Ok, what is a “nal” and why would I bind one?  Well, if you have an interest in Viking textiles (yes I have the Icelandic variant warp-weighted loom to prove it!) then you may want to learn how to Nalbind. (yep that would be me please!) This fall the local Ottawa  Valley Weaver’s and Spinner’s Guild offered a workshop on 4 Wednesday evenings to teach an introduction to Nalbinding.

So now you know the where but may still be a bit confused by the what (it is) and why (would I want to do it).

“Nålebinding (Danish) literally ‘binding with a needle’ or ‘needle-binding’, also naalbinding, nålbinding, nålbindning or naalebinding”  I first saw it spelt with the double A (I have always liked words with double A’s). * I already love this word, look how many different ways you can spell it and still get it right!

The what:  there are multiple spellings depending on your location. It is usually described as a “type of single needle knitting” which is not at all like knitting.  it is produced by a series of interlaced loops but unlike knitting it creates a more dense and stable fabric.  if you use a pair of scissors and cut knitting it unravels, if you get a hole or slice in your nalbinded it will remain intact and not run or unravel.

When I first bumped into Nalbinding it was in the early 1980’s in articles on early medieval archeology. I was not able to find much information in English and it was mostly flat pattern analyses that were too much like some of the knotwork patterns to consider a true road map of instruction to recreate the process. Keeping the yarn looped and flat, while trying to stitch into the previous loops, was a bit of a disaster.  It was well before the helpful Mr. Google and the wonders of YouTube.  So, I put the hope of learning to make warm socks and cool hats aside and focused on my beloved Fragment #10 from Birka Sweden (Broken Lozenge Twill!) and making a ¾ size Icelandic variant warp-weighted loom. I measured from the inside of the trunk of my hatchback to the back of the seat, to get the height of my loom. It’s good to think ahead about how you are going to transport it.

diagram of flat layout of loops found in Nalbinding. 1) Flat pattern diagram of Nalbinding similar to diagrams I was looking at in the 1980’s you can see working flat would be a difficult way to work with yarn.

The next time I bumped into the opportunity to take a workshop in January(?) 2010, with a fellow Medieval enthusiast who had kept researching and been introduced to the thumb method of working the loops (so much easier than the flat table method!!).   She brought in samples of her work including a sock, mitts and a hand puppet

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2-4) Samples from the first 1 day nalbinding workshop,  laptop and samples with notes and nalbinding, close-up of the blue and grey sock, mittens  in two patterns (thumbs to the side  and thumbs underneath)  

We used big lofty yarn and made a rectangle, which we were to join one end to the other and make a tube.

Rebeca showing us how to create one of the stitchs in nalbinding5) getting started with a needle and a single wool yarn

Well, that took an odd turn…. I seem to have developed a Mobius strip, not a tube! But I had a lot of fun so it was all wonderful!

My show and tell was my mobius tube in blue yarn6) My tube was not tubular… it just kept going and going.. it was a Mobius tube!

hands holding the mobius nalbinding sample7) close up of Mobius tube

another view of the mobius strip8) Mobius tube

added line to photo of mobius strip close up showing the edge as it is worked on and that it is not creating a proper tube.9) following the working edge of the Mobius tube

Life got busy again and I did not keep practising (how can you do better than create infinity?) so I forgot how I was doing the loop and where the needle was going. Later that year I did take a hat workshop with Ann McElroy.  It also did not turn out as she expected but I loved it. someone else loved it too since it disappeared while I was eating at a restaurant.

odd hat i made in Ann's hat class, it has long side pices that can be tucked in around the neck and a turn up at the front to bake a short brim. the visibl undersidhas striations of blue silk on black wool 10) Bad photo of me smirking while wearing the new hat

I also got a Road Bug travel wheel from Merlin Tree out of Vermont for Xmas, from my husband….

Small wooden portable spinning wheel with felt hat sitting on it, in corner of pictue is some of the nalbinding wooden spinning wheel sitting on table with wheels excesorys, candy and other show and tell11-12) Both sides of the new travel wheel “Road bug” by Merlin Tree out of Vermont, wet felted hat and edge of nalbinding at guild show and tell.

Time passes:

So speed ahead to last week, and I again attempted to overcome my befuddlement and learn to Nalbind hopefully without the infinity component! I again arrived extra early (about 7:30 a.m. for the 7 p.m. workshop, that’s ok I had lots of library work to do before the workshop started.) I had cleaned up the library work, neatened up the studio and had it ready for Meriam, our teacher. She set up a display of her work and a few books that might be helpful.

Display by the teacher of books and samples on table13) The display of samples and reference books.

skull water cup, notes, sissors, pen, notes and Wool single yarn 14) The class notes, water cup (yes that is a skull),  my scissors and pen, as well as the yarn we will be using

For our first night, we started with the Oslo stitch.   Tail by the palm, wrap around the thumb making an x and pinch it with your first finger and thumb…. OK, I have nails, long nails at the moment. At this length, they should brake and be short in a week or so.  In the meantime pinching it as required is a bit awkward but not impossible.  We progressed from practising the starting loops to making the first few stitches. Oh no! I have got to work on even tension!!  We also were shown and then practised, splicing our singles wool yarn. At the end of the workshop, we were sent home with homework (Practice starting, making a line of stitches and making splices.)

my samples, the tention is extreemly randome and still needs work 15) First night’s class and homework

I was pleased with the homework, it did look a bit better than the first try but I was very slow.  I am still working on getting an even tension.

Today I went in early (8 a.m. or a bit before?) to keep working on sorting, checking and pricing the donated books given to the guild library. I have already written a separate database to help sort and track the books. I have been checking the library database and the shelf location to make sure we have a copy and that our copy is in good condition then checking online for the price range that the book is selling for. (Some are out of print, some are rare so I can’t find them and most I get a good idea of a reasonable price) I am getting them prepped for members to look through at the October meeting, (which is getting very close!!)  Lastly, each book is tagged with an ID number and its price.

