Nalbinding (Needle Binding)

For this weeks blog I wanted to talk with you about Nalbinding or Needle Binding, a craft I absolutely love and one that I really want to share with as many people as possible to keep this ancient art alive. In the UK traditional crafts are not recognised as either arts nor heritage so fall outside the remit of all current support and promotion bodies. Heritage Crafts is a charity that are doing what they can to safeguard craft skills and knowledge for the future. They have a red list of endangered crafts that are at risk of simply disappearing due to the knowledge not being passed on. Nalbinding is on this red list. You can see more about the Heritage Crafts charity and the red list of endangered crafts at the link that follows, you may be surprised by what is on the list.

Nalbinding History
The history of Nalbinding

The History
For those of you that may be aware of Nalbinding already you may know that it is most commonly associated with the Viking age. Most of the evidence of this craft comes from around the 5th to the 10th century AD. The earliest example has been dated at around 6,000BC. This craft has been used to create warm and robust garments for a long time and items made with nalbinding predate the creation of knitting and crochet. The most common finds have been fragments of socks or mittens but nalbinding can be used to make all manner of things. Whereas in modern day times we have machines that can knit for us, nalbinding cannot be replicated with a machine.

Culture and Folklore
Among the Scandinavian countries that were huge users of this craft there are few bits and pieces recorded from history that I really love. A big characteristic of nalbinding, and why you might pick it over something like knitting that is admittedly faster, nalbound material does not unravel. If it is cut or an end snagged and pulled on the garment it stays intact. Burials from the Finnish iron age were found with the deceased wearing a pair of nalbound mittens. It was said that the Devil can unravel all things except nalbound items and so they may have been used as protection from evil. It was also said that if you wore knitted garments then you had an unskilled wife, and it was a mark of great shame if you were unable to nalbound a pair of mittens for your partner. Mothers used to prepare the start of multiple nalbound garments and pass them to their daughters when they went away to be married to help them along as starting off is the most difficult part.

How is it done?
How is it done? The needle

How is it done?
Nalbinding is done using a single needle, historically made from wood, antler, horn, or bone. I really enjoy making nalbinding needles and it can quickly become a rabbit hole all of its own. The needle size is super personal and range in thickness and length, being straight or curved, so try lots and see what feels nice and works for you.

You work from small lengths of wool at a time, you don’t work off a ball. When you are first starting out it is recommended to work using an arms span at a time. When you want to add more wool the new piece and your working piece are joined by felting the 2 ends together.

Loops are formed and tensioned around your thumb or needle and chains of the stitch are formed, there are hundreds of different styles of stitch, and you are also free to make your own.

You can work as a flat piece, create a tube, a round or anything in between increasing and decreasing stitches as you see fit, there are no patterns in nalbinding like you will find with crochet or knitting so it’s quite instinctual and stopping to try things on is helpful.

Having a go...
Having a go…

Having a go
It’s just not possible to give a complete tutorial here and like most things the best way to learn is to have a go. There are limited books around and most were in Finnish, but more and more are being translated to English now, I even bought one written in Japanese. Get researching or come and join us at our workshop in Derbyshire and be guided through the whole process from start to finish and leave with a finished 100% wool hat for you or a loved one. I’ll place a link to it below. I look forward to sharing more Viking age craft with you in my next blog.

Having a go...
Having a go…

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