingers, and they don’t have to be held particularly taut for this part.)
Palms should face each other, not upward, during the braiding moves. If palms face upward, your operator finger has to weave up and down between the the loops to get through them. This works, but is very inefficient, and becomes especially slow with this many loops. (Try to unlearn that habit if it already is one.)
Note that the active hand does temporarily turn palm-down to hook down onto the thumb-loop (see right hand in photo 3 above).
step 2. Shift the left loops:
After the loop transfer, the remaining loops on the left hand are shifted upward one finger-position. This will fill the empty thumb position, and free Ld of its loop, so it can be the next operator. [Hands shift their own loops—try not to use the other hand to help.]
First shift the L index loop to L thumb (La shifts to Lth).
One of the things that makes us human is our opposable thumbs! That idea might help in remembering how to make the first loop shifting move – it’s very different from the finger-to-finger loop shifts:
Move the tip of the thumb and index toward each other, and then insert the thumb into the a-loop from the opposite direction that the finger is inserted. Lift the loop off the finger and onto the thumb.
(If the thumb goes into the index loop in the same direction as the index finger is inserted, the loop’s upper shank will end up on the wrong side of the thumb. That causes problems with this braid, and even more problems later on when trying to learn double braids.)
Then shift the rest of the loops just as for a seven-loop braid.
Before the next transfer, the loops need to be tightened.
step 3. Tighten the fell
The thumb stays pointing up during the tightening move, and the hand and fingers swivel around it. I show this in the video (probably interminably!). Think of the thumb as the maypole, staying in place, always relatively upright, around which everything else swivels. As they say in music “it’s all in the wrist”!
While fetching loops it’s ok if some of the non-essential loops are slack/ loose (on the active, “fetching” hand), but no loops should sag during the tightening moves. While tightening, hold the loops with gentle but even tension. Don’t pull hard! In my videos I think it looks as though I am pulling hard simply because I tighten quickly, but I really am not. The stretch ends lightly, not forcefully. Tightening a square or (especially) a flat braid doesn’t require force, just a wide spread, gently repeated once or twice.
My tightening rant:
Most new loop braiders braid much too tightly (even to the point of getting blisters). I sometimes see the other extreme, too — braiders who focus all their attention on the loop transfer and shifting moves, but just do a quick toss of the hands outward for tightening—paying no attention to that move at all. Linger a little on the tightening move, and do it gently! That’s the move that makes the braid — the other moves just set the stage. Too loose and the braid will be flabby, with saggy patterns. Too tight and the braid will be pinched-in and lose its shape—a “square” braid will be tight and unevenly round, and a “flat” braid will be squeezed inward and not fully flat. An over-tightened braid is not stronger! It will wear out even sooner, because every bend and movement will gradually break more and more of the component fibers in each overly-stretched strand.
2nd loop transfer (mirror-image of first):
step 4. Ld (now empty) goes through the right hand’s loops: Rd, c, b, a loops, and takes Rthumb-loop with a turn by hooking the “upper” (nearer) shank from above. [photos 11-13]
step 5. Shift R loops upward one finger-position, freeing R d-finger. [no photo]
step 6. Tighten the fell. [photo 14]
Now shift the other hand’s loops up one position (right hand), to free d-finger of its loop [no photo]—this should happen before (or during) the tightening move.
One braiding cycle done.
Repeat from the beginning til the braid is finished. Tie off at base of braid, either with another overhand knot, or by tightly wrapping and tying a piece of thread or string around the base of the braid. Trim off excess loops, leaving a short tassel of ends. (There are other ways to finish ends, see Finishing below.)
Transferring a loop without a turn
for making either a divided or a flat braid:
The difference here is that the operator finger will hook onto the other shank of the thumb’s loop. This must be done by coming up through the thumb loop to grab that other shank.
