Worldwide, the most common loop braids seem to have been simple, 2-pass fingerloop braids of 5 loops. There are 3 different traditional ways to make this type of braid: the A-fell and V-fell methods, and a third method called Slentre (a.k.a. Method 1, Method 2 and Method 3). Any of these three methods can be used to make the same 3-to-7-loop braids.*¹
For these very basic loop braids, I primarily use and teach the V-fell method – method 2.
All three of these parallel methods are probably very old.*11 The V-fell method I teach is known from Asia and the Pacific, including India, China, SE Asia, Indonesia, Japan, and part of Russia. The A-fell method is known from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In South America and Finland, both these methods have been documented. The Slentre method was not very widespread – it’s only known from the Faroe Islands and Denmark (though in Denmark this may be a result of fairly recent immigration from the Faroe Islands).
In a way, the A and V-fell methods are simply upside-down versions of each other. In both methods, palms generally face each other, and a loop travels between the lowest finger of one hand and the highest finger of the other hand, through the intervening loops. Only the direction of this movement differs. With A-fell braiding, the index finger fetches the the lowest loop of the other hand (usually the ring or little finger’s loop). With V-fell braiding, a low finger is the active “fetcher” – the ring or little finger—and it fetches the other hand’s index finger loop.
[V-fell method diagrammed]
Slentre loop braiding is done with the palms facing down, i.e. facing the floor for all the braiding moves. The index finger is the active braiding finger, and it reaches through the loops of the opposite hand — through (or over) the opposite hand’s index loop first, then through the middle finger loop – to fetch the opposite hand’s furthest loop. Click here to see a photo-tutorial for the Slentre method on the Virtual Museum of Canada website. (creating a semi-flat braid, one of the three common braid shapes that can be made with all three of these methods).
I started this blog at the end of 2010, and back then most published and on-line information about fingerloop braiding showed/taught the A-fell method.*² Oddly – considering its originally very limited distribution—the Slentre method was also fairly widely taught in textile and craft circles.*³
Until this blog (as far as I can tell), the V-fell method was not taught in any published sources, even though historically it was practiced over a very large part of the world, and seems to be found as an unbroken traditional practice more frequently than either of the other two methods.*4
Why I prefer the V-fell method:
To me, the V-fell method has a significant advantage over the other two methods: it can be used with up to 9 loops without the braider having to carry more than one loop per finger. Both other methods limit a braider to 7 loops before some finger or other has to carry more than one loop. (The Slentre method has further limitations, see footnote *5.) Furthermore, once the braider does start adding more than one loop onto certain fingers, the V-fell method allows a braider to make square, flat, and unorthodox 2-transfer braids (1 left-hand loop transfer/ 1 right-hand loop transfer) of up to 13 loops quickly and easily, which I doubt is possible with either of the other two methods.
The A and V-fell methods are highly complementary, as each method can undo the other’s 3- to 9-loop braids. This may not sound helpful, but it is very handy for correcting mistakes!
Hand-held loop braiding
This is another form of loop braiding, in which loops are held around the whole hand rather than on individual fingers. It is much less common than finger-held loop braiding – known or inferred from the past only in Japan, Peru, and Oman.
(I have a how-to for two Japanese hand-held loop braids, along with links to more information, in a post called Kute-Uchi, and more about ancient Peruvian loop braiding in Rodrick Owen and the Braids of the Mummies, which includes photos of hand-held loop braiding with a braid of over 60 loops near the bottom of the page.)
Hand-held loop braiding was most probably always used in addition to fingerloop braiding, not as a replacement for it, as a way to manage greater numbers of loops. It’s very unlikely that hand-held loops would ever have been used for simpler braids. Braids of fewer than nine or ten loops are easier and faster to make with fingerloop braiding than with hand-held loops.
