Naalbinding (also: nålbinding, naelbinding) is a needlework craft with origins in Scandanavia, commonly credited as the oldest ancestor of
knitting and crochet. Naalbinding is a word derived by the English in the 1970's based on the Norwegian roots nål (needle) and bind (to bind, sew or tie*).
Naalbinding is a craft with history from many parts of the world, an early method of turning one dimensional thread or yarn into two dimensional fabric. Applications include mittens, socks, fishing nets and any other place where weaving or knitting would work today. The earliest discovered specimen created with
this technique is dated back to 6500BC, found in Israel, through most mesolithic and neolithic
samples have been found in Denmark.
The basic technique requires a large, blunt one-eyed needle, strands of thread, yarn or other filament, and optionally, a roughly cylindrical object (like a finger or a dowel) to help keep even tension. The process is begun by first coiling a small loop in the anti-needle end of the thread. Then stitches are formed by drawing the thread over and under the first stitch, while coiling the thread into new loops. The resulting fabric is reminiscent of chain mail, where each stitch can be defined by the number of stitches attached to it, with the added complexity of the direction of the looping. This is often denoted using Us and Os to describe the under and over path of the needle, with the result that a commonly seen stitch might have the notation: UO/UOO. Sometimes a stitch pattern will have a preferential coil direction, which can be denoted by the terms "S coil" and "Z coil." The direction implied by each is the direction of the bar in the middle of the letter- ie, S would imply clockwise when looking down on front side of the piece, and Z would imply counterclockwise. This notation is also used to describe the spin direction of yarn, which will also have an effect on the coil of your naalbinding.
Since Naalbinding does not require a long continuous thread, it is speculated that
Naalbinding was most useful and popular, before continuous spinning (wheel or machine spinning) was the primary means
of drawing fiber into thread. This means handspinning (drop, hand or supported) as you go. Since in naalbinding, one draws the entire length of thread or yarn through every loop, it will not unravel the way
that knit or crochet pieces will when the loose end is pulled. The fabric is more akin to crochet in that each stitch forms a separate, isolated knot. To correct a particular stitch, you must undo every stitch of your work up to the point of that interesting stitch. In knitting, you could have just slipped stitches from the row you were on, down to the row of interest. Naalbinded** fabric is lumpier and stiffer than either modern knitting or crochet.
The art is still practiced today, though as more of a niche interest, in many
countries in the world. University students and others involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism and Society of Medieval Arts and Sciences seize upon ancient ways of doing things, and the very simple hand driven techniques are perfect for reenactment, since they require fewer and simpler tools, and gratifying long hours of practice to master.
*SharQ would have translated the "bind" part of Naalbinding as "to tie." I believe him.
**I'm not sure how to make this past participle, as it's not quite English. In my heart I want to say Naalbound, but it sounds wrong to me... Wertperch thinks I should skirt the issue by saying "fabric made with naalbinding." I remain unconvinced.
Here's some Sources:
Pictures and Pattern Decriptions:
Pictures of Bodkins, needles and finished mittens: