This is a blogpost version of a handout I put together for a Society for Creative Anachronism event in May 2019, where I taught a short class called “Absolute Beginner’s Fingerloop” as someone very, very new to fingerloop braiding myself!
The “live” updated version of this document lives over on Google Drive and can be viewed there. It has several updates and edits that have not been incorporated into this post, and will have more as time rolls on.
Absolute Beginner’s Fingerloop
For Sealion War 2019 – Vémundr Syvursson
“Fingerloop braiding is a technique of making sturdy and decorative cords from threads. It is a type of braiding known as loop manipulation. The braid is made from loops of thread, attached at a central point, and the loops placed over the fingers and interlaced in different ways.” – from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fingerloop_braid
Fingerloop in Europe dates at least as early as the 12th C and was well established by the 15th C. Cords are used for lacing and ties, purse strings, shoelaces, and decorative embellishment.
Loopbraider.com has great introductory tutorials and YouTube videos. I recommend starting with her site, especially her “Start Here” series of videos on three-, five-, and seven-loop braiding. You could also go direct to her YouTube channel.
Silkewerk has a trio of 15th C fingerloop manuals typed up, cataloged, and translated into modern English instructions. An amazing resource once you understand some of the language used.
Fingerloop.org is run a a couple of SCA folks and has some good information, using largely the same period information as the Silkewerk site.
There’s a standard convention for finger designation in fingerloop. Hold your hands with thumbs topmost and palms facing you. Each index finger is A, middle finger is B, ring is C, and your little finger is D.
Three Loop – Split/Divided Braid
This gets you two little three-strand braids top and bottom; it can be used to make a loop at the start of a cord, to add buttonhole style openings to a cord, or to make one long thin cord without needing really long starting loops.
Start with 2 loops on the Left hand (on A & B) and 1 on the Right A. Right middle finger (B) has no loop. It will be the active finger—the ‘operator’ finger—for the first move.
Right middle finger (B) goes through L middle loop (Left B) and L index (Left A) loop, then takes the left A loop and pulls it through the L middle finger (B) loop.
Shift the one remaining loop on the left up from Left B to Left A.
Now repeat the steps above from the left hand. Left B through Right B and Right A, take Right A loop back through Right B. Shift single loop on right up from Right B to Right A.
Three Loop – Round Braid
Follow the split instructions above, only when you reach through B to take A, reach over the top of A to take it instead of reaching through A. This flips the A loop around and will get you a single round(ish) cord.
Three Loop – Flat Braid
This one takes the two different methods of taking the A cord – either through or over – and combines them.
When taking the Left A cord, go over it and flip it – the mnemonic is “left over”.
When taking the Right A cord, go through it and do not flip it – the mnemonic is “right through”.
This will get you a flatter braid than the round braid method, and it can be spread and flattened after braiding as one edge is open. Note that it can be difficult to see the “flat” part of this with only three loops in play, it tends to look like a not-quite-as-round round braid…
Five Loop Braiding
Start with three loops on A, B, and C fingers of one hand, and two loops on A & B of the other hand. The finger movements and transfers are the same as with the three loop methods, except you’re reaching through two loops (C then B) to take the A loop, and using your ring finger (C finger) on the active hand instead of the middle/B finger.
V-Fell vs A-Fell
All our patterns above use V-Fell braiding, where the lower finger (middle/B with three-loop or ring/C with five) does the active passing and manipulation. It’s a bit easier to start, as all the loops you’re passing through are on the opposite hand from the active finger.
Almost all the historical patterns at Silkewerk and other sources use A-Fell braiding, however, where the uppermost index (A) finger does all the passing and manipulation, and more of the passing through is on loops on the same hand as your active A finger.
Simple five loop with A-Fell starts with three loops on A, B, and C on one hand, and two on B and C of the other. Active A finger then goes through B and C on the same hand to retrieve C from the opposite hand. That hand then shifts the two loops down, freeing that A finger to repeat the pattern, and so on. (this is an enormous simplification, not a set of specific instructions!)
A grene dorge of 6 bowes.
This is a beautiful braid that winds up rectangular and solid with single-colour stripes down the sides and an alternating colour stripe down the centre. It’s a good intro to A-fell braiding and multi-colour patterning. (copied from Silkewerk)
Start with four loops of colour #1 and one each of colours #2 and #3.
Color #1: B C – both hands
Color #2: D right
Color #3: A left
Work with the right hand:
A goes through B C right, and takes the loop on C left reversed.
Lower B left onto C.
Work with the left hand:
B goes through C left, and takes the loop on C right reversed.
Lower the right loops.
A left exchanges loops with D right.
(Put the A left loop over and around D, exchanging loops with D.)
Repeat from the beginning.
Morgan Donner has a video of this braid on her YouTube channel that is very well shot and worth watching. (Search YouTube for ‘Morgan Donner fingerloop’ and you should find it.)
Further & Onward
The three websites listed previously have a wealth of knowledge, especially (once you get comfortable with the basic movements and the language used) the Silkewerk site, which has three whole manuals (two 15th C, one 17th) transcribed and translated.
You can get into two-colour loops (Loopbraider has lots of material for this) , pickup pattern braiding up to and including lettering (Loopbraider again), two- or even three-person braids (Silkewerk, mostly), different materials, and a whole host of other complications!
There’s lots of other great resources out there for fingerloop braiding, including some highly recommended books and at least one Compleat Anachronist (#108) written by the two gentles who also run fingerloop.org and published by SCA, Inc.
I have also put a version of this handout up on my personal blog with working web links and some additional material, which you are reading right now!
Barony of Seagirt