Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, by Noémi Speiser

Noémi Speiser has written two ground-breaking books on braiding:

Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, 2000. Self-published [Now out of print. This is a sad state of affairs for the future of loop braiding.]

and The Manual of Braiding, 1991. Self-published [now looking like this is out of print as well. This is a huge loss to the textile world–no other book covers this many types of obliquely interlaced fabric structures — or analyzes and explains them in anything near the depth that Noémi Speiser does in this book. This is the braiding equivalent of Emery’s Primary Structures of Fabrics — it should really be a companion to it for anyone interested in braided as well as woven structures.]

See end of page for a description of Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup’s recent 4-part historical follow-up to: European Loop Braiding – parts I, II, III, and IV At least these 4 slim volumes are still in print. However they are supplements to Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding–you will get a lot more out of them if you have read the book they are based on, and have it available as a reference.

Noémi Speiser is best known in textile and braiding circles for her Manual of Braiding. The Manual is the textile world’s ultimate reference, as well as manual, on braiding. It covers every known textile braiding technique in the world, plus several “braiding-like” techniques—a totally incredible variety. I’m sure most textile libraries and guilds have a copy, though it is somewhat obscure because of being self-published. The book isn’t impressive-looking—it’s a large, spiral-bound paperback with no color pictures, but what it contains on braiding can’t be found anywhere else in one volume, and a lot of it probably can’t be found anywhere else, period.

The Manual does include a hefty and very dense section on loop braiding, but if your main braiding interest is loop braiding, I highly recommend Speiser’s Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding.

Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding is the most complete reference on loop braiding anywhere, as well as a very interesting account of Speiser’s research into loop braiding. It includes instructions for every braid in the (then known) 15th and 17th Century European manuscripts on loop braiding—with the exception of the “letterbraids” (alphabet-symbol braids) which have since been decoded by Speiser’s student Joy Boutrup. Many or most of these are braids that require more than one braider working together to make them, but there are plenty of single-braider braids as well.

Like the Manual of Braiding, OEPBforLB is a large-format, self-published, spiral-bound paperback with black-and-white illustrations that include many diagrams and drawings. No eye-candy, but a lot of buried treasure. (At the time Speiser published these, it was prohibitively expensive to self-publish with color photos).  A black and white drawing or diagram can give very clear structural details about a braid, but it can’t convey how beautiful it is, so unfortunately the reader might have less incentive to try it.

Old English Pattern Books is much more readable and easier to learn from than the highly concentrated/ condensed loop braiding section in the Manual of Braiding. Also, it was written later, so it incorporates material that Speiser learned after writing the Manual.

Some of the more abstract sections on braid theory and structure in OEPB can seem a little overwhelming. But the instructions themselves start from the most basic, beginning level, and are written simply and clearly. The black and white line drawing illustrations are also very clear.

If you are learning loop braiding from this book, don’t be scared off by Speiser’s “track-plan” diagrams above the drawings—they aren’t necessary at all for learning the braids. However, if you are interested in this system for charting loop braids, the way Speiser pictorially connects her diagrams to the actual loops on fingers might be the easiest way to learn that charting system. (after you have learned the first braids!)

OEPB is also a textile mystery-adventure story—a saga of how Speiser noticed both the old braids, as well as the obscure manuscripts that turned out to be describing them, in separate museums and private collections, and managed to put them together—deciphering the manuscripts, and figuring out the braid structures they described. This was no easy task! The 17th C. loop braiding manuscripts were the first ones she came across, and they were written with almost impenetrable terminology, and with most of the necessary background information completely omitted—apparently considered obvious by the writers.

The 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts, which Speiser investigated later, were much easier to understand, and confirmed most of her earlier interpretations.

Most of OEPB—instructions, historical info etc—is very  readable, and even funny at times. Speiser is very open about her frustration and delight over those 15th and 17th C braiders and their variously ultra-clear and ultra-opaque notes.  OEPB has a much more personal voice than The Manual of Braiding (which is understandable—the Manual covers so much that it has to be drier and more concise.) It’s true that some sections of OEPB may be too abstract and theoretical to take in at first—just skip them and come back later. This book has plenty for anybody who’s really interested in loop braiding, and it will keep having plenty. There’s always more to find out from it.

My few criticisms:
Speiser’s numbering system for the chapters and illustrations is very complicated — it always takes me a while to process her combination of Roman, Arabic, and alphabet symbols. 

There’s no index. Often I have tried to go back and find something that I know I read somewhere in the book and have ended up having to browse through the whole book to find it! For example, the individual braids of the old manuscripts are not listed by name in the table of contents, so if you want to locate the instructions for, say “the hollow lace of 7 bowes” you are not likely to find them quickly and easily.