The operator finger will first go through all the loops (in the same direction, including the thumb loop). It goes all the way up and through the thumb loop. Then it hooks down onto the far shank of the thumb-loop in the photo above, pulling it off the thumb and through all the intervening loops. (In the braid, that “far” shank of the thumb-loop is equivalent to the lower shanks of finger-held loops)
Taking the thumb loop this way means that the loop will not get a turn when it transfers over to the right hand.
Making both the left and the right loop transfers this way is how you make a divided braid—good for making a loop or buttonhole.
To make a flat braid, use this new way of taking the loop for ONLY the right hand’s thumb loops. When taking the LEFT thumb-loop, do it the way I demoed first. This follows my “left over; right through” mantra. However, if you prefer, you can choose to do it the opposite way instead: turning the all right loops, while going THROUGH all the left loops (results in the left loops not being turned). One way will make the long fold along the braid form on the left side and the other way the fold will form on the right side of the braid.
As I explained in my 5 and 7-loop tutorials, if you are braiding a flat braid correctly (AND not tightening overly hard!) the braid won’t seem flat while you are braiding it. It should braid on two layers, with a cross section like a c-shape. It might even look exactly like a square braid as you are braiding it, but with a slit/ division along one side. After braiding you will manually open the braid out flat, as if it were a long, skinny book.
Note: If your tension is too tight, the braid will get forced into a shape that I call “3/4 flat“—see my 5-loop tutorial for a photo showing the difference between “flat” and “3/4-flat” braids. 3/4 flat braids are less common with 9 loops—you really are pulling too hard if you get this braid shape using 9 loops! Read the fix-it in the 5-loop tutorial.
There’s a pretty pattern variation of a flat 8-loop braid called Lace Dawns (or Daunce), which is described in the 15th C braiding manuscripts in a difficult A-fell method. See my more recent post for an easier, V-fell method for Lace Dawns, using the techniques in this 9-loop tutorial. The 8-loop Lace Dawns braid might be an easier way to work your way up to using the thumbs, since you will only be using the thumb of one hand. One hand holds its loops as in my 7-loop tutorial, and the other hand holds loops as in this 9-loop tutorial.
I usually end my braids with a loop (a divided braid section), after which I divide the braid into several thinner loop braids (see the third video in my Bracelet with Chevrons tutorial). See this note for some other ideas.
After the braid is done (and, if it’s a flat braid, before opening it out), I repeatedly compress it as if I were trying to make it shorter all up and down its length—the opposite of stretching it. This relaxes the tension of the threads, and makes the braid look better after having been pulled lengthwise for the whole braiding process. If it’s a flat braid, I only then open it out width-wise and tug the edges outward to spread it out flat and wide. Especially if braided firmly, a flat braid might not “want” to lie flat. To encourage the braid to lie completely flat and look its widest, I often then wet or dampen it, gently stretch it flat again, and let it dry on a towel or hanging over my towel rod overnight.
Apparently Japanese Kumihimo braiders dampen and set their braids with steam to finish them—holding them (carefully) over a kettle on the stove, for example. I usually just dunk them in warm slightly soapy water, or hold them under running water. (If I am certain the color won’t bleed—whenever I use a new type of yarn I test it first by soaking a sample for a few hours in hot water and detergent in a clear or white container, to see if any color bleeds into the water.)
9-loop video, part 1 of 2
The video below shows the divided and flat variations of the 9-loop braid:
[Click to see Dominic’s chunky flat 9-loop braid bracelet in tarred hemp!]
See my more recent post [8/9/11] on how to make and plan different color-patterns in square and flat braids.)
Many of the braids above are square braids, of various numbers of loops from 7 to 11. (Not the three black/white/plus contrast color braids in the left half of the photo, and the blue & white, and purple & white braids to their right—those are doubled square braids, which are rectangular in cross-section.)
All these braids have at least some bicolor loops, since I originally took the photo for my bicolor loop magic post.
Update: my new tutorial on color-linking in 7-loop flat braids includes the setup instructions for the two flat 9-loop braids below:
9-loop square braid—abbreviated instructions
th=thumb, a=index, b=middle, c=ring, d=little/small finger.