Masako Kinoshita, who (re-) discovered Japanese loop braiding, has found images of finger-held loop braiding depicted in Japanese art, at a time when handheld loop braiding was also being practiced for braids of many loops. When teaching Kute-uchi, she teaches fingerloop braiding before hand-held loop braiding.
With braids of fewer loops, finger-held loop braiding has definite advantages over hand-held loop braiding: the loops are easier to keep track of, braiding moves can be more automatic, and loops of slightly different lengths can still be tensioned evenly, since fingers can adjust independently to hold loops of slightly different lengths at the same tension. (Even if all the loops in a braid start out fairly equal in length, they can sometimes become slightly different in length during the process of braiding. In certain braids this is inevitable).
Hand-held loop braiding becomes more efficient for braids of more loops (a subjective number!), and according to Noémi Speiser, for many twined braids. There are also some braid structures that can only be made with hand-held loops, even if they have fewer than ten loops. For example, some Japanese and Omani four-layer loop braids! As far as I know, finger-held loops can only create braids of one or two layers, as well as dense, round braids of a spiraling construction that don’t have lengthwise layers.
Stand-and-Bobbin braiding (kumihimo and other similar traditions)
This is another braiding method. Various types of raised stands have been used, with threads or yarn wound onto bobbins and hanging down over the edge(s) of the braiding stand.
This type of braiding may seem unrelated to loop braiding, but Masako Kinoshita’s painstaking research eventually proved that loop braiding preceded and led to stand-and-bobbin braiding in Japan (Japanese stand-and-bobbin braiding is usually referred to by the Japanese word for braiding: kumihimo).
Until the 1990’s, it was unquestioningly assumed that the complex and magnificent older royal, samurai, and temple braids that are national treasures in Japan were made with stand-and-bobbin techniques as in modern kumihimo braiding. The exact methods for some of them were a mystery, though, because a marudai (braiding stand) big enough to make many of the more complex braids would have been too huge for anyone to use. Then Masako Kinoshita began investigating clues in some old Japanese manuscripts, and analyzing the braids themselves, and discovered that the braids had actually been made with hand-held loop braiding–the larger ones with many braiders cooperating.
It was only in the last three centuries that braiding stands appeared in Japan, and loop braiding (kute-uchi) gradually disappeared. This shift from hand or finger-held loop braiding to using braiding stands and bobbins may have also occurred in other parts of the world where stand-and-bobbin braiding methods are used. There appears to be evidence that loop braiding goes back thousands of years (cf. Mari Omura *10 on ancient Chinese braids).
In an article in Strands, Rodrick Owen noted that Lao Mien braiders practice both fingerloop braiding and stand-and-bobbin braiding (I gather from the article that the Lao Mien are a southern Chinese minority group?). Two Lao Mien braiders in California showed Rodrick Owen how they used stand-and-bobbin braiding to make longer lengths, but preferred loop braiding when making shorter lengths of the same braid, as it was a quicker method.*6
Stand-and-bobbin braiding is known from many parts of the world, including mainland Asia, Japan, Scandinavia, and the Middle East, and is suggested by archeological artifacts from ancient Greece and elsewhere (cf Elizabeth Wayland Barber in The Mummies of Urumchi *7 ).
Braiding from a slotted card
This has been done for other types of braids even before it came to be used in Kumihimo. Rodrick Owen first came across this method in the late 70’s in a craft book by Lynn Paulin called Weaving on Rings and Hoops, in which Paulin suggests using a slotted card for braiding a 16-strand African braid. Rodrick then applied this idea to the Andean sling braids he was teaching at the time (this was before he had encountered Kumihimo). *9
Later, this slotted card method came to be used for Kumihimo braids as well, as a cheaper and more portable method than a wooden braiding stand. A slotted card is also used within the Braid Society to teach a braid they call the “Fill the Gap” braid – a braid they teach widely as a first introduction to braiding. I don’t know the history of that “fill-gap” braid, but Rodrick Owen was one of the founding members of the Braid Society, and I would guess that many of the other members were aware of his slotted-card method.
