Posts Tagged ‘nålbinding’

Nålbinding, Part 3 – Going Solo

March 16, 2013

In recent posts I provided a brief glimpse of the history of nålbinding, and an overview of my class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. I left Iowa knowing that I needed to practice the stitch until it was firmly imbedded in my brain.

This shows one stitch on the needle.

This shows the basic stitch on the needle.

I’d decided that my first independent project would be a pair of mittens. I understood what I needed to do to shape a mitten, so I got started.


I got this far in class.

Once home, though, I soon discovered that I didn’t want to work on something that required even simple shaping. Life was crazy-busy. I was traveling a lot, and trying to meet deadlines too. I wanted a handwork project to relax with.

So I switched to scarves and bags. Nålbinding requires natural fibers, and I picked yarns with inherent variations.

A luscious wool-mohair blend.

A luscious wool-mohair blend.

Then I experimented with variegated yarns. I found the repetitive stitching almost meditative, and I loved watching the colorplay develop. Nålbinding projects were perfect for traveling since they required only a ball of yarn and a blunt wooden needle (which did pass TSA screenings, by the way. No scissors are required; yarn is broken and spliced.)

I love the colors in this skein.

Gorgeous colors!

Making a flat bottom for a bag.

DSCF7902 - Version 2

Unfinished bag, ready for the fulling process.

Since taking the class, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

I’ve learned that when making scarves, it’s tricky to gauge how many stitches to add on the curves so the ends stay perfectly flat.

I made the bottom scarf in the round, and even with blocking, the ends aren’t quite flat. My talented friend Becky solved this problem by making a tube instead (top). She’ll close the ends when she’s done and have a double-warm scarf.

I’ve learned that whatever leads to wool being labeled “washable” makes it difficult to splice yarn or full the finished piece.

Since this washable wool doesn’t splice or full well, I’ll need to line this bag.

I’ve also learned that I never should throw away wool yarn remnants.

I made this bag from scraps left over from an afghan project.

I haven’t given up knitting, hedebo, rosemaling, etc., etc.  But I find nålbinding more relaxing than anything else. Now I’m trying to figure out when I can introduce nålbinding into one of my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries!

Kate Martinson is offering her nålbinding workshop again this summer. I highly recommend it! For more information, visit the Vesterheim website.

Nålbinding, Part 2 – Getting Started

March 9, 2013

As I mentioned in a recent post, when I learned that Kate Martinson taught workshops in nålbinding at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, I signed right up.

When the class began, I quickly learned that the trickiest part is getting started. Projects begin with a chain of stitches, and creating those first few stitches took some practice. Kate prepared a little started piece for each student so we could learn the basic stitch before having to start from scratch.

Kate demonstrating the basic stitch.

Kate demonstrating the basic stitch.

Here’s my first attempt at a chain. After a couple of mistakes (toward the right) I started getting the hang of it.

Kate brought a variety of nålbinding needles to class so we could experiment. She encouraged us to find just the right one, based on how it felt in our hands.

Examples of Nålbinding needles.  Kate urged us to try different kinds, and choose one that felt good in our hand.

Examples of Nålbinding needles.

Everyone made a small pouch for their first project. These let us try increasing and decreasing, and changing colors.



Once a project is completed, the next step is fulling. (Felting refers to manipulating raw fibers; fulling refers to manipulating fibers that have been spun, knit, crocheted, woven, etc.) The creator can decide whether to full their piece, and how much to full it.


Here Kate is using a fulling board–similar to an old-fashioned scrub board–to help individual wool fibers catch with their neighbors.


My pouch is in the bototm of this tub.  A simple potato masher helps with the agitation.

The next three photos show the procession. First, the completed pouch before any fulling.


The individual stitches and overall stitch pattern are clearly visible.

Next, the piece in the middle of the fulling process.


The wet fibers are easy to stretch at this point.

The wet piece is blocked and left to dry.

The pouch after it dried, with button ready to be sewn into place. I could have chosen to start the fulling process all over again, but I wanted to leave some of the stitching pattern visible.

After we made our pouches, each student began planning a project of his or her choice. Kate made sure we had a good grounding in all the fundamentals, such as yarn selection. (And we took a field trip to the wonderful yarn store, Blue Heron Knittery, down the street. )

Kate discussing types of fibers that do--and don't--work well for Nålbinding .

Kate discussing types of fibers that do—and don’t—work well for nålbinding .

She also brought lots of her own projects for inspiration.

Scarves, mittens, hats…



and bags.

The class was informative; it was also great fun. Kate reminded anyone who got frustrated about making a mistake (that would be me) that historically, women were working toward practicality and functionality, not perfection. And she would know—she’s studied nålbinding for years, and has even taught classes in Scandinavia.

In addition, it’s special to take a class at a world-class museum where original artifacts also provide inspiration.

Kate is offering her nålbinding workshop again this summer. I highly recommend it! For more information, visit the Vesterheim website.

Nålbinding, Part 1 – An Ancient Technique

March 2, 2013

I’m a fiber arts junkie—especially when it comes to old forms of needlework. So when I saw a woman demonstrating a technique I didn’t even recognize during a special event at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, I skidded to a halt.

Nalbinding Kate Martinson Vesterheim 2013

Kate Martinson, Associate Professor of Art at Luther College, explained that she was doing nålbinding (pronounced noll-bin-ding). I immediately signed up for one of her classes.

Anthropologists refer to this unique technique as knotless netting. Nålbinding is also sometimes called Viking knitting, but it actually pre-dates the Viking era. Women have used this technique for centuries to make everything from mittens to strainers to stockings. It produces a very strong and water-repellant fabric that doesn’t ravel when cut.

Artifacts constructed with Nålbinding

Kate showed us images of artifacts constructed with nålbinding.

Scandinavian women used fibers from sheep, fox, wolf, bear, and cows. The technique produces a distinctive ribbed finish, but women often fulled the finished item by agitating it in water. With enough fulling, the stitchwork can totally disappear. That makes it difficult for even skilled textile historians to know for sure if a certain artifact was made by nålbinding or not.


Possibly the oldest known example of nålbinding—maybe as old as 15th-century.

Nålbinding requires only a single-eyed needle and a natural-fiber yarn to work with, so it was quite portable. One cool example:  women used this technique when they went to high pastures with their herds of cows each summer. They twisted hairs from their cows’ tail into thread. Nålbinding then allowed them to make a perfect mesh for straining milk.

Here's an example of a milk strainer from Norway.  (Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum collection.)

An example of a milk strainer from Norway. (Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum collection.)

Nålbinding strainer - Vesterheim

Here you can see the distinctive herringbone pattern in the spiral of stitches.

A milk strainer as it would have been used.

A milk strainer as it would have been used.  The wooden base, which has a hole in the center,  would have been set over a bucket.  The strainer’s natural bristles would help filter out impurities. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum exhibit)

Learning about this provided an unexpected personal connection for me. Examples of nålbinding have been found in Iran, China, Peru… the technique was so versatile that it was widely used. My father’s parents came from Switzerland. It’s very possible that women on my grandmother’s side of the family made milk strainers just like that when tending their cows in alpine pastures.

Nålbinding was done in at least some rural areas through World War II; the fabric produced is sturdier than knitted fabric, so when supplies were scarce, women made items this way. The technique almost died out, but a few textile historians—like Kate—are working to keep it alive.

Interested in learning more? I highly recommend taking a workshop with Kate, who is both an expert and a wonderful instructor. There’s a class scheduled at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum (in north-east Iowa) this summer.  For more information, see their class description page.

Next time, Part II – a peek at the class experience!