New photos — I just added more photos to Part 2 Starts Without Ends, showing how I mount double-length loops onto a shower-curtain ring and comb for my favorite no-ends start.
Part II (jump here to Starts with No Ends) covers several ways to start a braid with a loop/ eyelet, and with no visible ends of thread at the top of the braid.
Fair warning: both sections are long and wordy. (here’s why)
Part I – Longer loop braids:
Traditional 2-worker method:
The tried and true traditional way — worldwide — to braid longer loop braids is to cooperate with another braider. This is not hard to do. One of you braids, and the other stands near where the start is fastened, and does the actual tightening. This can be done by beating the fell with an implement, or by using one’s hands as in the video below—experiment to see what works best for you.
This video is about the Wayuu people of Columbia and their textile crafts. After clicking the video to start playing, then move the timeline “bubble” below the video to 2:25 to see two Wayuu women cooperating in loop braiding an extra-long braid.
Video above @ 2min, 25sec shows 2 braiders co-operating to braid an extra-long braid.
Solo braider strategies for braiding longer loop-braids
The center braid in the first photo (above the video) is 22 feet long — a 7-loop square braid that I made back in 2007, just as a test to see if it was possible. I used the same two techniques I’d always used for making longer loop braids, but this time I used 9 yards, the total length of the floss in my skeins. (I made each loop from two skeins of floss tied together.) I call that braid my “Whole 9 Yards” braid, although the finished braid actually ended up about 7 yards and one foot (22′, or 6.7m), due to take-up.
I use two main work-arounds when I want a longer braid: First and easiest, starting braiding from the midpoint/ center of the loop-bundle. This can double the length of your normal maximum-length braid. Secondly — only if necessary — shortening the ends of the loops temporarily into what I call “caterpillars”, preferably on only one (the longer) half of the start from the center, or if necessary, on both halves. This can add a lot of length to your braid, but the start-from-the-center gives you the most extra length for the least amount of effort, so I always start with that.
step 1. The center-start
This is the first strategy because it is the quickest and easiest—always start with this one and only add step 2 (‘caterpillars’) if this alone will not be enough. Below I describe 3 different ways to start from the center: Handshake, Exact, and the one I use most: Basic (described below).
Basic Center-Start This is the method I use most often, it seems quickest and easiest to me. The center point might not end up at the exact center-point of the braid. In fact, I sometimes purposely place the ‘center-point’ way off-center, if I’m planning to use my “caterpillar” loop-shortening technique on only one end of the braid.
Short version: Begin braiding at the center-point of an extra-long loop bundle, braid to one end, then start from the center again and braid the other half. Make sure there is no knot or string cinched around the center-start when you begin braiding the second half, or the braid will have a loose, gappy area there.
There’s no real need to read the extra details below unless you are extra curious… It’s fine to stop here, and just re-read the previous paragraph – it basically says it all!
I start by tying each loop separately. (Not tied together.) Each loop is as long as I want the finished braid to be, plus extra length for take-up, and extra for the bits at both ends that can’t be braided all the way. If I don’t want to use my second longer-length strategy as well (‘caterpillars’–see step 2), I make sure that the total loop bundle length is no longer than the width I can spread my arms apart (this is two times my normal maximum length for a braid).
I align the loops side by side, and then at the mid-point I make a big fat slip-knot of all the loops together. (A slip-knot is a knot you can pull out easily later—like a single crochet-chain stitch.) I make this knot at the approximate center of the loop-bundle, not at either of the two ends.
NOTE: I don’t tie a string around the loop bundle for this, it wouldn’t hold the loops securely enough. Even a constrictor knot probably wouldn’t be tight enough if there are a lot of loops. Instead I tie a big slip-knot using the whole loop-bundle itself.
Then I use a length of string to form a “hangman’s noose” / header cord to suspend the bundle of loops for braiding. I fasten the noose/header below the big center-knot, surrounding only the loops I will be braiding with (not catching onto the other half of the loop lengths—I let those fall free of the header string). I use this header cord exactly the way I demo in my Start Here 5-loop braid photos—treat that big slip-knot at the center of the loop bundle just like the top-of-the-braid overhand knot in my 5-loop tutorial photos. Tie this header cord onto a C-clamp (G-clamp if you’re not in the U.S.) or other firm, fixed point, and you are ready to braid one half of the braid, outward from the big center-point slip-knot.
Unless even the loops on that half are already too long to braid with! In that case I move on to step 2 (shortening the loops into caterpillars), next section.
After braiding to the end of the first half, I remove the header string, and pull out the big slip knot at the center of the braid. Then I use the finished half of the braid to tie onto my fixed point, and begin braiding the second half—outward from the center point again (which now has no knot). I tighten carefully at that second start from the center, so there won’t be a loose area, or any loose threads at the center/ join between the two halves of the braid.
That’s the type of center-start that I use the most. For a braid of more than 9 loops, or one that is more complex than a square braid, I also often use two big-tooth combs while setting up: I park the loops at each end of the loop bundle onto a comb (and secure them with a rubber band) before tying the center slip-knot. But there are pros and cons to doing it that way, described further down, with photos.
The “Handshake Center-start” I don’t use this method very often, but it’s a great way to start if you want half the length of the braid to be in different colors than the other half—though they don’t have to be in different colors. This start leaves a distinctive but not bad-looking ‘join’ at the center point. It’s also a guaranteed way to locate your join at the exact center of the finished braid (unless you happen to braid one half tighter or looser than the other half.)
I only have photos of this start used as a loop for the top of a braid, not as the center of a whole braid. Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see the “handshake” join area at the top of the loop more clearly. Looking only at the loop, and not the rest of the braid below the loop, imagine the loop section spread out as a long braid with that handshake join at its center.
Prepare one set of loops for half the length of the braid, each loop tied separately. (In the colors that you’ve chosen for one half of the length of your braid.) Each loop should be no longer than your regular maximum length. Then one-at-at-a-time, thread and tie each strand for the other half of the braid through that first set of loops, so the second set of loops is linked onto the first bunch of loops (see photos).
