- friendship bracelets
- flat bands
- textile jewelry
- warp finishes for weaving
Loop braiding is an off-loom, no-equipment technique for braiding cords and bands, using yarn or thread doubled into loops and held at the ends of the loops, rather than close to the braid. There are two main types of loop braiding. In fingerloop braiding, or more technically “finger-held loop-manipulation braiding,” the ends of the loops are held by the fingers. This is the most common type—it’s been done all over the world for thousands of years. Hand-held loop braiding—known only from Oman, ancient Japan and Peru—is essentially the same process, but is done with loops held around the whole hand rather than on separate fingers. (For more about the history of loop braiding, see my recent post on this!)
Holding the braiding strands as loops creates an amazing step up in braiding efficiency – almost like the difference between weaving with and without a loom. For one thing, the braid can be tightened with one large easy motion, no matter how fine the threads are.
But aside from that, the simple act of holding the loops creates a “shed” (an opening) between the upper and lower strands of each loop. This is similar to what heddles do in a loom. Loop braiders usually don’t even realize this, we think of the loops as simple, single elements, since that’s how we move them. However, in most loop braids, the two strands of a loop don’t actually lie together within the braid. A five-loop square braid actually has ten separately interlaced parts. That’s a pretty complicated braid!
Yet it’s not complicated to make — adults down to 11-year-olds can learn it in a quick demo. The square braid is the first one I usually teach, but loop braiding can be used to make many types of braided cords and bands—square, flat, round, hollow, triangular and more, with a wide range of patterning possibilities.
My goal for this blog is to promote loop braiding in general, introduce beginners to loop braiding, and also to share some of my techniques for braiding comfortably with more loops than are normally used in fingerloop braiding.
My introductory tutorial is on 5-loop square and flat braids. The first video will walk you through from the beginning, from set-up to slo-mo moves for learning a square braid. [update: I now have an even easier intro tutorial — on 3-loop braids — in both a downloadable pdf form and as a series of videos. See my tutorials page for links to all my tutorials.]
My site doesn’t teach all the known historic loop braids. There are a few other loop braiding sources where you can learn many great braids (see links to sites in my sidebar, and my upper menu tab on Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding). None will show you my methods for braiding with 9 loops and more. Other sources generally all teach a slightly different method than I do for making the most basic braids—the “A-fell method.” Its upper limit for comfortable braiding is 7 loops.
I teach a method for basic braids that is mainly known from Asia and the Pacific—the so-called “V-fell method.” It allows using up to 9 loops. (See my info page on the A-fell, V-fell and Slentre methods for more about these 3 different methods for making the same basic loop braids.)
Limitations of loop braiding
Loop braiding is faster and more efficient than free-end braiding, but it has some inherent limitations. The main ones are the number of loops one person can braid with, and how long this braid can be. In the past, braiders got around both these limitations by loop-braiding in teams. Two or more braiders would braid side-by-side, while linking their braids together to make a wider braid.
For longer braids, one person would stand near the start of the braid, and tighten the fell (the base of the braid) each time the braider or braiders completed a cycle of braiding. If you and a friend are interested in making longer lengths of bands or cordage, this is not hard to do, and is a great way to braid longer lengths fairly quickly.
Team loop braiding is an ancient tradition–there are surviving fragments of European 2- and 3-worker loop braids that are almost 1,000 years old. There is even older evidence for it in Asia, including a statue of two braiders working together that is over 2,000 years old. Loop braiding in teams is still a living tradition in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
The problem today is that loop braiding isn’t an “everybody-does-it” type of craft anymore. Nowadays you aren’t as likely to have another braider handy when you want to make extra-long cordage; or a braid with an inscription braided into it; or a beautiful “double barleycorn” braid; or the lacy openwork braid called “Katheren Wheele” of 15 loops; or other braids that used to be made by teams of loop braiders.
I have learned some work-arounds for making these braids as a solo braider. I derived most of my “too-many-loops” techniques from braiding with the V-fell method, which is relatively unknown in the West, and allows using thumbs as well as fingers to hold loops in braiding.
These multiple-loop techniques have made it possible for me to figure out workable ways to braid larger and more complex braids as a solo braider. I hope to share some of them in this blog.
I’d also like to share some techniques I use for braiding lengths that are much longer than my reach—up to several yards in length.
But even if you aren’t interested in braiding with extreme lengths or numbers of loops, you will be able to find many easy and beautiful loop braids here. Check out my “tutorials” page for links.
(For more about braiding with more loops than 7, see my “Too-many-loops” page.)
Thanks for visiting Loop Braiding!
© 2010–2017 Ingrid Crickmore
See full copyright restrictions and permissions at the bottom of the sidebar (if you are on a smaller device, the ‘sidebar’ may appear somewhere other than at the side). Content of this website may not be posted or reposted online, sold, or used in fee-based workshops without my permission. It may be shared off-line with certain restrictions – see full copyright info.
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
8 thoughts on “About loop braiding”
How do I estimate thread length?
It varies depending on the type of braid, the thickness of the yarn, how many loops, and how tightly or loosely you braid.
It’s best to make a little sample to see. And even after that, always cut the loops a little longer than you think you will need! Better to waste a little yarn than to finish with a braid that is too short.
My “whole 9 yards” braid was a narrow 7-loop square braid of embroidery floss.
I started with loops that were 9 yards long, and that braid ended up slightly more than 7 yards long.
However another braid I made with thicker yarn and 16 loops started as 10 feet long loops, for a finished braid of 5.5 feet plus maybe 6 inches of unused loops that I cut off.
So there is a wide variance!
In a braid, the strands all go back and forth from side-to-side down the braid, so the finished braid ends up much shorter than the loops you start with.
Also, for each braid you have to allow extra length for any knot you may have tied at the top of the braid, and for the few inches of loops at the end of the braid that are too difficult to braid – you can’t braid down to the very ends of your loops.
I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found your website. I am a jewelry designer/maker who has dabbled in weaving and used regular braiding for jewelry cords. I have thought that there is something I am searching for in between (not sure if loop braiding qualifies), but I wasn’t sure what that would be.I was just sorting my stash of embroidery thread last night trying to decide how to use it to make multicolored cords for my pendants.
I think your work is amazing and you are so generous to share all these tutorials. I can’t wait to look at your website more and learn about this cool, but largely unknown art.
Thanks so much for the nice feedback, Amanda!!!
Hello , Ingrid .Thank you for making this Website . This is Awesome !
I was Snooping around the internet to learn a method to braid colorful wool
Around my headphones , and I came across your Website , its really informative
and the tutorials are easy to learn from . I am A product Design Graduate from India
And i bet i will use your websites for the many years to come ! Thank you 🙂
You’re welcome, I’m glad you found the tutorials useful!
Hi Carol, thanks so much for your faith in me!!!–I wondered why my empty you-tube channel suddenly had a subscriber! I’ve listed the braids under comments on my “welcome to my loop braiding blog” entry.
By the way, I love your chinese knotting site–and I am especially grateful for your instructions for making the button knot with only one free end. That was exactly what I needed once for making a string of connected button knots. They look really great tied with lengthwise-striped square braids.
Hey, Ingrid. Love your site already. A request: your first page image is so interesting, could you break it down for us? List the number of loops and techniques used for each braid? Thanks! Subscribed to the blog and the soon-to-be-not-empty youTube channel. 😎