Ld = left little finger.
Ld (underlined) = the loop on the left little finger. (my distinction—in other sources Ld (or DL) can mean either the left little finger OR its loop, depending on context)
Loop arrangement at start of braiding cycle:
Right hand: Rth, a, b, c
Left hand: Lth, a, b, c, d
1. Rd thru Ld, c, b, a, takes th (turned from above)
2. L loops shift up one position (to Lth, a, b, c)
4. Repeat in mirror image (switch L and R above).
~9-loop Pattern repeats~
After 9 braiding cycles (18 loop transfers) all the loops will be back on their original fingers.
On the developing braid, 9 braiding cycles will usually form one full color-pattern repeat (for a 9-loop braid).
~Unorthodox Braids (UO braids) of 9 loops~
Besides square and flat braids, many so-called unorthodox braids are possible with 9 loops. Unorthodox braids combine regular through-loop moves with over- or under-whole-loop moves. They tend to have interesting shapes. A world-wide, very common unorthodox braid is the 5-loop D-shaped or triangular braid (called the “broad lace of 5 boes” in the 15th C manuscripts). Below are instructions for two different unorthodox 9-loop braids. Others are possible too, and there are even more possible variations with 11-loop braids. (Loop shifts and tightening moves are the same as described above for a square braid):
For the 2 unorthodox braids below, start with loops set up just as for a 9-loop square braid. The directions below refer to whether your little finger (the “fetcher”/operator) moves through or over each of the 4 loops on the other hand before taking the thumb loop.
Unorthodox braid #1: (D-shaped)
Through 2 loops (d,c), over 2 loops (b,a), take thumb-loop (turned from above). Keep repeating this move, L and R sides.
The patterns I describe in my more recent D-shaped 7-loop braid tutorial, and in One Set-up, Four Color-patterns can be adapted to this 9-loop version.
Unorthodox braid #2:(triangular/ peaked)
Over 2 loops(d,c), through 2 loops(b,a), take thumb-loop (turned from above). Keep repeating this move, L and R sides.
The pattern that I describe for a 7-loop square braid in my Bracelet with chevrons tutorial looks great in this peaked braid-shape.
With many UO braids there will be a noticeable difference in the shape of the resulting braid depending on which direction you turn the transferred loop—from above or from below (number 2 above especially). So far I have only taught the “from above” turn—it is somewhat easier with V-fell braiding, but “from below” works fine, too. (taking the lower shank of the index or thumb loop from below the loop, not from within the loop). It turns the loop in the opposite rotational direction.
Either turning direction produces the same braid shape with square braids. But for these two Unorthodox braids, I prefer the look of the resulting braid when the transferring loop is turned from above, as I teach it here.
new: A variation to both the above unorthodox braids is to not turn any of the loops. This will not result in a divided braid, because the ‘over’ and ‘under’ whole-loop moves connect the upper and lower layers of the braid together. It will cause a slight change to either braid’s shape, and a dramatic change to the color-patterns if the braid is made with bicolor loops.
For any braid, unbraiding is the best way to understand the structure of the braid, and is usually the only way to go back to a mistake and fix it. If you put down the loops and try to ‘unpick’ the braid it will likely get hopelessly tangled. See my post on unbraiding for more tips.
~Historical references to V-fell braiding with 9 loops~
Using thumbs to braid 9-loop V-fell fingerloop braids has been documented in Finland—see L-MBRIC news, issue 11. I suspect it has been done elsewhere as well. Loop braiding has died out as a living tradition over much of the world, so it’s hard to know the full extent of the earlier history of loop braiding.
[UPDATE: I recently met someone who had first learned how to loop braid in China in the 1940’s. She told me that her grandfather taught her how to loop braid, and she learned how to braid 9-loop square braids using thumbs as well as fingers, just as I teach it in this tutorial—and that this was a common practice, not considered anything unusual! I don’t remember where they lived in China, but I believe it was in a major city, and definitely not in one of the non-Han minority areas. This is interesting in itself, because nowadays I think loop braiding is only known from minority areas of China. More in this post, toward the end: Braids 2012, part 3]
The recent revival of interest in loop braiding has been based on only two of the three fingerloop methods for making simple, 2-pass braiding moves: the A-fell method (method 1) and Slentre (method 3). Thumbs cannot be used to hold loops in either of these methods.