[I just added the photos below from one of my Braids_and_Bands yahoo list photo-tutorials. These loops wouldn’t make a particularly long braid, but they illustrate the basic idea.]
I actually rarely use a header cord for this (the red string in the photo below)–I tend to use one of the two bunches of loops as the header, and just tie it into a knot and hang it over the bar of my C-clamp.
Either way works–you braid outward on the first set of loops (here, the green ones), all the way to the end. Then you retie the braid onto your firm fixed point, and braid outward from the middle again, now with the second set of loops (here, the purple ones). If you tighten well at both starts from the center, there will be a tight “handshake” join at the centerpoint of the braid. (I do not recommend braiding over the top of a table!—I just did that in the photo to display the loops more clearly.)
[new! another way to locate and start from the exact center of the loop bundle]
The join area here won’t be completely invisible, but it won’t be as obvious as the “handshake join” above. The most seamless-looking join is the “Two Combs” variation of the Basic Center-start, described further down.
Make all but one of the loops separately, and full-length – as long as needed for the whole extra-long braid, plus extra for take-up. Then make the last loop out of two half-length loops linked together, “handshake” style. (Tie one half-length into a loop, then thread the other half-length through that loop and tie it. Now you have two half-length loops linked together. Make sure that the two links add up to the same length as your other loops–you’ll probably have to cut them a tiny bit longer than half the length of the others.) Stretch all the loops out together, treating the two linked loops as if they were one long loop.
At (only) one end of this long bunch of loops, pass a temporary header string through all the loop-ends, and tie it into a loop. Fasten this header-loop to a fixed point. Or, instead of a header-loop, just suspend the ends of all the loops themselves around a fixed point.
You will be braiding at quite a distance from that fixed point, so make sure you have enough room. Start braiding. Gradually, over the first several braiding moves, the single loops will get caught up at the join between the two linked loops, and the braid will begin forming from that exact center-point. When you have finished braiding the first half, remove the header cord, tie the finished part of the braid onto the fixed point, then braid the other half.
Hint: the easiest way to measure out the loops for this start is to cut two strands for each of the long loops as well as for the one “handshake” loop. Just as if you were making bicolor loops, even if these are single-color loops. Cut all the strands the exact same length. Then tie each long loop together from two lengths of yarn. The long loops will each have two knots, one at each end. Then use two of the lengths to make the two short linked loops as described above. The long loops and the double (linked) loop will all end up the same length automatically. This way you don’t have to fuss to get the two shorter loops to add up to the same length as the long loops. A few more knots to tie, but easier and quicker overall.
step 2. Shorten the loops (Caterpillars). I use this trick whenever I want more length than I can get from the “center-start” method alone.
Short version: I shorten each loop to a manageable length by tying/ crocheting a chain of slip-knots (ie a crochet chain) with the “extra” length. A caterpillar-like chain dangles below each loop as I braid, and pulls easily through the other loops. This does add some time to preparing the loops for braiding.
Braiding with ‘caterpillar’ ends on loops
Start watching @ 45 seconds into the video:
This video shows me braiding with caterpillars, not making the caterpillars. I made the video for my 10-loop flat double braid tutorial. Just before I started, I realized my loops were a bit too long for the space available between the C-clamp and the camera…I wanted to use the same loop-bundle for three mini-videos, so instead of cutting the loops shorter, I tied the ends up into short caterpillars. My loops were only about 6 inches too long, so these caterpillars are quite short.
If, after setting up my start-from-the-center, the first half I will braid is still too long to braid with, I first tie a temporary slip-knot (like the first stitch of a crochet chain) partway down each of those loops, at a good length for braiding.
Note: I don’t start chaining/ tying up at the ends of the loops—when I tried doing it that way, the shortened loops ended up being very different lengths. (It’s awkward to braid with loops of different lengths.)
Note: There are two directions the slip-knot can be tied in—be sure to tie it so the knot will only come undone when you pull below the knot, and not come undone when you pull from within the shortened loop (above the knot).
The knot must be tied at about the same point in each loop. I don’t measure and mark the loops, I just do this by comparison with the previous loop. (If there are a lot of loops, I set them all on the teeth of a comb, with a rubber band above preventing them from falling off, but leaving the loops loose and free to stretch out and work with individually).
Then, to shorten the extra length below the slip knot, I make a series of slip-knots onto that first one, using up the excess loop length—this is essentially a crochet chain. You can use a crochet hook, or your fingers alone to make a chain of slip knots.
If you don’t know how to crochet a crochet chain, or make a chain of slip knots using your fingers, google a how-to video—it is very easy to learn. (A chain of loose slip knots is a great way to organize long lengths of anything so they don’t get tangled—a hank of yarn, heavy rope, even an extra-long garden hose.)
After chaining up the excess length, pull the “tail” out through the last slip knot so the chain won’t come undone. (Later on when you want to undo the caterpillars, you undo the last knot where you pulled the ‘tail’ through, then pull on the end to undo the chain of slip-knots.)
This makes a caterpillar-like, dangly object out of the excess loop-length, and reduces it to about 1/4 of its original length (rough estimate). Five-inch caterpillars probably contain about 20″ of extra loop length, or 40″ if you folded the extra length in half before chaining it up, and so on. If you have caterpillars on both halves of the braid, it can add up to quite a bit of extra length, in addition to the extra length you get from using a center-start. It costs some time to make the caterpillars, but they really don’t interfere with the braiding moves. Unlike bobbins and “butterfly” tie-ups, caterpillars trail easily through the loops as you braid.
When you have braided down to the end of the shortened loops, set the loops down in such a way that you can keep them in order. I put them on pegs or a comb, and stretch a rubber band around the comb–above the loops, so they can’t slide off. Then pull out the slip knots, one loop at a time. (I keep all the loops secured on the comb while doing this, including the one I am undoing.)
