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