Sloyd. Ancient, smart, thrifty. The crafting of everyday objects with natural materials, your hands and simple tools. To me sloyd is also something that I can do sitting on a rock in the woods should I choose to. Just a pair of hand cards or combs and a spindle and I’m happily sloyding away.

The other day I got a fresh issue of Hemslöjd magazine in the mail. My heart sings when I get it. It is such a smart magazine with so much reading to dive into, so many crafters to admire and be inspired by. Brilliant people making beautiful objects and utensils with simple tools and natural materials. On the cover of this issue is Kristin Sundberg, a crafting friend of mine. I’ll get back to her in a minute.


The word hemslöjd means something like simple crafting for your household needs. The word slöjd, or sloyd, is one of the few Swedish loanwords in English. Slöjd comes from the word slug, which means sly, skilled or handy. Sloyd is smart.

I’m practicing my nalbinding needle carving skills. These are from my first and second sessions this spring. My favourite shape is the leftmost needle. Sadly it cracked down the middle as I drilled the hole.

Slöjd is also a subject in Swedish schools. It was was established in the Swedish school system in 1878 and is still a mandatory subject. Until 1962 girls learned textile crafts and boys wooden crafts, but since then all children learn to sloyd both soft and hard materials.

I eBayed handwoven tea towels and stitched initials for my son’s friends for their graduation.

Every now and then debates about the right of this school subject to exist emerge. Why spend time sewing and carving when you can focus on more important subjects like history or maths? This is a common argument. What would happen though, if we didn’t learn how to make things, how to mend, create or see the potential in a piece of cloth, fiber or wood? How would our brains look if we didn’t nurture what I believe is an inherent need to create with our hands, not to mention survive?

I streamlined the process of nalbinding carving for my third session. Still. I enjoyed every minute of it.

In 2018 a doctor concluded that the medical students’ dexterity in stitching up patients had decreased significantly during the past few years. He believed the reason to be too much swiping and too little fine motor crafting skills. Again, sloyd is smart.

The magic in the making

Back to the Hemslöjd magazine. Kristin Sundberg on the cover of the latest issue is the most sloyd I know. I met her at Sätergläntan when I was teaching supported spindle spinning a few years ago and she was my student. She was a total beginner at spinning. Crafting runs in her veins and she developed her skills remarkably during the five-day course.

Kristin’s main material is wood, though. On her YouTube channel she copies old objects that are mainly seen in museum these days. For Kristin the making and the love for the sloyding is more important than the skills in the techniques. She sees magic in the making, in the sloyding.

Kristin Sundberg with her copy of a birch bark rain hat. Kristin is so sloyd.

Kristin is such an inspiration to me and so many others. You can watch her videos on her YouTube channel.

The sloyd process

There are so many things I love about Kristin’s approach. The love for the material and the making. The story the material tells you if you take time to listen to it. To me the finished object, yarn in my case, is beautiful, but also so much more than an object.

A stick, a weight and some wool and I’m home.

My skeins remind me of all the time I have spent with the material, the techniques and the process. All the mistakes I have made, all I have learned and all the thoughts that have gone through my mind during the process. It also reminds me that the sloyd is in me. With my body I control tension, speed and the quality of the yarn. Through my body I communicate with the material and melt into its will.

Today the need to make things for your household needs may not be as obvious as it once was. But I believe we still need to make, with emphasis on make. Perhaps we need the process of making and creating to instill a sense of self-sufficiency. I can make, therefore I can survive. I may not need more nalbinding needles, but I need to make them, to feel the wood in my hands, to see the transformation from stick to a tool for more crafting. And who knows, I may give some of them away.

Yup, sloyd is smart.

My nalbinding needles

This is how I made my nalbinding needles:

