When I tell people that I nalbind, the most common response is ‘what?’. So I find I have to explain what is is, where it came from and even give a short demonstration of how it’s done.
Basically, during the Viking-age (793-1066 AD) knitting and crochet were unknown, so they had to use another very old and effective method for making warm socks, mittens and hats: nalbinding.
Nalbinding (also spelled nålbinding, naalbinding, nalebinding) is a method of creating a stretchy textile using short lengths of yarn and a single-eyed bone or wooden needle. Fabric is formed by looping and knotting the yarn through previously created loops, gradually building up row upon row of loops. The gauge depends on the size of yarn and the looseness/tightness of the individual naalbinder. Depending on the stitch, the fabric will be soft, firm, stiff or stretchy.
Nalbinding predates both knitting and crochet by at least 2000 years. Fragments found in Israel date to 6500 B.C. The oldest find in northern Europe is dated at 4200 B.C, and comes from Denmark. Additional samples of toed anklet socks from fifth and sixth century Egypt are also examples of nalbinding, previously misidentified as knitting.
Nalbinding as a practical needle craft survived longest in Scandinavia before it was supplanted by easier to produce knitting. Nalbinding was regarded as a superior craft because it required more skill to produce and the fabric created was thicker and warmer. The name Nalbinding was introduced at the beginning of the 1970’s by Martha Broden and translates to mean ‘needle; to bind or sew’.
In knitting each loop is interlocked through the previous row and the previous stitch. In Nalbinding, each individual loop is knotted in itself, and is also interlocked. Each piece of yarn is pulled through completely and creates a knot. When you pull the end of a length of knitting, the piece can unravel completely; if you pull the end of a nalbinded piece, the yarn will knot! The nalbinded material will not ladder – socks develop less holes!!
There are two methods of Nalbinding;
1. The free hand method,
2. The thumb chain method.
I use the thumb chain method. This means that the working loops are fixed around your thumb, and working them will create a chain.
Each Nalbinding stitch has a notation or classification depending on how the yarn is looped and worked. For example, the Oslo stitch has the classification UO/UOO F1. U means under, O means over, / denotes the point where a crossing point is. If you look at the yarn as it creates the stitch you should be able to see this pattern. However I find the classifications confusing for beginners and tend to stick to the stitch names.
In Nalbinding, you work with lengths of yarn, and join them together as you proceed (unlike knitting or crochet where you work off the ball of wool). You also need to work with 100% wool so you can ‘felt’ the yarns together as needed. Ideally, beginners should use a thick unplied yarn as the worked stitch is easier to see. However, unless you spin your own yarn this can be difficult to find these days.
Most people that have knitted or crocheted will pick up nalbinding quite quickly – but you don’t need previous wool-craft experience. And as with all things new; perseverance and practice will get you there!