Only the V-fell method (method 2) allows using all 10 fingers to hold loops. The method (though not necessarily the use of 10 fingers) has been documented in Asia, the Pacific, India, S. America, and one location each in Russia and Finland. The V-fell method is currently found as an unbroken tradition more frequently than the A-fell method (see Masako Kinoshita’s online journal L-MBRIC). But as of the time I started this blog, I couldn’t find it taught in any published or on-line sources. It is sparingly described in Noémi Speiser’s books, as well as in L-MBRIC (where it is called “Method 2”) For more info on these three methods see my “A-fell, V-fell, and Slentre” page.
~How I got into loop braiding~
The first loop braid I learned was a five-loop square braid, done with the V-fell braiding method that I teach in this blog. That was in 2006, here in California. I was taught by a young woman who had learned it herself in the 1990’s, in a summer camp for teens in the northwest U.S. (Washington state).
Since then I have met 2 other people who also learned this V-fell method in Washington state summer camps in the 90’s. My guess is that the camp counselor who first brought it into “camp culture” there had learned it directly from an Asian or South American relative, or else learned it while traveling abroad.
Dana taught me a five-loop square braid, and told me that I could make bigger braids by adding more fingers and loops—up to a limit of 9 loops. (I still don’t know if she had been taught how to braid with 9 loops, or had figured it out on her own.) She taught me using what she happened to have with her—fingering-weight knitting yarn—but told me the braids would be very pretty if I used a mix of different colors, and suggested embroidery floss.
Luckily, I jotted down some notes. I tried it a few days later with some rather ugly yarn, and wasn’t too impressed. But about 3 months later I decided to bring my notes and some embroidery floss along on one of our summer music-camp trips. This time I was instantly hooked! Since Dana had told me it was possible, I went right ahead with 7 loops, and then 9 loops in the next day or two, at that point using my thumbs since they were the last fingers left to add.
[I recently managed to contact Dana and ask her some questions about how she learned this method. She didn’t remember anything about the person who taught her at camp, or mention whether she had figured out her 9-loop method on her own, but she did confirm that, when using thumbs to carry loops, she holds them as I do, in “hitchhiking position,” always pointing roughly upward, NEVER tucking them down (don’t do it! it just leads to more problems later on). As does Europa, the woman I met at Braids 2012 who had learned to loop braid using thumbs in China.
I didn’t try to braid with 11 loops until a year or more after first learning how to loop braid. In fact, that first year I was highly focused on avoiding braiding with multiple loops on any finger. I was using Lois Swales’ and Zoe Kuhn-Williams’ Fingerloop Braiding site fingerloop.org, and I always tried to translate the few classic braids that required holding more than one loop on a finger into some other method that would allow me to use my thumbs instead…
I had realized early on that it was possible to make the same loop braid by more than one method. I had learned the same exact square braid by two different methods—Dana’s method, and the method taught on fingerloop.org (V-fell and A-fell, respectively). But later, when I tried to learn the classic “Lace Dawns” or “Lace daunce” braid from fingerloop.org, I also realized that it was sometimes possible to find not simply an alternate method for making a particular braid, but an alternate and much easier method.
In trying to learn the traditional method for braiding Lace daunce, I suddenly noticed that all those fussy complicated moves on the right hand’s loops was just a long-winded, cumbersome way to bring the loop from the left hand through one extra loop on the right hand. Amazing! Lace Daunc was just a plain old flat square braid of 8 loops! I already knew how to make square braids of up to 9 loops using Dana’s V-fell method, why not make the braid her way and save myself all this extra work?! It just required figuring out which fingers to put the red and white colors onto to get the same color-pattern.
