Posts Tagged ‘naalbinding’

After a very long dry spell in terms of crafting, I have had a burst of enthusiasm. First I went to an event to beg the boon for my apprentice Alais. Four hours in the car, each way, was ample time to make serious progress on a long-abandoned lace project (even taking time out for drinking tea, napping and chatting). Added to what I accomplished this weekend, I think I may finally have enough to trim my silk chemise. That’s another post, though.

This post is all about my excitement at finally figuring out how to naalbind cow and horse tail hair. This is something I have been trying to master, off and on, for at least three years. Why? That’s a very good question. Odd Nordland, in his book Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (1963), had examples of naalbinding made of hair that were used as strainers for milk, and sometimes as pot scrubbers. They were very simple naalbinding, and the strainers hung in some sort of a frame (it usually looked like the rim of a bowl that was missing its bottom). There wasn’t any dating for these strainers, and no details on what kind of hair, but I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t want pot scrubbers made using a technique used by the Vikings? Over the years, I have tried single horse hairs and twisted/coarsely spun horse hair with minimal success. I was told that cow hair might work better, and then that soaking the hair might help it hold a twist.

This weekend, at the Upper Canada Medieval Festival with the Dark Ages Recreation Company, I finally managed to make it work! I started with some horse hair from my old lesson horse Mr. Tibbs, then switched to cow hair when I ran out. I snipped off a few locks at a time (the longer the better), then soaked the hair. I experimented a bit with how many hairs to use, and exactly what stitch to use. I haven’t quite decided what I like most,but it seems easiest to use at least a half-dozen to ten hairs. Here is the result, so far:



It doesn’t look like much, but it will be better once most of the loose hairs are trimmed, and it is full size.

Here’s another picture of me working on it:



On a completely unrelated note, I am very happy with my new hood. I did not get a sunburned neck,for once.

In the background, you can see my new net bag, with a drawstring made of slyng (whipcording using big bobbins – Eluned and I worked on it together, and it’s almost like a game when the bobbins start moving through the air at relatively high speed). I also made a small piece of slyng on my own, using some brown wool and a bit of the wool I dyed with Queen Anne’s lace a few years ago.


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I’m feeling inordinately pleased with myself. For years, I have wanted to make a naalbinding strainer (or pot scrubber). Here is a post I did a couple of years ago on my efforts: https://siglindesarts.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/upper-canada-village-learning-to-make-a-hair-strainer/.

Today I tried spinning the horsehair on my leg, then got it going on a spindle, and used up a nice little bundle that had been cluttering my computer table for far too long. I deliberately overspun, then made it into a skein that has twisted on itself nicely. I then wet it and hung it downstairs to dry, with an S hook in the bottom for a weight. It is quite hairy, but it seems reasonably solid. We will see how it works for naalbinding.

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I have been struggling for a while with two separate but related challenges. I want to make a hair strainer for milk or hops (an item that can also be used as a pot scrubber). I also want to make fishing line. The common element in these two projects is horsehair or cow hair.

Fortunately, I am an enthusiastic horse person, and so I have been collecting tail combings for some time. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured out a good way to turn them into either a line or a strainer. Naalbinding a single hair was too thin for a strainer, and the only instructions I could find for twisting a fishing line were very late period, and I was looking for something early medieval.

Odd Norland had a line his book on knotless netting about spinning a coarse line for the naalbinding (and he also mentioned spinning horsehair for fishing lines). While this was late 19thC or early 20thC, the technology was right: it had been done with a drop spindle.

This aha! moment didn’t go anywhere because spinning hairs seemed so impossible. I don’t even like spinning hairy sheep wool, and horse tail is far smoother. Tonight, though, I was messing about in my tack box sorting riding gloves and realized they were covered in hair. It was time to do something with the hair, so I pulled out a drop spindle and gave it a whirl.

Spinning horsehair is nasty. The new ends don’t blend in easily to the work that is already spun, and the spindle is constantly trying to spring back to unwind the twist. Still, I managed to get several feet spun, and it seems to be holding together. For the naalbinding, at least, I think I will spin only as much as I can use on a needle, do the stitching, and then spin more at the join. I may also try soaking the hairs to see if they will be a little easier to work when soft (that did help when I was playing with cow’s tail hair in the summer).

