During the summer, I finally decided to take time to learn how to nålbind socks and mittens. Nålbinding is an old craft – older than knitting or crocheting and it has been used for thousands of years in Europe and even as far away as Egypt. After knitting came popular it almost vanished but survived in remote areas. One of those areas has been Eastern Finland where my grandmother used to make nålbound mittens for my father when he was a child. He still remembers those mittens as very warm, durable, and windproof. None of my living relatives know this skill, though, and so it was in danger to be forgotten in my family. However, I still remember my grandmother trying to teach me the skill when I was a child. I found the method confusing and only remember how my grandmother dealt with the long stretches of yarn by crocheting the yarn into a big chain. Now it was up to me to teach myself the rest with the help of books and the internet.
Learning nålbinding basically looks like this:
You start a chain, get confused, you give up, and start again. Using some scrap yarn is a good idea! I noticed that it was easy to poke a needle through the wrong side of your work and that made my result look different than what I was trying to achieve. Finally, I decided that it is best to learn a stitch that works and then ask later some helpful people at a Facebook group to tell me what the name of the stitch was. That is because there are hundreds of stitches and the chances are that a stitch you are doing “wrong” is just another stitch with another name.
Some good Nålbinding resources
Sanna-Mari Pihlajapiha has made an amazing directory of nålbinding stitches with examples, videos, and everything. I can highly recommend this site with its videos that helped me to learn. I also the book Kinnasneulakirja by Martta Valkeejärvi that comes with links to instructional videos. The third book that was particularly helpful when I was learning how to make socks is this book by Mervi Pasanen (click the image for my affiliate link to Amazon):
First, I learned the Finnish 2+1 stitch which is also called the Fåberg stitch. It is easy to learn as you don’t have to pick any old loops from behind the thumb, so there is less weird yarn-geometry to figure out. Once I learned how this stitch worked, it was pretty easy to move to the Finnish 2+2 stitch.
For the mittens, I used Novita Natura single-ply wool, a big wooden needle and the Finnish 2+1 stich. I don’t think the stitch-needle-yarn-combination was ideal. The resulting surface is pretty loose and these mittens are definitely not windproof. It might work better if I felted the surface but then the mittens would shrink. As this is my first nålbinding work, it is full of mistakes but at least they look like mittens. I think these will work best if worn under a pair of bigger mitts to bring extra warmth during a cold winter day.
My nålbound socks
For the socks, I used Finnish sheep yarn called Saimaa. I think this yarn was just perfect for nålbinding. The separate strands of yarn were super easy to join by felting. The surface is natural and soft without being itchy. I also switched into using a metal needle that I picked up at the local Recycling center (so I, unfortunately, can’t point you towards the place where to get one). I loved this yarn so much that I ordered more of it to make my second pair of mittens out of it.
These socks will also be part of the iron age costume I’m in the process of making. Now I have both the shoes and the socks and I can start making the rest of the clothes. It is so cool that I can combine my family tradition with my historical costuming interests this way! Of course, I can’t really be sure what stitch my grandmother used or if she was familiar with multiple stitches. That only means that I have even more motivation to investigate different nålbinding styles that have been in use in Eastern Finland.
Have you ever tried nålbinding? Are you interested in learning the craft? Comment down below!
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I once saw this kind of needle work in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. That’s an ancient Viking settlement that has been preserved in Eastern Canada.
Here’s the link: https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/top-destinations/lanse-aux-meadows
Yes! Vikings did this, too! The sewn stockings were invented later. In Finland the first sewn stocking find is after the year 1000 or so. The viking-age finds have needlebound socks. Not that the Finns were vikings. We were mainly helping vikings to pilot through the Finnish archipelago to reach the rivers in Russia and, of course, selling them wind! Finns were not really interesting targets for Vikings but there was trade with precious objects like silk, beads, furs and fine wools.
Thank you for introducing me to this fascinating craft! Definitely going to investigate the resources you’ve provided. Your socks are gorgeous!
I’m listening to The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec and the book refers often to nålbinding. I do crochet and enjoy learning about fiber arts so of course I had to look it up. Then I realized that you had probably done it so I came to look for your experiences and advice. My family didn’t come from Scandinavia but they did come from northern Germany, so I’d like to think that maybe some of my not-too-distant ancestors did this. I want to find a needle and try this. I almost feel like trying to make my own larger needle.