Are You Wearing Woolies? Medieval Knitting, Nålbinding

Nature surprised Dame Aoife with a blast of late-season winter, and her response is a bevy of links about knitting and naalbinding warm winter clothes.

Greetings, my Faithful Readers!

This week Mother Nature played a horrendous trick on me. One day it was 62 degrees outside. The next day it is negative 10 degrees, and it's snowing to beat the band. I need my woolies for sure! Of course, it being the end of the winter (please, god, let it be the end of the winter), we're significantly stocked with unmatched mittens, shrunken hats, and other mis-matched accoutrements of a long cold spell. So, this week's Links List is dedicated to producing good, warm items of a knitted and naalbinding nature. For both the beginner and the expert, there's something for the fiber-freak in every group.

Please pass this along where it will find a ready audience!



Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon, CL, CP
Canton of Riverouge
Barony of the Endless Hills
Sylvan Kingdom of Aethelmearc

A Brief Introduction to Medieval Muslim Knitting
by Dar Anahita
(Site Excerpt) The oldest surviving pieces of true knitting have been found in Egypt. Because many were not found by trained archaeologists, the exact dates and provenance of many pieces are unknown. However, most of the pieces can be roughly dated to between 1000 and 1400 CE. Most are definitely older than the European paintings called "knitting Madonnas" which begin to appear in the 14th century and are the first documents of knitting in Europe. Therefore some scholars believe that knitting originated in Egypt.
More Medieval Egyptian Knitting
Beautiful photo of her work! PLEASE follow the links at the end. Some terrific projects here for the historic knitter.

Stefan's Florilegium: knitting-msg
(Site Excerpt from one message of many) Where to start on medieval knitting... Firstly, I guess, needles. There are no surviving needles that I know of (or have read about). However, there a number of period illustrations showing people knitting (most often the Virgin). My assumption is that needles were made out of either metal or wood, or, possibly, bone. I feel our modern steel needles are acceptable for knitting with at events. (Plastic, however, I do not). For most items, a set of double-ended needles is the norm. I prefer to use a set of five. Four to hold the stitches, the fifth to knit with.

Egyptian Cotton Socks
Ursula Georges (Site Excerpt) The originals are made of blue and white cotton. These are made of navy and white Fortissima yarn, which is cotton with 25% nylon added for strength. I chose the cotton-nylon blend over mercerized cotton, hoping that untreated cotton would better replicate the texture of the original pair.

Medieval Knitting
(Site Excerpt) Knitting in medieval times was general used for hose, socks, caps, and undershirts. Double pointed needles were the only type known and the knitting was generally done in the round, just like Fair Isle or old Nordic knitting.

Medieval Knitting References

Handknit Hose a Knitted Stocking Pattern
By Donna Flood Kenton
(Site Excerpt) In the second year of Queen Elizabeth, 1560, her silk woman, Mistress Montague, presented Her Majesty with a pair of black knit silk stockings for a new year's gift; the which, after a few days of wearing, pleased Her Highness to well that she sent for Mistress Montague and asked her where she had them, and if she could help her to any more; who answered, saying: "I made them very carefully of purpose only for Your Majesty; and seeing these please you so well, I will presently get more in hand."

A little bit about Knitting in the Middle Ages
Sister Mairi Jean
(Site Excerpt) There is some argument about how old the practice of knitting is. There is a technique called nalbinding that produces a result almost identical to knitting, in most cases, unless a particular error was made that can only be made in knitting. The experts mostly seem to agree that knitting did not exist before the twelfth century and anything before that must have been nalbinding. If one knows what to look for one can tell the difference between nalbinding and knitting by looking at the cast on edge, but that often does not survive (Richard Eney).

Early Period Knitting
(Site Excerpt) In 1935 archeologists working in the Roman city of Dura Europos found true knitted fabric. Dura Europos, which fell in 256 A.D., is located on the borders of modern Israel. The fabric was knitted with two needles in a technique referred to as 'crossed' or 'oriental' knitting. One piece had intricate leaf patterns knitted into it. We know the Copts were using knitting, because knitted anklets were buried with their dead. One pair was divided at the big toe like Japanese tabi and used drop knitting and cross stitching at the heel to fit the heel.

Historicknit Knitting e-list

Knitted Caps
by Cathy Snell
(Site Excerpt) Knitting caps is not very difficult. Beyond the basics of the stocking stitch, one needs to know how to knit in the round (using 4 or 5 double pointed needles) and to increase and decrease. All the caps shown below are variations of these techniques. I've seen descriptions for knitting caps starting at the bottom (brim) or at the top (crown). There is no definitive evidence one way or the other and caps were probably knit with both methods.

Naalbinding mailing list

(Site Excerpt) Nalbinding (also spelled nålbinding, naalbinding, nalebinding) is a method of creating a stretchy textile using short lengths of yarn and a single-eyed needle. Fabric is formed by looping the yarn through at least two previously created loops, gradually building up row upon row of loops. Gauge depends on the size of yarn and the looseness/tightness of the individual naalbinder.

