What is nalbinding?
At first glance, most people think that nalbound fabrics are knitted or crocheted. But if you dare to take a second, closer look, then you see the different nature of the structure. There are countless variations of nalbinding: open and net-like or strong and tight fabrics; filigree and delicate or rough and rugged fabrics. Also, in basketry nalbinding techniques are used.
Nalbinding is the English version of the Scandinavian names for this technique, optionally Nålbinding, Nålebinding, Nalbindning or Naalbinding. Other English terms are needle binding, looping, looped needle netting or knotless netting. Worldwide, there are countless other names for nalbinding, because the principle is so simple that it was or is used in virtually all parts of the world. With needle and thread loops are formed and intertwined, so that a fabric is created.
How does nalbinding work?
Nalbinding is one of the most simple and original techniques to create a fabric out of yarn – this is the reason why it was already used in the Stoneage. Basically the yarn is just looped around itself (and this can be done with or without a needle). This looping can be done very simple or in complex ways, designing new patterns by connecting different loops with each other.
In contrast to working with a theoretically endless yarn while knitting or crochet, working with a nalbinding needle requires working with short lenghts of yarn. New pieces of Yarn have to be added frequently.
Simple stitches can be used for making open, netlike structures for nets or bags. But simple stitches can also be worked quite compact. Using complex stitches usually creates warm and dense textiles that have been used primarily for hand- and footwear or hats because of their elasticity (in contrast to woven textiles or leather). Depending on the number and choice of picked up stitches there are countless variants. Some of these are known from archaeological finds and are often named after the place they have been found (e.g. Oslo or Mammen stitches).
Describing different stitches is not easy. There are different systems to classify nalbinding stitches, but the most common is the Hansen notation. (Hansen, Egon H., Nalebinding: definition and description. In: Textiles in Northern Archaeology, Textile Symposium in York, North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles Monograph 3, NESAT III, London Archetype Publications, 1990, 21-27).
The oldest known needles with eye were made of bone in the late Paleolithic about 30,000 years ago. These were probably used to sew clothing made of leather or fur, but new archaeological finds show that more complex textile techniques and the use of plant fibers were already known in the Palaeolithic
The oldest known find made with the nalbinding technique was found in Israel (Nahal Hemar). The oldest archaeological nalbound finds from Central and Northern Europe are fragments of fishing nets (Middle Stone Age). More famous are the later pieces, such as the Viking Age finds from northern Europe and the socks with divided toes from the Coptic Egypt.
Nalbinding was and is distributed worldwide and it is known under many different names. We use the term nalbinding, that is derived from the Scandinavian names. A traditional name for this technology in English or German is not known, because since the Middle Ages the new technique of knitting came from the Arabian world to Europe. Knitting spread fast because it is faster and so nalbinding fell gradually into oblivion. Nalbinding could survive until today only in some regions of Northern Europe, so that the technique there can look back on a long unbroken tradition.
Today nalbinding is revived by people with historical or handicraft interests. Especially in reenactment and living history groups that are concerned about authenticity, the technique will be applied again to produce mainly socks, gloves and hats.
Those interested in specific artefacts and further details on the history of nalbinding, can find these in my book „Nalbinding – What in the world is that?“
Here you can download the German instructions for the Oslo stich. Maybe the pictures will helb you. But the best thing is to check out some videos about nalbinding on youtube.
Please check out my collection of nalbinding pictures on pinterest!
There are many videos on youtube about nalbinding, just search for nalbinding. Really good ones are those by Neulakintaat.
You can find a lot of literature here:
You can find my English nalbinding book an amazon, but if you order it in the US, you will get a black and white version (the partner of my publisher there can not print it in colour). So better order on amazon.de or amazon.co.uk.