The mysterious and elusive BUCK’s HORNS braid!
Sketchily described in some 17th C. loop braiding manuscripts, method forgotten, then reconstructed over 300 years later by Noémi Speiser (Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding), method revisited and slightly revised a bit later by Joy Boutrup (European Loop Braiding, Part I). This is a striking ten-loop double braid of bicolor loops, traditionally made by two braiders working together, but with one small difference to the braiding moves from a regular double braid…
I’ve put off trying to make this braid as a solo braider ever since I first read about it in Noémi Spieser’s Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding. And of course after all that avoidance it turns out that the scary part wasn’t such a big deal after all!
That (not) scary part is the slightly different loop-exchange move at the end of each row of braiding – a so-called ‘unorthodox’ move (explained below). Because of that difference, the Buck’s Horns braid, along with many much older European loop braids, has an unusual over-under structure along the midline of the braid. This difference really stands out in the color-pattern called Buck’s Horns, because the bicolor loops produce a central dotted stripe along that midline join area.
This tutorial for my solo-braider workaround way to make this braid will be easier to follow if you’ve already learned my “regular” solo-braider double braids from my earlier tutorials, and have practiced using thumbs as well as fingers to hold and manipulate the loops. I only demo this braid with the full 10 loops in the video below, but it’s actually possible to make a reduced 8-loop version without using thumbs. (The center of the braid should look the same; the pattern on the outer edges will be somewhat reduced.) For an 8-loop version, follow the 8-loop video in my double braid tutorial, but come back here to learn the color-pattern setup and the new loop exchange move for the Bucks Horns braid pattern.
Solo-braider method for the Buck’s Horns braid:
(Braiding instructions in the video start at 4:19, after the intro.)
Correction to both videos: At some points I refer to the loop exchange as a loop TRANSFER – that is a mistake! Loop transfers are the regular braiding moves, the loop EXCHANGE of a double braid is the final move that connects the two halves of the braid together. Sorry for the confusion!
Both videos – above and below – teach my non-traditional solo-braider method for making these two braids. (The traditional method of course, was two braiders working in tandem.) The focus is the unorthodox loop exchange. I do show all the braiding moves, both normal speed and slowly, but the regular braiding moves are demo’ed more thoroughly in my earlier Double Braid tutorials. Here I am focusing on the new and different way to make the final loop-exchange move. Essentially, the two loops on the little fingers are exchanged as usual (one through the other), but both loops are given a turn during this process. See below for more details, including color pattern setups etc.
Sadly, I can’t get together with my team-braiding buddies to make a video demo’ing this, because of the current pandemic. But this loop exchange is even easier than the “normal” one! If you already know how to braid as a team, you can learn it no problem just from the description and illustration further down. Note – For an intro to loop braiding as a team of braiders (using the orthodox exchange method), see my Braid a 10-loop Braid with a Friend tutorial.
Thumbs or not: My videos here demo the full, 10-loop version of these two braids, for which I use thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops. However, either braid can also be made in a reduced 8-loop version which only requires using fingers to hold loops, no thumbs. See my earlier Double Braid tutorials, which include videos for 8 (and even 6)-loop versions of the classic 10-loop double braids, and then return here to learn this unorthodox loop-exchange (the last move in each row before the final tightening).
Note: Turning vs. not turning a loop when transferring it to (or from) the thumb looks very different from the same move on the fingers, because the thumb is held in a different orientation than the fingers. The 10-loop videos in my earlier double braid tutorials (link above) show and compare the turned and straight loop transfers to the thumb very clearly.
My second video below teaches another double braid with this unorthodox loop exchange:
The French String with Open Edges.
Double braids with open edges (side-slit edges) are often found as handle-cords/ drawstrings on precious purses from the 17th C. in Europe, but are known from as far back as the 13th C. (See History below.) This braid can also be made with the ‘normal’ loop exchange I teach in my double braid tutorials, in which case it comes out a bit narrower, and with a less intricate ‘weave’ or interlacing in the midsection of the braid.
Solo-braider method for the French String with Open Edges:
(Braiding instructions start at 5:36 in the video, after the intro.)
This “French String” is the braid that finally got me to attempt the unorthodox loop exchange as a solo braider. A few months ago Marjolein Houwer, a blog reader in Holland, sent me a link to a 17th C. purse-string braid of this type in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that she was interested in re-creating. (More about it below.) Over the years I’ve often bumped into photos of side-slit double braids as purse-strings on museum specimens, but had never paid much attention to which of the two types of loop exchange might have been used.
