For the past few months I have been on an Åsen wool journey. It started with my wanting to make a breed study on Åsen wool. I contacted an Åsen shepherdess who provided me with lovely fleeces. When I started to investigate the fleeces in preparation for the study I sank deep into one of them in the search for its soul. I may have found it in a pair of nalbinding Åsen mittens.
I like to investigate a fleece to find out how it wants to be treated to become its best yarn. In fact, that is my aim in all the fleeces I meet. Every fleece has a purpose and I think I owe it to the sheep who gave me the fleece to find its soul.
A nalbinding friendly fleece
This particular Åsen fleece had mostly vadmal type staples – mostly warm and airy undercoat fibers and just a few strands of long and strong outercoat fibers. It was not particularly soft and I saw a big nalbinding yarn potential. The airy undercoat fibers would provide lightness and warmth while the few outercoat fibers would bind the fibers together and add strength and integrity to the yarn.
To keep as much of the softness in the yarn I carded rolags and spun with a long draw on a suspended spindle. To make the yarn strong I chose the suspended spindle. The tension from the weight of the spindle brings integrity to the yarn. This was the first time I have spun this way. It was truly a lovely treat to explore this technique.
I gave the yarn lots of twist to make sure it would stand the abrasion of going up and down in the nalbinding. The resulting yarn was round, strong and kind. A few strands of black kemp here and there added to the rusticity of the yarn, which went well together with the ancient nalbinding technique.
Nalbinding Åsen mittens
I loved nalbinding these Åsen mittens. Well, I love nalbinding full stop. The technique is slow and I get to hold warm and kind yarn in one hand and a hand carved wooden needle in the other. The slow path of the needle up and down between the strands in my work and the working yarn gently hugging my thumb. Nalbinding doesn’t take up much space and I can do it anywhere. What’s not to love?
I was almost sad when I had finished. Now what? Well, a nalbinding project is seldom finished just because the nalbinding itself is over. A nalbinding structure is strong and warm. The sewing of the yarn in all directions of the project makes it impossible to unravel. But my nalbinding projects aren’t finished until it has been properly waulked. The waulking makes the fabric even stronger and warmer. It also makes it windproof.
Nalbinding is done in a spiral. So for a pair of mittens I make the spiral from the tip of the fingers, round and round and finish at the wrist. I have learned – the hard way – that a nalbinding project made like this shrinks horizontally. Therefore I design the shape a bit off the end proportions – I make them a lot wider than my hands but not necessarily longer.
A few years ago I got a waulking board from Swedish eBay which I used with these mittens to waulk them to a size that would fit my hands. With soap and hot water I started working the mittens against the waulking board. The felting process didn’t take long to start. When I first got to know this fleece I noticed its excellent felting properties.
The spiral of the seasons
I was very happy with the end result of the waulking process. The mittens fit perfectly and the shape is very appealing. They are warm, snug and ready for the cold and the wind in the winter. I look forward to wearing them in an authentic setting (and not just for photo purposes in the middle of the summer).
I have been making these mittens during a few weeks in June, thinking of winter as the needle has been pushing through the fabric. When I wear them this coming winter I will think of early summer when I made them. It is a lovely cycle, kind of like the nalbound spiral in the fabric.
When the mittens had dried after the waulking I brushed the surface lightly to give them a bit of a halo. But they didn’t feel finished, there was something missing. A spinning friend, Elaine, makes the loveliest embroidered mittens, often with just a simple heart on the back of the hand. They look somehow even more inviting with that embroidery.
I felt my mittens needed an embroidery too. Just a simple shape in the natural white nalbinding yarn. I decided on a heart, the kind of careless heart of a phone scribble. Unorganized but still clearly and undoubtedly a heart.
I love how the embroidery turned out. Tone-in-tone, but very clearly an embroidery. The round and free shape of the unwaulked yarn against the subtle but structured stripes of the waulked nalbinding. A bit of shine in the embroidery against the matte waulked background. A little shadow from the height of the stem stitch. I can’t wait to wear my nalbinding Åsen mittens this winter!
- Excellent written (Finnish, Swedish and English) and video tutorials to a range of nalbinding stitches at Neulakintaat.
- A new book on Nalbinding by Mervi Pasanen, With one needle. Available in Finnish and English.
- My own tutorial of the Dalby stitch with the left hand.
- You can also search for nalbinding on my blog for some more posts with nalbinding projects.
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