The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Nalbinding

 

The making of textile items using yarn and a single needle; a precursor to knitting and crochet (see also knitting and crochet).

 

Status Endangered
Craft category
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)
11-20
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
50-100
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 50-100

 

History

The earliest example of nalbinding is from Israel and dates to 6,000 BC. It has many names: needle-binding, net-less knotting, naalbinding etc. Nalbinding is the Scandinavian term for the craft.

There are many archaeological examples of nalbinding in Europe, the North Atlantic and Scandinavia, in many cases this form of knitting 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; however we know that the two-needle knitting started to be practiced in Holland during the mid 13th century and the historical foundation of ‘looped knitting’ comes from nalbinding as a foundation. 17th century tatting could also be another evolution out of nalbinding. As mentioned previously due to the lack of archaeological material it is very difficult to establish a good chronological timeline for this craft.

 

Techniques

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 and knitting or crochet is that nalbinding does not fall apart when cut; it is a solid piece of textile.

 

Local forms

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 was made from fine two-ply yarn. Wool and yarn variation is dependant on breeds of sheep available.

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • 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, though after six years building Nidavellnir, there is now the possibility of this becoming Emma Boast’s main income.
  • It’s seen as an obscure craft to learn which has put many people off trying it.

 

Support organisations

Nidavellnir is at the forefront of nalbinding in the UK at present in terms of creating and teaching on the craft. It has been in business for six 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.

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

 

References

  • 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.
  • Boast, Emma, (2018) Nalbinding for Beginners (Blurb Publishing)