The braiding process with a slotted card is very different from the equivalent process on a braiding stand, even if the resulting braid has the same structure. With a braiding table, the braider can use both hands simultaneously to move strands. With a card, the braider can move only one strand at a time, as the other hand is occupied by holding the card. Threads are ‘popped’ into and out of slots, rather than hanging freely. The slots hold the hanging threads in place, but prevent tensioning by means of weighted bobbins. In general, the card method is slower than braiding on a braiding stand. However, a card is much more portable than a stand, and can be used almost anywhere – in a plane, car, bus etc. (I tend to get repetitive stress pain in my card-holding wrist – this may be a personal defect, but there is certainly a more limited and one-sided range of motions in braiding from a slotted card.)
If not cited below, the sources for most of my information about loop braiding are Noémi Speiser’s book Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, Masako Kinoshita’s site on loop braiding worldwide: Loop Manipulation Braiding Research and Information Center News (see also my info page about LMBRIC), and personal observation and experience.
There’s more about the three parallel fingerloop braiding methods, along with how I happened to get interested in loop braiding, in the “Notes” section following my 9-loop square braid tutorial…
More on Slentre braiding can be found in footnote *5 below.
Info pages (these can also be accessed through the “About” tab in my upper menu):
Page 1: About Loop Braiding
Page 2: About Me
Page 3: Contact form
Page 4: A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding
Page 5: Too-Many-Loop Braids
Page 6: Unorthodox Braids
Page 7: Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding
Page 9: Alphabet braids of the 17th Century
Page 10: Terminology
Page 11: Guide to L-MBRIC (Masako Kinoshita’s Loop-Manipulation Braiding Research and Information Center News site)
Page 12: Braids in my header photo
Page 13: Mystery of the ‘Broad Lace’s sisters
Index to tutorials
Index to posts
*¹ There are also many well-known fingerloop braids that are made by entirely different methods than these three common ones. For example, loop-exchange methods as for the spiral braids (‘lace bend round’) and several other braids; the so-called “spanish” braids; twined braids (often called “bends” or “chevrons” in the old loop braiding manuscripts); the “hollow lace of VII” family of braids; my double braids made by a solo braider, etc.
*² This revival of the A-fell loop braiding method didn’t spread out from surviving practitioners of a continuous tradition. Amazingly, it was re-learned from a very few 15th and 17th C English manuscripts that were widely scattered in museums and private collections, and not understood until relatively recently. Since the 1990’s they have been extensively researched, analyzed, and decoded by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup. Lois Swales and Zoe Kuhn Williams have also researched and translated many of these manuscripts and their online site (fingerloop.org) has directions for the A-fell method, along with many historic braid patterns.
*³ The 5-loop Slentre braiding method was taught in guild and fiber convention workshops across the U.S. for about 10 years by Jackie Wollenberg, from the 70’s into the early ’80’s. Jackie learned the technique while living abroad in Denmark. (by personal communication with Jacqueline Wollenberg)
In 1978 Slentre was described in Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot by Susan Scott Bernal, who had learned the technique from Jackie Wollenberg (Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot Spring 1978 Issue 34). In the 90’s Slentre was described by Anne Dyer in her book Purse Strings Unraveled.
Slentre may have originally been limited to the Faroe Islands. Jackie Wollenberg recently told me that although she learned it from someone in Denmark, that person had herself learned it from someone who had moved to Denmark from the Faroe Islands. (If the Faroe Islands are considered part of Scandinavia, that makes Scandinavia the only place in the world where all three of these parallel loop braiding methods have been found.)
*4. The V-fell method is briefly described in Noémi Speiser’s books on braiding, and in Masako Kinoshita’s online journal L-MBRIC, in the introduction to its illustrated instruction series. (Kinoshita refers to the V-fell method as “Method 2″). By “not taught” I mean that up to when I started this blog, there were no how-to’s or step-by-step instructions published in print or on-line teaching this method.