Then—if the loops are now short enough to braid with—put them back on your fingers and braid the rest of the way to the real ends of the loops. If they are still too long to braid with, leave the loops parked on the comb while you again shorten them to a good length, and tie up another set of caterpillars. I rarely need to use more than one section of caterpillars, but my “whole 9 yards” braid required several sections.
Caterpillars too long?
If my loops are so long that the caterpillars would be longer than 5 or 6 inches, they would be too long to braid with comfortably. In that case, I tie the first slip knot in the same way, but then I fold the excess loop length one or more times before tying it up into a (thicker) caterpillar chain. Shorter caterpillars are better than longer ones, because you’ll be able to braid further before the dangly caterpillars are longer than the loops (see second photo below).
At the beginning of my Whole-Nine-Yards braid, I had to fold the excess length several times before crocheting the ‘caterpillar’ chains. That’s why they are so thick in the most of the photos below.
Each time I finished braiding one section, I would let out and then retie the caterpillars. As the loops got shorter, the caterpillars grew thinner.
It’s not hard to braid with the knotted-up ends hanging down from the ends of the loops. They pull through the other loops as you braid. I suppose the limiting factor would be the thickness of the yarn. The caterpillars probably shouldn’t be a lot thicker than your fingers, or they might not be able to pass through the other loops. Seven loops, 9 yards long of embroidery floss worked fine, but if they had been made out of thick yarn, their “caterpillars” would probably be too thick.
With the V-fell braiding that I teach, it’s simple for the dangling “caterpillar” at the bottom of the loop to clear through the other loops. With A-fell braiding it feels more awkward at first. The active finger is pulling a loop through the other loops of its own hand, so the knotted up “tail” or “caterpillar” doesn’t necessarily come all the way through and out of the loops. Instead it can end up lying inside those loops, along your knuckles. But this is not a problem!!! It’s just fine to leave those caterpillars lying there, inside the neighboring loops of the same hand. It may feel odd at first, but it doesn’t actually get in the way of the braiding moves.
The method is a little inefficient with mega-long braids, because you will have to undo and then redo the caterpillars a few times before finally braiding down to the real ends of the loops. It is very effective and worthwhile for getting just that extra length that you want for a specific braid, especially if it only involves making one set of knotted-up loop-ends.
Hint: Depending on how much extra length you need, instead of making caterpillars on both ends of the braid, you might choose to locate the “center” start slip-knot at, say ¼ of the way into the loop-bundle, if your excess loop length is short enough that it can be condensed into only one set of caterpillars, which you will make on the longer side of the center-start. Just make sure that the loops on the shorter half are short enough that you can comfortably stretch them all the way apart when tightening them.
[just added these photos] I just found these pictures of a warped-up and in-progress braid I made a few years ago—Joe’s fiddle braid (you can see him using it on my “About Loop Braiding” page):
The braid was planned to be a little over 5 feet long; it needed a 10 foot warp plus extra to allow both for take-up and for a little extra just in case. (Wider braids have much more take-up than narrower ones.) My sample of how the braid will look is to the right—visible if you click twice on the photo—and my notes for the braid are above it. I haven’t yet tied the big slip-knot in the middle of the warp that I will braid from.
Wait to tie up the caterpillars on the other half!
Crocheting up both ends of all the loops so there were caterpillars on both ends of the warp (as shown in the photo above) turned out to be a big mistake….After I finished braiding the first half of the warp, the loops on the other end were no longer all the same length. I guess when I started braiding the first half, some of the loops got stretched more than the others, shortening that loop on the other half of the braid. I had to re-do at least half the caterpillars on the second half of the braid to equalize the lengths of the loops. So now I just set my loops up on two combs, tie the center-start slip-knot, and then make caterpillars on the loops of only one of the combs—the end I will start braiding. I wait until that first half is braided before I measure and knot up the loops on the other comb into caterpillars.
Why two combs?:
The Seamless Center-Start (photos above and below)
Note: this start may be the only way to have a flat braid stay completely flat at the center-start area between the two directions of braiding – other center-start strategies will result in a constricted, thicker area at the join.
These days, when I’m setting up for a Basic center-start braid, I always mount my loops onto two combs (one comb at each end of the loop bundle). I do this first, before I tie the big slip knot in the center of the loop bundle. Each loop is mounted in parallel between matching teeth on the two combs, with no twists in the loop between the two teeth it is resting on, see photo above.
I put a rubber band around the comb to keep the loops secure. The rubber band encircles the comb above the loops, and acts as a barrier that keeps the loops from falling off. (This is also how I lay loops down to take breaks while braiding.)
I don’t try to lay the loops stretched out straight and parallel between the two combs while mounting them—there’s not enough room on my table for that. As long as each loop has been correctly loaded, it’s fine for them to lie together in what looks like a jumbled-looking heap.
I load one end of a loop onto the first comb, then run my finger along/ through the whole length of the loop before placing the other end onto the second comb. That way, I can be sure that there is no twist in the loop, even if it looks a tangly mess as it lies on the table.
(I do of course stretch out and straighten all the loops between the two combs before tying the big center slip-knot that I will be braiding from — often I suspend the center of the loop bundle around my C-clamp and then back up holding the two combs side-by-side.)
This way, the loops on the other end of the braid will be in perfect [reverse] order when I pick them off their comb to braid the second half of the braid.
This is not necessary!—I braided center-start braids for ages without using two combs to set up the loops. After finishing braiding the first half, I would tie it onto the C-clamp, undo the center slip-knot, pick up the unbraided loops of the second half, separate them into a left and a right bunch, and continue braiding. (It’s usually fairly easy to separate the loops into the correct left and right bunches of loops.) As I continued braiding, a small, god’s-eye-like ‘blip’ would form at the center-point between the two halves of the braid, nothing very glaring, especially if I made sure to tighten well at that center-point. You may find this preferable to dealing with the double-comb set-up, especially for 9 or fewer loops.