Also, the formatting of the pages is too dense, with too much information crowded onto each page. I think this more than anything else is what makes some readers think the book is difficult to learn from. A little more space on each page would make it much more readable.

As someone who references this book in writing fairly often, I also have to complain that the title is much too long! plus it sounds too quaint and obscure for a such a ground-breaking, comprehensive reference work and instruction manual combined.

The sequels

These four slim volumes are supplements to Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, with new historical research and discoveries. Joy Boutrup, a student and colleague of Noémi Speiser, did much of the research and writing, in collaboration with Speiser. Periodical/magazine-format publications, A-4 size, with color illustrations.

Available together or separately from BraidersHand in the U.S. In the U.K. they may (?) be available from the publisher (Jennie Parry). These are just the sources I know of, they may be carried elsewhere as well.

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

These monographs delve into European loop braiding history stretching back several centuries before and after the 15th C. manuscripts. One of the oldest extant complete purses with loop braided handles is a gorgeous example from the late 900’s, shown in Volume IV. A few other examples of complex multiple-braider braids have been found dating back to around the 11th C. Narrow textiles rarely survive even that long, so it’s very likely that European loop braiding had its start long before that, especially considering the complexity of some of the earliest known examples.

Interestingly, Scandinavia seems to have been a hotbed of loop braiding both early and late, with complex, archaic 3-person braids still being made there as recently as the 1930’s.

[Outside the purview of this series, there is evidence of loop braiding in China from two or more thousand years B.C., and I’m guessing that loop braiding may have an equally long history in Europe, though actual braids don’t last that long in the archeological record. Some of the older Chinese evidence is from microscopic rust-tracings of long-since disintegrated braids found on armor. (cf. Mari Omura)]

These monographs were written as supplements to Old English Pattern Books, and don’t duplicate information already covered there. For that reason, they are easier to follow if you are familiar with the earlier book. Unlike OEPB, they do have full-color “eye-candy” photographs. They are not instruction books, however the authors describe braids clearly and completely, so most of them are learn-able if you have already learned the braids and terminology in Old English Pattern Books for Loop braiding, and the unorthodox exchange of Vol. I (and have a partner or two to braid with!).

Part I: Orthodox and unorthodox exchanging of loops in co-operation
Much historical information about very early multiple-worker European loop braids, extending back centuries before the earliest known manuscripts. The focus is on a peculiar and unorthodox method for two cooperating braiders to exchange their loops in linking their work together, which results in a visible groove/ pattern anomaly down the center of the braid. This method apparently has been very common throughout European loop braiding history, yet in the known 15th C manuscripts it was completely omitted (perhaps purposely, the authors suggest!). I wrote more about Part I in a review for the Braid Society newsletter, since reprinted in Issue 13 of LMBRIC (scroll partway down that page to find the review).

Part II: Instructions for Letter Braids in 17th Century Manuscripts
See my info page about this monograph—17th C alphabet braids.

Part III: Loop Braiding in Swedish Bridgettine Tradition
The Bridgettine Convent in Vadstena, Sweden was instituted in 1384. A small group of nuns were in charge of the textiles of the convent church. About 40 liturgical textiles have been preserved, several with associated loop braids. Great photos of these!

Part IV: Track Plans as a Tool for Analysis; and Applications of Loop-Manipulation Braids
Opening section is on Speiser’s “track-plan” system for analyzing loop braids, with several examples.
Then follow several analyses and beautiful photos of extant loop braids and objects incorporating loop braids from various museums and collections. Fascinating, especially since some of the braids have structures that were not recorded in any of the known loop braiding manuscripts. There are no step-by-step instructions for these. However, many of their methods are clear from the descriptions, as long as you are familiar with the terminology and braids in OEPBforLB, the mysterious “unorthodox exchange” discussed in Volume I, and have a partner (or two) to braid with… More highlights: A detailed comparison of various historic methods of constructing braided purse-strings; description of how two workers can (and did—notated in the old manuscripts) braid a hollow braid around a core consisting of a cord or string; an analysis (finally!) of the V-fell version of the common 5-loop unorthodox braid — interesting because though it has the same exact over-under ‘architecture’/ braided structure as its A-fell counterpart, it turns out with a completely different shape and appearance.

A review I wrote about Parts I and II for the Braid Society newsletter can be read on L-MBRIC, issue 13 (scroll partway through the issue to find the review).

© 2011–2016 Ingrid Crickmore
See full copyright restrictions and permissions at the bottom of the sidebar (if you are on a small screen, 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:
Page 1: About Loop Braiding
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 (this page)
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.

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