- 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.
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 types of loop braids. There are a few other loop braiding sites, as well as some books on loop braiding where you can learn many other great braids (see links 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. Most other sources will 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 prefer to teach a method for basic braids that is mainly known from Asia and the Pacific—the “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!
© 2010–2015 Ingrid Crickmore
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Page 1: About Loop Braiding (this page)
Page 2: A-fell, V-fell, Slentre, and hand-held loop braiding
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.”)