  • I used a twig-free maple sapling I found near the house. It had a diameter of about 2 centimeters. Make sure you are allowed to harvest the material. You can also use dry wood, a firewood log for example.
  • I cut the sapling in smaller pieces, around 20 centimeters long, enough for two needles lengthwise.
  • With an axe I split the pieces in two.
  • I made sure to carve away the soft core.
  • With long strokes with the knife I roughly carved the wood into a flat shape with straight edges.
  • With a starting material of around 20 centimeters there is room for two needles. I chose to place them “eye to eye”, so that the holes would be placed near the middle of the material and the tips at each end. You can see the placement of the eyes in the featured photo.
  • I drilled three holes in a row for the eye with a 3 millimeter drill (I tried a 4 millimeter too, but I preferred the smaller diameter). Making the eye is the most crucial part of the making of the needles. Therefore it’s a good idea to make the eye early in the process. If things should go south you won’t have spent too much time fine-tuning the needle.
  • Now I created the shape of the needles and tidied up the holes.
  • I let the needles dry for a day or two before I did the finishing touches on them. The last thing I did was to flatten the wood slightly with the back of the knife.
  • Optional 1: You can sand the needles. Once, on a carving lesson I took, I asked if we were supposed to sand the insects we were making at the time. She stopped and gave me a stare (with a hint of a smile) and said: “Sanding carved objects is of the devil!”. So I don’t sand. I have learned to love the traces of the knife when I carve. I did use a round file to sand the inner walls of the eye, though. I have neither the tools nor the skills to carve them properly.
  • Optional 2: You can place the needles in a glass of rape seed oil for a week to make it more resistant. Nalbinding with a yarn with lanolin left in it will achieve something similar.
I’m nalbinding with a needle I made a few years ago from an elm we had to fell outside our house.

If you have any tips for carving nalbinding needles, do share.

Happy sloyding!

The upcoming blog posts may be scarce and short. Our son is graduating from upper secondary school in a couple of weeks and we have a lot to do to prepare for the reception.

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
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  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.
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6 Replies to “Sloyd”

  1. When I was at high school they’d dropped the home economics (cooking, sewing…) that the girls used to do, and left only the wood- and metal-work that the boys used to do. (I remember being taught how to make an ashtray for metalwork, which is a bit bizarre considering how much effort was being put into the Smoke-Free campaign.)

    Back when I was in intermediate, they still had sewing, but it was all the sort of thing most calculated to put you off ever doing it voluntarily – sewing velcro, slippery fabrics, and knitted fabrics.

    But somehow my love of making things survived, and I love to knit and sew and crochet and tat and spin and embroider. Humans, I am convinced, were meant to create, not merely consume.

  2. Back in the 1960’s I found a book by Odd Nordland – ‘Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting’. Had been shown the technique as a child but I did NOT develope thru practice – the muscle memory necessary to create anything beyond a short row and now I’ve even forgotten that. Alas.

    When I had some spare time in the late 1970’s I decided to learn Nalbinding. I needed a needle. The Island I live on in the Aleutians only has Willow Shrubs. That wood proved a bit soft so I carved a needle from a sea mammal bone I found on the beach. Still have it. I carved it with a slight twist at the tip so that it would slip into the fibers more easily. Will dig it out and take a foto. I use it for a lot of things including weaving – Soumak for example. The slightly twisted tip makes all the difference.

    As for Naalbinding – Hmmmmmm. Still cannot wrap my head around it. One of these days – in between your other wonderful explorations of the fiber crafts perhaps you could put together a video of how to do it. I’ve found vids online but they either go too fast or hands get in the way of the needle approach. I find your videos and mindful teaching techniques to be superlative. I read again the other day your discussion on Twist and ! I got a totally new understanding. Thanks.

    As for ‘Sloyd’ – I was exposed – probably from birth, to understanding that ‘Made by Human Hands & Minds’ we learn and understand not just the ‘how’ but the ‘why’ AND AS importantly > the Central place in Culture SOME ‘things’ have.

    Here on our Multi-multi-cultural Island, kids are exposed to Indigenous skills and are increasingly aware of the value of all cultural heritages. ALL of Humankind makes things – that’s what we do.

    Now, humankind – collectively NEEDs to WANT to learn TO VALUE the PEOPLE who make the things more than the things themselves.

    Thanks for presenting what you do – to the World. It all adds up.

    PS – how can I send you a foto of that Nalbinding needle I made? You might find it interesting.

    1. Thank you Abi,

      I would love to see that needle! You can send me an email at josefin (at) waltin dot se

      The tricky part of nalbinding is the beginning and the turning. Once you get that right it’s basically only round and round. There are several different stitches to choose from, in different levels of difficulty. If I would make a video it would be from a leftie’s perspective. For a technical tutorial I recommend the Finnish site (with very clear pictures and videos of every stitch) and the book With one needle by Mervi Pasanen.

      And yes, the why of crafting. To me it’s all in the process and in the bonding with the material.

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