For references to current practice of traditional loop braiding, see Masako Kinoshita’s site:
Loop-Manipulation Braiding Research and Information Center News, (LMBRIC). L-MBRIC is a semi-yearly journal published in English and Japanese, with a multitude of articles, none of them referenced on the home page. A date-organized index to all the previous articles can be found in Issue 13 (scroll down issue 13 to find the index). I have my own personal guide-page for navigating L-MBRIC, because I find that some of its most important articles are hard to locate on-site.
*5. Slentre Braiding:
Note: Slentre can be also used to make square braids and flat braids like those of the other two methods: here on Dietlind Wagner’s site she shows how to make a 5-loop square braid using the Slentre palms-down method (the transferring loop passes through two loops, skipping over none).
Slentre (palms-down fingerloop braiding) is taught fairly widely both online and in some published sources, but I’ve never come across any comparisons of Slentre to other methods for making fingerloop braids. From the little that’s written about it, one might easily assume that braiding “palms-down” and braiding “palms-facing” could produce equally complex loop braids. In my experience this is not the case. Slentre braiding is very interesting historically, and works fine for making a few basic loop braids, but in general is a much more limited method than either of the two palms-facing methods.
Slentre fingerloop braiding works just as well as palms-facing methods for making square and unorthodox (“semi-flat”) braids of 7 or fewer loops and only 2 braiding moves (“2-pass” braids that have only one braiding move with the left loops, and only one braiding move with the right loops). It is much less convenient for making the truly flat, or the completely divided variations of the square braid – they are doable, but the “no turn” loop transfer is more awkward than with the palm-facing methods. So far, I haven’t actually even seen a flat, single-layer Slentre braid taught anywhere, or the divided version for braiding a opening into a braid, though I have made both myself just to prove that they are possible with Slentre. (You have to do a rather convoluted turning maneuver with the transferring loop to get it to come over to the other hand without a twist in the loop – necessary for both those variations.)
However, looking beyond the simple, two-pass braids produced by A-fell, V-fell, and Slentre braiding, there are many other types of loop braids that can be made with palms facing each other, but not (as far as I know) with the hands and loops held palms-down. For example, some historic loop braids require more than two loop transfers in each cycle of moves – sometimes two transfers in opposing directions on the loops of each hand, or 4 “exchange” transfers between the two hands (spiral braids, lace maskell, etc). Some braids require carrying an extra loop or loops on one or more fingers. I doubt any of this would be possible or easy to do using the palms-down hand position. I also suspect it would not be as as convenient for two or more palms-down Slentre braiders to co-operate in braiding one much larger braid, as was done traditionally with both “palms facing” braiding methods, and with a wide variety of resulting braid forms depending on whether loops were transferred with or without a turn/twist.
If someone can succeed in using a palms-down method for making “exchange” braids like the Spiral Braids and Lace Maskell (photos on Cindy Meyers’ Silkwerk site); or so-called Spanish 4-transfer braids; or the hollow lace of 7 bowes (on Silkwerk), in which two of the fingers on one hand carry two loops each; or the Grene dorge a.k.a. Barleycorn braid, (described on Silkwerk and on Youtube in text and video) in which 2 fingers carry loops that twine between the square-braided loops of the other 4 fingers; or in braiding complex braids as a two (my site) or three-person team (photo on an SCA site opens in another tab); or in braiding these multiple-worker braids as a solo braider, please let me know and I will stand corrected!
I don’t mean to imply that it’s a bad thing to ever turn one or both palms down while braiding. There is nothing wrong with any comfortable hand position when braiding if it works well to accomplish a particular loop movement. But I do feel that if you learn the most basic braids “palms down” (Slentre) and don’t move on to learning the “palms-facing” methods (for those same braids), it will limit your range of loop braiding possibilities quite a bit.