But if I was going to tell Marjolein anything about this braid, I wanted to get it right! So I checked with the expert, Joy Boutrup, who confirmed that’s what was going on in the center area of the braid. Which brought me to the gradual conclusion that this blog really ought to have a solo-braider tutorial for the unorthodox loop exchange as well as the orthodox one. Plus, if I learned it, I would finally be able to braid Buck’s Horns! (Plus those REALLY old double braids of multiple Broad Lace sections connected by this unorthodox exchange!)
UPDATE: Jana Skalská Obročníková, a craftsperson and 14th C. reenactor, has incorporated this French String with Open Edges in making a gorgeous replica of 14th century German leather pouch with woven edges! Her work is exquisite, including the braiding. See photos in link below to a page of her website (currently only in Czech, but an English translation is in progress). This pouch is stunning, and includes an outer pocket with its own separate drawstring braid. I love the decorative ‘bobbles’ at the end of the braids, wish I knew how to make those! Here is the page on her website – shows many details of the making of this goatskin pouch: https://www.dobraczech.cz/l/kozeny-stredoveky-mesec-podle-nalezu-z-kolina-nad-rynem/
History of the Unorthodox loop exchange:
In my all-history post (Which Braids on this Site are Historically Accurate?) I called this unorthodox loop-exchange method the “archaic exchange,” because when Joy Boutrup and Noémi Speiser analyzed actual braid artifacts for their 4-part collaboration European Loop Braiding, they found only this type of loop exchange in any team braids made prior to the 15th C. They call it an ‘unorthodox’ loop exchange (explained below). They found it in multiple-worker European braids from the 12th C. all the way up to the early 20th C, so even after the orthodox method appeared sometime in the 15th C. the earlier method remained popular. Yet it isn’t well known today, even among most recreators of earlier textile techniques.
A lot of great braids (see Other Historic Braids below) will be lost and gone forever if everybody puts off learning it the way I did! I haven’t seen any references to this easy method with its odd resulting structure in any other loop braiding tradition, so it may have been unique to Europe. Plus it looks cool! And it creates a stronger, slightly wider, and more interconnected braid – what’s not to like? (Don’t abandon the orthodox method of course – it’s only method that works for a wide range of other possible braid shapes like flat, hollow, double-tubular, not to mention letterbraids, etc etc)
In Joy’s class at Braids 2012 in Manchester, England, she discussed several examples of interesting historic braids made with this unorthodox loop exchange method – braids that are virtually unknown to modern re-creators and loop braiders. (See Other Historic Braids below)
A 17th C. pursestring in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam:
Back in May, Marjolein Houwer, a blog-reader in Holland, contacted me to ask about this braid. It’s the pursestring on a 17th C. purse in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. (link to museum photo)
This is what finally got me to stop avoiding the Buck’s Horns loop exchange!
The photo clearly showed that the drawstring braid was what I have called a Side-slit double braid on this blog (side-slit = open edges). I already knew this was a common shape for European purse strings, from reading Speiser and Boutrup’s books and articles, and from seeing various museum photos myself. Enlarging the museum photo revealed a color pattern (in metallic thread) indicating that the braid was probably made with 10 loops. But enlarging the photo also revealed an oddness to the center area that I suspected might be due to the old unorthodox loop exchange I had been avoiding all these years! I contacted Joy Boutrup to ask, and found out she had already analyzed this particular photo when she was researching for European Loop Braiding. She confirmed that it showed the unorthodox exchange. She calls this braid shape a ‘double square braid with open edges,’ and she mentioned that it is often referred to as “the French string with open edges.”
So because of Marjolein’s interest in a beautiful purse-string braid, and Joy’s input, along with my old curiosity about the Buck’s Horns braid, I suddenly had a strong incentive to try to figure out how to do the unorthodox loop exchange as a solo braider. I knew (in theory if not in practice) how it was done by a team of braiders, but at first neither that, nor Joy and Noémi’s charts and illustrations in European Loop Braiding Part 1 got me to visualize clearly what was happening to the loops so I could translate it to my solo-braider technique…
Until I read the simple line on page 13: “And as a result, both the exchanged loops have received a mirror image half-twist away from the receiver and towards the taker.”
Bingo! No problem!
So after all my avoidance, and a bit of initial frustration, it turned out not to be so hard to translate after all.
Details about the braiding method(s), color patterns, etc.
Solo-braider method: Essentially, for a solo braider working with all 10 loops on two hands, the two loops on the little fingers are first exchanged as usual, one through the other, and then both are given a turn (which should be in the opposite rotational direction from the way they were turned during their just-previous loop transfers). However I show a slightly quicker way to do this in the video, so the loops get turned as part of the exchange move rather than separately. But note that it is very important that the ‘around’ loop is turned after the other loop has gone through it!
