Worldwide, the most common loop braids seem to have been simple, 2-pass fingerloop braids of 5 loops. Interestingly, there are 3 different 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. 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 past) the opposite hand’s index loop first, then the middle finger loop — to fetch the opposite hand’s furthest loop. Like braids made with the V-fell method, Slentre braids “grow” with a V-shaped *fell. However, with the Slentre method, the index fingers hold the loops coming from the center of the braid, and the outermost fingers (ring or little) hold the loops at the edges of the braid–this is opposite to the V-fell method. (Click here to see a photo-tutorial for the Slentre method.)
The current loop braiding revival is largely based on the A-fell method.*² Oddly—considering its originally very limited distribution—the Slentre method has also been widely taught in textile and craft circles.*³
Until this blog (as far as I can tell), the V-fell method has not been taught at all in 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
To me, it 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 fingers have to start carrying more than one loop. (The Slentre method has further limitations, see footnote *5.)
The A and V-fell methods are highly complementary, as each method can undo the other’s 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.)
It is assumed that hand-held loop braiding–where it occurred–developed as an extension of finger loop braiding, as a technique for managing greater numbers of loops. It probably did not replace finger-held loop braiding for braids of fewer loops. (In the Braids of the Mummies link above, scroll to the bottom of the page to see photos of hand-held loop braiding with a braid of over 60 loops.)
With 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 certain types of braids that can only be made with hand-held loops, even if they have fewer than ten loops. For example, some Japanese and Omani loop braids that are (or were) braided in four layers. As far as I know, finger-held loops can only create braids of up to two 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 fairly recently, 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. Through investigating old manuscripts, and analyzing the braids themselves, Masako Kinoshita discovered that they were actually made with hand-held loop braiding–the larger ones with many braiders cooperating.
It was only in recent centuries that the various kumihimo braiding stands were developed, and loop braiding (kute-uchi) gradually disappeared. This evolution of hand or finger-held loop braiding to using braiding stands and bobbins was very likely also the case in other countries where stand-and-bobbin braiding methods are used.
In an article in Strands, Rodrick Owen noted that Lao Mien braiders practice both loop 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 ).
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 (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.
Page 1: About Loop Braiding
Page 2: A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding (this page)
Page 3: Too-Many-Loop Braids
Page 4: Unorthodox Braids
Page 5: Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding
Page 6: Alphabet braids of the 17th Century
Page 7: About Me
Page 8: Terminology
Page 9: L-M BRIC and the Illustrated Instruction Series – an unofficial index to Masako Kinoshita’s loop braiding site.
Page 10: The Mystery of V-fell vs A-fell Unorthodox 5-loop braids – (The 5-loop Triangle Braid and the Broad Lace of V Bows – musings on why they are so different, despite having exactly the same over-under braided structure, and other tidbits about these “most common of all fingerloop braids.”)
*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.)
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 this method as “Method 2″). By “not taught” I mean that
until now at least up to when I started this blog, there haven’t been any step-by-step instructions published in print or on-line for learning 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. An index to all the previous articles can be found in Issue 13 (scroll down issue 13 to find the index)–which is why I tend to use Issue 13 as my “go-to” starting page for navigating L-MBRIC.
*5. Slentre Braiding:
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 just perusing what is 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 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 works less well for making flat and divided versions of the square braid—they are certainly doable, but the “no turn” loop transfer is a bit awkward.
However many known historic loop braids require more than two loop transfers in each cycle of moves (usually two per hand, in opposing directions), and/ or carrying an extra loop on one or more fingers. I doubt either of these would be easy or even possible to do using the palms-down hand position for loop braiding. I also think it would be extremely difficult for two or more Slentre braiders to cooperate in braiding bigger and more complex braids, which has been done traditionally with both “palms facing” braiding methods. (If someone succeeds in using a palms-down method for making so-called Spanish 4-transfer braids; or the hollow lace of 7 bowes, in which two of the fingers on one hand carry two loops each; or two-worker braids as a solo braider; or in braiding complex braids as a two or three-person team, please let me know and I will stand corrected!)
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 taught on most sites—in this braid, palms do face down, but loops are only drawn between other loops, never through a loop.
Only palms-down braiding can effectively keep the two colors of each loop in consistent left-right order during the process of braiding these simple, single-layer braids. This can produce some very nice 2-color patterns that are not easily possible with palms-facing methods. On Gary’s FingerTips site, click on Slentre Braids from Germany, described by Dietlind Wagner to see some of these patterns.
*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 description of a braid 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 seem to be of twined braids (in the old English loop braiding manuscripts, the braids made by oblique twining are often called “bends” or “chevrons”).
Barber describes finding out about kumihimo stand-and-bobbin braiding after seeing the Urumchi braids, but she never mentions 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.
*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–generally 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).
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