Solo-braider tutorial for the Nun’s letterbraid

Update: I’ll be teaching a modified version of this braid at the next international Braids conference—Braids 2016. The modified version is easier—only 8 loops, so no thumbs. It’s a great braid for learning how to braid and plan charted motifs that are a bit simpler than letters—hearts, circles, triangles, etc!

This is a video-based tutorial on my workaround method for braiding the ten-loop Nun’s Book letterbraid* as a solo braider. I learned the traditional method from Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup’s Instructions for Letter Braids in 17th Century Manuscripts*, which describes how the braid would be made by two braiders working together. My solo-braider method is very different from the two-braider method, but the actual loop movements are the same. (I plan to make a separate tutorial later on for the traditional method.)

Page numbers apply to Speiser and Boutrup’s Letterbraid publication. You don’t need this publication to follow my tutorial, but you’ll need it afterwards if you want to braid other letters than U, J, and Q.

Here’s the rest of my last post’s unfinished quick fox story (a photo of the whole braid is at the end of this page):

Nun's Book letterbraid type, by Ingrid Crickmore ("the quick fox jumped")

Nun's Book type letter braid by Ingrid Crickmore (17th C. textile technique, loop braiding

Nun's Book letterbraid by Ingrid Crickmore

(In case you are younger than me, and/or didn’t go to school in the U.S., that’s my version of a pangram that was often used in typewriting classes back in the dark ages!)

The letters J, U, and Q in that story are not from the Nun’s Book charts. In the 17th C. there was only one letter for “I” and “J”, and “V” was used for both “V” and “U”. The letter “Q” did exist in the 17th C, but the Nun’s Book chart for it is in the shape of a lower-case “q”, which to me doesn’t read clearly as a “Q”.* So I’ve made up charts for a more standard-looking Q, and for the letters J and U.

fingerloop braid sample of the Nun's Book letterbraid's alphabet

Nun’s Book complete alphabet

Click letters to see–and print for your own use–my charts for the letters U, J, and Q.(Charts will open in a new tab in your browser) Note: The charted letters display sideways in charts, the way they show up as you braid–bottom of the letter on the left edge of the chart and braid. My second video explains how to follow these charts.

Re the “jumbled” look of the charted letter-shapes: See Jen’s question in the comment field below this post, and my suggestion on how to work around this if you are trying to create your own motifs…Oops! just noticed I forgot to fill in the B’s for “black” in the J chart’s background squares. It might seem unnecessary, but I find it easier to read a line of the chart to myself if the B’s are there. If you print this out, just fill in the missing B’s in the empty squares.

For this “Nun’s Book” letterbraid, Joy Boutrup deduced two methods that both work for following the Nun’s Letterbraid charts, each with a different order to the braiding moves. My interpretation here for a solo braider is based on her first method, which she outlines on page 56, not on her second method (described on p. 60).

Later on, if you want to go from my tutorial to braiding actual inscriptions, you would use the moves I teach below, along with Joy Boutrup’s ORANGE Nun’s Book charts on pp. 5759 of the Speiser and Boutrup Letterbraid book (NOT the yellow Nun’s Book charts pp. 61-63).

Material: I recommend cotton embroidery floss for learning this braid. Floss tends to ‘fill in’ and make better-looking letters than a plied (twisted) yarn like perle cotton, or a bulky yarn like the one I used for the videos. I used bulky yarn so it would be more visible in the videos, but actually I think floss is easier to work with—it feels easier to tighten. From what I remember in the letterbraid book, the few extant letterbraid samples from the 17th C. were all made with silk (in a somewhat floss-like form—each thread composed of many fine silk strands not twisted together). Silk is very slippery and much harder to work with than cotton, though.

My solo-braider method:
In these videos I use the same order of braiding moves that Joy Boutrup describes on p.56 (before her orange charts). Joy’s left braider’s five loops are all on my left hand, and her right braider’s five loops are all on my right hand. Each finger holds a loop, including the thumbs, as in my 10-loop double braid method. Letterbraids have four loop transfers per hand instead of two, though. Learning solo-braider 10-loop double braids first would definitely help with learning this letterbraid.