The studio also had a new loom being set up and the drum carder in use in the morning. there was a team for the 100-inch loom working upstairs too.

I took a quick break to watch and chat with Marie from Living Felt in Texas. I would like to make the bat she was making today but I can see a few modifications I would like to try! (Maybe if I get my blog post finished early I will get that started and maybe finished before going back in to work on the library?)

About an hour before the second night of the workshop was to start, the strange loud noise I had been hearing outside finally appeared in the studio window. Isn’t that a pavement stripper? (No not that other kind of stripper just working on pavement) sure enough, it started in the bike lane,  pealing the pavement away. It wound up working straight through the class but moving farther down the street so it wasn’t too disturbing.

large macheen that is removing the top layers of pavement on the street outside the window the room the class is in.16) Stripper of Pavement, the things you see looking out the studio window!

Tonight we reviewed starting and making the Oslo loops (I unknowingly had been doing a Danish version which seemed completely right at the time.) We then learned how to make our first line of stitches attach at the beginning and end to try to make a tube (not the Mobius strip I had created last time).  We then were shown how to add the next layer of our tube.

example of increses used to create texture as well as increse the size of cercumfrence 17) Example of increase used to create texture as well as make the circumference bigger.

hands showing which loop the needle gose throung in starting nalbinding18) reviewing starting

showing where to start the second row after joining the front to the back of the single layer19)showing where to start the second row

this is my sample i have worked part way across the second row and it is looking more even.20) My second row looks much better than the first row did

two pices of yarn spliced together with water to extend the working length of the yarn21) my yarn splice. I seem to be good at this part!!!

I likely had too much fun today since my thumb and index finger kept spassumming toward the end of the workshop, while I was pinching the yarn. I will have to do more hand and finger stretches before nalbinding. (Maybe not shift and lift books all day before class!)

Before heading home, we were shown increases and practised increasing on every stitch. This gave a wavy edge.

the frilly edge is on the far side of the tube and has been caused by incresing in every stitch22) Increasing in every stitch gives a wavy edge

When increases are used in a less extreme way (not in every stitch), you can make a hat.

a hat made in Nalbinding, there is a diferent type of starting that we will learn in 2 weeks.23) hat made with increases in nalbinding (it has a different beginning but we will look at that in lesson 4

By the end of day 2, I have gone from absolutely no tensioning to a bit more consistent to adding a second row.   We were sent off with homework to start another length of nalbinding single-layer chain and use it as the basis to make a tube.  Then do that again and again! Practice makes….  well it’s getting better..

I will continue my homework, interspersed with more Library work and maybe this afternoon I will take a little time and make that bat Marie was showing on YouTube yesterday. (It was very cute… but I think it needs a bit more bite!  Have fun and I hope our weather doesn’t look at the calendar and we wind up in a chilly wet fall. I prefer the slow lingering end of summer with warm days and cool nights (but no frost, I am so picky!)


9 thoughts on “Naalbinding?

  1. We’d never heard of naalebinding – it’s fascinating. You can see by the first diagram how it would be difficult to learn how to keep the tension in the loops even.
    Especially like the idea that you can cut it as if it were fabric – no unravelling like knitting!
    The hat in the final photo is gorgeous as is your own hat that someone else took a fancy to while you were in the restaurant 🙁
    Top marks – the splice in your yarn is invisible!

  2. Well the results are lovely, but it looks so difficult. Aah so that’s the secret – the Vikings had 3 hands? (image no 18) No wonder us lesser beings find it so difficult.
    Mind you I find even the first row of crochetting difficult. I can never get the hook back into the right chain loop. It’s one of the reasons I like Tunisian crochet – I do the thumb (knitting) cast on and take it from there, you actually get a much better edge that way (or at least I do).
    I’m looking forward to seeing how you get on with Naalbinding in your next workshops. Oh, and can you teach us how to splice the yarns please?

  3. Very interesting technique and I give you high marks for your tenacity, Jan. It looks like an excellent method, for making long lasting, sturdy fabric. I am certain if we lived in medieval times, we would eagerly learn such techniques, as our survival would depend on it. It’s wonderful that you are eager to learn, and keep trying even if you aren’t able to get it, the first time. Without curious individuals, like yourself, we would know nothing of our textile history.

    I think your hood/hat looked luxuriously warm and cozy. I would like to think the person was so cold, they couldn’t help themselves…🫤 Thank you for being so generous!


  4. Very interesting Jan. I haven’t tried this but I am currently working on learning about needle lace and the similarities are definitely there. Of course the lace is not as sturdy as the naal binding. I look forward to seeing your creations from this technique.

  5. It’s great to hear you’re Nalbinding Jan! I’ve not tried it yet but there is a lady at my spinning group who does it and it always attracts a lot of interest when she goes out demonstrating. Its so important we keep these old crafts alive.

  6. I’d never heard of Nalbinding but it’s super fun, thanks for sharing, Jan! It’s so interesting how so many nations thought about making yarn and then came up with different methods to bind it all together to make garments.

    Also, am I the only one who was disappointed the strippers weren’t proper ones? 😉

  7. Jan, I learnt so much reading your post today. What an interesting technique. We have Viking re-enactment groups here in Dublin, in fact, the Vikings were responsible for founding the city and many other cities around Ireland. We have lots of artefacts in our national museum so I must take a trip in some time soon and check out the various textiles (recovered from bogs).

    It is just so cool that this does not unravel when cut into. I don’t know why but when I saw the photo from that instruction book from the 80s, the pattern reminded me of chain mail.

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