Planning your own patterns: Pick-up 101

I said I couldn’t, I said I wouldn’t be posting any more how-to’s on pick-up patterning in loop braids! After the Nun’s Letterbraid tutorial, I was worn out with trying to explain this online. But Gary is just about forcing me to do it!

Last month, Gary Mitchell of the FingerTips site emailed me that he was developing an online interactive pick-up pattern planner for Doug’s Braid!

So far on this blog, I’ve only talked about pick-up patterning in Letter braids. These are extremely complicated braids for a (solo) braider to make, so many of you probably filed the topic away as “cool, but impossible,” and didn’t think much more about it.

But pick-up patterning can be done in any two-layer loop braid! I’m talking: Square braids, Spanish braids, Doug’s braid, Double braids, Letterbraids.

In fact, get this: If you’ve ever used bicolor loops to make any of these braids, you’ve already used pick-up patterning without knowing it.

When you braid a normal bicolor pattern — like “Crowns”, or “Edge”, or whatever — you don’t have to do any special braiding moves to achieve the pattern. All you have to do is be sure that you start with the upper and lower shanks of the loops in a particular dark-light arrangement on the fingers. After that you just do automatic braiding moves.

At that point, the regular, repeated sequence of turned loops in the braiding moves ‘automatically’ produces a pick-up pattern in the braid. Each time a bicolor loop is turned over, its two colors switch places between the upper and lower layers of the braid. A color from the lower layer of the braid is brought UP, while the opposite color from the upper layer is dropped DOWN. That is the essence of “pick-up” in both braiding and weaving.

When braiding one of these ‘automatic’ bicolor patterns, you just try to repeat the same exact set of moves in each row. So it isn’t necessary to plan and follow a row-by-row chart (though there are some advantages to charting even an automatic pattern that way).

However, in braiding with bicolor loops, a braider can also choose whether and when to turn any particular transferring loop in each row of braiding, in order to produce a “non-automatic” two-color pattern. This is what the term pick-up usually implies.

This is when pick-up charts are very helpful!

If you think of the short, slanted bits of thread that show on the surface of the braid as a grid, you can design any possible dark-light combination for each ‘row’ or repetition of the braiding moves.

Unfortunately, while you can easily design such a pattern if you have or make an appropriate grid, it’s not at all obvious or intuitive WHICH braiding move relates to which section of the grid! In actual braiding, colors just don’t show up where you expect them to, either in the columns or even in the apparent rows of the growing braid.

That’s where Gary’s pickup planner is invaluable – it figures this out automatically! You plan your design on a grid that looks like a tiled representation of the braid, and meanwhile with every change you make, a chart on the right instantly reflects what each of the 4 braiding moves must be in each row of braiding to achieve that design, row by row!

Ok, now as to pattern complexity:

A square braid only has two pixel-like slanted thread sections across the width of the top surface of braid. Basically, only two columns down the length of the braid for pattern-planning. So square braid pickup patterns can only be very simple ones.

There are still a lot of them! If you take a look at the patterns in my square braid “Bicolor Loop Magic” tutorial, you’ll see a few, but there are more possibilities, especially if you are willing to braid “non-automatically”. (For example, you can produce evenly alternating light-dark lines in a braid of an odd number of loops! Not possible with “automatic” braiding moves.)

A letterbraid has 8 ‘pixels’ across… This might not seem like a huge number, but it’s enough to accommodate any letter of the alphabet, as well as even more complex-looking designs. (there’s no real limit to the length / number of rows in a braid’s pick-up pattern, only to its width).

In between these two extremes are Doug’s braid, the 7-loop Spanish braid, and Double braids — all with 4 spaces across the width of the braid to create dark-light choices! With 4 columns – and essentially an infinite number of rows – it becomes possible to design some quite distinctive patterns. You can also create small motifs, and separate them along the braid with striking all-dark or all-light areas. This is quite a different “look” from most braid patterns. It’s quite unlike your average braid pattern to have long non-repeating areas.

Gary Mitchell’s design tool displays two diagrams: a tiled representation of the braid on the left, and a chart of the braiding moves on the right.

The designer clicks on a ’tile’ within the braid representation to change its color from dark to light (or vice versa). Each click also changes the color sequence in the moves shown in the right hand chart – the chart the braider follows while braiding.

Btw, that chart of the moves does not explicitly tell the braider when to turn a loop, instead it tells the braider whether DARK or LIGHT should be uppermost in that loop after it is moved. The braider decides whether to turn the transferring loop or not, based on which color is already in upper position. If the called-for color is already in upper position, you don’t turn the loop. If the called-for color is NOT uppermost, you do turn the loop. It’s that simple. But it takes a bit of getting used to, because you’ve likely never thought about loop braiding moves in that way before!

Note: If you’ve already followed my Nun’s Book Letterbraid tutorial, you’ll notice that this is a slightly different way of following a row-by-row chart of braiding moves. For the Nun’s Braid, you checked the chart and then manually turned certain loops on your fingers BEFORE performing (automatically) each row’s braiding moves. These two strategies are not interchangeable – they require different charts. The Nun’s braid method is slower, and not really necessary for simpler braids having only two or four loop transfers in each cycle.

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*Doug’s Braid: a 7-loop round “Spanish” braid invented by Douglas Grant. Its world introduction was here on my blog back in 2012 – I put up two tutorials for it and for several possible color patterns: Part I (text tutorial and instructions for several color patterns), and Part II (the video tutorial, and one more color-pattern).

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*The essence of “pick-up” in braiding or weaving is simply swapping 2 colors between an upper and a lower layer in the developing textile. Both layers will end up with the opposite dark-light pattern.

When you braid any 2-layer loop braid, the upper layer is being formed by the upper shanks of all the loops on the fingers, while the lower layer is being formed by all the lower shanks of the loops.

If you start braiding a square, double, Spanish, etc braid, with all DARK shanks uppermost, and all LIGHT shanks lowermost; and never turn any of your loops while braiding, you will get two separate braids: an upper dark layer, and a lower light layer. That is the ‘blank slate’ for pickup patterns!

Anytime you do turn a loop while transferring it, its dark shank drops down, and its light shank is PICKED UP (or vice-versa). That color change will then show on both surfaces of the braid. To be completely accurate, that color change will make its appearance in the braid as soon as another loop is passed through that turned loop (which happens very soon afterward). Also, the two layers will now be connected at the spot where the loop was turned – the upper and lower layers of the braid will be ‘tied’ together there. Each layer will have opposite darks and lights.

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Doug’s Braid is a very unusual braid for pick-up patterning, as its overall shape is roundish, but pattern-wise it works like any two-layer loop braid, so it’s a great vehicle for pickup patterning.

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