Ok, here goes with Part 2… This is about the kute-uchi loop braiding day in Joy Boutrup’s class at Braids 2012. (Her first day had covered historic European finger loop braids. The highlight had been several unusual braids and braiding methods that she learned through analyzing museum specimens—braids that are not recorded in any of the surviving loop braiding manuscripts.)
I just wish I had taken more photos, and asked Joy more questions!
Her class covered so much that it was like a feast. I still haven’t had time to review and think enough about all the new braids and braiding ideas that came up for me in this class (in my own defense, September has been busy—work, a music festival, a family wedding, jury duty, and a now a camping trip). I just want to get something posted about the rest of Joy’s workshop before October arrives…I’ll have to fill in, make corrections and add the correct Japanese braid-names later, that’s all.
Above is Joy on her second day, diagramming the moves of a Japanese kute-uchi braid. (Kute-uchi is a Japanese form of loop braiding in which loops are held around the whole hand rather than on individual fingers.) Joy had brought along her prized copy of Masako Kinoshita’s definitive book*¹ on historic Japanese loop braids.
Here’s a chart showing Joy’s track-plan for a Kikko braid:
Luckily, we didn’t have to totally understand the diagrams to attempt to make the braids! Joy got us all going on various hand-held Japanese loop braids…
I started with a solo-braider braid, and then worked with Dominic on a team braid. My main problem was that I had only managed to get 2 hours of sleep the previous night! I was able to braid, but not to think very clearly. I realized later that I must not have taken photos of all of Joy’s sample braids, and I forgot to take any pictures of their labels, so I’m still not sure of their Japanese names. I should be able to figure this out at some future point from the many files of kute-uchi charts that Joy so generously sent us, but there are so many of them that I still haven’t tackled this task!
We used cord kute (handles) to hold the loops. Before the conference, Joy had sent us directions*² for making these, and she also brought some extra sets that she had made.
One of the amazing braids a solo braider can make with kute-uchi braiding is a doubled-square braid—a thick rectangular braid, just as wide as a square braid, but twice as high as you are braiding it. Like two connected square braids stacked on top of each other. (no photo, sorry.)
Years ago, in my one previous kute-uchi class I was very surprised to find myself making a braid that came out as two separate square braids at once, one above the other! And similarly a bit later, a braid that came out as four little flat layers—4 separate braids simultaneously, stacked on top of each other.
With fingerloops, you can braid two-layer braids (even a simple square braid has two layers), but with hand-held loops you can actually braid four-layer braids! Depending on how you braid, the same (or very similar) number of loops and almost the same moves can come out as: two separate square braids stacked on top of each other; a rectangular braid of two attached square braids stacked on top of each other; four separate flat layers stacked on top of each other(!), etc.
It all depends on whether and where you turn the loops to connect the four layers…as well as whether you start with an odd or an even number of loops on one or both hands. Unlike fingerloop braids of only two layers, with four layers being formed from one set of hand-held loops, certain connections between the layers will only work with an odd or even number of loops on the two hands.
But what I didn’t realize until here in Joy’s class, is that these same 4 layers can also be braided so that they connect accordion-style, stacked in a Σ-shape!!! (each straight segment of the “Σ” representing one of the four braided layers). After it’s finished, this version of the braid can then be spread open to be a quadruple-wide flat braid! At least this is what I dimly gathered from Joy’s diagram on the white board. This was the solo-braider Japanese braid I decided to try. I can’t find the sample I made, and I don’t think Joy had one in class, but it definitely comes out as a wide, flat braid of 8 columns/ ridges, pretty much identical-looking to a flat double-braid made by a team of two people using finger-held loops.*³ This double-flat braid requires an
even number of loops on one hand, and an odd number of loops on the hand that has the only turned loop transfer. Let’s switch that! …requires an odd number of loops on one hand, and an even number of loops on the hand from which one of the two loop transfers is turned/reversed/crossed (2 loops transfers happen on each hand – an “inside-thru” and an “outside-around” – 3 of these are open/unreversed/straight transfers; only 1 is turned).
(Another amazing single-worker kute-uchi braid is the Genji-uchi braid—click on link for instructions in an earlier post).
Later, when Dominic and I team-braided, we decided to try the “big square” kute-uchi braid. Just as we had done the previous day when team braiding with finger-held loops, we braided side-by-side from one bundle of loops. Each of us braided the (vertically) rectangular double-square braid I described above, while regularly exchanging our adjacent loops to connect our two halves into one braid. See Joy Boutrup’s class samples below:
This combined braid comes out as a “quadruple”-square braid—a big square shape in cross-section, like 4 square braids put together. Both photos are of Joy’s samples of this braid—the one Dom and I made was a lot shorter and messier, and I’m not sure which of us ended up with it. (It’s hard to see how thick and square these braids are in a flat photo—I should have twisted the braids a little when taking the photos.)
Below are two photos of another of Joy’s kute-uchi braid samples. I believe this is a 3-person version of the quadruple-square-braid that Dom and I made. The one below would be made by three braiders standing side-by-side, each one braiding that vertically-doubled square braid, and all 3 trading their loops to connect their braids horizontally. So instead of a big square, the braid is massively rectangular in cross-section, 2 square-braids high and 3 square-braids wide:
I think Joy has her own way of managing to make this braid by herself, using her hand-held loops. I wish I had asked her for more specifics on how she does this! Back when I was practicing kute-uchi braiding after my first workshop in it, I found it much more “slippery” and difficult to manage the loops of two braiders using hand-held loops than when using finger-held loops. Let alone the loops of three braiders! I do that for the European “Katheren Wheele” braid, but even though it looks fancy, it is half as complex as this double-square 3-worker braid above.