This brings up a small can of worms:
A solo braider can braid this braid in at least two different ways: with the loop transfers (the regular braiding moves) turned ‘from below’ but the final loop-exchange loops turned ‘from above’ – which is the only way that two team braiders would do it; OR vice-versa – the loop transfers turned ‘from above’ and the loop exchange turned ‘from below’. The only difference to the resulting braid is that the top surface of one is the bottom surface of the other – no way to tell which was which after you finish braiding.
My solo-braider method works for either possibility, but the second way feels a little more convenient to me – turning the loops of the inner loop transfers ‘from above’; and then turning those same loops ‘from below’ when they are subsequently exchanged during the loop exchange move. That’s the way I demo it in the videos. However a team of braiders would always do the opposite, because there is only one (easy) way to make this unorthodox loop exchange as a team, and it inevitably results in a “turn toward the taker” – equivalent to a turn ‘from above.’
Two-braider method: If done by a team of braiders, the loop-exchange movements don’t seem like the description above for a solo braider at all!
When two cooperating braiders perform this unorthodox loop exchange, it’s not at all obvious that the two loops are turned. That’s because a pair of braiders each holds his or her own set of loops in a completely different orientation (relative to each other) from the way these same loops would all be held across the two hands of a solo braider. The loops of two braider’s neighboring / adjoining hands are held in a sort of back-to-back position that results in the exchanged loop being turned without the two braiders even being aware of it.
As always, using the traditional two-person method for double braids, two cooperating braiders would stand side-by-side and braid from the same loop bundle – each braider holding 5 of the 10 loops, and each performing the braiding moves of a normal 5-loop braid (though for open edges, each braider turns one loop transfer and not the other – the turned transfer being the one closest to the neighboring braider – nearest the center of the braid.)
After each row of braiding, the two braiders exchange their neighboring index-finger loops (one through the other). This 2-braider ‘unorthodox’ way of exchanging loops is even easier than the more well-known ‘orthodox’ method I teach in my Braid a 10-loop braid with a friend tutorial! See the text and illustration below:
French String compared to Buck’s Horns method:
The only difference between the braiding methods for these two braids is in the outer loop transfers of the braid (in the videos, these are the 2nd loop transfers of each hand).
For ‘open edges’ (what I’ve also called ‘side-slit edges’) as in the French String, don’t turn either of the outer-edge loop transfers (the loops transferring from middle fingers to thumbs). For ‘closed edges’ as in Buck’s Horns, do turn the outer loop transfers. Inner loop transfers are turned for both braids. Watch the outer loop transfers in the videos carefully, because the ‘turned from above’ transfer compared to the ‘no turn’ transfer is a very subtle difference. That’s because the thumb holds its loop in sort of a ‘turned’ position already, even when it hasn’t been turned.
Buck’s Horns: All loops are turned as they are transferred onto their new finger.
French String with Open Edges: Only the inner two loop transfers are turned. (In the videos, these are the first loop transfer of each hand – the closest transfers to the center of the braid.)
For both braids, the loops of the final loop-exchange are also turned – in the opposite rotational direction from how those particular loops were turned in their earlier loop transfers – the inner loop transfers.
Buck’s Horns refers to a particular color pattern of a particular braid-shape. 10 bicolor loops of the same two colors. Braiding starts with all the dark colors in upper position and all the light colors in lower position on all fingers, or the opposite arrangement (study the photo in my 9-loop square braid tutorial to see which is the so-called “upper” of the two shanks of the thumb loop – this is not obvious!).
The French String with Open Edges doesn’t refer to a particular color pattern – just to a particular shape/type of braid, regardless of its color pattern. (The name might even apply to side-slit double braids made with the orthodox loop exchange as well – I need to research this some more.)
Rijksmuseum pursestring braid color-pattern for the French String: (The color-pattern is only visible if you enlarge the museum photo, use their icon for enlarging.) Use 6 thinner metallic loops (Marjolein informs me that the metallic threads are
silver oops I got that wrong! – correction from Marjolein, they are gold not silver!), and 4 thicker tan or ecru loops. Before braiding, place the tan loops on thumb and index finger, and the metallic loops on the middle, ring and little fingers (both hands).
