[Note: Gary’s pattern planners have a new URL. His new FingerTips site now has planners for several loop braids, including some planners that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet, like the ones for double braids from my article in “Threads that Move” (see sidebar).]
A reader of this blog has come up with the first interactive braid-pattern generator for a fingerloop braid that I’ve ever heard of! A few months ago Gary Mitchell contacted me to tell me that he was working on a pattern planner for the 7-loop Spanish braid. This was a huge surprise! At the time, I didn’t think many braiders had even tried the tutorial I had posted for this braid.
I learned this 17th C. loop braid from a monograph by Joy Boutrup,*1 and shortly after I started this blog I posted a tutorial on it. It is a really fun braid, flatter and more intricate than the 7-loop square braid, but requiring no more loops (or fingers) to braid it. This intricate 7-loop braid was only mentioned in the 17th C. manuscripts as part of a larger, 2-person braid, but it is a great braid in its own right, that I thought more loop braiders might want to know about.
Other than Joy Boutrup’s monograph and my tutorial, so far there is no other info in print or online about this braid. However, I never got much response to the tutorial, even after I eventually added a video to the instructions. Before Gary contacted me, Dominic was the only reader I knew of who had tried the braid—here are two photos of his spanish braid bracelet, in what I call the “Edge” color-pattern (along with a beautiful star knot fastener):
So I was completely blown away to find out that someone else had not only tried it, but had figured out a mathematical model for planning color patterns for it!
When Gary first contacted me, he sent me some charts of patterns that he had come up with using his planner. I had a lot of fun—and a few surprises—trying these out. I guess I had somehow assumed that I had already tried out most of the 2-color pattern possibilities for this braid!
The very first of Gary’s patterns that I braided was a stunner, and was quite different from any of the sampler patterns I had made previously. What I really like about it is that the upper and lower surface of the braid have totally different patterns, both very striking. Below is a shot of how it looks charted out on Gary’s planner (the finished braid looks even better than the chart):
The image above is just a screen shot, not the planner itself, but Gary’s planner is now on-line and interactive! The patterns can even be printed out. Gary says the planner is still a work-in-progress, but it’s totally functional—all that’s missing are labels for its various parts, so I’ll explain them below.
Gary’s interactive pattern-planners for the 7-loop Spanish braid (Click on the first planner in his list, then, on the first page click on “submit” to go straight to one of the 596 possible 2-color patterns)
So far it is set up for two-color patterns only—which, to me, are the most important. In a narrow piece like a 7-loop braid, the dark-light contrast is often the most visible pattern, regardless of how many colors you use.
The default tile colors are black and white, but you can change either of these to blue, red, or green. (Gary has provided some static, non-interactive charts of multicolor patterns as well, see below.)
The planner can be used in two different ways:
Every possible dark-light color pattern already has an I.D. number in this planner, so you can enter any number from 1 to 596 on the first page of the planner, and then click “submit” to go to the planner’s interactive chart of that particular color pattern. (There’s a default number already entered, so you don’t actually have to enter a number—just hit “submit” to go straight to a chart.)
Or, if you want to start with a blank slate to make your own pattern from scratch, you can enter “1” before clicking “submit,” which will give you a chart of an all-dark, one-color braid that you can then alter as you wish, just by clicking on any of the tiles.
When I first did this, I thought the planner wasn’t working, because the cursor doesn’t change when you hover over or click on a tile, so at first I thought nothing was happening. But sure enough, a millisecond later, the chart had altered to reflect that change in the tile.
Since any pattern you come up with has its own Braid ID number, you can simply make a note of the number of any pattern you come up with, and enter it into the planner later to see it again. Or you can print out the chart for any of the patterns (a good idea if you really love the pattern!). I enabled “print background” as suggested, so the white tiles would be set off from the background. Do this in your browser’s toolbar before you click “print”. On my browser, the Print Background command is under “File”, then under “Page setup” (not under “Print” where I expected it to be!).
[don’t worry about the code letters on the tiles, they aren’t necessary for using the planner!]
Starting from the upper right, the chart shows tiled representations of the braid’s upper surface, then a (narrow) side surface, and then the lower surface of the braid, and—in the lower left corner of the chart—2 short columns of tiles (one column for each hand) that show how to arrange the loops on the fingers for that particular braid pattern.*2 To allow for bicolor loops, each loop is shown as two tiles: one for the upper shank and one for the lower shank. (If a pair of tiles are both the same color, then that loop is a single-color loop, not bicolor.)