The problem with the “perfect” loop set-up on the two combs:
If you braided with V-fell braiding moves on the first half of the braid (which is the method I teach for basic square braids), then the loops coming out at the mid-point of the braid—where you started—will be coming out of the fell in A-fell configuration (A-fell is the basic braid method taught on most other loop-braiding sites). The braid is essentially turned upside-down (end-to-end) at this point, and in that position it IS an A-fell braid! In fact, for braids of 7 loops or fewer, you could now switch to braiding with A-fell moves, and have a completely seamless join between the two halves of the braid. (In doing this, however, I found that my A-fell braiding is looser than my V-fell braiding, so the two halves of the braid had visibly different tension.)
On the other hand, if you now continue braiding with your original V-fell moves on this perfectly set up and reversed 2nd half of the braid, you will start to undo what you just braided! Remember, the two methods unbraid each other. (I’ve even unbraided at this point on purpose, if the beginning of the braid had a mistake, or if I wanted the midpoint to be at a different point in the pattern repeat.) This never happened to me back in the days when I didn’t put my loops on two combs. It could have happened, though, if just by chance I had ever picked all the loops up in exactly the right order, and with none of them turned.
Turning the braid over—making the upper surface the lower surface for the second half—may solve this(?). That would be the equivalent of making any turns in the loop transfers in the opposite rotational direction than you did on the first half of the braid. I haven’t tried this, but it seems likely. Another solution might be to turn some or all of the loops over once on your fingers before starting on the second half. Assuming this works in preventing the braid from undoing, both solutions would result in that symmetrical gods-eye-like “blip” I mentioned earlier.
My preferred solution:
To continue the 2nd half of the braid with the same V-fell braiding moves, and with an almost-seamless midpoint, I first undo the loops from their A-fell order.
In an A-fell braid, if you examine the path of a loop from the fell (bottom) of the braid down to the finger it is held on, every loop on a hand passes through or around the other loops of that hand, on the way from the fell to your fingers. This is not the case in a V-fell braid—in a V-fell braid, the loops come straight from the fell to the fingers, without passing through any of the other loops held by the same hand.
So, undo these loop crossings! Do this on one hand’s loops at a time. You will undo the loops into an order that is more V-fell-like. You simply pull them through each other, in sequence, replacing them onto other fingers of that same hand. Do not move any of them to the other hand. (see note*)
When you are done, on each hand the loops should be in the opposite order on the fingers than they were before. (This will not be a problem for the braid’s color pattern.) Check along each loop from the finger all the way up to the fell of the braid to make sure that no loop passes through any other loop of the same hand. That is how the fell of a V-fell loop braid should look.
Now, when you continue braiding with V-fell moves, the braid won’t undo. And amazingly, there will be (almost) no visible irregularity at the junction between the two halves of the braid, even though the angles of the threads will reverse themselves at that point. There will be a symmetrical float of two threads at the join—see photo below. (I suspect those centerpoint floats would have been less glaring if I had made the turnaround point in a white/orange area instead of at the one all-black loop.) But there won’t be a bump or round god’s-eye-like section at the join.
Here I have just started the second half of Joe’s braid—you can see the finished first half hanging down on the left and heading towards my lap. The bits of colored string hanging from the loops are color codes I attached to the ends of the loops. I tied a piece of embroidery floss onto the end of each loop—in color-wheel order (red, burgundy, purple, blue etc)—to help me keep track of their correct order on my fingers. I rarely do this, but would again with a long complex braid, especially if most of the loops were the same color (makes it harder to notice that they are out of order when you make a mistake).
*Double braids have eight ridges, compared to the four ridges of a square braid (‘ridges’ are the lengthwise-to-the-braid columns of stacked diagonal strands). Even though it has 18 loops, Joe’s braid is structurally not much different from a 10-loop flat double braid. In the 10-loop version these ridges are twill passages of “over 2 strands” (for the most part). The 18-loop version has the same eight ridges, just wider—each thread passing over a span of 4 threads.
Part II – Loop starts, with or without ends
I almost always start braids with a loop (buttonhole-type opening), as in the tall braid photo in my right sidebar → ↑.
A very simple and effective way to set up a loop bundle is to make an overhand knot at the top. In that case there is a short tassel of ends on one side of the knot, and the working loops of whatever length on the other. This is the start that I teach in my 5-loop “Start here!” tutorial. To form a buttonhole/ loop at the top of the braid, I usually start braiding with “divided” braiding moves (no turning the loops) for the first half-inch or so. This creates a loop-type opening at the top of the braid, and leaves a short tassel of ends above the knot.
Tassel of mini-braids at both ends:
This is a nice-looking “with ends” variation: Tie the overhand knot at the top much lower down, leaving a very long tassel or “tail” of ends above the knot (several inches long). Braid. Finish the last several inches as an ending tassel of ‘mini-braids’—the third video in my Bracelet with Chevrons post demos this. Then finish the top of the braid to match: Untie the overhand knot at the top of the braid, tie the loose ends into loops (if they are not already joined as loops), and then braid them to match the mini-braids you’ve already braided at the far end of your braid. The photo at left shows a 7-loop braid. At each end of the braid I finished off by braiding divided braids (a divided 4-loop braid and a divided 3-loop braid) — this makes four mini-braids at each end. At the bottom of each pair of divided braids, I cut the loops to separate them into 2 separate mini-braids. Then I used one strand from each mini-braid to tie off the bottom, before trimming all the ends to the same length.
No ends at the top:
I often make this same type of divided-braid loop start, but without leaving any ends at the start of the braid. (You can’t avoid ends at the bottom other than by hiding them inside an end-cap or other type of covering.)
There are more ways than one to do this, and I don’t always do it the same way. Below I’ve described some of them. (the one I use the most is divided braid loop start #3)
Making a loop at the top with “divided braiding” (as taught in my Start Here 5-loop videos, and others) is the fastest, because both sides of the loop are braided at the same time.
