Nalebinding – an Exploration

During my research I came across a technique called ‘Nalebinding’. This technique, making fabric out of wool, was once used all over the world and predates knitting.

The theory,  developed by Textile historians, is that humans first sewed animal skins together and as it is innate to humans, according to Ellen Dissanayake, to make things special, through sewing decorative edges were added.

From these edges a technique, independed from an animal skin developed. it is closer to sewing as it is worked with a length of thread/yarn rather than a continuous yarn as in knitting or crochet.

It was used for small items, like hats, mittens and socks. through its particular way of working, a kind of looping, where the thump becomes a holding tool for the working loop, it is only possible to work in the round.

It is thought, that the earliest found knitting pieces, Egyptian Cotton socks are actually worked in Nalebinding rather than knitting.

Nalebinding was used in Scandinavia until the early 19th century and is still used in the Viking Reenactment scene.

Like with hand spinning, I was fascinated by a technique so ancient, it felt like a thread joining me through history to ancestors, in their attempt to keep their heads and limps warm.

I researched the wooden needles which are the tools for this technique, mail ordered a pair from the Us and from Norway, as i initially couldn’t find any made in the Uk. Later on Justin Duance, a local Jewellery maker, offered very knindly to make two needles for me.

As my first learning pieces i made two hats with Islandic wool, thick and with very little twist . in this way of working every new thread has to be joined with the old one through felting the ends together.

At this point I was thinking of using this technique for my main piece, using my hand spun yarn. Working in the round seemed very fitting for a comfort blanket for the Earth.

I worked to trial pieces and soon became to realised why knitting had succeed and Nalebinding had become a part of human history! It is very slow! Even for me, who likes to make a point about Slow process this was more than impractical. Also my hand spun yarn was too thin to create a satisfying fabric and same as with crocheting in the round, the constant counting of increase stitches stood in the way of a relaxed working experience.

So in the end, I discarded the idea of Nalebinding for my main piece, just out of the same reasons as the rest of humankind, which is an intriguing thought in itself. Even so my decision went against this ancient technique, it was a a valuable learning experience. it is a appropriate way to make thick warm hats for the winter! Also I have been asked by the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers of Cornwall to give a talk and demonstration in November, which is an honour for me!

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