Nalbinding, weaving waste and the end of thumb bondage.

I have in the last few weeks been looking into Nalbinding.  I have done some before and made a few pairs of socks for people but have always thought I was doing a pretty “non standard” version of it in my opinion.  The viking era,  living history club I am part of  has a few newbies who have asked me to teach them some basic nalbinding stitches.  I thought I better hit the books and learn “Oslo” stitch with the thumb bondage etc.  I came across a few interesting things that I don’t see replicated very much in living history circles here in Australia at least.

10th century woollen sock from Coppergate made using the nålebinding technique Copyright © York Archaeological Trust 2004
The first thing I came across was information on the importance of using natural fibres and not modern versions of fibres,  sort of a no brainer really,  vikings just did not have superwash wool or acrylic folks and acrylic dont felt or splice that well.  

The second interesting thing I came across was that the stitch size was quite often much smaller than I had seen replicated in peoples reproductions.  A good visual example of this is the above picture of the Coppergate Nalbinded sock.  Its stitches are very fine.  In the below reference they specifically point out that there were 36 rows of nalbinding in 10cms of the sock.  Pretty fine stuff.

Thirdly superthick multi-plyed wool wasn’t really a happening thing either in the viking era that I know of,  does that coppergate sock yarn look super thick and multi-plyed to you?  Happy to see some example otherwise please!

Forthly, narlbinding is made out of pieces of wool that you splice together as you go.  It never made sense to me why you would cut a piece of wool from a ball,  nalbind it and then splice another newly cut piece of wool from a ball of yarn.  That’s just rediculously counter productive…isn’t it?  Well yes….until I started dropspindle spinning and weaving cloth (more about that in a moment)

I can tell you with some authority that when you dropspindle all your yarn from scratch and you dye it with period dyes and methods,  nothing on earth is going to make you throw your cloth weaving, loom waste away. NOTHING! The labour involved you certainly appreciate.  Yarn bombing becomes the most repugnant thing on earth… 

So there I was amassing quite a collection of precious loom waste in a box and my only solution for its use was to keep it for future tapestry weaving.

As you can see there is quite a lot of fine spun, period dyed and natural coloured icelandic and spelsau wool offcuts.


Fine Nalbinding was probably made of loom waste!  Yes that’s it.  No one was cutting little strips of wool from a ball and resplicing them,  they were frugally using their weaving waste and splicing it together. It also explains some of the interesting colour usage!  Totally makes sense in my opinion.

So I started Oslo stitch with some of my period loom waste, which is fairly fine wool as you can see above.  The thumb method was giving me rediculously big holes and not really making anything that would keep head, hands or feet warm.  What is with the thumbs?  It’s quicker and works great with a fat single ply yarn but not so great for me with thin yarn.  So I decided to just use a needle and eyeball it as I went.  Freehand!  A bit more research and I find it was a perfectly legitimate way of nalbinding.

So I have started freehanding instead and I am getting okay results for eyeballing stitches with thin, dropspindled yarn. It’s not the best nalbinding in the world so far,  I need to practice more but its done with thin dropspindle spun, icelandic wool, dyed with madder and it is most likely a much more period accurate way of using up precious loom waste to make handy warm items and I am just eyeballing it as I go.

My next project will be to buy this excellent reference book which came up when ever I googled one of my questions and I have highlighted some of the helpful info that came up.  Thankyou Ulrike for your book and knowledge!

which can be found at this link.


And…I’m back


Hi guys,  Long time no post eh?

It’s not for lack of things to post but more lack of time to sit down and document what I have been up to.  Right now I have a few spare minutes in the coffee shop to jot down a few lines.

Have been up to my ears in commissions for viking period legwraps (natural coloured and in woad and madder) and working with another artist on an environmental piece of tapestry\weaving – I would classify it as a bit of craftivisism.

To be totally honest I find I dont really like commissions.  I will do them sure, they pay the bills etc but I find them quite stressy.  My plan to handle this is to get ahead with items that people might be interested in owning and getting them into the shop.  Got a good deal of madder wools to make some items from.

I am also totally for natural fibres – as you have probably gathered but was fortunate to work with another excellent artist who paid for my time weaving (of all things) roadside trash and waste plastic into an experimental peice of art.  We made a tapestry\weaving of clouds (the picture shows the final work in situ at a recent weaving symposium) by spinning the warp and the weft out of plastic found plowin around in the Adelaide Hills and other waste.  Its amazing how aesthetic the piece turned out.  It had the second purpose of collecting mist\clouds and was therefore called a cloud catcher.  I am consideing getting and electric spinning machine just for future experiments with waste plastic while continuing on my journey of discovery with nature fibres and ancient fibres.