Below I show 3 ways to do “divided braiding” as a no-ends start to a braid. #1 is the easiest to learn, #3 is the one I use the most. After those, I show some non-divided-braid ways to form a starting loop without any ends. Most are based on the various center-start methods I described above in the section on longer loop braids. These starts take a little longer to braid than doing divided braiding, but they are very attractive, and may be easier to learn(?). (click link to go to non-divided starts)
Divided-braid no-ends loop-start #1:
This start can only be used for single-color loops. If using any bicolor loops, try the next variation: Divided-braid loop-start #2, or use the completely different Divided-braid loop-start #3.
This divided-braiding no-ends start is the easiest to learn. Here’s a video for it (from my 3-loop braid tutorial). It works for any number of loops, doesn’t have to be three. Or download my free pdf photo-tutorial for this start. In the video, I use a header cord to hold the loops, while in the photo-tute I use the handle of my C-clamp. (Or you can use a shower-curtain ring, as shown in a photo further down). Either way, it’s basically the same start.
[Notice in the video that I tie the header-cord into a big “O”-shaped loop to hold the braiding loops—I do not tie the header-cord ONTO the loops (with a larks-head or any type of knot). For no-ends starts, the loops should be able to slide freely on the header cord, they should not be constricted by the cord, or the braid will have loose, gappy threads at the top after you take off the header-cord.]
In the video above I am demoing with a 3-loop braid. You can do the same thing with any number of loops, though.
For braids of more than 3 loops I make all the left hand loops first, lay them down together, and then tie each right loop through the big circle of all the left loops. I end up with two bunches of loops, linked together like two links in a chain.
(This loop set-up is exactly the same as the set-up for the Handshake loop start that I describe further on. However, the braiding for the Handshake loop start is done completely differently.)
Keeping the ends of the left and right bunch of loops separate, suspend a thick header loop of string or cord through all the loops where the two groups are linked around each other (as shown in the video above and the photo below—note: a thicker, firmer cord would be easier to use than the limp one in the photo — or alternatively, a nice rigid shower-curtain ring).
In the photo above, I will tie the ends of the red header string together, making an open O-shaped red header-loop that the braiding loops are suspended from. (Again, do not tie the header string onto the loops, or use a larks-head knot around the loops as I taught in my 5-loop tutorial.) Then I hang the header-loop onto my c-clamp.
As an alternative to a thick cord, you could suspend all the loops over the horizontal handle of the C-clamp, mounted upside-down on a table, as shown in my pdf photo-tutorial, OR onto a shower-curtain ring, shown in photos further on.
After the loops are all attached to a firm point, you are ready to put them on your fingers. Work left-to-right with the loops: Pick up the left-most loop and load it onto your leftmost braiding finger (left thumb or index), then continue left-to-right with the other loops. Note: The rightmost loop of the bunch should end up on your right thumb or index, NOT on the right little finger! (See the video or pdf.)
Set each loop straight onto its finger, that is, making sure that the loop has no twists between your finger and the header (be it cord, curtain ring, or bar). For each loop, the upper shank on your finger should go to the top of the header, and the lower shank to the lower side of the header, with no twist along the loop.
Each loop should be mounted in an open circular path around your finger and the bar or header cord, not be twisted into a figure-8.
Begin braiding a divided braid with all the loops—all transfers straight (unreversed/ open/ unturned). Tighten hard for the first few times, to avoid looseness at the top of the braid.
When the divided section has reached the length you want for your starting loop, begin making the appropriate turned (crossed/ reversed) transfers for whatever braid you will be making. This will join up the divided loop portion. Now a single braid will start to form, with a loop or eyelet where you began braiding, and no tassel of ends at the top.
Unlike the “handshake start” that I describe further down, here you braid both halves of the loop/eyelet simultaneously. The “handshake start” has an identical initial set-up, but is braided very differently, and looks quite different as well.
Divided Braid loop start #2, using Double-length loops:
This variation of the above method is good for bicolor loops, at least for an even number of them. When you set up your loops, cut out doubly-long bicolor loops, and only make half as many loops as your braid requires. Link the left hand’s loops (as a bunch) around the right hand’s loops. Each of the two bunches of loops will be in a U-shape, linked onto the other U-shaped bunch of loops.
Every loop does not have to be double-length. You can add single loops to the set-up. If a single loop is of one color (not bicolor) it will leave no ends at the top — just place the knot at the bottom, where you will insert your finger. Thread each single loop onto one of the U-shaped bunches of loops.
Then generally follow the same instructions as for the Divided loop start #1 above. However, with these doubled loops, you need to be very careful in mounting them onto the prong or header cord or shower-curtain ring:
The cord or bar must be inserted UNDER all the upper shanks, and OVER/ABOVE all the lower shanks of each loop. This is less obvious than it sounds! Compared to Loop Start #1 above, you will have to do some work to “open up” each loop and put it onto the bar or cord, with the upper shank over and the lower shank under the bar.
On each finger check that each loop is loaded so that its upper shank goes directly over the top of the bar or cord, and its lower shank goes to the underside of the bar or cord, with no twists or any other strands interfering.
Check (between you and the bar) that no lower shank passes over any upper shank. It’s easiest to do all this on the nice solid bar of a C-clamp, and then carefully slide a header cord or insert a shower-curtain ring through the loops (before taking them off the C-clamp bar).
Divided braid loop start #3:
This is the way I usually make a divided-braid loop start. This method is quicker to set up than my other methods, but it is much harder to describe. I chose to go into a lot of detail below, rather than give you a nice, short “easy-looking” set of instructions that would not work!
This loop-start has a flatter join than the previous divided start methods. It is an ideal ‘no-ends’ method for an even number of bicolor loops of the same two colors. (See workarounds below for single bicolor loops.) Loops start out double-length, as in Divided Loop Start #2 above. But here, each double-length loop is twisted at its mid-point to form its own link, resulting in two linked loops.
