By Elska á Fjárfelli, of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
Documentation for my entry in the Passing of the IceDragon A&S Pentathlon AS52Category: Fib5 Nalbinding
Nalbinding is a textile technique usually done with a needle and thread, in which loops are connected to form a fabric. As opposed to working with a needle and thread as a seamstress or embroiderer to mend or embellish existing fabric, someone using nalbinding is creating new fabric. It is a technique still found practiced in many (lesser developed) parts of the world. (Claßen-Büttner 2015, 9)
Selected historic finds from Scandinavian context
The oldest nalbound fragment, supposedly a piece of a mesh sieve made of plant fibers, is from a cave in Israel, Nahal Hemar, approximately 6500 BCE. Fragments found in Denmark date from 4200 BCE. (Claßen-Büttner 2015, 32; neulakintaat.fi)
In a grave of a man buried with expensive clothes in Mammen, Denmark (970-971 CE) were found pieces of nalbinding in gold and silver wrapped silk threads. (Iversen 1991,132)
An intricate Viking Age artifact is the nalbound sock discovered during the Coppergate excavations in York from 1976-81. Archaeologists from York Archaeologist Trust (YAT) were surveying the ground underneath a demolished factory ahead of the shopping centre being built, and discovered incredibly well-preserved remains of streets in the principal Northern city of Viking Britain. Waterlogged, oxygen-free soil had stopped not only 1000-year-old timbers from rotting away, but had also preserved a huge selection of Viking artifacts, large and small. The stitch type used in this sock has not been found anywhere else, so it is called York Stitch or Coppergate Stitch (also Jorvik Stitch), based on the place where it was found. (yorkarchaeology)
Another Viking Age find from Finland includes mittens made with nalbinding. The find also included a pair of shields and helmets, a pair of shoulder brooches on the shoulder, a pair of chain cuffs, a pair of twisted cufflinks, bronze twisted ribbons, and two rings on each hand. On basis of the jewelry and money, tomb 56 is dated to the very end of the Vikings. Possibly, English money outside the neckline is from coins of the youngest tomb. The coins were beaten in 1018 AD. (translated from Finnish by author; Vajanto 2003, 22, 24)
The nalbound hat of Saint Simeon, from Trier, Germany of around 1000 AD. The material of the hat is undyed wool. The linen fabric and tablet woven border on the edge were added later. The hat (below)was believed to provide a miracle cure for headaches. (Claßen-Büttner 2015, 49)
I made two nalbound hats using the Oslo stitch. One hat is made from homespun dyed and undyed wool, plied into an energized 3 ply for a stretchy hat. The other is made from commercial single ply warp-weighted loom waste, plied into a 4 ply. It is thought that because of the nature of the nalbinding technique, which uses short pieces of yarn as opposed to a continuous yarn like knitting, nalbinding would be a great way to repurpose loom waste that otherwise would be too short for use.
I used my first hand spun yarn for this hat (California red roving a friend had processed). As I had a bunch of small dyed balls of roving lying around from a previous Natural Dyeing A&S practice I decided to spin that, about twice the diameter as the white single, to ply together to create a pleasing visual texture. I used my brand new spinning wheel to wind the white single on two bobbins, and the colored single on one, and then plyed all three together to make a 3 ply yarn. Unfortunately, I had misunderstood the plying instructions and added twist in the same direction both times. This resulted in quite an energized yarn (more like an elastic band, than a yarn!) full of rat tails. I figured, stretch in a hat is not a bad thing, so let’s make this a learning moment, and go with what I have… and as I hoped, it indeed made an awesome stretchy hat, which fits many heads.
The dye colors came from several different dye baths, including madder, cochineal, copper, iron, onion, logwood, turmeric, black walnut etc. The dyes were all leftovers from the 2017 Gulf Wars fiber classes which I brought back up North for a natural dyeing A&S practice.
Hat number two:
I used loom waste singles of about 3 feet long, this is a typical length for loom waste from a warp-weighted loom as there is quite some length between the top heddle bar (above which is woven) and the hanging weights.
First I tried with a 3 ply, but the grey loom waste singles are thin and with my bone needle (the width determines the loop diameter) it made for an open structure. Next I made a 4 ply and that worked well. At first I plied them with a drop spindle and set them in hot water, but when I realized they would twist themselves, I just put them in hot water in a bundle of four by themselves to twist and turn to their hearts content. It made very nice, fluffy yarn and worked beautifully with my bone needle. I added a small white trim as that was the yarn I used in the selvage of my weave.
The Oslo Stitch
After taking several classes on nalbinding, none of which took, I got lucky with a hand out my sister shared with me. The images in the handout did it, and I learned I do not nalbind using my thumb, which is what most classes teach. I keep the loop between my fingers and use the gauge or diameter of the bone needle to determine loop width.
The Oslo stitch is a simple stitch, described with O/UO: this means ‘over’ / ‘under,’ ‘over’ or the needle goes first over the thread of the loop (or bottom row of stitches), then under, and then over again of the previously made stitch.
Forming shapes with the nalbound technique is a matter of adding a second stitch to a loop, or skipping a loop (stitching two at the same time). This will increase or decrease the diameter of the fabric. It takes a bit more attention to make a flat hat, than it does to make the typical pointed Viking ‘Hershey’ hat. I made one of both for this project.
– energized yarn makes awesome hats
– I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to ply singles, and what a nice yarn it makes
– loom waste is great for making nalbound projects
Next up, I am challenging myself to make socks, like the Yorvik sock shown earlier in the documentation. It will be interesting to see if I can make a matching set.
Yes, I made the bone needle myself. I used a metal hack saw to cut strips from the leg bone, a file to shape it to a point, and some sand paper. The hole was drilled prior to filing, and then sanded out. It is from the leg bone of one of our backyard goats.
Ulrike Claßen-Büttner (2015) Nalbinding What in the World is That? History and Technique of an Almost Forgotten Handicraft. Norderstedt: Books on Demand (BOD).
Sarah Goslee (undated) Basic Naalbinding
Mette Iversen (ed.) (1991) Mammen Grav, kunst og samfund I vinkinetid. Jysk Arkaeologisk Selskabs Skrifter XXVIII I kommission hos Aarhus Universitetsforlag. Højbjerg, Denmark: Jysk Arkaeologisk Selskabs.
Sanna-Mari Pihlajapiha (undated) History of Nalbinding
Krista Vajanto (Master’s thesis) (2003) EURAN EMÄNNÄN NEULAKINTAAT, TUTKIELM A LUISTARIN HAUDAN 56 NE ULAKINNAS FRAGME NTEISTA (Euran Shoulder Needles, research from the fragments of the area of Luistar Hauda 56) Kulttuurien tutkimuksen laitos Arkeologian oppiaine.
Artifacts discovered during the Coppergate excavations in York 1976-81
JORVIK Viking Centre brings the Vikings to life in York once again (2017
York sock image (as the museum images are now only for sale)
Oslo stitch mitten (probably from Nordland 1961, and also on page 45 of Claßen-Büttner 2015)
Hat of Saint Simeon (image from Claßen-Büttner 2015, 49 but in color).