Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding

Noémi Speiser has written two classic braiding referrences:

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.]

See end of page for a description of Noémi Speiser and Joy Boutrup’s recent 4-part historical follow-up to Old English Pattern Books: European Loop Braiding – parts I, II, III, and IV. At least these 4 publications are still in print. However they are strictly supplements to Old English Pattern Books for Loop Braiding, and don’t define any terms or concepts already covered there. 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.

Speiser also wrote a short, introductory how-to on loop braiding:  Loop Manipulation Braiding Basic Instructions, 2002published by Jennie Parry, and also out-of-print. It may have only contained instructions for one braid (?)the 5-loop square braid done with the European A-fell method, which is taught in many other places, including on fingerloop.org

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 fills in the many “holes” about braided structures that exist in Irene Emory’s “Primary Structures of Fabrics.”  (As Speiser herself points out!)

It covers every known textile braiding technique in the world, plus several “braiding-like” techniquesa totally incredible variety. Beyond the structural analyses, she also gives hands-on suggestions for creating these. 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-lookingit’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 easily be found anywhere else, period. Very densethis is not light reading, but is very fun browsing for a textile geek!

The Manual does include a large, 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 all the braids in the (then known) 15th and 17th Century European manuscripts on loop braidingwith the exception of the “letterbraids”  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.
(At least two old manuscripts with loop braiding instructions have come to light since OEPBforLB was published: The Nun’s Book, and Natura Exenterata  a.k.a. the Serene document, as well as some documentation in German.)

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 than the highly concentrated/ condensed loop braiding section in the Manual of Braiding. And it was written later, after Speiser had come across the 15th C. loop braiding manuscripts, so it incorporates more of her insights and discoveries.

Some of the more abstract sections on braid theory and structure in OEPB can be a little overwhelming. But the braiding instructions themselves start from the most basic, beginning level. They are written succinctly, but simply and clearly. They are sparsely illustrated with very clear black and white line drawings.

If you are learning loop braiding from this book, don’t be scared off by Speiser’s mysterious-looking “track-plan” diagrams above the drawings! They aren’t necessary at all for learning how to make the braids. On the other hand, if you are trying to learn this track-plan charting system, the way Speiser pictorially connects those diagrams to her illustrations of actual loops on fingers is probably the easiest way to learn it. This system is not easy to grasp (speaking for myself!), but it is the only system I know of that represents the 3-D structure of two-layer braids in a visually simple and elegant way.

OEPB is also a textile mystery-adventure storya 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 togetherdeciphering 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 omittedapparently 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 OEPBinstructions, historical info etcis 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. That is understandable – the Manual is like an encyclopedia in how much it covers, so it’s unavoidably drier and more concise.

It’s true that some sections of OEPB are very abstract and theoretical – if they seem over-the-top, just skip them and go back to them 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.

Note: My book came with an errata sheet inserted that corrected some minor and some important errors in the text. If you are buying a used copy that does not contain this errata sheet, contact me. (my contact info is under “About” in my header menu)

My few criticisms:
Speiser’s numbering system for the chapters and illustrations is very complicatedit 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. (This is a book that could use several braided bookmarks!)

Also, the formatting of the pages is too dense, with too much information and illustration 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 have to complain that the title is much too long! And to me, it sounds too quaint and obscure for a such a ground-breaking, comprehensive reference work.

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. [Note: loop braiding methods, structures, and vocabulary previously covered in OEPBforLB is not explained in these supplements; it’s assumed as prior knowledge.]

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, so they don’t define any terms or cover information already covered there. This is a ‘stopper’ if you really want to understand the content, and don’t have access to OEPB. The technical bits will only be comprehensible 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 many of the ones they describe are learnable 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 was 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 Parts I and II 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 monograph17th 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 – this was notated in the old manuscripts) braid around a pre-existing 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. (I ramble on about this in The Mystery of the Broad Lace’s Sisters)

© 2011–2017 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 restrictionssee 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.
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.”)

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