So far, most of my loop braiding tutorials teach braids, or methods, that aren’t taught anywhere else. These include very basic beginning level tutorials, and range up to some that might seem ridiculously difficult before you’ve “worked up” to them. (Check out my tutorials page.) But there are lots of other great loop braids that you can find instructions for online.
Except for the basic square braid, I first learned classic 15th and 17th C. loop braids from a site officially called Fingerloop Braiding. Most people seem to call it “fingerloop.org,” after its URL. I have a permanent link to it in my sidebar, under “Loop Braiding Links.” On their homepage go to their link “the braid patterns.” Fingerloop.org is a real treasure, a very generous offering by Lois Swales and Zoe Kuhn-Williams, the site-authors.
Now there’s another fantastic loop braiding site, with text instructions and beautiful photos of the finished braids: Fingerloop Braids – a section of Cindy Myers’ Silkewerk site. It teaches all the braids in the three known 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts. It includes a comprehensive chart of color photos of beautiful reconstructions of 15th C. braids, organized by type of braid, each with a link to clear and succinct text instructions, as well as interesting observations about the original instructions in the manuscripts. Silkewerk’s loop braiding pages weren’t online when I was first learning loop braiding. I didn’t discover them until near the end of 2012, after I had already published this blog-post. It has been expanded even more since then, and is a rich and gorgeous resource.
Above is a 15th C. braid called Grene dorge – a.k.a. gren, green, greyne / dorg, d’orge (English spelling had no rules back in the 15th C.!). Grene dorge was a French loan-word for Barleycorn. The braiding moves incorporate the moves of a square braid and the moves for a Spiral braid. (A very similar braid is also braided by the Wayuu people of Columbia! see the last footnote in my Medieval Braid from a German Cathedral post.)
The Barleycorn braid in my photo is made out of navy-colored wool (the square braid part), and orange and white silk yarn (the “spiral” move part).
A Double-Barleycorn braid can also be made, either by two people co-operating on one braid (Silkewerk’s instructions), or by one braider managing a lot of extra loops (the ‘Grene Dorge of 12 bows’- seventh braid from the left in my header picture).
My first year or so of braiding I spent making 9-loop square and flat braids, and learning various other types of braids from fingerloop.org. The first photo in this post shows a page from my binder of braid samples from back then.
On fingerloop.org’s Braid Patterns page, the braids are organized by difficulty, easiest first. This is really the best order to learn them. Each braid instruction is first shown in the original archaic wording, and then in a word-for-word translation – which still comes out a bit different from modern English. Thirdly – and best for learning the braid – comes a modern version of the directions by the authors along with a chart of the moves. Usually there is a photo of a sample braid as well.
Check out their new (since I first learned) introductory video, and don’t be scared off by the directions for the braids. Abbreviations always look opaque and unreadable at first glance, but if you just push yourself into starting (the hardest part!), these abbreviations and directions are actually very easy to follow. Especially after you’ve made the first braid. All you need to know:
A, B, C, D mean index, middle, ring and little fingers (or the loop on that finger). And L means left hand and R means right hand.
On fingerloop.org they are combined like this:
AL means the index finger of the left hand (or its loop)
DR means the little finger of the right hand (or its loop)
Right or left always comes second and is underlined.
Oh – and two other terms: Reversed means “with a turn” or “turn the loop”
and “Unreversed” means the loop does not get a turn.
The little video on fingerloop.org’s “basic braiding instructions” link shows loops being taken ‘reversed’ (the loop gets a half-turn as it passes over to the other hand).
But why does the way they say to braid look so different???
As to why “their” way of braiding the most basic braids looks different than “my” way: Fingerloop.org (and just about everyone else in print or online) teaches the basic braids the way they were done in Europe, which is in a backward direction from how I teach them. Or else it’s me, along with all the loop braiders in Asia and the Pacific, that are backward! It might be hard to believe, but both methods make the same basic braids.
The way Fingerloop.org teaches it, the index finger is the “getter,” and it reaches through the loops of its own hand to fetch the opposite hand’s lowest loop (usually that’s the ring or little-finger loop). Both ways are just as easy to do – and after you’ve learned one way, the other way is a snap, since the basic skills are the same for either one. Knowing both ways will enable you to undo the braids you’ve learned here, and vice versa – good for quickly correcting a mistake. (If you want to know more about these two opposite ways of braiding the same braids, see my info page about the A-fell, V-fell, and Slentre methods.)
There are also some great braids that are made by completely different methods than either of these two opposite/ complementary ones, like the Spiral braids. The 15th C term for the Spiral braid is “lace bend round.” There are other historic braids made with this type of braiding, as well, where loops are exchanged between pairs of fingers, back and forth across the two hands (taught on fingerloop.org and Silkewerk).
Another braid with its own odd and enjoyable method is the Hollow Lace [braid] of 7 bows [loops], along with several variations. Plus several other great braids – for example all the twined braids like the 2 ‘Lace Endented’ braids at the lower right corner of my first photo…
Just keep calm and remember your A, B, C, D + L and R and you’ll do fine!
It really is pretty amazing how many beautiful little braids people had figured out in the 15th and 17th Centuries. The braids I mention above are just some of the ones that could be made by a solo braider. I’m not even getting into any of the amazing multiple-braider braids – the 17th C manuscripts had over 20 of these. (Update: For more about loop braiding history, see my post Which Braids on This Site are Historically Accurate?).
Books on loop braiding:
Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, by Noemi Speiser is the ultimate reference on loop braiding in general and on most of the braid instructions in the 15th and 17th C manuscripts. It is dense and packed with info – including succinct instructions accompanied by line-drawn illustrations, though no color photos. I love this book—I keep learning more from it all the time. [update–OEPBforLB is currently out of print. It was originally self-published, I hope it will eventually be republished by a publishing house as just happened with Speiser’s other big reference The Manual of Braiding.]
Tak V Bowes, Departed by Elizabeth Benns and Gina Barrett.
This book covers all the braids in one of the 15th C manuscripts – which is a lot of braids. I don’t have it yet, but I want it. I’ve read great things about the book, including that it is a little more approachable and easier to learn from than Old English Pattern Books. Its full-color illustrations give a lot of incentive for learning the braids. It also has lots of information about the original manuscript itself, in the context of books and bookbinding in the 15th C..
[Update Aug 2020 – Tak V was out of print for quite a while, but apparently a paperback reprint was issued in 2019 in a somewhat different format. At the moment it isn’t in stock on Amazon. Here is a U.K. site for it.]
By the way, “Tak V bowes, departed” translates as “Take 5 loops, bicolor.” These are words that begin more than one 15th C. braid instruction!
Fingerloop.org’s info is available in print as a very handy and extremely inexpensive booklet (see their homepage). It’s not as complete as the website – the lowest section of braids under “Braid Patterns” was added to the website later, and include some very pretty single-worker braids. (Unless maybe the booklet has been updated since I got mine?) Check the errata for the booklet on fingerloop.org’s home page and make the corrections into the booklet.
April 26, 2012. Last updated Sep/15/2020
© 2012–2020 Ingrid Crickmore
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