In 2006 I learned how to make a five-loop square braid, using the method that I teach in this blog. That was here in California (U.S.A.) at a knitting get-together in a local cafe. I was taught by a young woman who had learned it herself as a teen in a Washington state summer camp.
Since then I have met 2 other people who also learned this so-called V-fell fingerloop braiding method in Washington state summer camps in the 90’s! (It’s the method in which the ring or little fingers do the loop-pulling, rather than the index fingers.) Maybe the camp counselor who first brought it into “camp culture” there had learned it from an Asian relative, or while traveling in Asia, or perhaps 2nd-hand from someone else who learned it that way.
[update: I have now met or heard from others who learned this method from friends as a teenagers in the U.S. very far from the Pacific Northwest – including Zoe Kuhn Williams of the Fingerloop Braiding website. So, although the method wasn’t represented online when I started braiding, it may have been fairly prevalent in teen culture across the country.]
Dana showed me how to braid a five-loop square braid, and told me that I could keep adding more fingers and loops—up to a limit of 9 loops. (I still don’t know if she had been taught how to braid with 9 loops, or had figured it out on her own.) She taught me using what she happened to have with her – pink fingering-weight knitting yarn – but told me the braids would be very pretty if I used a mix of different colors, and suggested embroidery floss.
I was sure I would remember how to do it, but luckily, I did jot down some notes to remind myself later. A few days later I had to use my notes and some rather clunky kitchen-cotton yarn to relearn. I wasn’t very impressed with how the braids looked in that clunky yarn so I didn’t pursue it. But a few months later I decided to bring my notes and some embroidery floss along on one of our summer music-camp trips for something to do with my hands if I got bored.
When I tried it with embroidery floss I was instantly hooked! As were three or four other campers who tried it with me… My memory is that we sat around braiding all afternoon the last day of camp. After one or two 5-loop braids I went right ahead with 7 loops, and then 9 loops, at that point using my thumbs since they were the last ‘fingers’ left to add. After all, Dana had said it was possible, with an implication of “just as easy” as well. This was on our way home to California – my husband and I were camping along the way through the interior of Washington and Oregon. I still remember at our second camp, somewhere in a forest east of Crater Lake, braiding away on a log, with scores of wasps walking up and down both my arms! There was the most horrific infestation of them everywhere in that area, and they kept congregating on our camp in numbers we have never seen since.
With nine loops, I had to figure out how to move the index loop up to the thumb, and then figure out which of the two parts of the loop I was supposed to hook onto in order to turn the loop the way Dana had insisted was so important when she showed me the 5-loop braid. The two parts of the loop looked flat and horizontal on the thumb, not ranked one above the other the way they had looked on the fingers. I had to pass the loop back and forth between index and thumb several times before I could be sure which shank was ending up where on the thumb.
I recently managed to contact Dana and ask her some questions about how she learned this method of loop braiding. She didn’t remember anything about the person who taught her at summer-camp, or mention whether she had figured out her 9-loop method on her own, but she did confirm that, when using thumbs to carry loops, she holds them as I do, always pointing somewhat upward, NEVER tucking them down (don’t do it! it just leads to more problems later on). As does Europa, the woman I met at Braids 2012 who had learned to loop braid using thumbs in China. Dana’s words: “Up! Always up!”
I didn’t try to braid with 11 loops until a year or more after first learning how to loop braid. In fact, my first year of loop braiding I was highly focused on avoiding braiding with multiple loops on any finger. Once I got home from our trip, I found Lois Swales’ and Zoe Kuhn-Williams’ Fingerloop Braiding site fingerloop.org, and began learning from that. I always tried to translate the few classic braids that required holding more than one loop on a finger into some other method that would allow me to use my thumbs instead.
This was because I had found out very early on that it was possible to make the exact same loop braid in more than one way. I had learned the same exact square braid by two very different methods—Dana’s method first, and then the method taught on fingerloop.org (V-fell and A-fell, respectively).
Later, when trying to follow fingerloop.org’s instructions for braiding Lace daunce, I suddenly noticed that all those fussy complicated moves with the right hand’s loops was just a long-winded, cumbersome way to bring the loop from the left hand through one extra loop on the right hand!
Amazing! The mysterious Lace Daunc was just a flat braid of 8 loops! I already knew how to make that type of braid with up to 9 loops using Dana’s V-fell method with no fussy moves, why not make this braid her way and save myself all this extra work?! It just required figuring out which fingers to put the red and white colors onto to get the same color-pattern.
After that loopy revelation, I saw loop braid instructions in a very different light – they were not necessarily the holy grail. There might well be an easier way to make the same braid. What was really strange was that no one else seemed to have noticed this. I had only been loop braiding a few months, and obviously others had been doing it for a long time, and knew about many more braids than I did. I had found out by then on LMBRIC that the method Dana taught me was a known method, used primarily in Asia. Yet no other website or SCA fingerloop braiding chat page mentioned this Asian method and how useful it was… At the very least, for undoing a braid made by the opposite method.
Spurred on by the excitement of boldly going where it seemed no-one was currently going, I managed to work out “thumb” ways to make the following braids (taught on other sites with more than one loop on some finger or fingers) but using only a single loop per finger: Lace Dawns and Piol; the “Hollow Lace of 7” family of related braids; a close version of the Lace Endented of 8 bows; as well as a 10-loop version of the classic 8-loop Lace Bend Round (the Spiral braid). Later I also worked out a 10-loop, 1-loop-per-finger method for making 2-person double-square braids – the ones called “purse string with the wave” etc on fingerloop.org.
Eventually I got over my avoidance of carrying more than one loop per finger. All that playing around with trying to find easier ways to make known braids led me to try finding easy ways to make braids that had more loops than I had fingers. How would one make a square braid of 11 loops? What about 13? What kinds of “unorthodox” braids could you make with that many loops? What about bigger versions of traditional two-worker braids? Three-worker braids?
My basic braiding practice is always to use all ten fingers as loop-holders before adding extra loops to any fingers. This results in fewer fussy loop-shifting moves. It also allows room to add even more loops later on (for an even bigger version of the same braid) once you do start adding a second loop onto some fingers.
After finding one way to make a braid, I try to keep looking for an even easier way. I want any braid I made to be fun to make, not frustrating. Maybe a little challenging at first, but with the potential to become fun and easy fairly quickly.
I highly recommend taking braiding one step at a time and having fun with it! Don’t rush into trying to learn a braid that your fingers aren’t ready for, or it will not be fun – plus you would be skipping a lot of great braids in between!
Last updated Nov. 5, 2022
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