I made me a swim cap! Perhaps not the kind you would expect when you read the words swim cap. This swim cap is made from my spindle spun yarn, nalbound, waulked and embroidered, all to keep me warm during my daily baths through the winter.
When my wool traveling club and I decided to take a course in the påsöm embroidery technique for our 2022 wool journey I started planning projects on which I could play with påsöm. I wanted to try the embroidery on different wool structures. At the same time I longed for another nalbinding project and knew a nalbinding hat would be the perfect candidate. I decided to make the hat a swim cap for my daily cold baths.
Back and forth
I used wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep for this yarn. While I wanted to make the hat I also wanted the process to be sweet and grounding. I decided to card, spin and ply one spindleful at a time and nalbind that little ball of yarn until I had to spin another ball. It became sort of an explorative process where I also got the chance to test the quality of the spun yarn in my nalbinding and get instant feedback that I could loop back into the spinning of the next ball of yarn. The approach thus became a dynamic dance back and forth in the steps of the process, an empirical exploration of a new course of action and an evaluation of the yarn. The method was quite satisfying!
You can read more about this method in a previous post about the making of the hat and a pair of mittens, and also in a blog post about the making of my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that were made with the same approach.
During the spring we slowly went back to working at the office after the pandemic. I thrived when working full time from home and was quite stressed about having to go back, even if I would still be able to work fifty percent from home. When going back to the office I knew I needed a coffee break project to breathe myself through the noise and crowdedness at the office.
Nalbinding was the perfect safety blanket project, or rather safety hat. With nalbinding I always feel very safe – I think it has something to do with the grip of the project. I spun a ball at home and nalbound at work through late winter and spring.
The nalbinding has also been with me on the train to Austria and in the car to my aunt’s funeral. I have bound lots of memories and experiences into this hat.
A hat guide
I tried a new to me stitch for this project, the Oulu stitch. It’s a stitch in the Russian stitch family and quite like the Dalby stitch which I have used for several projects. They both create a structure with yarn in different directions, making the fabric dense and warm.
As I have never nalbound a hat before I used the hat guide Mervi Pasanen’s lovely book With one needle to help me with the shape and size.
From the book I also learned a new way to end a project. Nalbinding is usually done in a spiral. I started at the tip of the hat and increased in a certain pattern until I reached the finished size. Usually I try to make the stitches smaller and smaller, thus creating an even-ish edge. But the suggestion in the book was to continue the spiral on the back of the project, creating the tiniest wrap. I am really pleased with this neat solution.
While nalbinding in its criss-cross nature is very hard-wearing and wind proof, these characteristics will get a boost from waulking. The material gets denser, warmer and more protecting against the wind and the cold.
Also, any management of a yarn with kemp in it will little by little push the quirky fibers out, making the resulting yarn or fabric warmer (since the escaped kemp fibers leave air pockets) and softer. I saved the kemp fibers that worked their way out of the hat in the waulking and got quite an impressive little ball of kemp. In the before and after pictures above there is a difference in the shade of the grey, which may partly have to do with the difference in kemp.
Waulking a project is always an adventure. I know by now that nalbinding shrinks mainly widthwise and very little lengthwise. So whenever I nalbind I make the proportions to fit that rule of thumb – a pair of mittens will be a lot wider than my hands but not very much longer. Still, waulking a project takes lots of testing and fine-tuning. I had imagined a steeper tapering of the tip, but I still like the resulting shape of it.
I planned the flower composition on my påsöm embroidery wool journey earlier this autumn. The most important thing really was to find a way to transfer the flower pattern to the very fuzzy waulked surface. I found a pen that worked okay, but still way better than anything I had tried before.
It was quite interesting to work the pattern in the three dimensional canvas that a hat is. I have always been biased to bias in hats – a biased brim, pattern or shape, just because why not. I decided to go for that with the hat too, in both the placement of the pattern, the direction of the stem and the asymmetry of the hat (or rather the tip hanging to one side).
The flower arrangement starts with a center dahlia (with the center on the right side of my head) from which one stem winds out to either side, ending on the left side with a green leaf. Another stem winds upwards and spirals around the tip of the hat with smaller flowers.
A sweet swim cap
Even if it’s not particularly cold in either air or water yet, I have of course tried using my sweet swim cap in my dips in the lake. The hat is very warm and cozy and the tassel keeps dangling just above the water surface. I am really looking forward to colder days with some ice. I think the hat will do an excellent work even at -18°C like we had a couple of times last winter.
A hat may be finished, but as always it’s so much more than a hat. It’s a part of a sweet dance, a safety blanket, an explo(ra)tion in colour and design and the result of many hours of just hanging out with wool.
As I posted a sneak preview of today’s post yesterday a couple of people mentioned having started to learn to nalbind bot never got much further. While this post doesn’t give you much of guidance to nalbinding I have put together a list of nalbinding resources for you.
- Excellent written (Finnish, Swedish and English) and video tutorials to a range of nalbinding stitches at Neulakintaat.
- Mervi Pasanen’s beautiful book on nalbinding, 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.
- If you want to carve your own needles, here’s how I did.
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