Left column = left hand’s loops; Right column = right hand’s loops
In the lower left corner, each pair of tiles represents the upper and lower shanks of the loop on that finger. For a single-color loop, both tiles of the pair would be the same color. (You can ignore the letters on the tiles*3 – they help Gary with programming, but aren’t necessary for using the planner.)
At the start of every braiding cycle, the left hand holds only three loops. So, in the left column you will see a blank space for the ring finger, since it holds no loop.
Counting from the top of each column, the fingers are Index, Middle, (Ring), Little finger
Whichever chart you start with, you can then “play” with that pattern. Clicking on any of the tiles will switch it to the opposite color—and the whole braid will change to reflect that, including the starting set-up on the fingers at the lower left.
This planner is specifically for the braid taught in my first tutorial on the spanish braid. The planner will not work for other variations of this braid, like Doug’s round variation, or the flat variation of this spanish braid (I’m planning to make a video tutorial for the flat, wide variation of this braid in the near future).
[Update: Gary’s larger site Fingertips now has planners for many more braids, including Doug’s variant of the Spanish braid!]
New info: After I made this post Gary added some great features to his planner. At the lower right of the charting page, there are several new buttons you can click on: One to reverse the darks and lights (REV), one to switch the upper and lower surface’s patterns (SX), and—my favorite!—you can click + or – to go forward or backward through all seven cycles of each pattern repeat! (This will show you all seven possible starting setups of loops on the fingers for each pattern. This is worth checking! One of these possible alternative starting setups for the same braid pattern might be much more “user-friendly” than the first one the planner automatically generates.)
Note: Any two patterns that are just dark/ light reversals of each other (darks and lights flipped) have the same pattern id # in this planner (one will display with REV next to the number). To make the “opposite” graph for any pattern, just use the “REV” button:
Some multi-color patterns from Gary:
These are static charts, showing a few multicolor patterns that Gary has come up with, using 3-5 colors. The first two designs are multicolor variations of the Edge pattern (see Dominic’s bracelet pic above). In all 5 of the patterns, all the loops are bicolor. In charts u006 and u007 very few of these bicolor loops are identical—pay close attention in cutting and setting up your loops!
Why the top and bottom surfaces look different:
The two long diagonal stretches of tiles represent the upper and lower surfaces of the braid, and the narrow diagonal line of tiles between them represents one side surface of the braid.
A braid with any bicolor loops will have a different dark-light pattern on the top than on the bottom surface of the braid. If all the loops are bicolor, the two colors will be reversed on the other side. If some of the loops are bicolor and others are single-color, the patterns on the upper and lower surfaces can look very different–not like a simple color-reversal.
Those are the main factors that create the very different patterns of the upper and lower wide surfaces (as long as any bicolor loops are used). Apart from these major differences, another factor creates a slight, but interesting difference in the way patterns turn out on the upper versus lower surface of the braid: The widths of the braid columns (also called the ‘ridges’ of the braid) of the top surface of the braid are slightly different than the width of the columns on the lower surface of the braid. This is the reason that even braids with no bicolor loops usually have a slightly different look on the top and bottom surface of the braid.
[Most of the following probably falls under the category of “TMI”!–it is not necessary info for making the braid or for following the charts. I’m just throwing it in for those who may be interested…]
You might notice that in the chart, the top surface is configured with longer central tiles than the bottom surface. Gary chose to do this in order to reflect a visible difference in the appearance of the two sides of the finished braids. One surface of the braid is always wider, depending on which direction you turn the loops. Turning loops from below, as I did in the video, will cause the upper surface to be wider. Turning them from above (as I do in my square braid videos) will cause the lower surface to be wider. Both ways make the resulting braid curve a bit—end up a bit convex/ concave. This affects the look of the pattern on the two surfaces. (Gary’s planner assumes the “turns-from-below” method that I demoed in the 7-loop spanish video.)
Plus, in braids that have any bicolor loops, the color patterns of the two surfaces can already be very different, even before taking into account the distortion caused by the size difference between the two surfaces.
