Viking whipcording (or interlocking, slyngyng, or even spoon tossing) is a fun, fast, and easy way of braiding cords to make bigger, stronger, and more decorative cords. It uses four weighted bobbins to maintain tension on cords that are anchored to a distaff or some other point above. It is very portable, and is a great way to keep one’s hands occupied during a long Court. The length of your cord is not limited by the length of your arm and/or leg, as with fingerloop braiding; and it is easy to quickly interrupt your work and resume later without having to worry about messing up your tension. The patterns are very forgiving, and mistakes are difficult to notice in the finished product.
The evidence of whipcording in period is a bit controversial. It was brought to reenactors’ attention as a period process by Margarethe Hald’s Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials. Hald found Bronze Age leather cords braided in an interlocking pattern that could have been produced by whipcording, and offered a set of bobbins that certainly would have served. The two-person method of whipcording is a traditional Scandanavian craft and children’s activity. A lady whipcording on a distaff is pictured in the background of the painting “Education of the Virgin” (Guido Reni, 1642). Although the source itself is post-period, bobbin cording is represented as an ancient art, one that the artist and his audience thought would be appropriately practiced in Biblical times. But with all this circumstantial evidence, we have not yet unearthed an in-progress example of a whipcord still attached to its bobbins and distaff. The type of braiding produced by whipcording is simple and straightforward enough that it could have been done in many other ways besides a bobbin-based manner. Due to this level of reasonable doubt, some reenactors are skeptical about where, when, and if whipcording was practiced by period cultures. With its rising popularity among historical hobbyists, hopefully more directed research and inquiries will come about.
Whipcording is gaining interest in the SCA with classes springing up at events and A&S nights throughout the Knowne World. There are many online resources that show the basic how-to process of whipcording, including Baroness Eithni ingen Talorgain’s wonderful tutorial cited in the Sources section of this article. This article is intended more specifically to look at the patterns of the braids produced and variants that can be introduced to make more interesting and subtle effects in the cords. It assumes that you are already familiar with the basics of whipcording, and I highly encourage you to become familiar if you are not. (As mentioned earlier, it’s fun!)
For the remainder of this article, we will assign numbers to the threads as seen in the top-view image to the right – threads 1 and 4 are supported by the left hand, threads 2 and 3 by the right; threads 3 and 4 are closest to the weaver, threads 1 and 2 are farther back.
Most sources available show two styles of whipcord braids: stripes and spirals. These are produced by making single, alternating passes; either with same colored threads being passed (producing a striped cord) or with contrary colored threads (producing a spiral cord).
Singles Pattern: 1-3, 2-4, 1-3, 2-4
Top: Two-colored stripe pattern. Threads of the same color are passed, keeping a consistent color in each corner position.
Bottom: Two-colored spiral pattern. Threads of opposing colors are passed, resulting in the “paired” colors rotating around the cord.
Making Mistakes On Purpose
While learning any craft, one is bound to make mistakes. Sometimes, mistakes produce an interesting effect that inspire an artist to start consciously incorporating that effect. Aside from a broken thread, the only mistakes you can make in whipcording would be to twist threads, miss a pass, or reverse the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction of your passes. What happens to your pattern when that happens?
When you are braiding a stripe pattern and your threads twist, i.e. if two adjacent threads switch places, your pattern will change from stripes to a spiral. If you are braiding a spiral pattern and your threads twist, it might switch your pattern or make no difference at all. If two threads of the same color switch places, you will see no change in your overall pattern. But, if two threads of opposing colors switch places, your pattern will change from a spiral to stripes. Depending on your purpose for the cord, this can be done intentionally for a specific look.
Things get even more interesting when you start playing with the number of passes. Using double passes in your pattern can create new looks and add intricacy.
