The Mystery of V-fell vs A-fell Unorthodox 5-loop braids

The European A-fell version of the (5-loop) Triangle braid was called the “Broad lace of 5 bows” in the 15th C. English loop braiding manuscripts. It has the exact same over-under structure/ ‘architecture,’ yet it turns out completely different from the triangle braid!

The Triangle braid version can only be made with (Asian-style) loop braiding moves in which the ring or little finger is the active braiding finger, not (European-style) braiding moves in which the index finger does the loop-fetching. [see footnote re Slentre*]

Superficially, skipping the first loop (which is what you do in braiding the 5-loop version of the Triangle Braid) might seem to be a different structure than the Broad Lace, in which the (index) finger goes through the first loop it encounters, and skips the next one. The thing is, “first” does not mean the same thing in those two examples! That’s because the little/ring fingers, and the index finger come at the loops from opposite directions.

In both braiding methods, it is the loop nearest the center of the braid that is skipped over. The taken loop only passes through the loop nearer the outer edge of the braid. Because of this, the two braids really do have the same abstract/ charted structure.

Yet the Triangle braid comes out as a dense, firm, wedge-shaped braid, while the Broad Lace of V bows has a flattish, slightly convex shape. The appearance of the ‘weave’ is very different as well, and I would assume that the same color pattern set-ups would turn out quite differently in the two braids.

This boggled my mind back when I was first braiding these 5 to 9-loop unorthodox braids!

Square braids turn out the same when made by either the V-fell or the A-fell method, why didn’t unorthodox braids???

Noémi Speiser‘s books at that time didn’t mention anything about the braid I call the Triangle braid. They didn’t specifically mention V-fell unorthodox braids at all. However, Speiser implied them by stating – I think more than once – that “the 5-loop unorthodox braid” was the most common loop braid world-wide… Since at least half the world used V-fell braiding for basic 5 and 7-loop braiding moves, this means they were also making that unorthodox braid.

So that to me raised the question “Which 5-loop unorthodox braid?” Even considering each of the three different braiding methods separately (A-fell, V-fell, Slentre), there are 2 obvious and different unorthodox braiding sequences that can be done when using five loops:

A The braider can skip the more central loop and go through the more outer/ “edge-ward” finger loop [this triangle braid]; or B the opposite: the braiding finger can go through the central loop and skip the more “outer” loop [the D-shaped braid].

The second possibility isn’t described in the 15th or 17th C. loop braiding manuscripts, but is certainly an obvious alternative.

On top of those differences, there is also a difference in geometrical structure; and in color patterns with bicolor loops, depending on whether the braider transfers loops with or without imparting a turn to the loop. This doesn’t cause the braid to divide into two layers, as happens with square braids. But it does make certain differences to the resulting braid. Noémi Speiser compares and charts out this difference on p._ of ____

[citation coming soon!]

There is also a structural and noticeable difference between unorthodox braids made with “turns from above” vs. “turns from below”. I don’t think this is addressed by either Noémi Speiser or Masako Kinoshita, but it is very clear in the braids. In square braids, this doesn’t create a real difference, because aside from the direction of the turns, the upper and lower sides of the braid are the same. It is the difference created by the direction the loops are turned that results in the “square” braid’s essentially trapezoidal shape – wider on either the top or bottom surface, depending on which way the loops are turned. But the upper and lower sides of an unorthodox braid are not the same, so changing the direction of the turns makes a change in the braid structure that can’t be “fixed” by turning the braid over, as with a square braid. Turning loops “inward” (ie “from above) broadens the lower surface of the braid and narrows the upper surface, in all braids. Turning loops in the opposite rotational direction has the opposite effect. In the two unorthodox braids I’ve taught, turning loops inwardly – “from above” the loop (hooking onto the UPPER shank to turn it, rather than the lower shank) emphasizes the beveled shape of the braid, so I prefer that method of turning loops for these braids.

Then on top of all these other differences is the most confusing one of all — why should any of these braids turn out differently when made with V-fell vs. A-fell braiding moves?

Sometime in 2007, I was so consumed with curiosity that I tried to find out how to contact Noémi Speiser and Masako Kinoshita to ask them about it. I was able to find contact information for Masako Kinoshita, so I emailed her, and found out that she was right in the midst of experimenting with these unorthodox braids herself! (She was as surprised as I was at that coincidence!)

