On my way to class, I almost tripped over a student sitting cross-legged on the floor. As I apologized profusely, I noticed her hat, and froze— Definitely not crocheted. Nor knitted. “Love your hat. Did you make it?”
It had been a gift and she had no idea how it was made. With her permission, I took several photos, then did some research at home. I was right, it was neither knitted nor crocheted.
The technique was called naalbinding (Danish: needle-binding), also known in English as knotless netting or knotless knitting. It was mostly used for mittens, socks, hats, milk strainers, and bags.
Naalbinded textiles are formed by interlocking loops, which, unlike in knitting or crocheting, cannot be unraveled mid process merely by tugging on the yarn. The resulting fabric can be very elastic or very stiff depending on the type of yarn and on ratio between the yarn size and the size of the loops.
The technique predates knitting and crochet. Its origins lie in the bronze or early iron age. In the past, naalbinding was practiced all over the world. Currently, it is still practiced in Central Asia, Persia, Scandinavia, Central and South America, and New Guinea. It is a craft associated mostly with Scandinavia since it has had a continuous tradition there.
To form the interlocking loops, naalbinders ply single-eye needles, similar to large tapestry needles, traditionally made of wood, bone or antler. They use short lengths yarn (2-4 yards), which they join together (without knotting) as the work progresses.
Naalbinders, usually work the stitches from left to right in the round, spiraling upwards, each row building on the preceding row. In its simplest form, a row of loops, or stitches is worked into the running edge of the previous row of stitches. There are many other variations of naalbinding, where the basic structure remains the same, but the loops are worked into one or more of the loops in the previous row, and into one or more of the previous loops just made.
After learning about the technique, I would have liked to study a naalbinded piece more closely.
Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll trip over that student again sometime.
Schmitt, Lawrence, Lessons in Nålbinding: Scarves Wimples and more, Larry Schmitt, Cottage Grove, WI, 1996.
Schmitt, Lawrence, Mittens, Mittens, Mittens! A Nålbinding Mitten Workbook, Larry Schmitt, Cottage Grove, WI, 1997.
Schmitt, Lawrence, Lessons in Nålbinding: Lots of Socks, Larry Schmitt, Cottage Grove, WI, 2000
Claßen-Büttner, Ulrike, Nalbinding - What in the World Is That?, Print On Demand, 2015.
Mellgren, Nusse, Nålbindning - The easiest clearest ever guide!, Scanglas AB, 2014.