- Single pass: opposing threads pass once, e.g. 1-3, 2-4
- Double pass: opposing threads pass twice, e.g. 1-3, 1-3, 2-4, 2-4
Single-Double Pattern: 1-3, 1-3, 2-4, 1-3, 1-3, 2-4
Top: Two-colored stripe, alternating single (blue) and double (yellow) passes.
Bottom: Two-colored spiral, alternating single and double passes.
Notice how the double pass creates an extra twist encased in the subsequent single pass. These single-double patterns also look really nice using three colors, with two threads of a dominant color and one each of two supporting colors.
Doubles Pattern: 1-3, 1-3, 2-4, 2-4, 1-3, 1-3, 2-4, 2-4
Top: Two-colored stripe, double passes.
Bottom: Two-colored spiral, double passes.
When only double passes are used for stripes, a wavy, textured stripe is created. A doubles spiral cord has each color predominantly on either side, with an almost herringbone look.
Top: Single-pass spiral. Arrows point to where a double pass was inserted to reverse the direction of the spiral.
Bottom: Single pass spiral. A series of twists inserted to create an eye in the cord. On the left eye, opposing colored threads were twisted; on the right eye, same colored threads were twisted.
Inserting a twist into a single spiral cord can change it to a striped cord, but inserting a double pass will reverse the direction of the spiral. If you want to make an eye in your cord, you can twist adjacent threads several times to get the length you need for the eye, then resume your whipcord pattern.
Taking It in a New Direction
Those readers who have worked with tablet weaving are already familiar with the idea of S and Z threading. In tablet weaving, each warp will tilt slightly to the right or to the left depending on which direction the warps are threaded through the tablets – S tablets tilt to the right, Z tablets to the left. This subtle distinction can have a big effect on the look of your finished product.
In observing my own work, I find it most intuitive to pass the thread closest to me (i.e. 3 or 4) behind the thread coming to the front. This results in my 1-3 passes going counter-clockwise (CCW) and my 2-4 passes going clockwise (CW) when viewed from above. The weavers may have already noticed the S and Z-like effect in the cords pictured above. This tilt is produced by the CW or CCW rotation of the pairs of threads as they pass each other.
Working against this natural rotation is pretty challenging, but it can be done with some focus. If you’re going to incorporate this variation, it’s more practical to do so when two people are working together. First, it’s easier to choreograph passing without rotation with two casters. Also, the visual difference in the pattern is so slight, it doesn’t really have much impact on smaller projects. A larger cord or rope would make the extra effort more worthwhile. (And FYI, double passes don’t work without rotation. The second pass will just undo the previous single pass.)
Single Passes Without Rotation
Top: Normal single pass stripes shown for comparison. Tilted direction of threads highlighted in white.
Middle: Single pass stripes without rotation. Brick-like direction of threads highlighted in white.
Bottom: Single pass spiral without rotation.
One interesting side effect of removing the rotation in the passes is that it produces lots of tiny eyes along the cord. Because the opposing threads don’t entwine, each pass remains open in the middle. If you are making a cord that you want to hang and secure lots of little things from, this might be useful to keep in mind.
Single pass spiral without rotation, with miscellaneous small items stuck in the eyes.
Whipcord braiding in its simplest form is very, very simple. But like anything else, it can always be made more complicated. Play with different numbers of colors. Make patterns by alternating passes and twists. What happens when you introduce different weights of fiber into the same cord? If you don’t like the look, it’s very easy to take it all apart again, so nothing is lost by experimenting. But there is much to gain in trying things out and seeing where new ideas take you.
Hald, Margrethe. Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials. National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, 1980. ISBN 87-480-0312-3.
Kveberg, Jean (Eithni ingen Talorgain, OL, HE). “Whipcording.” http://www.eithni.com/whipcordingdemo.htm
Lucas, Rebecca. “Whipcord Braiding.” http://www.medieval-baltic.us/whipcords.html
Raymond, Cathy. “Loose Threads: Yet Another Costuming Blog – Viking Whipcording?” http://cathyscostumeblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/viking-whipcording.html