The first few cycles of braiding will feel very awkward because the loops slip a lot and change length on your fingers. But after a few braiding cycles, the loops lock into place and don’t slip anymore.
This start can be done with simple 3-loop braids up to very complex ones like this letterbraid.
The first step is to make up your loops: doubly long loops as described above, but twisted and mounted as described below.
[Update – this method will actually work even if only one loop is double-length, the others can all be separate, single-length loops. They will eventually ‘lock’ into the one double-length loop after you start braiding, though it will take a few braiding moves. At least one double-length, linked loop is necessary, or all the single loops would continually pull through each other as you braid, and the top of the braid wouldn’t hold together after being taken off its header.]
To form two loops from each single loop, make a link in the middle of the double-length loop. Hold both ends of the loop, twist it once so it forms a figure-8, and then twist it once more so it has now received a full twist—a 360° rotation. After the second twist, the loop will still look like a figure-8, but at the center the two long strands are now linked to each other, rather than simply crossing each other. Each strand bends around the other strand.
Each half of the linked figure-8 will serve as one loop. Fold the figure-8 loop in half at the link. NOTE: fold so the two red sections are together and the two blue-green sections are together (in the diagram above)! This creates two loops out of one, linked together at the top of the (eventual) braid.
Now, carefully load the double loop onto the handle of your C-clamp, or onto an open shower-curtain ring (see new photos below). The bar or ring must go through both loops that have been created from the one double-length loop! The upper shanks of both loops (both red shanks in the diagram above) must lie over the top of the bar, and the lower shanks of both loops (shown in blue-green in the diagram) should come out under the bar.
It’s easiest to learn this twist-link with a bicolor loop, like the one in Jean’s diagram above. That way you can check to make sure that both upper shanks coming over the top of the bar are the same color, while the two shanks coming from the lower side of the bar are both the other color. However, it’s the exact same process with single-colored loops.
If you need a mix of bicolor and single-color loops, it’s much quicker to measure out and cut all your strands the same length, and make all your double-length loops from two lengths of yarn, EVEN the single-color loops. Measure and cut any singleton loop this same length as well, then bend it in half and tie it at one end. It will end up exactly half as long as the double loops.
If your braid has an odd number of loops, you will have at least one single-length loop to hang onto the ring. In these photos there is one single all-white loop — the third loop from the left:
Most of the rest of the loops are bicolor, but the first double-loop on the left is all-dark green, forming two green loops on the fingers. Look at the last double-loop on the right: one purple and one light-aqua length linked together. These do not form a purple loop and an aqua loop, but two bicolor loops of purple + aqua. In each, the upper shank is purple and the lower shank is aqua. My single all-white loop leaves no ends at the top. If this single loop were bicolor, though, it would leave two ends protruding from the top of the braid—make them long and you can hide them later by “sewing” them deeply into the braid.
[Or, if your yarn can be split in half lengthwise, see my note (further down) on how to make a no-ends-at-the-top “departed” bicolor loop. Embroidery floss has 6 strands that can easily be separated into two 3-strand lengths. In the photo above, there is actually a single pink/white bicolor loop that was made this way, with no ends at the top of the loop.]
After you start braiding, any single loops will eventually get firmly hooked in to the other interlaced doubly-long loops. Always start by making a divided braid — two separate layers that form around the ring or bar of the C-clamp.
By the way, I never let go of the ends of a loop while setting it up on the shower-curtain ring or C-clamp. Immediately after suspending a loop onto the shower-curtain ring, I place the two ends securely onto separate fingers, or, if there are a lot of loops, onto a comb for safekeeping. (See my You can put your loops down post.) If you let the loops hang free, I think it would be very hard to place them onto your fingers correctly later.
When I’m ready to braid, I then load the loops from the comb onto my fingers, taking care that each upper shank passes over the top of its finger, and goes cleanly to the upper side of the ring without twisting, and without any lower shanks crossing above any upper shanks.
Always start braiding with DIVIDED braiding moves–don’t turn any of your first loop transfers. As your braid grows, it will form its own braided loop around the bar (or curtain ring, or header cord loop) that it is suspended from.
Braid extra-slowly and carefully for the first several loop transfers. During the first braiding moves the doubled loops tend to slip and get unevenly longer and shorter on your fingers. But after a few transfers, the loops lock into place at the top, and you can braid normally. (Approx. five transfers for a 5-loop braid, 7 for a 7-loop braid, etc.) At this point, fussy-tighten to make sure the top/ start of the braid has no gappy threads, while pulling evenly on all the loops to re-adjust them so they are all about the same length before you continue braiding.
When the upper and lower divided braids are long enough, AND the loops are in the correct color-order for your particular braid pattern’s starting setup, you will join the divided braids by beginning your main braid: you will stop braiding with ‘divided’ moves, and begin braiding the flat, square, or whatever braid you happen to be making.
It’s easiest to braid a no-ends divided start with a loop at the top of the braid. But it is also possible to start without a loop at the top, if you prefer what I call a stub start:
Make the same double-length linked loops, but instead of a thick cord, prong or curtain ring, suspend the loops from a very fine but strong header-thread [tied in a large enough loop that the braiding loops are not cinched tight, and can slide freely], and switch to braiding a ‘solid’ braid after a just a few cycles of divided braiding. I think you do need to start with a very short ‘divided’ section, or you may undo one of the links in your doubled loops (?). If you only braid a few cycles of “no turns”, you will not have a visible loop at the top of the braid. A stub start is trickier than starting with a loop, because if you aren’t careful, there can be a few loose, baggy threads at the sides of the top after you remove the header cord.