Update Oct 2015: Gary Mitchell (of the FingerTips loop-braid interactive pattern-planners) just showed me that certain color patterns can only be braided with the palms-down method! These are structurally very simple braids in which each of the few braiding strands is two strands thick, and these two strands are of two different colors. This is done by using bicolor loops in a braid in which the two strands of a loop are braided as one single braiding element rather than as two separate braiding elements. In other words, loop braids in which the two strands of each loop stay together throughout the braid. This is not the standard Slentre braid. In these braids described by Dietlind Wagner, loops are only drawn over and under the other loops, never through any of them. This can produce some interesting 2-color patterns that are not easily possible with either palms-facing methods.
Only palms-down braiding can effectively keep the two colors of each loop in consistent left-right order, which is necessary for these particular color-patterns. This is because with the palms-down hand position, all the loops are held in one flat horizontal plane, with the two shanks of each loop held in the same left-right orientation throughout the whole process of braiding. With both palms-facing methods the 2 shanks of each loop are held on two different levels – one above the other – with no consistent left-right orientation. So if you made Dietlind Wagner’s braids using a palms-facing method, the 2 colors of each bicolor loop would end up in random left-right order (for this less common type of braiding in which each loop is braided as a single element, i.e. both shanks of a loop always stay together in the braid). On Gary’s FingerTips site, click on Slentre Braids from Germany, described by Dietlind Wagner to see some of the patterns he has come up with, derived from Dietlind Wagner’s how-to book on Slentre fingerloop braiding (in German). Her book appears to still be available, at least in Germany/ the E.U.
*6. “Interlaced Braids, An Overview,” by Rodrick Owen, published in Strands [annual journal of the Braid Society], Issue 13, 2006. Article is on pp 11-26, his account of the Lao Mien braiders is on page 20.
*7. In The Mummies of Urumchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber mentions some of the intricate braids that were part of the textiles found with these mummies, and relates them to stand-and-bobbin techniques. One of her braid descriptions sounds to me just like a description of a typical two layer twill loop braid (like the ones I call square, double, and Spanish braids, see my Terminology page). Other descriptions may be of twined braids (in the old English loop braiding manuscripts, the braids made by twining are often called “bends” or “chevrons”).
Barber describes finding out about kumihimo stand-and-bobbin braiding after seeing the Urumchi braids, but she doesn’t mention loop braiding, so I assume she wasn’t aware of it at the time she wrote the book — or perhaps wasn’t aware that it could be used to make such complex braids. She mentions in passing that, while in ancient (Greek?) archaeological sites braiding bobbins are found but not the braids, here in the Urumchi sites (areas now part of China, north of India), the braids are found without any bobbins. I can’t help suspecting that the Urumchi braids were made with loop braiding rather than stands and bobbins. For one thing because loop braiding seems to have had a near-worldwide distribution, with indications that it tends to precede stand-and-bobbin braiding, and also because it is much easier for textiles to decay – narrow ones especially – than bobbins of almost any material. Of course that is not proof in itself – bobbins may not have been buried as grave goods, for example, if grave goods were the only artifacts found from that culture.
*8. The fell is the bottom edge of an in-progress weaving or braid–the “growing” edge. Because braids are made on the diagonal, in-progress braids have variously-shaped diagonal fells (as opposed to weavings, which usually have a straight, horizontal fell).
The two loop braiding methods called “A-fell” and “V-fell” were named by Noemi Speiser for their fell-shapes, or rather, for the opposite and distinctively different directions of their braiding movements.
Any braid in which the outer strands are continually brought/braided toward the center of the braid will have a lower “growing” edge shaped like a V. Click link to see an example of a V-shaped fell at the bottom of an in-progress braid being made on a takadai – a type of Japanese braiding stand. (photo will open in a new tab). In a typical fingerloop braid, the fell itself isn’t usually very discernible – it’s obscured by the many strands of loops stretching over the fell down to the fingers. However, in both the Slentre and the so-called V-fell loop braiding methods, outer loops are drawn toward the center of the braid with each braiding motion.