On the traditional dye front – Woad and Madder

Been a bit quiet on my blog lately.  Sorry about that folks.  Seem to have a bit of time up my sleeve to write what I have been up too.

I am currently working on several commissioned projects.  Viking age leg wraps to be exact.  Unlike many other people I handspin all the wool for these items on a drop spindle.  Essentially a stick with a weight on the end.  It takes time but it still has a slightly different look about it to wheel spun wool.  (Spinning wheels apparently didnt appear till around the 11th century, see this link

I have been combing and spinning natural coloured Spelsau sheep fleeces,  as covered in my earlier articles.  The very exciting thing (for me at least) that I am working on right now is cold dyeing with a traditional woad fermentation vat and using a cold dyeing technique (no heat applied what so ever) for madder red on Icelandic wool.

The colours which are basically coming from a one dip and leave technique – (rather than a fuss about a heated stove and use modern chemicals like spectralite) are beautiful.  The cold dye madder technique has been the most fiddly so far as I am not the most patient girl when it comes to waiting for colour to happen.  I will most likely go into more detail about what it is I do when I have more samples and things written down.

Without further ado I would like to share the beautiful “cookie monster blue” I was able to produce with one single long dip (about a day) in the stinky woad vat.  I have been getting very gradual successively lighter blues with each long day dip I do (as expected).

This is the beautiful madder red I made after a 7 day presoaking of the Icelandic wool in alum, rinsing and placeing in a cold vat of ground madder which had leached into water with a small amount of calcium carbonate added to it to simulate a different ph and letting it soak in the madder dip for three days.  No heat at all involved in this process – which is based on the ” Nest Rubio” technique.  Nest wasnt to sure that our ancestors used all their firewood for heat dyeing cloth.  I tend to agree with her.  Its a much more relaxed way of dyeing wool and I havent had to worry about turning my maddar brown with overheating.

Tapestry Weaving.

2015/01/img_4514.jpg This is my first test tapestry I started last weekend with no cartoon, just making up the picture as I went with scraps of yarn. It turned into a nice beach, hills and sunset sky scene. I’m working on a more abstract piece above it using the remaining warp and throwing together a different sort of piece as I find out what you can and can’t do.

Earlier last year I decided I needed to learn how to weave tapestries so I had a use for my left over hand dyed and spun wools when I have woven something else. I set up one of my weaving looms and started ambitiously reading from books and trying to apply what I had read on my loom.

I did get a picture started, but shortly into it I realised I had laid the cartoon the wrong way and I was doing a super fine weave and well eventually I ran away from it and wasn’t enjoying it at all. (Yesterday I hacked the awful thing off the loom and tucked it away in a shelf.)

This year, 2015, I decided to go back to classes with my weaving teacher the wonderful Bev Bills and learn some basics about tapestries. Have only done one class with Bev so far and I have learnt more in that class than all my messing around at home.

I think I quite love being able to paint with yarns. Consequently a friend of mine who knows I weave and that I am getting into tapestry gave me a huge box of bobbins of all sorts of natural fibres. I spent an afternoon getting them all sorted into their respective colour groups.


So exciting. I can’t wait to start designing cartoons and colours for a more organised tapestry.

Good Gute!

The postman is my friend. Today he left a box on my front porch which contains my first samples of ancient Viking age Gute sheep wool! It appears that the squeaky wheel does get the oil or in this case the wool!IMG_4090.JPG
It’s only a wee sample as it is going into winter in the Northern Hemisphere and not the time for shearing this ancient breed but when shearing time comes around again I am first off the rank to get some full fleeces for spinning and weaving!

The sample is much of the tougher outer fleece but I was so eager I couldn’t wait for the next shearing season. It reminds me of the Norwegian Spelsau wool having a quick look at it. Cant wait to have a play with it.

The lovely lady who I been in contact with has sent me lots of wonderful pictures of these amazing sheep and a web cam link to her paddock which works every now and then but I only remember to look when it is daytime here and night time in Sweden. Must try looking tonight to see if I can see the sheep in their paddock!

Herdwick and Black Welsh Wools

Very excited to find these two wool samples in my mailbox this morning. The grey wool is from a sheep called a Herdwick more info at this link happens to be a breed of sheep my ancestors on my family tree from the Cumbria part of England probably would have seen regularly.

The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep native to the Lake District of Cumbria in North West England. The name “Herdwick” is derived from the Old Norse herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture

picture by Ben Holliday

I also got some Black Welsh mountain sheep wool. More info about them here They look like this

picture by Simon and Alison Downham

Look forward to seeing how they spin and making things out of them

Spindle Whorl

Opening up the letter box this morning I was surprised to find a smallish parcel from a good living history friend from Victoria, Australia.

