Went to a craft fair last weekend with my quilting/crafting buddies and we were all drawn to this one booth where they were showing 'Kumihimo' - the art of Japanese thread braiding. The picture below is a disk made of three layers of fun foam with 32 slits cut in the edges and a hole in the center. By moving the threads from top to bottom in a specific order, you get a spiral braid out the center of the disk.
At the bottom of the braid, a fishing weight is hung to keep the tension right as the threads are coming thru the hole. I think the setup looks like a jellyfish!
By varying the order of which thread gets moved, you can produce a bunch of patterns.
Want to try it? There are some instructions here that are reasonable - she is showing using only eight strings where the one I have in the picture has sixteen. I want to try with eight and see if its a more bendable braid - the one with sixteen is quite stiff!
Also, if you want a longer braid, you have to plan ahead and wrap the excess length of ribbons/threads on bobbins (the embroidery thread kind) or tama (which look like spools).
There was also a hexagon shaped loom that uses only 5 threads but creates a cool looking shoelace! One of my friends got that one and I will see if I can borrow it sometime to try a pair of shoelaces.
The lady also had some really BIG looms made of wood called marudai that she was using to braid beaded strands into necklaces...same kind of philosophy on the hand movements but no handy notches to put the strands into, so you have to be really concentrated when you are working with that loom!
Also, you can make flat braids - the one I am showing is a round braid (kongo gumi) but here are some cool looking flat braids - I want to try that too but its a little different in how you set up the loom.