Medallion whipcording

4-strand plaiting is a very old way of making cord.  I first encountered 4-strand plaits when I was studying the Skjoldehamn hood, with a view towards re-creating it.  I taught myself the plaiting pattern from the diagram in Chapter 8 “Braiding and Sprang” of Margrethe Hald’s _Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials_, p. 241.  You can also see a diagram online in this excellent paper, Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet, most of which is in Norwegian, but which has English captions on pictures and diagrams.  (It was extremely useful in my reconstruction of the hood.)

Hald describes the bobbin method of 4-strand plaiting, but its practical implementation eluded me until I was passing a whipcording demo outside the children’s tent at Pennsic, where a kind stranger whose name I have utterly forgotten taught me the two-person bobbin passing method in a few moments.  Brilliant!  Thank you, kind stranger.  (Please comment if you are she!)

The one-person method continued elusive until I found Eithni’s marvelous Whipcording demo which has many pictures and a link to a short video.  The pictures were helpful, and the documentation superb, but I needed the video to be able to replicate the hand motions myself.

Another resource I would commend to your attention is this page and accompanying pdf by Ásfríðr Úlfvíðardóttir.   The web page gives helpful instructions on winding bobbins.  The pdf is a lovely & concise handout, which I used to teach a class on whipcording at our Schola in the Solar, Oct. 2017.

My beloved husband kindly made me a whipcording stick (a long, thick dowel, with a short, thin dowel inserted through one end to form a crossbar), and I have since made yard upon yard of cord, primarily in service to my province and to the youth combat marshalry, for use as medallion cord.

In the interests of furthering this knowledge, I present photos of my own process, as I make a new cord for a Very Old Medallion (the house of which I was a member when I first joined the SCA, back in 1981[?]).

I begin by assembling black and white silk thread, weighted bobbins, and the medallion itself.

Silk thread & bobbins.
Black & white silk 2/30 thread, weighted bobbins, medallion.

The original cord length was 32”; I wanted a cord no longer than that, so I cut 72” lengths of thread, for 36” lengths of doubled-thread.  I wound each doubled-thread onto a bobbin, securing the thread with a full hitch at the top of the bobbin.

Folded thread loop.
Fold thread in half, grasp near end loop.
Clover loop.
Fold end of thread loop over itself, forming a clover.
Insert bobbin into loops.
Insert bobbin head into both loops.
Tighten loops.
Pull tight.
Tighten all the way.
Go ahead, snug it up.

Then I wound the thread onto the bobbin until I had about 8” left,  I secured the wound thread with a half hitch around the bobbin.

Half hitch to secure wound bobbin.
After winding the thread onto the bobbin, secure with a half hitch.
Tighten half hitch.
Tug on half hitch to fasten.

Snug half hitch.

Knot the 4 bobbin ends together (8 threads total, because they are doubled).

Overhand knot all ends.
Tie all 4 bobbin ends with an overhand knot.

To reduce waste, secure the knot near the ends of the thread.

Snug up the ends.
Tighten overhand knot towards ends.

Use waste yarn to tie the knotted bobbins to your stick.  I like to use a full hitch, as I did when securing the thread to the bobbin initially.

Attach waste yarn.
Full-hitch waste yarn onto tightened overhand knotted ends.

And tighten the full hitch against the overhand knot securing the ends.

Snug up towards ends.
And snug it up tight, against the overhand knot.

Now, tie the waste yarn to your overhead tensioning device.  I use a stick with a crossbar on the end of it, wedging the end of the stick under my arm and behind my chair.

Assume the starting hand position.  For a spiral thread, I want black/black/white/white threads.  For a vertical lines thread, I would alternate black/white/black/white threads.  I put my hands in between the 4 threads, pulling them apart to form a trapezoid, with threads running over my thumbs and over my little (pinky) fingers.  The black threads are on my left hand, the white threads on my right.

Starting hand position.
Starting hand position, with threads over thumbs and little fingers.

Work progresses via alternating swapping the threads from thumb of one hand to little finger of the other, and vice versa.  For the first swap, I drop the right thumb and left pinky threads, using my index (and other) fingers to manage the swap.

First swap.
Swap first pair of threads, controlling with index and middle fingers.

I pick up the black thread from my left pinky with my right thumb, and the white thread from my right thumb with my left pinky.

First swap, cont’d.
Collect thread from left hand little finger onto right hand thumb, and thread from right thumb onto left little finger.

Now I am back to my starting hand position, with the black threads on both thumbs, and the white threads on my little fingers.

First swap done.
First swap complete, back to starting hand position, with threads contained by little fingers and thumbs.

The second swap is between my left thumb and my right little finger, as always using my index fingers to control the swap, so they don’t swing wildly and tangle with each other.

