new techniques

Public Service Announcement: My main aim for this blog is to talk about weaving and closely related topics (such as cats) so I do try to resist filling it up with other stuff. However, if you happen to like “other stuff” you can see a few miscellaneous photos from our trip on my flickr page. I’ve added two sets so far, and may even get around to adding more.

So… I met loads of new people. I also met loads of new techniques, and there were ten times as many (at least!) that I didn’t have a chance to encounter. No wonder that my head is simply buzzing with it all.

I deliberately chose Convergence classes that didn’t require me to travel with a lot of equipment, and was particularly pleased to find one on making braids of various kinds with only your hands — they can’t confiscate those at airport security. CW seminars are somewhat different in that most are presentations of a technique rather than a hands-on class, although I did pick one with a practical element: ply-split braiding with Barbara Walker. So altogether it turned out that braiding techniques were a significant part of my Albuquerque experience. If the same events had been happening in my locality I would never have chosen braiding over weaving, but of course the result is that I am utterly captivated and now have to plan to weave things which need braids!

There were two techniques which particularly delighted me: the afore-mentioned ply-split braiding and something called fingerloop braiding which I had never heard of until last Sunday.

Ply-split braiding

The tools required for PSB are minimal, although preparing the plied cord is a bit of an undertaking — but Barbara came with beautifully prepared packs of cord and gripfid (the ply-splitting tool) so that we could dive straight in. We began with a practice cord, learning how to do the basic moves, and then went on to make a wave-pattern braid which is incredibly effective for such a simple structure.

Using the gripfid to split plies on the practice cord
Starting to work on the wave braid
[I won’t mangle the clear instructions Barbara gave us by trying to interpret them in my own words here; instead I refer you to an excellent introduction she wrote for WeaveZine in collaboration with Louise French (who also supplies PSB tools, so visit her website with care and don’t say I didn’t warn you!)]

Anyway, I spent the next few days surreptitiously splitting a few plies in the hotel bar whenever I had a moment spare… until — oh no! — I ran out of cord and had to stop.

Completed wave braid - just need to finish the ends

I reckoned that the creation of my own plied cord would have to wait until I got home, but I found some extra-thick kumihimo cord at the Convergence vendor hall and thought it would be worth trying it. The kumihimo cord seemed to be 3-ply, while PSB is usually (but not exclusively) done with 4-ply cord. Well, that just makes it all the more interesting to try it, right? So I bought some 3-ply cord and got stuck in — it seems to work, and on such a small scale as this I find it hard to see the difference between the 1-ply side of the split and the 2-ply side.

More on this will undoubtedly follow, but for now I’ll turn to

Fingerloop braiding

This technique seems to have been used all over Europe for hundreds of years, and I had never even heard of it. How shameful.

I’m not generally an enthusiast for recreations of the heritage side of textiles — as if our skills were only things that people “used to do” and not the stuff of right now — but in this case I am very grateful to Mistress Rhiannon y Bwa & Mistress Azza al-Shirazi of the SCA for their fabulous webpages on fingerloop braiding. I have been avidly reading these over the last couple of days and am really looking forward to trying out some of the more complex patterns.

At Convergence we learned some basic moves and started to build them into simple braids. Again, for instructions you really want to look at those fingerloop pages, but here are a few pics Stuart took for me in our B & B in Albuquerque. [The problem with fingerloop braiding is that once you have started, you can’t easily put it down without getting in a complete pickle! However, for practical reasons the length of the braids is limited by the braider’s armspan, so they are also completed quite quickly.]

An extra piece of yarn looped under the knot and passed through the hole in the table
The ends are tied in a double bow to secure it

First you need to cut a number of lengths of yarn, fold each length in half to make a loop, and then tie all the cut ends together in an overhand knot so that you have a whole bunch of loops together. Then you need something to anchor your braid: I was delighted to find a hole in the coffee table and am thinking of taking drastic measures with our own furniture (no need to mention this to S, however).

Fingers in loops

You slip your fingers through the loops according to the particular pattern you are making, and then pass the loops from finger to finger between your two hands — it is very like playing at cat’s cradle. You then have to flap your arms to tension the loops, so — even though there are no tools involved — I’m not certain this is a technique entirely suited to aeroplane travel. No doubt you’ll be hearing about it in the news if I decide to try it.

This pattern is called a “Grene dorge of vj bowes” or, in other words, there are six loops (bowes) and the pattern is described as a barleycorn (un grain d’orge). Here I used purple for the main braid and a pinky-orangey-sparkly yarn for the coloured strip which runs down the middle. If you use two different colours then they alternate and do look like little grains. My finished braid is shown below, and you can see that I am having trouble getting the tension even. At the beginning of the braid you need much bigger arm swings to pull the braid up tight, whereas towards the end a little movement is enough. Oh dear, it looks as though I’ll need to do lots of practising, doesn’t it?

Aside from braiding, I also have all sorts of new weaving projects brewing, but I’ll say more about that in another post.

new techniques” was posted by Cally on 2 Aug 2010 at

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9 Responses

  1. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    My mom has been deeply into ply splitting for the first half of this year. She sent me some she made, but it didn’t make sense to me. Thanks for the post.

  2. Liz aka FiberGeek
    | Reply

    I took the Linda Hendrickson class on Ply Split Celtic Knot at Convergence and love the technique. I need something less expensive than a Bradford cord maker for more experiments though. I also would love a few more directions for projects. Linda is coming out with a Ply Split Basket book later this year so that is something to look forward to.

  3. Dianne
    | Reply

    Hmmm, think I could use these braids to cover inside seams of garments or on reversible garments, woven or knitted.
    I don’t need another hobby, I don’t.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      That’s exactly what I was thinking! The seams I mean. And that means it isn’t another hobby, it’s a legitimate embellishment 🙂

  4. dorothy Stewart
    | Reply

    Hi Cally – what an interesting post ! The braiding techniques would make good portable projects ! Hotels should provide coffee tables with holes though ! Like you I would have passed those workshops by here in favour of weaving but you have made them sound really interesting. Many thanks for sharing so clearly !

  5. neki rivera
    | Reply

    i don’t need a new hobby. i don’t need a new hobby. i don’t need a new hobby,
    she chanted to herself trying to make it sink in.

  6. Leigh
    | Reply

    Cally, they’re beautiful! I especially like the ply splitting piece. Beautiful use of color. So nice you got to go to Convergence. That one’s still on my “someday” list. 🙂

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