Examples from the Treatise on the Making of Laces Tollemache Book of Secrets

Jeanne de Robin

Wall painting Konstanz, Germany. 13th Century
The Two Maidens at the House "Zur Kunkel" 13th Century

Selection of fingerloop braids made according to instructions found in the Tollemache Book of Secrets. 

Fingerloop braids are found throughout Europe and Asia from the 8th  though 19th centuries.  The manuscript from which the braid instructions were taken is from 15th century England.

Two sets of braids were made.  One set was made from 10/2 cotton, the other was 120/2 tussah silk.  Although in period fingerloop braids were made mainly of silk or linen, wool and leather were also possibilities.   The thicker cotton thread was chosen to clearly distinguish the structure of the braids, something not easily seen with the fine silk.

Braids were used as laces, ties, handles for purses, frogs, pipings & edgings and embroidery.  They were used by all classes of people, with the quality of material used and complexity increasing with wealth and station. By the 15th century braids were created in large workshops with assistants and a caller in addition to the actual braiders.

Braids were anchored to a hook or nail in a table or wall, or held by an assistant.  I chose to use a pressure clamp to anchor my braids.

Although when I started this project as a rank novice, having attended a 1-hour workshop on braiding techniques, I now consider myself to be an intermediate level braider.  I hope to interest other people in fingerloop braiding so that I can produce the two and three person braids also described in the manuscript.

I learned a great deal during this project, not the least was the ability to read and decipher Middle English.  See Appendix A for a sample of the process from reading the transcription, to redacting it, to translating to it, to interpreting it into a set of directions.


Crowfoot, E., F. Pritchard and K. Staniland. 1992. Medieval finds from excavations in London: 4. Textiles and clothing c.1150-c.1450. HMSO, London.

Egan, Geoff and Frances Pritchard. 1991. Dress Accessories 1150-1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations at London: 3. HMSO, London. Second edition, 2002, Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Griffiths, Jeremy. 2001. The Tollemache Book of Secrets. The Roxburghe Club, London.

Stanley, E.G. 1974. Directions for making many sorts of laces. Pp. 89-103 in: Rowland, Beryl (ed.). Chaucer and Middle English Studies. Kent State University Press.

Swales, Lois and Zoe Kuhn Williams.  Fingerloop Braids. Retrieved Feb 23, 2007, from http://fingerloop.org

Appendix A: Sample of translation process


Tollemache Book of Secrets excerpt
Figure 1  portion of folio 32v Tollemache Book of Secrets

Transcription  (by A.S.G. Edwards)

A lace comon rownd of 5 bowys Set on þi bowis as it is seyd be for þen xal A ryght tak thorow B C of þe sam hand þe bow C on þe lyfte hand reuersyd þan low þi bowis lyfte & A lyfte xal tak thorow B C on þe sam hand þe bow C on þe ryght hand reuersyd þen low þi ryght bowis & be gyn a geyn


A lace common round of 5 bows.  Set on thy bows as it is said before.  Then shall A right take through B C of the same hand the bow C on the left hand reversed.  Low thy bows left and A left shall take through BC on the same hand the bow C on the right hand reversed.  Then low thy right bows and begin again.


A lace common round of 5 bows.  Setup the bows as it was said before.  Then A right shall take though B and C of the same hand the bow C of the left hand reversed.  Lower the left bows and then A left shall take through B and C of the same hand the bow C of the right hand reversed.  Then lower the right bows and begin again.


Place 1 bow on each of A,B,C left hand and B,C right hand.

  1. With right hand index A reach through B and C of your right hand and pick up D left reversed.
  2. Walk the loops of the left hand down.
  3. With left hand index A reach through B and C of your left hand and pick up D right reversed.
  4. Walk the loops of the right hand down