Because of this, it can be interesting to try any pattern with bicolor loops twice, to see what the upper and lower surface patterns look like when the narrow side and the wide side are switched…In other words, switched so that the pattern on the narrower side is expressed on the wider surface. It can make a much bigger difference in appearance than you might expect… There are two ways to do this: you can either make the turns in the reverse direction, OR you can reverse the ‘up’ and ‘down’ orientation of the bicolor loops on your fingers in the starting set-up. Either option will have the same result (though with a different surface facing upward as you braid): the pattern currently shown on the planner as being the “lower” (ie shorter-tile) surface will instead form on the “longer-tile” surface—whether that surface happens to face upward or downward as you are making the braid.*4
How to make the two surfaces more equal: To further confuse the issue!—if you make the outer transfers (1st and 3rd loop transfers) by turning from above, and the inner transfers (2nd and 4th) by turning from below, neither surface will be wider overall, and the resulting braid shape will be quite straight and rectangular, rather than slightly convex. Even so, the two wide surfaces will still display any particular color-pattern a bit differently though, you can’t get away from that! Even though on both surfaces the widths of the 4 columns now add up to the same overall braid width on each side, the individual columns on each side are not identical in width to their equivalent columns on the other side–so a color “pixel” in any particular column will still be bigger (wider) on one side of the braid than on the other. The two sides of the braid will look equally wide, but their color patterns will look a tad different, even if the braid has no bicolor loops.*5
I really like this flatter, more square-edged version of the braid. Gary and I both arrived at this “mixed” turns idea in discussing the upper – lower surface discrepancy in the spanish braid. It feels a bit odd to do at first, but quickly becomes routine, and gives a very nice result. Gary has even made another version of his pattern planner to reflect this. It’s basically the same as the original planner but with the size of the tiles slightly readjusted. (Personally, I’m not convinced that the difference is great enough to really warrant a whole new planner, especially since no tiled representation can look exactly like the real braid anyway! But do check it out and see what you think!)
The 14-loop letterbraid:
This 7-loop braid was actually described in the 17th C. manuscripts as one half of a 2-person, 14-loop braid that could be made with alphabet and other symbols to form braided inscriptions. It’s one of three known “letterbraids” notated in 17th C. English manuscripts that have now all been decoded by Joy Boutrup. (The other two letter-braids are both 10-loops braids.)
*1 This so-called “spanish” braid is a 17th Century braid that Joy Boutrup recently decoded from (up-to-now) almost unintelligible notations in 300-year-old English loop braiding manuscripts. I learned the braid from the monograph that she and Noémi Speiser published in 2009—part II of their 4-part series on recent European loop braiding historical research and discoveries.
*2 Re this “Lopsided Crowns” set-up:
Clicking the new + or – buttons (these are new features that Gary added since I first made this post) will show all seven possible set-ups for the braid. These are how the loops look after each successive braiding cycle (one left plus one right loop transfer = one braiding cycle). My post on color-pattern planning explains this.
I gave a different starting set-up than Gary’s planner does for the “lopsided crowns” pattern (in my tutorial for the spanish braid) but either set-up creates the same pattern. The set-up I gave for this pattern was to start with all the dark shanks in upper position on the fingers, and all the light shanks in lower position (or vice versa). If you click + or – on the planner to go through the seven loop-set ups for #595, one of the seven arrangements will be this all-dark-up starting set-up. It’s a bit more “user-friendly” than the one the planner happens to come up with, but both (or rather, all seven) set-ups will work.
Hint: When using the planner, after you come up with a pattern you like, consider toggling through all seven steps to see if you might find one of them to be an easier one to use as the starting set-up position for the braid.
Clicking the + or – button could also be very helpful if you are wondering if you’ve made a mistake—you can check the dark-light order your loops happen to be in against the seven possibilities for that pattern.
*3 In case you are interested: Gary labels the loops from the left index down as P, Q, (no code for the Left ring finger), R; and the right loops from the index down as S, T, U, V. The second letter is U or L, meaning the upper or lower shank of the loop. Every tile in the representation of the braid has these same letters. So if you want, you can match up any pixel on the braid with the location of that particular shank of a loop on the fingers.
*4 In Gary’s planner, any 2 loop set-ups that result in the same pattern, but with the patterns of the two main “faces” switched from one surface to the other, will share the same ID # (however, one number will be displayed with the code SX beside it, for “surfaces exchanged”).
Any 2 patterns that are simply light-dark opposites of each other also share the same ID #. One option will display with the code REV beside the number, for “reversed”.
*5 Even though overall the upper and lower surface will be equal in width, on each surface there will now be a slight difference in the relative size of the 2 inner columns of slanting threads versus the 2 outer columns. On one side the two inner columns will be narrow and the two outer columns wider; on the other side the two inner columns will be wider and the two outer columns narrower. The colors are expressed in these four columns, so any given color-pattern will be expressed slightly differently on one side of the braid than the other.
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