(The traditional 2-person method for braiding this letterbraid would be quicker and easier than my solo-braider workaround! Each braider holds three loops on one hand and two on the other. Each braider does the moves of a 5-loop Spanish braid. After finishing one set of left and right moves, the two braiders trade their closest index loops, and then proceed to the next row.)

1st solo-braider video – Braiding moves only (no letters):
This video teaches the braiding moves only, not the color-switching moves for forming the letters. Each ‘row’ or cycle of braiding moves has 4 main braiding moves per hand, followed by a loop-exchange move between the two hands at the end of the cycle.

A letterbraid is braided as a completely divided braid (two separate layers, one above the other). This is done by not turning any of the loops while doing the braiding moves. Keep checking to make sure that the two layers of the braid are not connected at any point. That’s the best way to be sure that you’re not turning any loops, and–a little tricky with this braid–that you aren’t inserting your finger in the wrong direction through any of the loops.

Drag bubble under video to time-point you want to see.

00:00 Intro
0:45 example of a finished Nun’s Book letterbraid, showing letters of the alphabet
1:03 example of a “non-lettered”, flat version of this braid
1:14 example of a “non-lettered”, rectangular version (similar to my “Rainbow Girl” braid–4th from left in header photo)
2:35 Loop set-up on the fingers.
3:37 First run-through of the braiding moves, very slowly.
Left hand loop moves:
4:00 First and second transfers
4:50 First tightening move
5:20 Third and fourth transfers
6:50 Second tightening move
Right hand loop moves:
8:07 Fifth and sixth transfers
8:50 Third tightening move
9:36 Seventh and eight transfers
10:44 Fourth tightening move
11:02 Final move: Loop exchange between left and right D-fingers.
11:27 Last tightening move in this row (cycle) of braiding.
2nd row of braiding, slightly faster moves with less explaining
11:52 Left hand moves
12:48 Right hand moves
13:40 3rd row of braiding
15:07 Checking to make sure that the braid is forming as two completely divided layers – describing possible problem of taking a loop through another loop “backwards”.
16:11 4th row – showing a slight shortcut I sometimes do when transferring a loop downward (toward the middle of the braid)
18: 36 5th row – a little faster, and without the ‘shortcut’
19:58 6th row – faster, with the shortcut move
20:57 pausing and placing right loops on left fingers to free up right hand
21:07 showing abstract designs on start of braid, followed by the completely divided area I have just been braiding.
22:14 About the yarn I’ve been using –thicker than I like for letterbraids. Other samples I show are made with embroidery floss.

2nd solo-braider video – following a letter-chart: Demos how to follow a chart in the format of Joy Boutrup’s ORANGE charts for the Nun’s Book letterbraid, pp. 57-59. (Braiding moves are not demoed slowly–see my previous video to learn the braiding moves.) I am following a chart I made up for the letter U, which didn’t exist in the 17th C. as a separate letter from V. I’m turning all loops on the left hand counterclockwise, and any loops on the right hand clockwise. It might be worth trying the opposite as well.*

