Nålebinding is one of the oldest forms of meshing yarns, and is a precursor to modern knitting and crochet. The naalbinding technique has been used as far back as the Paleolithic period. Nalbound items include a great variety of knitted fabrics from fishing nets have been found dating back to 6500BC, hats in the Tarim Basin, China dating 1000BC, and socks in Ancient Egypt dating from 600-400BC. While in modern times the craft of nalbinding is most often practised in Finland, it is more commonly associated with the Vikings.
I have concentrated on the mid-to-late Viking era, from around 800AD to 1100AD. While fabric and clothing in archaeology is rare due to the fragile nature and organic materials involved, there are a number of archaeological finds from across the Viking empire which support the use of nalbinding in various articles of clothing. The map and table below show the sites at which nalbinding items have been found.
The blue dots represent Mammen Stitch, red dots represent York Stitch, black dots Oslo Stitch and the pink dot represents various stitches found.
|Site||Date||Item||Nalbinding Stitch||Yarns & Colours|
|Arnheiðarstaðir, Iceland||10th Century||mittens||Oslo Stitch||Plied coarse wool in two dark colours|
|Jorvik, UK||10th Century||sock/shoe liner||Jorvik/York Stitch||natural undyed fine wool yarn, S-spun and Z-plied. Edging in a Madder red|
|Oslo, Norway||11th Century||mittens||Oslo Stitch||S-plied wool yarn|
|Bjerringhøj, Denmark||970AD||ornamental trimmings and headwear||Mammen Stitch||Spun silver thread with rectangle sections of gold|
|Copenhagen, Denmark||late medieval||mittens||Oslo Stitch||-|
|Birka, Sweden||early to mid medieval||ornamental edging/trimming||various||Silver and gold threads|
|Uppsala, Sweden||undetermined||slipper/sock||Mammen Stitch||Wool|
|Kekomäki, Finland||10th - 11th Century||stockings or mittens||Mammen Stitch||Wool in red, blue and yellow|
|Euran, Finland||11th Century||stockings or mittens||Mammen Stitch||Wool in blue/green, red/auburn, and yellow|
|Novgarod, Russia||10th to 15th Century||undetermined fragments||Oslo Stitch||Z-spun yarn, and only known Rus piece|
The archaeology has uncovered a variety of different materials used to produce the nalbinding fabrics. The majority is produced from wool, there are variances in single spun and plied wool yarns, S-spun and Z-spun. It suggests that the materials used were both dependent upon the quality and type of wool available, the environment, and social influences on way in which the wool was spun. The mittens from Iceland for instance were made from coarse, plied wool suggesting the sheep on Iceland at this time were long maturing breeds that had small demands, which suited the harsh Icelandic environment. However we can see that although nalbinding was used to make functional clothing such as mittens and socks to combat the cold winters, it was also used for decoration as seen in the finds at both Birka and Bjerringhøj.
Classen-Buttner, U., 2015, Nalebinding: What in the world is that? History and technique of an almost forgotten handicraft, Whiel, Nordestet
Hansen, E.H., 1991, Nalebinding och brikvaevning fra Mammengraven - Mammenhovding eller kvinde? Mammen - grav, kunst och samfund i vikingetid
Nordland, O., 1961, Primitive Scandanavian textiles in knottless netting, Oslo
Vajanto, K., 2003, Euran Emannan Neulakintaat: Tutkielma Luistarin haudan 56 neulakinnasfragmenteista, Finland