How I got into loop braiding

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 V-fell fingerloop braiding method in Washington state summer camps in the 90’s! 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.

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. I had found out by then (via LMBRIC) that the method Dana taught me was a known method, used primarily in Asia. Yet no other website or 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 had gone before, I managed to work out “thumb” ways to make the following braids using only single loops on any digit: 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.

I finally got over my avoidance of carrying more than one loop per finger. All that playing around with trying to find easier ways to make the same braid led me to trying to find easy ways to make braids of more loops than 9, even if it did require holding more than one loop on some finger. How could you 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?

But I was still very focused on finding the simplest, most efficient way, so the the braid wouldn’t be overly slow and labor-intensive. Even after I had found “a way” I was always thinking “what would be an easier way?” To me one of the best things about loop braiding was how fun it was to do, as well as how beautiful the results were. I wanted any braid I made to be fun to make – maybe at first a bit of a challenge, but it should become fun and automatic fairly quickly or just wasn’t worth it.

I highly recommend taking braiding one step at a time and having fun with it. Don’t rush into trying, say 18-loop braids before doing a lot of 16-loop braids. Otherwise it will seem impossible to excruciatingly frustrating. I once had what I thought was a brilliant idea for making a 12-loop square braid (in a sort-of Lace Dawns-y pattern) when I still hadn’t yet learned how to make 11-loop square braids. I couldn’t get the idea to work, and I ended up convinced that 12-loop braids were completely impossible. But later, after I had worked out and practiced an 11-loop method, the 12-loop braid became obvious and doable.


Last updated Sep/29/2018
©2011–2018 Ingrid Crickmore

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