0:00 Intro
1:25 How to read/ interpret a chart in the format of Joy Boutrup’s ORANGE charts for the Nun’s letterbraid (pp. 57-59), not her yellow charts.
3:35 Color set-up.
4:14 How loops are turned while reading the the chart, starting with Row 1.
5:48 How to tell which part of the thumb-loop is the “UPPER” shank.
7:33 Tightening tip. In the video I am braiding around the camera and can’t see the fell of the braid well enough to follow my own advice! But for making well-shaped letters, it really helps to watch when tightening and adjust accordingly.
7:52 Do the loop exchange BEFORE turning colors for the next row!
8:13 Reading and braiding Row 2.
10:21 How to tell where the loops will be after one row of braiding. (demoed @22:07)
12:21 Reading and braiding row 3
14:01 Pausing to check the braid. Info about delay in seeing the pattern on the braid.
16:02 Reading and braiding row 4.
17:28 Reading and braiding row 5.
18:34 Pausing to check a possible mistake.
19:21 Reading and braiding row 6.
19:56 How to fussy-tighten one particular strand that is loose in the braid, and not responding to “regular” adjustments. This should only be necessary once in a while, if one thread is grossly loose in a previously tightened area of the braid. In general, I adjust the tension by pulling more in one direction than another, or maybe repeating an earlier tightening move, not by pulling on individual threads.
21:09 Recovering from “losing my place” in the braiding procedure.
22:07 “Hmmm… What row did I just finish??!” Examining the loops to figure this out. (explained @10:21)
22:37 Reading and braiding the last row – row 7.
23:55 Letter finished, now doing one or two rows of “space” before starting next letter. Tips about spacing the letters.
27:41 U and following space is done, now checking the letter to see how it turned out (a bit slanted).

10-loop Spanish braids

10-loop Spanish braids: a letterbraid (braided as 2 separate layers only connected by the pick-up patterns), and a wider flat braid. The wider braid was made with exactly the same braiding moves, except in having one turned transfer, which connects the two layers along one edge so they can later be opened and spread flat. Finger loop braiding, embroidery floss


It takes practice to get used to these braiding moves, as with any new braid. But it happens faster than you might think when you are first trying them. Once your fingers “get” that the first two moves are a pair, and the second two moves are a similar pair, they will start to relax and know where to go next in the braiding moves.

Everything will feel smoother and more enjoyable at this point. At this point you have learned the braid! And it’s a great braid—even without any charted designs. It can be made with twice as many variations as the braids that I call double braids. Even if you don’t get into making charted designs, just the “regular” braid designs that you can make are almost endlessly variable and interesting!

If you decide to go on to forming lettershapes, it’ll also take a little practice to get used to following the charts consistently. Be patient and have fun! (Isn’t it amazing that fingerloop braiders in past centuries managed to invent this???!)

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to show me a braid. You can reach me through the comment form below, or through the email form under the “Contact” tab in my upper menu [Note: my contact form is now in the drop-down list if you hover on the “ABOUT” tab – upper right of the top menu on every page]. If you’d like to send me a photo, email me and I’ll let you know how to do it. I’d love to see it!

* Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup, European Loop Braiding, Investigations and Results, Part II: Instructions for Letter Braids in 17th Century Manuscripts. For more information on this publication than shown on the purchasing site, see my upper menu tab Letterbraids of the 17th Century. (Hover on the About Loop Braiding menu tab, and the Letterbraid tab will appear in a drop-down.)

*The “O-with-a-tail” type of Q did exist in the 17th Century, even though the Nun’s letterbraid didn’t use it. (The fourteen-loop letterbraid does have that “O-with-a-tail” type of Q.)

*There are three (known) 17th C. letterbraids, one of 14 loops and two of 10 loops.

Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup call one of the two ten-loop letter braids the “Nun’s Book letterbraid,” after the only manuscript in which it’s been found. They refer to the other ten-loop letterbraid as “the Verbal Letterbraid” because it had text directions for making the color-changes instead of charts.

The only differences between the “Verbal” and the “Nun’s Book” 10-loop letterbraids are in the slightly different designs of their charted letter-shapes, and in the order that the four main braiding moves (of each braider) are done. Structurally, they are essentially the same braid. There are some extremely minor differences. For instance, for certain letters in the ‘verbal’ letterbraid the braiders are occasionally required to turn the loops for the following row before doing the final loop exchange for the previous row, which is never the case for the Nun’s letterbraid.

But just considering the underlying braid (and ignoring the slightly different designs of their letters), the Verbal and the Nun’s Book letterbraids are really the same doubled 5-loop braid.

Five loops is the minimum number required for braiding a so-called “Spanish” braid. A spanish braid has four loop transfers in each cycle of braiding moves, and four braid columns–or “ridges”–on each layer of the braid. (Each column is created by one of the four loop transfers.) The inevitable result of using only 5 loops with these four loop transfers is ‘plain’ interlacing. “Under one, over one” across both braid layers.