Here’s a diagram drawn by Jean Leader after she learned how I do this. She lays each loop down on a table, gives it a full twist as shown, and then loads it onto a bar (or header-cord, curtain ring, etc). In her diagram the red strand will form the upper shank of both loops, and the blue-green strand will form the lower shanks. As shown in the lower, expanded detail of Jean’s diagram, the header bar or cord is inserted through both newly-created loops, such that the two red upper shanks will end up on the same side of the bar (upper shanks are shown on the left of the bar in Jean’s diagram), and the two blue-green lower shanks will be side-by-side on the lower side of the bar (to the right of the bar in the diagram):
The arrows in the first diagram indicate the direction to spread the newly-created loops a bit more open, so you can see the link. The second diagram is a close-up of just the central twist, showing how the bar is inserted—lengthwise to the overall doubled loop, going through both new loops. (the two diagrams have the same orientation, neither is rotated relative to the other.) The red strand forms the upper shanks of both new loops, and the blue-green strand forms the lower shanks of both loops.
*I mount the clamp upside-down, so the horizontal bar that you turn to tighten the clamp is at the top. That bar is great for braiding from—especially once there is a loop at the top of your braid. You can slide the loop at the top of the braid over the bar, and remove it just as easily.
I used to just use the bar/ handle of my C-clamp to braid from. But now I usually suspend the loops from a simple metal shower curtain ring for the first few cycles of braiding — this makes it easier to spread the loops all the way apart when doing the first tightening moves. After braiding the first centimeter or so, I usually remove the braid and place it over the straight bar at the top of my C-clamp (G-clamp), though, because it’s quieter and feels more solid than the wiggly curtain ring.
Three loop starts without ‘divided’ braiding
1. the Handshake Loop-Start:
I used the Handshake loop start for most of my Sudarium braids, because it emphasizes the two different “halves” of those braids:
It’s the same start as the “Handshake” start-from-the-center method that I described in the first half of this post (on Longer Loop Braids). Except that here, you only braid a short distance from the center on both sides. Then you bend that center-start in half and join all the loops together into one braid, which forms a loop at the top of the braid.
The following photos demo the Handshake loop start. (photos are from a series of pdf photo-tutorials on spiral braids that I made for the Braids_and_Bands Yahoo list.) :
I start by tying half my loops—tying them all separately. So for a 6 or 7-loop braid, I would start by making 3 separate loops, each tied with an overhand knot at the the bottom of the loop (where fingers will be inserted).
Then I take the strands for the other 3 (or 4) loops, thread them through the first bunch of tied loops, and tie each of them at the bottom.
Now there is one group of 3 loops linked onto another group of 3 (or 4) loops. Optionally, I can thread a fine, strong header cord through both sets of loops.
Or I can just use one of the 2 sets of loops as the header “cord” for the other set.
I start braiding on only one of these 2 bunches of loops (holding the knotted ends of the loops).
I braid only a short distance.
Then I put those loops down on a holder, or for only 3 loops I might
just drop them and not bother with a holder.
Then I start in the other direction with the second bunch of loops, and braid a short distance.
At this point, I pick up all the loops, and start my main braid. That joins up the 2 ends of the short, braided section, which forms a loop/ buttonhole at the top of my now unified, thicker braid. (note: It’s always necessary to do some creative tightening when joining up the two halves, since they will have loosened up some on each side – try using a finger to beat upward between the loops of each side to tighten them before doing the first combined braiding moves.)
I call this a “handshake loop-start.”
At this point or sooner I pull the header cord out of the join and hang the loop itself over the bar of my C-clamp—the loop in the braid acts as the header cord.
The spiral braid in the photo above is a 6-loop braid, so the two halves of the handshake loop are equal in thickness. That wouldn’t be the case for an odd-number-of-loops braid. Half the loop would be a little thicker than the other half.
Tip: Adding an extra loop to the braid below the loop:
To avoid a thick-thin loop, you could choose to add the single ‘odd’ loop into any center-start braid after braiding the two halves of the loop, right at the point when you are joining them together into one braid. Cut that one loop a bit shorter than the others, since it will join the braid below the loop.
When you are joining the two halves of the center-start together to form the loop, place the extra loop between the two halves of the braid (knotted end at the bottom of the loop), so it will get caught up into the braid when the combined braiding moves start.
To hold it in place, put a temporary header thread through that new loop and hang it over the same attachment the main braid is attached to. Then pull the temporary header thread out of the braid as soon as a few loops have been braided through the new loop. Make sure that you place the new loop somewhere where the first braiding move will pull a loop through it, and not where it will be the first loop pulled.
2. Handshake variation for Bicolor loops:
A handshake start using bicolor loops has to be done differently. When making the bicolor loops, make HALF as many loops as you need, but make each loop twice as long as your desired loop-length. (In the braid, each loop will be bent in half to form two bicolor loops.) Then double the left loops over—bend them in half—and suspend them through/ around the bent-in-half right loops, so that each set is linked around the other. Each doubly-long loop will end up forming two bicolor loops, held by different fingers of the same hand. (You can do this with single-color loops, too.)
This works with an even number of loops. If you have an odd number of bicolor loops, the single “odd” bicolor loop can’t be suspended in this way. Cut it regular length, not doubly-long, and since it will have two knots, one at the top of the loop and one at the bottom, you’ll have to live with two ends sticking out of the handshake join at the top of the braid.
(Cut those two ends extra long, and you can hide them later by using a needle to bury them into the braid).
However, if your one “odd” loop is a single-color loop, it will just need one knot, so you won’t need to leave any ends at the top of the braid. Thread your single strand around the opposite set of bent-in-half loops, and tie it into a loop, (regular length) with its single knot at the bottom, where you will insert your finger.
[Note: if you are using a divisible yarn like embroidery floss, you actually can make a single bicolor loop with no loose ends at the top: Divide the yarn in half – so 3 strands of floss instead of the full 6 strands – and make a “departed” loop — see pic labelled “method 1” on fingerloop.org. This ends up doubling the thickness of the strands back to normal size, and leaves no loose ends at the top of the resulting bicolor loop.]
The Handshake looped start is really just a variation of the more basic Center-start looped start below. In some ways the Handshake version is easier because it automatically and accurately locates the center-point that you start out braiding from.
