Danish l-m braids, ca. 1630-40

Loop-manipulated braids have now been identified on one of the Danish King Frederik III's garments in the Royal Danish Collections at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Frederik III (1609-1670) was king of Denmark from 1648 to1670. His father, Christian IV, had built a little castle, Rosenborg, in Copenhagen - originally outside the city walls, in a lovely garden far from the noise and smells of the medieval city. Since it became a museum in 1833 the crown jewels, costumes, paintings, furniture and art objects belonging to the royal family have been open to the public. The collection of royal costume is unique in having such well-documented men's clothing from the 1600s.

This red dressing gown was described as a "night gown" in an inventory of the King's garments in 1651 - a comfortable garment to wear at home, like a housecoat today. Made of red silk velvet, with lining, collar, and cuffs of bright yellowish-green silk velvet, it is richly decorated with gold and silver lace, braids, and stitched buttons with tassels. There are sets of the braided loops along the slits at the sides and center back hem and encircling the deep cuffs. The gown's edges are also trimmed with silver and gold bobbin lace. Few dressing gowns as early as this one - or even portraits showing them - exist anywhere in the world.

The braids, loop and button closures, were a flexible and convenient solution to closing a garment: one can avoid cutting buttonholes in valuable, heavy fabrics or fur; loops are easier to button, and the garment can easily be remade, let out or the fabric reversed. We might thus hope to find more loop-manipulated braids on other historical, fashionable European garments as well as on objects in ethnographic collections. Much of what has until now been rather lightly dismissed as (generic) "braids" or "passementerie" may reveal itself as loop-manipulation. The designation as "primitive technique" can probably be abandoned now that these gold and silver braids have turned up on royal costume!

The braid itself is made of groups of gold and silver threads, creating a diamond-shaped pattern. Some irregularities have been caused by not keeping the threads together as a group.
Each braid is a compact 1 cm wide and about 10 cm long, including a tassel. There are all in all 210 braids on the gown, requiring roughly 21 meters in all. Each pair of braids consists of one with a button covered with a stitched pattern in gold and silver thread and one with an integral loop at one end for buttoning.

The structure of these braids sparked my curiosity after I learned about loop manipulation. The strange configuration of the groups of threads, passing over and under like a twill but the groups themselves seemingly dividing and joining in an unusual pattern had confounded me for years. A fortuitous meeting with NoeLmi Speiser, Masako Kinoshita, Joy Boutrup and myself - over various braids from the Royal Collections - was the inspiration that resulted in a final identification and Joy Boutrup's suggested procedure for recreating the braid.

The braids are all made in short lengths rather than having been cut from one long piece. This is particularly evident for the braids with the integral loop for buttoning. Each piece must first be braided in the middle of the warp for about 5 cm. The whole warp is divided into 5 loops for this braid, which is made as a typical unorthodox braid with 5 loops. Then the braid is doubled to create the loop and the two ends of the braid are connected in a flat braid. No new elements are added but the strands from both ends of the initial braid are regrouped into 15 loops, 5 loops of gold and 10 of silver.

The flat braid was difficult to analyze and we were baffled by the seemingly irregular structure, the many strands in each loop making the case worse. When a colleague from Sweden sent us a copy of Elisabeth StroNmberg's article from 1950 with three women loop-braiding (1937), we suddenly made some progress. This picture, shown in both of NoeLmi Speiser's books, is the only photographic documentation of 2 or 3-person loop-braiding known at present.

StroNmberg describes the production of shoulder straps for backpacks with coarse hemp yarn. It is pointed out that this technique produced straps that were strong, flexible and did not cut into one's shoulders when the backpack was heavy. The article is without detailed information about the braiding itself, but includes pictures of both sides of the resulting braid.

The similarity between the structure of the shoulder straps and the gold-silver braid was immediately obvious. The general description of the braiding procedure gave the impression of a 3-person unorthodox braid, each working 5 loops, which was in accordance with the features of both braids. The crucial point seemed to be the exchange of loops between the workers - there had to be some twists of the crossing loop to prevent what would otherwise be relatively long floats. We tried systematically different ways of exchanging and found the following to be in accordance with both braids. The loop going outside around the other is twisted after the penetration, the lower shank turning up in front of the upper shank.

This kind of exchange is easily achieved by using a variation of the Tollemache method of exchange (Speiser op.cit., p. 91). The following drawings illustrate this loop exchange and the structural result compared to that resulting from an ordinary exchange.

The structure of the exchange with the extra twist on the obverse side is illustrated to the left (a) and the ordinary exchange to the right (b).

The two parallel threads in to the left of the middle of a. are from two different loops, the long float is broken up by the twist. The details can be studied in the following drawings.

The curious thing is the span of time between the braids, one from 1937 and the other one from around 1630. After we made several reconstructions the braid?fs features became more familiar and easier to recognize. A 2-person braid of this type seems to show up on central European relic purses from 13th -14th century. This has yet to be confirmed by a more detailed study not only of the pictures of the braids but also of the braids themselves.

If this is true, this particular braid is just the first to be analyzed of a large group of braids. The technique could have been an established way of producing flat braids without excessively long floats.

StroNmberg, Elisabeth: "Fyrkantiga Snoddar", RIG, Stockholm 1950, p 64-69.
Speiser, NoeLmi: Old English pattern books for Loop Braiding, 2000, Published by the author.
Flamand Christensen, Sigrid.: Kongedragterne fra 17. og 18. Aarhundrede, Copenhagen 1940.
Johansen, Katia: (about the dressing gown) "How to read Historic Textiles" i Brooks, M. ed.: Textiles Revealed, London 2000; and "Polish garments" and "In the lion?fs den - on nightgowns and dressing gowns" in Lions of Fashion, male fashion of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, ed. Lena RangstroNm, The Royal Armoury, Stockholm, 2002.