[When this plain-weave 5-loop braid is doubled into a 10-loop letterbraid of 8 columns across, one of the combo braid’s two central columns ends up as 2/2 twill rather than plain weave—this is an unavoidable result of the loop exchange between the two braiders.]

The eight given “through/around” loop moves of the combo ten-loop braid can be done in any of several different sequences that all result in the same braid — the same threads passing over and under each other.

These different sequences are what Joy Boutrup refers to as different “fells” or “fell shapes”. Depending on the order you do the 8 given moves, the very bottom of the braided area will have a differently-shaped zig-zag contour after each cycle of eight moves. This is a superficial difference that only applies to the ephemeral, lower edge of the ever-growing braided area. That contour changes a bit every time you transfer a loop, so if the thumb-to-index loop transfer is the last move, the fell shape at that point will be different than if the b-loop-to-c-finger move happens to be the last move. But the braid itself that is being “built” by these 8 moves will have the exact same structure regardless of which of the several possible order of moves (fell-shapes) the braider uses.

None of those variations in the order of the braiding moves makes a real difference to the finished braid’s structure. In fact, you could choose whichever of the two Nun’s Book letterbraid orders, or the order of moves of the Verbal letterbraid and you would get the exact same braid structure.

Of course, if the order of the moves is different, the necessary starting arrangement of the colors on the fingers (for any particular color-pattern) will probably be different as well…I try to explain this in my color-pattern planning post. This is also why any chart for changing colors is dependent on a particular order to the loop moves–if you wanted to do the moves in a different order you would have to change all the color charts.

But you really could just pick whichever order of operations feels the most comfortable to you and make the same 10-loop/ 20-strand braid with any of those three methods…or even a few other orders of making those same ‘through’ and ‘around’ loop moves.

* The way I interpret this braid here as a solo-braider technique is based on Joy Boutrup’s first deduced braiding method, in which the two braiders turn specified loops on their fingers (following a chart) before doing a row of braiding moves. The braiding moves for that method are given on page 56 of Boutrup and Speiser’s Letterbraid book.

Joy Boutrup’s second deduced method requires that the two braiders turn specified loops while doing the braiding moves. This requires following a different order of the same braiding moves. That order of braiding moves is described on page 60.

The first way of following the charts — turning loops before doing the braiding moves — is how both the other two 17th C. letterbraids are known to have been done, and I think it’s easier to learn than the second method that Joy deduced.

Joy Boutrup’s second deduced method for the Nun’s letterbraid (yellow charts, starting on page 60) has the same four loop transfers, but done in a different order. This is the order that produces the intended lettershapes if you were to follow the charts by turning any loops while doing the braiding moves, rather than before each full set of braiding moves. This is not how the other two known letterbraids were done, so it might seem less likely that this “turning while braiding” was the method used by the writer of the Nun’s Book.

But certain oddities about the way the color changes were listed in the Nun’s Book charts made Boutrup suspect that perhaps the loops really were meant to be turned while braiding, rather than beforehand. [One of my replies in the comment section below has more details.]

Either of the two ways of following the charts produces the same letter shapes. The first method is a little slower, but feels more relaxed. First you read a line of the chart to find out which loops to turn, then you turn them on the fingers, and then you braid a row, using the exact same braiding moves every time. (That’s the method I used in these videos.) The second method requires more concentration while braiding, and the braiding moves are a little different every time, depending on which loops need to be turned. It does feel like a faster way to braid the letters, though.

If you are interested in learning the other letterbraids in Joy Boutrup’s book, the first method is completely applicable to them, whereas the second one is a “one-off”, wouldn’t help as much with learning the others.

* The rotational directions of the loops’ turns can have a slight-to-fairly-big effect on how the finished braid turns out, but the original manuscripts don’t specify which direction to turn loops.