French String with Bicolor Stripe – This color pattern for the French String with Open edges is a solid color with a thin, dotted stripe of a contrasting color down the middle of the braid, a very elegant and striking color-pattern. It’s easy to vary between “dark-braid-with-light-stripe” and “light-braid-with-dark-stripe” within the same braid. I show an example of this braid pattern near the end of my video tutorial for the French String with Open Edges. This color-pattern is an “open edges” variation of the Bucks Horns color pattern. I don’t believe this color-pattern is described in any of the 17th C. loop braiding manuscripts, but is is a very obvious extrapolation. It starts with the common set-up of “all dark shanks up” on all the fingers – like so many other historic bicolor-loop braids – so it’s highly likely that this color pattern was known to loop braiders of earlier eras who could make the French String with Open Edges.
Start with all bicolor loops, with all dark shanks in upper or all in lower position on the fingers. Then braid with the braiding moves of the French String with Open Edges. The result is a long thin contrast stripe down the center of an otherwise solid-color braid. This is fun to alternate with the Bucks Horns pattern.
The mystery of the unorthodox loop exchange
This unorthodox loop-exchange method is a main topic of the first monograph in Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup’s collaborative 4-monograph series European Loop Braiding. In analyzing actual braid artifacts from previous centuries, they discovered that the Buck’s Horns loop exchange wasn’t a 17th C. invention as Noémi had assumed when she first described the braid in Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding. Instead, it turned out to be method behind the mysterious and hard-to-analyze, oldest team loop braids that Noémi Speiser and others (Frieda Sorber for one) had long been puzzling over in their research into old European loop braid artifacts.
Even early on in her research into loop braiding, Noémi Speiser had noted and wondered about this odd and intricate structure in the oldest multi-braider braid artifacts she came across, but the method behind it remained a mystery until Joy Boutrup joined the research effort several years later.
First of all Joy managed to figure out the true Buck’s Horns loop exchange method, which is simpler and more straightforward than Noémi Spieser’s original hypothesis in Old English Pattern Books (see illustration above). Joy did this by re-analyzing the original 17th C. instructions, and matching them up with an amazingly fortuitous series of photographs from the 1930’s of a trio of Scandinavian braiders performing that exact move! (What are the chances??!) This then turned out to be the solution to the unknown loop exchange of all those older team loop braids!
Joy and Noémi’s research suggests that the orthodox loop-exchange method probably only arose (at least in Europe) around the 15th C., and never totally superseded the older method. Yet it’s this newer, orthodox method that is more widely known today – described in the 15th C. manuscripts, and Noémi Speiser’s Old English Pattern Books, taught in-person worldwide in SCA workshops, and demo’ed in a solo-braider workaround method in my Double Braid video tutorials on this blog. The older and long-lasting ‘unorthodox’ method has been largely forgotten, despite Noémi and Joy’s hard work and research, and despite the fact that it is even easier to do than the orthodox method!
Orthodox vs. Unorthodox:
Noémi Speiser came up with the term ‘unorthodox’ to describe certain fingerloop braids. It doesn’t mean a braid or technique that is uncommon, or difficult to do, or risqué in some way! An unorthodox braiding move may be very easy – sometimes even a ‘no-brainer’ – to do, but the braided structure it produces is very convoluted, and difficult to analyze and chart out – unlike the familiar twills and plain-weaves of square and double-square braids (‘orthodox’ braids).
The small difference to the Buck’s Horns loop exchange essentially locks the upper and lower layers of the braid together at the midline of the braid, in an asymmetrical way if you compare the top to the bottom layer of the braid – like a wrench in the works. Like a mistake, really! But since the mistake is repeated the same way in every row, it produces its own beautiful regularity to the overall braid. It’s really the turn given to the ‘around’ loop of the loop exchange move that stirs everything up. It violates two of the rules of braiding orthodox 2-layer loop braids:
When transferring a loop, you must never turn the ‘around’ loop, only the ‘through’ loop.
When cooperating braiders exchange their loops, neither loop should be turned..
In a normal ‘orthodox’ double braid, the loop exchange seamlessly joins the left and right halves of the braid, without adding much else to the braid. It’s a very neutral move. It does add one span of thread onto one of the previously-braided ridges (on both the upper and lower layers of the braid, and without tying them together), but this is almost invisible overall.
But here in the Buck’s Horns braid, the loop exchange move significantly alters the structure of combined two halves of the braid. That out-of-place twist to the ‘around’ loop creates a whole small ridge (lengthwise column of slanted thread passages) at the midline of the braid, as well as tying the upper and lower layers of the braid together, in an unbalanced, ‘wrong’ way! (not the normal, orthodox way in which correctly turned loops of a loop transfer would connect the two layers). It gives a sort of peekaboo ‘half-ridge’ to the center of one surface of the braid, and two tiny ridges in the center of the other surface – although those two ridges are so narrow that they tend to look more like a single ridge. [“Ridges” are the lengthwise columns of slanted thread passages up and down a braid. A normal orthodox double braid has 4 very obvious ridges on each wide surface of the braid, whereas the Buck’s Horn braid appears to have 5 ridges on one surface, and it’s a little unclear on the other – sorta looks like 4 1/2.]