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Part of the Parks Canada programming at l’Anse aux Meadows this year was a series of courses offered by members of the Dark Ages Recreation Company (DARC) team. In addition to lectures on the Oseburg Find and norse fashion, demonstrations of bead making and coin minting, there were hands-on classes to learn tablet weaving and naalbinding. I taught this along with Thora (Parks staff), Aesa and Kadlinn. At the first class, Aesa got people started in a way that was very effective; this has always been something I really struggled with, so I am sharing her method here.

First, make a slip knot at one end of a piece of wool yarn (make a loop so that the short end is underneath, then reach through the loop to catch the underneat section and pull it up – not all the way through – and pull the ends to tighten the original loop around your new loop)

Thread your needle on to the long end of the yarn. Holding your loop at the knot so everything is flat, thread the needle down through the centre of the loop, then out over the tail of your yarn (a blanket stitch). Repeat this about six times.

Pull on the short end of your slip knot to make it very small. You should now have a tight circle of blanket stitch loops.

Continue making blanket stitches in a circle, threading your needle through each loop in the previous row of stitches for each blanket stitch. You can increase the number of stitches (and keep your work flat) by doing two blanket stitches in each loop. As you work, you can add extra loops every two or three stitches, or as often as required to achieve the shape you want.

Eventually, you will run out of yarn. Cut a new piece, then unravel the plying at one end, and fluff up the individual fibres. Don’t be afraid to fluff up 4-6 inches – the longer the better. Do the same unplying and fluffing to the end of the yarn that is in your work. Then rub the two fluffed ends together vigorously to felt them together. A little water helps (most people just use a bit of spit. I don’t know why it seems to work better). Once it is well felted, rethread your needle and continue as before.

Here is a picture that demonstrates each of the steps:


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Naalbinding again

I am amazed at how quickly I can forget naalbinding stitches. I had promised to get my friend Dubhease started on naalbinding last weekend, and   I had to pull out the instruction book to get myself started again with the most basic stitch. Eventually  we got it going, and tonight I was inspired to get out my Oslo stitch mittens. After about five false starts and a check on Youtube, I have finally got the pattern looking right again. Now to force myself to continue until the stitch becomes automatic (or I finish the mittens)….

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I have been asked to bring some horse hair to l’Anse aux Meadows this summer (yes, I’m going again!!!). It is to replace strings on a Viking lyre. Coincidentally, I had been thinking about the use of horse hair for making fishing line, and checked our some internet resources today. As I was poking around, I found a note about naalbinding and weaving with hair. It turns out that horse hair can be used for weaving sieve cloths (or even chair seats), while the tufts of cow tail hair were used for naalbinding. Horse hair has turned out to be impossible to naalbind, though it might be a little easier if worked when wet. Cow tail hair appears to be much softer. After a little more searching, I found a source for both cow and horse tail in Niagara Falls New York. There are many places in China and India that sell it, and some of those have violin bow quality horsehair, the minimum shipping sizes are enormous. Even if I got some from my friend Marguerite, who is making her own paint brushes, I would have several hundred kilos of excess hair.

According to Walton, a 17th C book on the art of fishing, the preferred horse hair was white, from a stallion or gelding (mares get their tails wet with urine, which weakens the fibres). The white horsehairs were then dyed. I don’t know whether the horsehair I will buy is from a male or female (and I know some of the stuff I have collected is from a female). I don’t want to be bothered with dyeing it, and I don’t care for fishing – I just want to experiment with making a fishing line. So, unless the musician in Newfoundland has a strong preference, I’ll buy black or another colour of hair for my fishing line. I don’t seem to get much choice for the cow hair, but that’s okay.

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I have been picking away at the lacemaking, have spun some wool and started naalbinding legs on a pair of short socks at the request of the owner, and yesterday I started a batch of beer (from a kit, but it’s a start) and strawberry melomel. The melomel is a lovely red colour. Pictures will follow shortly.

The strawberry melomel recipe was relatively easy to follow, despite one error. The ingredient list called for 2 1/4 lb of honey, but the instructions only used one 1lb for the first half of the must; there was no mention of the rest of the honey anywhere. I guessed and added the remaining honey to the second half of the must.

Tomorrow I must buy a one gallon carboy, as all of mine are too big for the small quantities I am making right now.  I will also look for ingredients for a lemon melomel. I found my friend Baldric’s recipe from many years ago and look forward to trying it.

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