Pangram braid for the Nun's letterbraid, fingerloop braid, loop braiding, Pangram, Nun's Book letter braid, 17th C. letterbraid, finger loop braiding, loop manipulation braiding, Ingrid Crickmore, loopbraider

© 2014–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
See full copyright restrictions and permissions at the bottom of the sidebar (if you are on a small screen device, the ‘sidebar’ may appear somewhere other than at the side of the screen).

13 thoughts on “Solo-braider tutorial for the Nun’s letterbraid

  1. For us poor souls who did not get the chance to attend the Braids 2016 conference, is there any possibility that you might post a tutorial of the modification you taught there?

    • Hi Amie – Sorry to take so long to reply, I totally missed seeing your question til now…
      I’m afraid the topic isn’t something I can teach in a video or blog-post. The braid itself I could teach, it’s similar to the one in this post, except omitting the thumb loop, and one of the loop transfers on each hand… So only three loop transfers per hand instead of four. But the concept of pickup patterning – planning and following charts for purposeful color-changes to effect patterns – is not something I can teach here. In the workshop it required a lot of demoing and individual attention with each student…

  2. This is just wonderful! I havent tried it my self but I know your tutorials are the best! Bookmarked and I will soon start with following your instructions.

    Thanks so much,

    best regards,


  3. Oooh, fun. So my question is why do the charts looks so jumbled up? Is there a pattern to them I am not seeing? For example, the chart for ‘U’ looks nothing like the finished letter in the braid. I am interested in creating some free form designs – is there any tip you can give to help me figure out where a turned loop will show up in the woven pattern? I plan on experimenting, but any advice would be appreciated.

    Great video! Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise. I find your tutorials so easy to follow and I’ve been having fun with them.

    • Hi Jen, Thanks! I’m so glad you’ve been using and liking the tutorials!
      First of all, the letters display sideways on the chart, the way they show up on the braid itself. The reason that, even sideways, the charts still look somewhat jumbled is that Joy rearranged columns in an order that makes them easier to follow while braiding, not to show how the pattern comes out on the braid (though the original order didn’t show them any better!).

      To see a little better how the pattern will look on the braid, you could rearrange the columns like this – left to right, across the chart:
      LA, LTh, LD, LCRC, RD, RTh, RA
      [column headings 3,4,2,1 – 5,6,8,7]

      You can plan patterns better in that format, but afterwards you might want re-draw the charts into Joy’s column order to braid from, so they will be easier to follow.

      Reordering the columns this way will give a better idea of how the charted image will look on the braid, but it still won’t be perfect. The real ‘pixels’ in the braid are short, zig-zagging slants that don’t line up in a row in the same way that graph paper squares line up neatly next to each other! So it’s good to be prepared for a certain amount of trial and error in planning / charting new designs.

      Joy Boutrup’s letterbraid monograph shows graphs of the finished letter-shapes in which the cells are actually slanted like the real braid ‘pixels’, but the scale is small, and it’s not always easy to follow the true grain of a zig-zagging horizontal row for planning purposes. Copying and blowing them up might help.

      Good luck! Please let me know how it goes!

      • I was wondering if putting the rows in order would help clarify, but when I tried it (quick and rough) it didn’t seem like I was on the right track. Thanks for the heads up!

        • Re the original order of the columns that you probably tried (1,2,3, etc rather than Joy’s reordering 4,3,1,2,6,5,7,8) — That order is exactly the order of the loop transfers for Joy’s second deduced method! For that method, the first move would be to go through Lc and take Lb (original column 1), turning it or not turning it to make it end up on its new finger with the color shown in column 1 of the chart in upper position.

          That original column order seemed slightly strange to Joy if the charts were meant to be used like those of the 14-loop letterbraid–to show which loops to turn before doing the braiding moves. Why would the middle finger be listed in the first column, and the index finger the second? [these fingers apply to the two-braider method, not to my solo-braider adaptation] But interestingly, if the loops were meant to be turned while braiding, this ordering would make total sense. Could that just be a coincidence??? Hard to say…

Comment here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s