Nalbinding 101: Introduction to the "Åsle" stitch
Lady Sabine du Coeurgris
(Site Excerpt) Get a nice blunt needle. The one I used at War was "Jumbo Tapestry Needles, bent point" (brand name Clover, ART No.219). This needle works rather well; it is the needle in the photos. You can use just about any needle that has a very blunt point. I recommend a short needle, one not much over 2 inches.

Antler Needles for Nalbinding
(Site Excerpt) I had a notion to create an antler nalbinding needle of my own. The original plan was to create the needle and then use the needle to create a pair of socks out of nalbinding. While this did not occur, I did finish the second needle in time and to my liking that it was put to use in creating the heel on my second Coppergate sock.

Socks of Nalbinding, 10th century
(Site Excerpt) They are cozy, warm and very useful for a lady of the Danelaw. The choice of red for the contrasting color for the edge is in keeping with a predominance of red found in Jorvik digs for textiles such as the original sock. They are currently a bit too large for my feet, but they will full down to a smaller size with wear and washing.

Phiala's String Page: Nalbinding
(Site Excerpt) Naalbinding, also called needle knitting, is a Scandinavian technique for making a sturdy, elastic fabric. In regular knitting, each loop is only connected to those directly above and below it, but in naalbinding each loop is connected to at least one on either side as well.

Stefan's Florilegium naalbinding-msg
(Site Excerpt from one msg) Just a brief announcement for those having an interest in naalbinding. >Larry Schmitt's third naalbinding workbook is now available. It is >titled "Lessons in Naalbinding: Mittens, Mittens, Mittens!" This workbook is an exploration of the traditional Scandinavian naalbinding mittens -- including directions for four naalbinding stitches and six mitten patterns (each in three sizes).

Regia Anglorum Nalbinding
(Site Excerpt) Construction of the 'Coppergate sock'. The work starts at the toe, where a single loop of yarn is made and then a circular row of loops is worked into it. For the next row, the looping is continued, passing the needle through the centre of the first row; after two loops have been completed, the needle starts to be brought back through the next to last loop of the current row. The work is continued in this manner, passing the needle through the row below and back through the last loop. The effect of this technique is to produce a heavy, almost double-thickness fabric, of great elasticity.

Nålebinding Techniques in the Viking Age
© 2001 Carolyn Priest-Dorman (Þóra Sharptooth)
(Site Excerpt) The number of verifiable finds of Viking Age nålebinding is, alas, quite small. So, while we know that nålebinding was practiced in the Viking Age, we don't know much about what was actually produced. This work will list as many known pieces in the technique as I can find, with as much supporting evidence as I can find. The order of items will be determined by the complexity of their stitch technique according to Margrethe Hald's system. Cross-references to the nomenclature of Odd Nordlund, Egon Hansen, and Larry Schmitt will be included. An annotated bibliography follows the text.

If you wish to correspond with Aoife directly, please send mail to: mtnlion at ptd dot net.

From Aoife: Anahita correspondence

From Aoife: Anahita corresponded with me privately and I asked if I could share her comments. She agreed, but the server-change made it a sticky proposition to post in a timely fashion to the Aoife-links list serve (available from!). Here is her message, below.


I appreciate your collection of links very much - there are a few here i didn't know about!

But i noticed one problematic link...

First, let me note in the interest of full disclosure that:

  1. i'm the creator of Dar Anahita (;
  2. i'm the person who started the HistoricKnit list; and
  3. Ursula Georges was inspired in part by my website. If one goes to her webpage one can find links to both her documentation (which was in Aoife's message) and her bibliography which has my old dead web address (the current one is in Aoife's message)

Now, to the problem i noticed:

At 10:10 PM -0500 3/8/05, Aoife wrote:

Early Period Knitting
(Site Excerpt) In 1935 archeologists working in the Roman city of Dura Europos found true knitted fabric. Dura Europos, which fell in 256 A.D., is located on the borders of modern Israel. The fabric was knitted with two needles in a technique referred to as 'crossed' or 'oriental' knitting. One piece had intricate leaf patterns knitted into it. We know the Copts were using knitting, because knitted anklets were buried with their dead. One pair was divided at the big toe like Japanese tabi and used drop knitting and cross stitching at the heel to fit the heel.
The article in the Early Period magazine linked to above is inaccurate. This erroneous information is perpetuated by people using outdated sources or web pages (often easier to find) and not looking at more recent sources.

Alas, neither the pieces found at Dura-Europos nor the so-called "Coptic" socks are knit. The "Coptic" socks were nalbinded. And it appears that the Dura-Europos fragments probably were as well.

Nalbinding was not well known in scholarly circles in England, France, and the US when these items found, so scholars assumed they were knit.

The *structure* of the socks on close analysis shows itself to be very clearly not knitting, as the yarn does things that it can't do if knit, but can do if a single thread is on a needle with an eye in it. This difference is not obvious from a superficial examination.

While the pieces from Dura-Europos were "recreated" in knitting by Barbara Walker in one of her wonderful knitting encyclopediae, a more recent analysis suggests that they were, in fact, not knit. However, they have since become so fragile that they cannot be handled, so don't expect to be able to visit the museum at Yale where they are and look at them yourself.

For more details see "A History of Hand Knitting" by Richard Rutt.