3. the “Basic Center-start Looped Start”:
This makes a very nice-looking loop-start.
I’ve heard that this method is commonly used to start a kumihimo braid with a loop. I rarely use it myself, though. It’s easy to do in principal, but in practice your centrally braided loop area usually doesn’t end up being in the exact center. In which case, after you join up the two halves into one braid, the right and left loops will be two different lengths, and you’ll have to shorten the longer ones to match the others. (This isn’t difficult, just time-consuming.)
Start with half as many loops as your braid needs, but make them twice as long as you would normally make them. So, 3 doubly long loops for a 6 or 7-loop braid.
Find the center of this long bundle and braid only the center one or two inches of the bundle–this will be a narrow 3-loop braid at the mid-point of your loops. Then bend that short braided section in half, tie a header cord around its mid-point and fasten that to a fixed point, join all 6 loop ends together (you can thread a 7th single loop into the join area at this point if you will be braiding a 7-loop braid) and braid with all the loops. Your 3-loop braided section will form a loop at the top of the braid. At this point, you may have to retie the ends of your loops on one side of the braid to make them the same length as the loops on the other half.
[Update: my new exact center-start method in the first half of this post is a great way to locate the exact center of a loop bundle. You will need to make one of your double-length loops a bit differently than the others. As with the Handshake start method, you would braid a short distance both ways from that center-point before joining the braid to form a loop.]
Why is this post so darned wordy??? And why don’t I have a video or two where I just show it all??
The short answer is that I would need a camera-person, editor, a nice studio, and no day job, in order to make decent videos of all this, and they would add up to a lot of videos. In my regular braiding videos, I braid very uncomfortably, with a camera on a tripod on the table between me and the work, my arms wrapped around the tripod, and my eyes looking through the lens. That works (barely!) for rote braiding moves, but I can’t demo fussy setting-up procedures that way.
Plus, some of these techniques — my most common no-ends loop start is a prime example — cannot be learned from watching a demo. Period. When you are setting up this start, you actually have to understand what you are doing (unlike braiding!) or it probably won’t work. Seeing a demo does not equal understanding it. When I teach these techniques in a workshop, almost any one of them can take up a whole class, with lots of demoing, false starts, one-on-one troubleshooting, and practicing before anyone learns it. (This is not my favorite topic for teaching — it’s a lot more fun to teach braiding than setting-up procedures!)
But I get a lot of questions on this stuff, so I’ve written out all my tips-and-tricks on extra-long braids, and on various ways to start braids, here in one big post, adding to and amending it over the years as my methods change. I totally understand if it’s TMI (too-much-info). Luckily, you can still make great loop braids without doing any of this! If you are interested, plow through and glean whatever is helpful. Please ask me about anything that isn’t clear. Or use these ideas as a starting point for figuring out your own methods.
How do you like to make longer braids or other types of starts and ends? I would love to hear from you!
*Take-up refers to the length lost while braiding. Loops don’t travel in a straight path down the braid, they travel diagonally back and forth across the width of the braid, so the finished braid will be noticeably shorter than the loops you started with. Take-up varies, you lose more length with wider braids (more loops, and/or thicker thread). Probably tightness or looseness of tension would also affect take-up. Don’t forget to add in a few extra inches for the knot and tassel at the top, and even more for the end, as you won’t be able to braid all the way to the ends of the loops.
You really need to do a test swatch with your chosen material and braiding method to find out how much extra length to allow for a braid. I give the examples below just to show what the range might be:
My 7-loop “Whole Nine-Yards” square braid made with embroidery floss started out as a 9-yard-long loop-bundle, and finished as a 7 yard, 1 foot braid.
A 5.5 foot long, 18-loop flat double braid made with sport-weight cotton yarn (about twice the thickness of embroidery floss) started out as a loop bundle that was 10 feet long plus a few inches extra, though I did cut off some extra inches of unused loop-length after finishing the braid (maybe 5 or 6 inches?).
*For A-fell square and flat braids:
The same loop-rearranging trick works for an A-fell center-start braid: At the start of the second half of the braid, loops will be coming out of the center-start in V-fell configuration. So on each hand’s loops, one-by-one pull the inner loops through the outer loops, til they are all in proper A-fell order.
In an A-fell braid, the loops on any one hand all cross each other as they head down from the braid to your fingers. Each loop passes through and/or around other loops of that same hand. In contrast, the loops of a V-fell braid do not pass through or around any loops (of the same hand) on their way from the braid to the fingers.
It’s a good idea to pause your braiding sometimes, and take a look at the loops coming out of the fell – the bottom of the braid – to get used to how they should look. This can be a big help later when trying to replace a dropped loop correctly, as well as for doing this (optional) center-start rearranging… Notice the path the loops follow from the fell of the braid down to your fingers. In an A-fell braid, the loop that heads out from the middle of the braid will end up on an index finger – an outer finger – after passing through all the loops of one hand. The loop that starts from an outer edge of the braid will end up on your ring or little finger as one of the two innermost loops, passing around all the the other loops of one hand. The other loops will also pass through and/ or under loops in their path from the braid to your fingers, all in a very clear sequence.
For DOUBLE braids and others:
The rearranging tips above are for square (or flat) braids. Other braids don’t necessarily have an A or V-fell.
Double braids for example: Their loops can also be rearranged back into the correct starting arrangement after the turnaround point of a center-start braid, but it will look different than the simple A or V -fell loop arrangements for square braids. After you get familiar with how loops should look at the fell, you’ll be able to figure out how to undo or redo the loops back to that same arrangement after the center-start turnaround point.
* Wayuu braiding traditions include loop braiding, ply-split, and sprang. They also weave, and now crochet (probably a modern addition to their textile crafts)
Update: Rodrick Owen has just informed me that the technique shown at 30secs into the video is weft twining, which has been documented in the Americas (Andean/ Paracas cultures) from thousands of years BCE…(Not sure if it is known from anywhere in the Americas NOW other than the Wayuu people of Columbia?)
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