Braiding with more loops

I’ve noticed in workshops that loop braiders who are already fast and experienced sometimes feel more discouraged about adding two more loops than braiders who have learned more recently. I’ve seen this with braiders trying seven loops after years of braiding with five loops, and also with braiders moving up to nine loops from long experience with seven.

I suspect it’s because they can barely remember ever braiding slowly, or having to coach one particular finger along. (One of the fun things about loop braiding is how fast and easy it becomes.)

Adding a new finger at that point can feel temporarily like hitting a brick wall, because proficient braiders are so used to braiding completely automatically. When their hands can’t perform the new move right away, they perceive it as an insurmountable physical impediment. They can often point right to what they think is the problem. I hear things like: “See! my little finger is too short”; “My ring finger is physically incapable of lifting high enough”; “My thumb bends the wrong way”; etc. If they persevere past their initial shock, and let their hands discover how to do the new move, they of course end up learning it faster than the less-dismayed relative beginners, and soon are back to braiding automatically again.

But you might as well avoid that whole problem of getting too good at making easy braids! Just go ahead and move up to 7 loops fairly soon after you learn to braid with 5, and move on to 9 loops fairly soon after that. This is what I did, myself — I was no speedball at making 7-loop braids when I first started making 9-loop braids. At that point, the 7-loop loop-shifting move was doable, but still a challenge for the ring finger, especially on one of my hands.

That “try it sooner” advice might not apply to braids that require holding more than one loop on a finger, though. I may be prejudiced by my own experience, since I braided for a long time with 9 loops before moving on to 11 loops, but I really think it’s a different step up in difficulty.

With 11 loops you’re not bringing a new finger into the mix. They are all involved already once you get up to 9 loops. Rather, all the fingers now need to gain even more automatic control over their loops – by practicing longer with one loop per digit. When you first think you have this down, you don’t quite – there is yet another level when the moves become even more fluid and automatic. (I’m not talking about speed – I don’t believe in trying to braid fast, it just causes mistakes. Braiding should feel relaxed and enjoyable.)

Once that is really ingrained, you’ll be able to focus your attention on the new and different step in the loop shifting with 11 loops, and the puzzle of that extra loop on the little finger that is sometime on one hand, and sometimes on both hands. Moving up to 11 loops is more demanding on the brain – I remember constantly thinking “What’s going on?!” at first (meaning “Where in the braiding procedure am I?”). It’s confusing enough that you don’t want to also be thinking about your fingers. By that time, it’s better if the fingers can do their own thinking.

You might want to try 10-loop double braids after 9-loop square braids. These are also one loop per finger/ thumb, and there are so many beautiful variations that can be made with essentially the same method – a lot more variety than square braids offer. [To learn how to make these braids the traditional way, as a team of 2 braiders, see my 2 people team-braiding post].

You can add more loops with double braids, too, but again it’ll be a lot easier if you add them with square braids first. An 11-loop square braid is the perfect intro to learning 12-loop double braids.

When I braid a 12-loop double braid, I carry the extra loops on the little fingers, just as I do with an 11-loop square braid.

For a 14-loop double braid, I then add an extra loop onto the thumbs, and so on. I only use thumbs and little fingers to hold the extra loops for double braids of up to 18 loops (this makes the loop-shifting much easier). An 18-loop double braid seems easier to me than a 15-loop square braid, because of the loop-shifting moves, so total loop number is not the only measure of difficulty in a braid.

Each time I learn a new step, the braiding seems a bit difficult at first and gradually gets easier. At some point I always think I’ve achieved “automaticity” because everything seems to be going so smoothly. But invariably a long time later, the braid suddenly becomes truly automatic, which is always a happy surprise! You think you already have it figured out, but then you really figure it out – or rather, your fingers do. At that point you can relax and enjoy the braiding even more, or focus on extra stuff like more complicated color patterns, or beads, without making as many braiding mistakes.

(Check out my ‘too-many-loops‘ info page as well.)


Last updated Sep/11/2018
©2011–2018 Ingrid Crickmore