I have to include this! A couple of Joy’s flatter sample braids had this gorgeous knotted start:
In the photo above, I had separated the two sections of the upper loop to display it more clearly. Below is how the braids with this start looked in a more natural position:
I was so taken up with everything else that I never got around to asking Joy about the two braid samples above. They are two-layer braids, like a square braid, but four times as wide (8 ridges on each side rather than 2). Braids like this could be made (with either hand-held or finger-held loops) by 4 braiders cooperating, each making the moves of a square braid.
They are similar to European doubled “spanish” braids (like the 14-loop letterbraid)—but with all the loop transfers crossed (turned). The European 14-loop letter braids were made by only two braiders cooperating, but each one made four loop transfers per braiding cycle, instead of the two transfers of a square braid.
[On a side note: according to Joy, for European loop braiding, no examples of spanish doubled braids have been found having all crossed (turned) loop transfers! This really surprised me, since “all crossed” seems slightly more obvious or basic to make than the divided, flat, and (tubular?) versions that she says have been found.]
The beautiful color-patterns in these samples are made with bicolor loops (plus I guess two single-color green loops, in the case of the multicolor braid).
*¹ STUDY OF ARCHAIC BRAIDING TECHNQUES OF JAPAN, by Masako Kinoshita, 1994. Masako Kinoshita, editor of L-MBRIC, is the one who only fairly recently discovered the actual method(s) that were used to make the ancient, elaborate kumihimo braids that are national treasures in Japan. They were not made on kumihimo stands, as had been previously supposed, but by loop braiding—the physical evidence in the braids themselves is conclusive. The more complex braids were made by teams of 2 to 4 braiders working together. Kinoshita’s beautiful book is only available in Japanese, and even used copies are expensive, but I couldn’t resist getting it anyway… So far I have mostly only ogled the beautiful pictures, haven’t tried to make any of the braids. I think Joy expects that I should now be able to do this, with the help of the charts she sent us all, but I am a little dubious! I need to get a lot better at understanding and interpreting Noémi Speiser’s track-plan system of analyzing loop braids. [Update May 2016: I finally have worked on one of the braids in this book! the Itsukushima braid, a beautiful flat braid from the 12th C that was wrapped around a scroll in the famous Itsukushima temple.]
*² For kute (handles), Joy uses braided cord (see photo above of these in use). She calls this cord “anorak string,” also known as paracord/ parachute cord, or paracord. It’s NOT stretchy – kute should have no stretch. The cord in the sets of kute she brought with her to the class seemed slightly thinner than the one in this photo. They were great to braid with! I’ve seen this type of cord sold very cheaply by the foot online, it’s available in fabric and crafts stores, too. Other types of cord would work fine too. Joy suggested using 20 cm lengths, with finished kute about 16 cm long:
To form a loop for braiding, you attach a strand to each of the two eyelets of a kute. Then you braid holding the kute. (It’s important to make the kute all the same length, so the finished loops will all be the same length. Also, the upper ends of the loops should be knotted or fastened together by a header cord or they will slide right through each other. See my beginning level tutorials for how to set up a loop bundle.)
Here’s a link to Masako Kinoshita’s photos and directions (opens in a new tab) for various other ideas for kute. Holding kute instead of thin braiding strands makes it easier to manage all the loops—a single kute-uchi braider might hold more than 10 loops in each hand!
Simple kute/ handles can also be helpful for finger-held loops if you are braiding with floss-type untwisted bunches of hard-to-manage fine silk strands. I’ve occasionally used short lengths of cotton string as ‘finger-kute’ when braiding with bundles of fine silk.
*³ I was very interested in learning this flat version of the ‘double-square’ kute-uchi braid, because it’s almost identical to the flat ‘double-braid’ [update: click link to go to my new tutorial for these] that I would be teaching later on, in my workshop, using finger-held loops. The traditional way this is done (using finger-held loops) requires two braiders working together. One braider would make the braiding moves for a divided, two-layer braid (all transfers unreversed/open/ no turned loops) and the other braider would braid the two layers of a flat braid, making only one transfer with a turn—on the far edge of the braid. I use a non-traditional solo-braider method for making this braid that I find very convenient. But with more than eight loops, the kute-uchi method might be easier if you don’t want to bother with learning how to use thumbs to carry loops.
[btw, “ridges” are the columns of slanting strands that show on the braid. In a square braid, each corner is formed by a ridge. The flat version of a square braid has these same four ridges laid out side-by-side, and flat, which is why I often call them columns instead of ridges. A flat “double-braid” has 8 ridges.]
Here are some links to other reports on Braids 2012:
[recent additions on top of the pile]
A YouTube report about Braids 2012 from “Japan Outpost”—a Manchester-based Japanese culture organization. The video shows a few snippets of the conference, and an in-depth interview with Debbie Richardson, the conference organizer.
(If I’ve missed any links, leave a note below in the comment section, or email me, and I’ll add them in.)
last updated Dec. 9, 2019
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