She also was trying to figure out why A-fell and V-fell versions of “the broad lace” were so different. Kinoshita ended up describing her experiments with these braids the next year in L-MBRIC (Idiosyncratic Appearances of Braids with an Unorthodox Pattern – near bottom of linked page), but without proposing an explanation for why the A-fell and V-fell versions turn out so differently (she calls these two versions Method 1 and Method 2, not A-fell and V-fell).

Noémi Speiser finally did write about this V-fell version of the medieval Broad Lace, in book 4 of the recent series of monographs that she wrote with Joy Boutrup. (She doesn’t mention its corollary braid, the one I call the D-shaped braid.)
She said she had only been introduced recently to this braid, and was very pleased with it (yay!).
But her explanation of why it turns out so differently when made by the V-fell method just boils down to the tightening being different.

She describes this difference in tightening rather vividly, but it’s more of a visual description of the loops “leaping” into place than a structural explanation of why they’re doing that. I knew already that V-fell and A-fell braids tighten differently, you can see and feel that as you are braiding. But it still didn’t quite make sense to me structurally.

Even square braids tighten differently when made with the A-fell and V-fell methods, because the transferred loop is tightened against a different set of opposing loops in the two different methods. In V-fell braiding a square or unorthodox braid, the taken loop is tightened right away against the loops it was just drawn through, and it especially pulls on the outer edge of the opposite side of the braid, which is where that taken loop originates in the braid. In A-fell braiding, the taken loop is drawn through the loops of the same hand it comes to rest on, so it doesn’t tighten against those loops until they leave that hand, one by one. Instead, the taken loop tightens against the index loop of the other hand – the hand it just left – which effectively tightens the braid from the CENTER of the braid, as that’s where the index loops originate (in an A-fell braid). The whole braid is certainly being tightened in both cases, but there’s a difference in where the tightening is focused.

Either way, though, square braids still turn out square (or really trapezoidal) with both methods. It’s true that when I make a square braid with A-fell braiding, the braid always seems to come out a bit looser than a braid made with what I feel is the same tension (on my part as a braider) using V-fell braiding motions. But the shape difference between the Triangle Braid and the Broad Lace of V Bows is not due to tightness or looseness. You can make either braid looser or tighter, and they will still retain their essential shape difference.

By George, I think I’ve got it! The explanation below isn’t very good, but I think I finally understand it for myself, anyway!

In rereading my overdone description above of A-fell and V-fell tightening, I realized (I think) that the reason the A-fell unorthodox “broad lace” doesn’t turn out like the V-fell “triangle braid” is that, with A-fell braiding, the tightening move especially pulls at the strands in the center of the braid! So they don’t/ can’t get squeezed together and pushed down into a hidden ditch. Whereas in V-fell braiding, it’s the OUTER edge that is especially pulled (inward) when the braid is tightened, so it is pulled over the weirdness at the center of the braid! (Believe me, that “skipping over” a central loop does create a weirdness in the braid’s structure, even though it is so easy and brainless to do.) I think this also relates to the reason why shorter loops in a 5-loop triangle braid can lead to the triangle braid shape morphing into something else (though it doesn’t morph into the Broad Lace of 5 bows). There is a different pressure of tightening exerted on the loops when they are shorter, because shorter loops spread out in a much wider angle from the hands. Because of this, the central loops get pulled “up and out” of their ditch, changing the braid’s overall shape.

(I originally wrote down all this hypothetical musing in a “footnote” to my Triangle Braid tutorial! Realized it was way over the top, and I’d do better to hide it away on an “info page” for the few other braid geeks who might interested enough to find it!)

* Slentre: I think the basic 5-loop Slentre braid – done with the palms completely facing the floor and index fingers operating – may be the same as the 5-loop version of this triangle braid. It ought to be, as it is also made by bringing outer strands to the center of the braid, though the index finger is used rather than the ring finger. The index finger is inserted into (or over) the other hands’ loops starting with the INDEX loop of the other hand. I haven’t done a lot of experimenting with Slentre, myself, would love to hear/ see what someone else might come up with about it!

© 2017 Ingrid Crickmore