These are troubled times. When my mind is racing and I need something to focus on I turn to nalbinding. Simple (but not easy), close and slow. Nalbinding gives me some peace of mind in a chaotic world.
All you need to nalbind is a thumb, some yarn, a blunt needle and time. Yes, nalbinding does take time, but it also means you get to spend time with the material you are creating, following every stitch over, under, behind, under, over again, through and around the thumb. Unlike knitting where I tend to zone out sometimes, nalbinding softly whispers for your attention.
I decided to work this process as simply as possible. Tease some wool, card some rolags, spin some singles on a suspended spindle. As the spindle gets too heavy for a comfortable spin I wind the singles into a centerpull ball and ply from there on the spindle. I end up with a sweet ball of around 12 grams. That leaves me enough yarn for a couple of rounds on each mitten. I get into a rhythm between preparing, spinning and nalbinding without getting tired of any one part. I also don’t get fatigued or strained by doing one step for a long time.
With a short fluff to stuff cycle like this I get a sense of presence in all the steps. I can make the connection between all the parts of the process and get instant feedback from one step to the next in sort of an empirical mini – or mitten in this case – study.
On my Instagram account I have saved a video series as a highlight called Fluff to stuff, where I go through the process from carding to nalbinding in this project. I have of course teased the wool first, you can read more about that here.
In the moment
I also break the rules and omit some of the steps I normally take – I don’t let the singles sit overnight, I don’t soak the yarn and set the twist before using it. Why? Because I don’t feel like it. In this process like to feel the instant feedback from the previous step into the present and from the present to the next. As the world spins at the moment I just want to be in the moment, channeling my worried mind into that particular step of the process. I need crafting in my hands and in my brain to bring some peace of mind in a chaotic world.
To be honest I don’t think too much about consequences of my choices, they are not the important thing here. And I don’t always have to make conscious choices. Sometimes the wool and the tools make the appropriate choices for me.
The safety of wool
Nalbinding is an activity where I feel truly in the craft. My hands are literally in the project since my thumb is the actual stitch gauge. For every stitch I make the yarn goes around and over my thumb, making it a tool just as important as the needle. The unwashed yarn smells of sheep and leaves a whisper of lanolin on my hands. The slow process of under-over-under-behind-between and under again brings a focus and a slow pace rhythm that is just what I need and can handle right now.
A forgiving craft
I make lots of choices in this project – where I break rules and skip steps. Luckily nalbinding is a forgiving craft, for several reasons.
- The slowness makes it easier to plan your next step.
- You basically can’t loose a stitch. You only have the one stitch on your thumb to keep track of (depending on the stitch you have chosen for the project). Should you loose it for some reason it will just tighten and the spiraling construction will lead directly to it.
- I waulk all my nalbinding projects for extra strength and durability. Any fitting or other irregularities will be smoothed out at the waulking board.
- Nalbinding is generally worked in a spiral. That way it is easy to shape the project as you go along.
- Since nalbinding is a sewn technique you can’t work with a continuous strand of yarn. Instead you work with shorter sections – I use three arm’s lengths for each turn. Joins are a natural and inevitable part of the technique.
Thoughts on nalbinding
There are lots of stitches on different difficulty levels to choose from. When I started out I found very few descriptions on left-handed nalbinding. This actually made it easier for me to choose – I could only work with the ones that were described for lefties. After a while I got the hang of the principles and could translate the right-handed instructions in my head.
You need a large blunt needle. I have four – one that I bought at Birka World heritage, one I carved from an elm just outside our house and two that kind-hearted supporters made for me. Perhaps I should make some more this spring. Spring is after all the perfect carving season and needles are always welcome.
I haven’t really thought so much about the yarn for nalbinding. I like mine with quite a high twist, as my S-plied yarn untwists a bit as I work with my left hand. This means that for anyone working with S-plied yarn with the right hand the twist will instead increase.
It’s a good idea to work with a yarn that can stand the abrasion of going through the fabric so many times. A yarn from a dual coat wool is perfect to work with – it has the warmth of the undercoat and the strength from the outercoat. I used staples that I had sorted out from a Gestrike fleece, with mostly undercoat and a few strands of outercoat.
I spun my yarn woolen from hand-carded rolags. A yarn like this tends to be weaker than a worsted spun yarn. However, the tension the yarn is under due to the weight of the suspended spindle makes the yarn a bit more dense that it would have been with another spinning tool. Also, the combination of undercoat and outercoat keeps the yarn strong but not too coarse.
It’s a good idea to use a wool that felts since you may want to waulk the finished project. You can read more about how I have waulked a pair of nalbound socks here.
Mittens for Dan
The nalbinding project I have been working on for the past few weeks is a pair of mittens for my husband Dan. It was a Christmas gift, but things got in the way and they were only half-finished for the holidays.
For the beginning of the mittens I used an Åsen wool yarn that I had spun for a previous pair of mittens. 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.
As always with pairs of anything I make both simultaneously. One yarn length on the left and another on the right. When I ran out of yarn I picked out similar staples from a Gestrike fleece and spun the same way – I carded rolags out of teased wool and spun woolen on a suspended spindle. 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, and not too different from the white Åsen yarn.
I just hoped that the yarns would felt reasonably equally, and they did. A design born through a take-what -you-have situation is a good design, don’t you think?
Future nalbinding projects
I have been working comfortably with the Dalby stitch for a number of projects by now. After these mittens I think it’s time for something new. Perhaps a more intricate stitch, perhaps a hat. The possibilities are endless. Still, whatever I choose I know it will be a process where I can feel close to my work, both physically and mentally. Where I can be in the project with just the needle and yarn in my hand and some peace of mind.
To tell you the truth I actually did start another nalbinding project already. After two years of working from my home office I have to be at the office office at least 50 % of the time, starting Monday. With over 800 other people in an open landscape office. I need wool for protection and nalbinding is my project of choice. I’m making a hat.
Here are some lovely resources for nalbinding
- On Neulakintaat you can see videos of a whole range of stitches for right-handed and a few for left-handed
- Mervi Pasanen has written a beautiful book on nalbinding, With one needle
- If you search for nalbinding on this blog you will find some more posts.
Last week I launched an auction for Ukraine. I donated my gold medal winning embroidery yarn to the highest bid and the money to UNHCR’s work in Ukraine. The highest bid was 200€. The second highest bidder donated her 150€ too and I added another 100€. So I sent 450€ to the Swedish UNHCR and the embroidery yarn to Australia. Also, a foundation is doubling all donations to the Swedish UNHCR, so 900€ are going to their work in Ukraine. Thank you all who participated!
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