A braid in which the center/innermost strands are continually braided toward the outer edges of the braid will have a fell shaped like an upside-down V – sometimes called an A-shaped fell. This is the direction of the braiding movements for square and unorthodox braids as they have commonly been made in Europe and elsewhere, which is why Noemi Speiser used the term A-fell for that method. (Masako Kinoshita calls it Method 1.)
The shape/ contour of the fell reflects the order and direction of the braiding moves. It doesn’t necessarily reflect or reveal the over-under structure of the braided fabric, however.
A wide braided textile could be made with any one of several variously zig-zag-shaped fells, or an A or V shaped fell, or one long diagonal, yet have the exact same “weave” structure to the finished fabric (say plain weave, twill, etc). There would be no way to tell what the shape of the fell had been during the process of braiding if: 1. the braid were turned so the bottom was at the top, or 2. if the lower edge were hemmed, or 3. if the braider stopped braiding partway through the last row rather than finishing it, or 3. finished the braid by braiding in sections in order to “catch up” the unbraided areas in the middle, or at the two sides (thereby forming a zig-zagged / roughly horizontal lower border).
*9. “My Never-ending Story with Braids,” Interview of Rodrick Owen by Ingrid Crickmore in Strands, issue 24, 2017 (annual journal of The Braid Society)
*10. Mari Omura, “Archaic Braiding Techniques” in Threads that Move, proceedings of the international Braids 2012 conference. Most of Mari Omura’s historical and archeological research on loop braiding in Asia is published in Japanese, in Japan. Some of it is translated in the Proceedings books from the first two international BRAIDS conferences: Space, Time and Braid (2007), and Threads That Move (2012). Check with the Braid Society in England, and Braiders Hand in the U.S. for copies.
I can’t find many English references online to her work outside of L-MBRIC. She has done extensive research on Japanese, Korean, and Chinese loop braiding history, including collaborating with archeological teams investigating things like rust-tracings of braids on ancient armor (!). Here is a link to information about one of her studies (through the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property, Japan):
(English title) Basic study of the appearance and transmission of braiding techniques in ancient Asia, 2015
(In Japanese) 古代アジアにおける組紐製作技法の発生と伝播に関する基礎調査
Study citation info
Here is a link to L-MBRIC issue 10, which includes a report by Masako Kinoshita on some of Omura’s research examining “Xi” – probable loop-braided fabrics from the “Warring Period” (402 B.C. – 221 B.C.) tombs in Hupei province, China. Some of the Xi braids discovered had been braided with pick-up patterned Chinese characters for “Thousand Gold” ie Chinese letter-braids!
L-MBRIC issue 11 has another article (by Mari Omura), on this topic, showing photos of her reconstruction of the pick-up patterning method of Xi braiding, and noting an even older literary quotation in a classical Chinese poem: “…handling reins like braiding” that seems to be a reference to loop braiding.
*11. There is evidence of loop braiding from one or more centuries B.C. in Asia: see Chinese 1st C. BC Bronze of textile workers including a pair of loop braiders; also research into even earlier periods by Mari Omura, see note 10 above. European loop braid artifacts from as far back as 900 AD are cited in European Loop Braiding: Investigations and Results–Parts I, II, III, IV, by Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup, published and edited by Jennie Parry, 2009-2011. Some of the earliest known European braids are quite complex, made by multiple braiders working together. Narrow textiles like braids don’t survive in the European archeological record much longer than a few hundred years. I would guess the actual practice goes back hundreds or thousands of years before that, based on the level of complexity of the earliest known artifacts, a well-preserved bronze-age square braid that may have been loop braided found in the middle east, as well as Mari Omura’s research in Asia.
[Update: see my more recent historical post for a reference to a study of two European loop braids from the Iron Age (approx 500 B.C.!) found in the Hallstatt Salt Mine in Austria.]
Posted Dec 2, 2011
Last updated August 7, 2019
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