Meanwhile, the simultaneous and mirror-image turn given to the ‘through’ loop of the loop exchange is a bit odd, but not a structural mistake. It simply undoes the earlier turn that was given to that loop in its previous loop exchange (or, conversely, it would double that turn if the loop had been transferred with a turn in the same rotational direction as in the exchange). You can see this quite clearly when unbraiding (undoing) your Buck’s Horns braid – when you unbraid that loop, both twists have already disappeared – there are no turns left to undo.
Note: If you wanted to be overly clever, you could choose NOT to turn the first loop transfer on one side of the braid (the right side, the way I teach the braid in my video) and then also not turn that loop (the inner loop of the two that are exchanged) during the subsequent loop exchange. That would accomplish the same thing, and might theoretically be a little more efficient. In practice though, it’s probably easier to just perform the same motions on both sides of the braid. Whatever you choose to do, for the Buck’s Horns color-pattern, over the course of one cycle of braiding moves, each of the two loops that are exchanged must either finish up with NO net turn to the loop, or else with two turns – after the loop exchange has been completed. If the loop’s net result is only one turn over the course of one cycle, then it would finish with the wrong color shank in upper position, which would spoil the color-pattern. This is not necessarily an issue for the French String – a difference in the number of turns only affects bicolor-loop color patterns, not the color patterns of braids made with only single-color loops.
Anyway, that’s the reason Joy and Noémi call this an unorthodox loop exchange. It may have been the easiest and most common loop-exchange method throughout much of European loop braiding history, but the structure it creates is a joyously complicated one for a fiber structure geek to unravel.
Historic braids with the Unorthodox loop exchange:
Buck’s Horns and French String braids have regular “orthodox” braiding moves, like a square braid, and are only “unorthodox” in their loop exchange method – the move that connects the left and right halves of the braid.
However, the very oldest known European team braids described in European Loop Braiding had no orthodox braiding moves like a square braid. The braiding moves in those oldest multiple braider braids (as far back as the 12th C. but also made all the way into the early 20th C.) were like those of the unorthodox 5-loop braid called a broad lace in the 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts, then connected by the unorthodox loop exchange I teach in the tutorial above.
According to Joy and Noémi, the unorthodox loop exchange is ideal for connecting sections of the ‘Broad lace.’ Apparently a two- or three-person version of the Broad Lace has very long floats of thread if the braiders connect their sections using the orthodox loop exchange, whereas the unorthodox loop exchange ties down those floats, stabilizing and strengthening the braid.
(I’m hoping to make a tutorial soon for one of these! I have made a few samples, and I love this braid – it’s a wide, flat-but-dense braid with a really unusual and beautiful structure/ texture that is different on the two main surfaces!)
Another interesting category of European team braids that Joy Boutrup and Noemi Speiser found in their research have sections of both unorthodox and orthodox braiding. Joy taught one of these in her Braids 2012 class – a double braid, in which each braider made ‘Broad lace’ moves with the loops of one hand, but ‘Square braid’ moves with the loops of their own other hand! (In mirror-image left-right order for the two braiders’ hands). I think that braid artifact had been made with the orthodox loop exchange between the two braiders (? I need to find my class notes to confirm that!)
In that class Joy Boutrup also showed a braid sample she had made that was a reproduction of a 17th C. royal horse rein. This was braided with yet another type of combo – in this 3-braider braid, both outside braiders make orthodox divided (or open edges) square braid moves, but the center braider makes 5-loop ‘pigtail braid’ moves – none of that central braider’s loops go through any other loops, only over-under whole loops. All connect their sections with the unorthodox loop exchange. (photo in my blog post about her class.)
None of these braids, as well as others that Joy Boutrup and Noemi Speiser have analyzed, are described in any of the known loop braiding manuscripts, which shows that those manuscripts only reveal a portion of what was a very extensive tradition in Europe. (Another European braid not mentioned in the known manuscripts is the 14th C. Sudarium braid, a 10-loop double braid with no loop-exchange move!)
Posted August 19, 2020
last updated Dec 30, 2022
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Note: The publication date of May 2020 at top of this blog-post is an error. That was the date I first started working on this post, not the date I made it public. I forgot to change the date when I finally made the post public on Aug 19, and only just noticed that mistake. At this point, I can’t change the publication date without changing the url of this post, so decided to let it stand.