So, not only could totally different methods produce the same braid, but one way might be much simpler than another. After that, I saw loop braid instructions in a very different light – there might well be a different, and easier way to make the same braid. What was almost odder was that no one else seemed to have noticed this. I had found out by then (from LMBRIC) that the method Dana taught me was a known method, used primarily in Asia. It seemed very strange that no other website mentioned this Asian method and how useful it was.
After that loopy revelation, I managed to figure out “thumb” ways to make the following braids using only single loops on any digit: Lace Dawns, Piol, the “Hollow Lace of 7” family of related braids, a close version of the Lace Endented of 8 bows, as well as a 10-loop version of the classic 8-loop Lace Bend Round (the Spiral braid).
Of these, the hardest one to figure out was the Hollow Lace of 7 bows. The traditional method is neither A-fell nor V-fell braiding. It’s very odd: starts with 5 loops on one hand (on three fingers–the A and B fingers each hold two loops, and the C finger holds one loop) and only 2 loops on the other hand. The motions are quite fun once you get the hang of it. However, I found them difficult to reverse if I needed to undo a mistake. I finally did figure out a one-loop-per-finger alternative method (using the thumb on the 5-loop hand), but even so, I didn’t quite understand what was going on in the braid. My alternative method results in braids that certainly look like the Hollow Lace of 7 and all its related braids, but it’s possible that they may not have exactly the same structure.
It’s not a lot different, though – I’m pretty sure that all the braids in the hollow lace of vii ‘family’ are basically the same structure as a 7-loop spanish braid: a two-layer eight-ridge [8-column] braid of half plain weave (through one loop) and half twill (through two loops). The only difference is that the hollow lace’s “through one loop” passages occur in the center of the braid rather than at the outer edges. This does give a slightly different look to the braids’ appearance.
On learning to braid with more loops:
Since starting to teach, I’ve noticed that students who already have a lot of previous loop braiding experience sometimes seem to feel (initially) that it’s harder to add 2 more loops than do braiders who have learned more recently.
I think it’s because they can barely remember ever braiding slowly, or having to coach one particular finger along. (One of the fun things about loop braiding is how fast and easy it becomes.) They assume that, since the new finger can’t do its moves automatically, an insurmountable physical problem must be preventing it: “See! my little finger is too short”— “My ring finger is physically incapable of lifting high enough”, “My thumb bends the wrong way”, etc. Of course they always end up learning the new step(s) just fine if they persevere past their initial shock.
But you might as well avoid that whole problem of getting too good at making the easy braids! Just go ahead and move up to 7 loops fairly soon after you learn to braid with 5, and move on to 9 loops fairly soon after that. This is what I did, myself—I was no speedball at making 7-loop braids when I first started making 9-loop braids. At that point, the 7-loop loop-shifting move was doable, but still a challenge for the ring finger.
That “do it sooner” advice doesn’t apply to braids that require holding more than one loop on a finger, though. I don’t advise rushing into making 11 loop braids. With 11 loops you’re not bringing a new finger into the action. Rather, all the fingers need to practice with one loop per finger for a while until they have even more automatic control over their loops. At that point you can focus on the new and different step in the loop shifting, and that extra loop on the little finger, without having to think about how the individual fingers should move.
Instead, try 10-loop double braids after 9-loop square braids. These are also one loop per finger/ thumb, and there are a lot of beautiful variations that can be made with essentially the same method. [To learn how to make these braids the traditional way, as a team of 2 braiders, see my more recent post on this].
When I braid double braids that have more than ten loops, I usually carry extra loops on the little fingers first, as I show in my 11-loop square braid tutorial, then on the thumbs (using similar braiding moves).
I would love to hear from you! Leave notes under ‘comments’ below, or send me an email.
Posted May 31, 2011. Last updated Jan/23/2018
© 2011–2018 Ingrid Crickmore
Adapted and expanded from my original version, published on M. Kinoshita’s LMBRIC site in 2008
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