(Nålbinding, Naalbinding, Nalebinding, Needlebinding)
The making of textile items using yarn and a single needle.
|Historic area of significance||Mainly associated with areas that have had Viking cultural influence, East Anglia and the North of England|
|Area currently practised||York|
|Origin in the UK||From the 5th century, evidence of Anglo Saxon and Viking cultural practice in the UK. Also possibly pre-existing this period.|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||2|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||0|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required||50-100|
The earliest example of nalbinding is from Israel and dates to 6,000 BC. This craft has many names: needle-binding, net-less knotting, naalbinding etc. Nålbinding is the Scandinavian term for the craft. In 2018, this term was Anglised to ‘Nalbinding’, to aid in the teaching and explanation of the craft to an English speaking audience by Nidavellnir.
There are many archaeological examples of nalbinding in Europe, the North Atlantic and Scandinavia, in many cases this form of fibre-craft carried on until the late 13th century. However, the only archaeological example of nalbinding in the UK is from the Coppergate excavation, York, where the Coppergate Sock was uncovered. The sock was made of stitches previously undiscovered, lending it to be the only example of the ‘York stitch’ in the world. The sock dates to the 10th century.
It has been suggested that this sock ‘came in’ to the city of Jorvik on the foot of Scandinavian trader; however it was found in a settlement context, and it is known that within Anglian culture ‘single needle knitting’ also most likely took place as there again surviving examples in Germany. To what extent this craft survived after the Norman Conquest is difficult to say. Despite common misconceptions, there is no evolutionary relationship between knitting and nalbinding, although Tarim/Coptic stitch does have some superficial similarities that have previously caused confusion in early museum identification.
There are many different “historical” and “cultural” forms of Nalbinding. What would benefit the research and understanding of this craft, would be to assess the application of nalbinding within different cultural and historical time periods, to bring together a timeline of this heritage craft.
Using long lengths of yarn and a single needle, to repeat a continuous stitch and method, to create a set form, such as a hat, socks or mittens. Single Danish stitch is the earliest stitch form and there are over 200 different documented stitches from different archaeological contexts around the world, throughout different cultures.
The difference with nalbinding, unlike with knitting or crochet, the nalbinding created does not fall apart when cut; it is a solid piece of textile. This technique forms a flexible yet solid textile, formed of interlocking-loops.
It can also we worked whilst making cordage, by twisting a length of cord, taking a few stitches, twisting more cord etc. This is an earlier form rarely seen in more recent centuries though and best viewed in prehistoric contexts.
Stitch style and variation are dependant on region or individual crafter, e.g. Icelandic Arnheiðarstaðir Mittens (also 10th century), were made from worsted type yarn, whereas the Coppergate Sock (10th century) was made from fine two-ply yarn. Wool and yarn variation is dependant on breeds of sheep available , and the individuals crafting style and social context.
- Needle making – Some practitioners interested in nalbinding spend more time making needles, or nals, than they do fabrics. Needle making appeals to crafters in wood, bone, antler and other materials and the needles are often tactile and highly attractive.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Nalbinding is currently on the increase due to YouTube and other social media as a platform for learning and collaboration. It is now easier to reach a wider audience.
- A business is likely to be supported by work as an archaeologist/heritage professional financially, as there is not enough funding or support to easily make it a stand-alone business. T
- It’s seen as an obscure craft to learn which has put many people off trying it.
- Seen as too complex to learn and available resources available often lack clarity in the teaching format for this craft.
Nidavellnir is at the forefront of nalbinding in the UK at present in terms of creating and teaching on the craft. Nidavellnir has been in business for seven years, and is only now at the stage to be able to open up nalbinding to a more national and international audience. In 2018 Nidavellnir engaged 200 individuals in actively learning nalbinding by supplying them with the ‘Nalbinding for Beginners’ starter kit. Now in 2020, Nidavellnir has introduce nalbinding to over 500+ people worldwide, through the Nalbinding for Beginners Starter Kit. As well as attending heritage and craft fairs, Nidavellnir develops digital and physical resources, as well as conducting archaeology research and writing articles and journal publications on the Heritage Craft of Nalbinding.
Sally Pointer has been nalbinding for 30 years and has run courses hosted by the Weald & Downland Living Museum, Berrycroft Hub and in smaller groups. She also makes video tutorials, especially exploring the potential earliest forms of nalbinding and looping.
Craftspeople currently known
- Emma Boast, Nidavellnir
- Unna Windweaver, Draicraeft
- Michele Salgado-Nacke, Iduna Crafts
- Isobel Hayward, The Nostalgic Needle
- Julia Hopkin, The Wandering Weft
- Sally Pointer
- Claßen-Büttner, Ulrike, (2015) Nalbinding; what in the World is that? The History and Technique of an Almost forgotten handicraft – general overview, historical gaps and not very intuitive instructions for UK audience. Contains other useful references at back of book.
- Simple Looping: The oldest form of nalbinding? (2019) Sally Pointer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmXqSlxLN_Q
- Boast, E., (Forthcoming) Nalbinding Social Memory Project. Exarc Online Journal. Forthcoming.
- Boast E.,2020. Book Review: With One Needle: How to Nålbind by Mervi Pasanen. Exarc Online Journal 2020/3. [Online] Available at: https://exarc.net/issue-2020-3/mm/book-review-one-needle-how-nalbind-mervi-pasanen
- Boast, E., 2019. Nalbinding: Protecting an endangered heritage craft for the future. [Online Article] Available at: https://www.medievalists.net/2019/05/nalbinding-protecting-endangered-heritage-craft/
- Boast, E., 2018. Frostbite: Keeping warm in the Viking Age. [Online Article] Available at: https://issuu.com/benbaillie6/docs/ham_issue_03-may_2018_lr_2
- Boast, Emma, (2018) Nalbinding for Beginners (Blurb Publishing)