Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Whipcord Basics

My take on Whip cord. 

By Ragna of Sundragon/ Raithnat O'Braonain, MKA Katie Henshaw
April 5, 2016

We all hear about “Viking Whip cord” and how it was this 2 person affair with clunky chunky mallet style bobbins.  Passing them back and forth together to create this strong durable and delightful cord.  The first thing I have to ask is “Is this really viking?”  The answer is possibly.  But was it ONLY viking?  No.  

Examples of 4 strand braids of same structure and sequencing.
-Two Museums confirm whip cord/interlocking/ 4 strand weighted braiding did in fact exist during the viking era. The Smithsonian and Roskilde Vikingship Museum (
-There is evidence of this braid structure that could have been made using this technique found in the Krogens Molle Mose find.(Hald, M.)
-There is evidence of this braid structure in multiple locations during the time between 900-1650
Kumihimo were made prior to and during the Edo period (Tokyo Metropolitan Government)
        Slings found in Jordan and grave finds in Finland and Sweden (Hald, M.)

The missing piece is a picture of it being done in period.  There is an Italian painting called either "Education of the Virgin"or “The Virgin and Her Companions Sewing the Veil of the Temple” by Guido Reni dating to 1640-1642 that portrays, in the background, a young woman using this technique with bulbous bobbins.  She is looking at the woman in the center of the painting, not at what she is doing.  This indicates ease of use.  She no longer has to think about it, she is comfortable doing it.  Being in the background makes her filler, showing everyday textiles connected to the feminine.  She uses a distaff for this braid, instead of spinning as so many other paintings do.  Her bobbins remind me of 16th century bobbin lace bobbins (Hald, M.)

How do I make whip cord by myself?
We will be recreating the technique used by the maiden in the painting.  The class kits include a set of 4 pre-wound clothesline "peg" bobbins with approximately 15-16 feet of two strand cotton, and a simple distaff similar to the painting.    I have pre-braided each with a short sample of the braids.
The first set is to get comfortable with your new distaff.  I have left it basic and plain for your customization later.  Tie your crossbar securely.  This will give you somewhere to wind on your cord as you go to keep you braiding at a comfortable height.
Place your braiding bobbins over the top post,  and lengthen your cords to a comfortable distance.  You will find as you go a sweet spot in this length.  This can vary from person to person.  

The angle between the apex of the braid and your hands will determine the tension of the braid.  The wider the angle the tighter the braid.  The other variable will be the distance between the hands and the top of the bobbins.  This will determine the amount of swing is possible.  This can be both good and frustrating.  :)  the longer the distance will mean longer time braiding between resets, but it also means that it will be easier to get your bobbins tangled in the swing.

Square braid of striped, or spiral pattern.
Balance the string across the backs of your thumbs and pinkies, with palms facing each other.  Cross the threads from you left thumb with your right pinky.  Next cross the threads from your right thumb and left pinky making sure that it is crossed on the opposite side as the other cross.  Continue alternating your crosses, creating two interlocking spirals of opposite direction until the bobbins are up against your hands.  At this point you will wind out more length and begin again.  :)

 The color pattern is determined by the yarn set up similar to kumihimo.  Making your crosses with the same color will give you the vertical stripes.  Making your crosses with differing colors will give you the spiral.

the way I remember to keep my crosses correct is "the right, passes to the right. the left passes to the left." so when crossing your right thumb to the left pinky .. the bobbin on the right thumb passes to the right of the bobbin from the pinky. the bobbin from the left thumb passes to the left of its pinky pair.

Flat braids
This is where I find the connection with bobbin lace.  Holding the bobbins side by side, rotate the pairs 180 degrees counter-clockwise. now cross the resulting middle pair clockwise. this keeps the over/under pattern of weaving intact and will lock your braid in place.  Repeat this movement until the bobbins reach your fingers.  Wind down extra length and repeat until finished.
The color pattern is again dictated by the original placement of the threads when starting the pattern.

The Virgin and her Companions Sewing the Veil of the Temple by Guido Reni (1642)
also known as the Education of the Virgin in other sources.  can be found at
Hald, Margrethe
Ancient Danish Textiles From Bogs and Burials
Aarhus University Press 1980
Tokyo Metropolitan Government gives information on Kumihimo in a brief overview      confirming timeline within our scope of practice.  

A Close up of the maiden in Guido’s Painting
close up for the virgin.PNGpermission for virg her comp sew veil of temple.PNG

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