2nd swap ends.
Collecting white thread from right pinky onto left thumb, black thread from left thumb onto right pinky.

After the 2nd swap, both black threads are on my right hand.

Third swap is between right thumb and left pinky, swapping a black thread for a white, so both black threads end up on my little fingers.

3rd swap begins.
Always use index fingers to control swap.
End of 3rd swap.
Pick up released left little finger thread with right thumb, and released right thumb thread with left little finger.
Back to starting position.
Back to starting hand position, maintaining trapezoid for tension.

As we begin our 4th swap, both black threads are in the back, running across little fingers.  The white threads are in front, running across the thumb.

Beginning 4th swap.
Releasing white thumb thread, black pinky thread, controlling with index fingers to begin 4th swap.
4th swap.
Picking up black thread with thumb, white thread with pinky, still controlling swap with index fingers.
Back to starting hand position.
Back to starting hand position once again.

Now we are back where we started, all threads having moved around the cord and back to their initial positions.

5th swap begins.
Our 5th swap is identical to our 1st swap.
5th swap ends.
As always, controlling the swap with our index fingers, picking up swapped threads with thumb and pinky.
Back to starting position.
Back to our starting hand position, maintaining the trapezoid.

You can see the cord forming at the top of the stick.  Here is a short video of the process.

Tension will vary while forming this cord, primarily controlled by the shape of the trapezoid you form with your hands, and the weights of the bobbins that you use.

As you work, you will need to unwind more thread off the bobbin.  Here is where the securing half hitch comes in handy.  You do not have to undo the hitch.  Instead, simply hold the bobbin sideways and rotate it away from the work, in the opposite direction that you wound it on.  The half-hitch will loosen as you rotate.

Rotate bobbin away from thread to lengthen.
To unwind a bobbin, rotate it away from the direction it was wound. The half hitch will spin with the rotation.

When you have unwound enough cord to continue working, tug to re-secure the half hitch, and drop the bobbin to continue as before.  (I maintain my grip on the other threads as I unwind thread on each bobbin.  I find this easier than securing them over a stick and picking them up again when I re-start my work.  Your mileage may vary.)

Re-tighten securing hitch.
After you have pulled out enough thread, tug without rotating to snug the half hitch back down.

When you have worked enough cord that the work begins to hang too low in your lap, simply hook the finished work over the cross bar at the top of your stick.

Enough cord to wrap onto stick.
When you have worked enough cord to have some distance between your pyramid and the stick, wrap it onto your stick end.

Without releasing the work in progress, reach up and grab the finished cord.  Wrap it over a sidearm, then drop back to your starting position and continue working.

Pick up finished cord.
Maintaining your threads in your thumbs and little fingers, reach up and grab the finished cord.
Hang finished work over side arm at top of stick.
Pull the finished cord over one of your sidearms. I like to work in a figure 8, alternating side arms.
Continue whipcording.
Resume work from your starting hand position.

Continue until you run out of thread on your bobbins.  When you have rotated in as much thread as possible, you can undo the securing half-hitch and work to the very top of the bobbins.

Work to end of bobbins.
After unwinding the bobbins and removing the securing half hitch, work until you run out of thread.

Now, snip off the bobbins, and over-hand knot the end, to secure it.

Snip when done.
Cut cord when you have worked as close to the bobbins as you can.
Bobbins cut off.
Cord has been snipped off the bobbins.
Begin overhand knot with loop.
Start your knot by forming a loop, then pass the end through.
Overhand knot the end.
Overhand knot the end to prevent unraveling.
Snug up knot.
Tighten up the overhand knot.

Unwind the finished cord from the stick, and cut off the waste yarn to release your work.

Cord still wound onto stick.
Unwind the finished cord from your stick.
Starting end of cord.
Cut waste yarn to release cord from stick.

Thread your new cord onto your medallion!  You may find a crochet hook useful in this process.

Threading the medallion, step 1.
Insert crochet hook into medallion ring, hook cord.
Threading the medallion, step 2.
Pull cord through medallion loop.

Use an overhand knot to secure both ends together.  Snug it up towards the ends of the work.  Snip the end for neatness.

Overhand knot ends.
Tie both ends together in an overhand knot.
Finished overhand knot.
Snug up the knot towards the ends.
Snip ends.
Trim ends.

I ended up with 30.5” of cord, which was  a tiny bit shorter than my original goal of 32”.  I should have used a higher takeup percentage.  Eithni recommends 25%.  I used  12.5%.  25% would have been too long, but I also work very close to both ends of my thread.  I had a (36 – 30.5) / 36 = 15% takeup.  You may find it easier to work less closely, and have more waste, so 25% is a good place to start.

Cord finished, pendant attached.
Completed medallion cord, attached.

Wear and enjoy!

Finished medallion.
Medallion, ready to wear!

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