Josh (my friend) knows just how much I like messing around with period drop spindles and spinning period wools with them and was fortunate to come across an original spindle whorl. He then thought of me and posted off the little treasure.

After initial squees of delight and marvelling at the weight of the whorl, (which Josh told me was because it was made of lead) he gave me a bit of info about the providence of the spindle whorl.

It’s apparently from Norfolk in England and was being used about 950AD. I cant get over how old this item is. White European settlement in Australia is not even anywhere as old as this little lump of lead

I want to now make a spindle for it and give it a go, spinning some fibre with it and see how well it works. Its a bit lop sided, maybe it was squashed somewhere in time or has worn away a bit. Don’t know how badly it will affect its usefulness.

How astounding that over 1000 years ago someone may have used this spindle whorl to spin wool like I am doing today.

A good tool, works no matter the time period it would seem.

The Dream of the Blue Turtle Beans Part One

I hope Sting forgives me for borrowing part of the title of his album. All shall be made clear.

Been working pretty much solidly for the last couple of days on sorting out the back garden and the garden shed which had become unusable over the years. I am happy to report that I can actually walk into it and find things again as well as make things and put dye pots and such somewhere other than in the house or out in the back garden.

Was soaking turtle beans for dinner, when I got a comment to one of my blog articles from a lovely lady on WordPress who, I discovered has been making blue colours with black beans, I know these as turtle beans.

I do a 24 hour soak with some Braggs apple cider vinegar splashed in before I cook them and make the best refried beans south of the northern hemisphere! I’ve been chucking the soaking water out for some time. After learning about making a dye with the beans I thought I would collect the bean soaking water and give the turtle bean or black bean dyeing a go. Had a quick internet search about doing this sort of dyeing. Asked this same WordPress friend about the importance of using Alum as opposed to nothing or vinegar. Determined that I would try all three things and document them. Seems the ph (definition of ph here) of the water determines what colour you get from the bean water too. You can get some amazingly nice blues, but you can also get greens and magentas from what I have read in other peoples documentation.

I’ve usually used vinegar as the mordant when I am dyeing things or in the case of the woad, stale urine but I do have alum too. I thought I would go with white vinegar for the first trial.

I strained the bean soaking water (which is distilled water with a splash of Braggs apple cider vinegar and the bean juice)and put it into an Ikea jar. The water doesn’t look very inspiring. Sort of a murky purple grey black.

Meanwhile I soaked some merino wool top in tap water with vinegar for about 20mins. Then I gently squeeze the vinegar out of the wool and have put it into the bean juice and closed up the lid. I guess its going to ferment. I wasn’t really expecting a blue because of the acid ph from the vinegar.


So what colour did I get in I the 48 hour period?
Well, I got a grey, It’s grey out in the daylight and purple grey bordering on lilac in the artificial light see the pictures below. I suspect when it is spun the colour will be more apparent.

Ok so the earth didn’t move for me. It was a test using vinegar which I couldn’t find any tests for in regards to turtle beans and I now know what happens. The next test when I am next soaking beans will be with alum prepared wool.



About Gutes, Gotlands, Vikings & Hobbits; Sheepishly unravelling the confusion.

In the Baltic sea there is an island and that island is called Gotland.

It was the home of an ancient people called the Gutes.

Wikipedia tells me:

Because of Gotland’s central position in the Baltic Sea, from early on the Gutes became a nation of traders and merchants. The amount of silver treasures that have been found in Gotlandic soil during the Viking Age, surpasses that of all the other Swedish provinces counted together, which tells of a traders’ nation of indisputable rank among the Norse nations.The Gutes were the leading tradesmen in the Baltic sea, until the rise of the Hanseatic League.

The Gutes were both yeomen farmers and travelling merchants at the same time, so called farmenn. This was an exceptionally dangerous occupation during the Middle Ages, since the Baltic Sea was full of pirates. The Guteish farmenn always had be ready for battle. The division and organisation of the early Guteish society shows a nation constantly ready for war. The “Ram” seems to have been an early symbol for the Gutes, and is still seen on the Gotlandic coat of arms.

This Ram symbol is most likely of the native horned sheep on the island called The Gute (Swedish: Gutefår). See below.

Photo by Martin Olofsson

The Gute is the most primitive sheep breed native to Sweden. Thus, I can conclude that this wool was most likely worn in the Viking Age. If you are interested in spinning and weaving Viking Age cloth you probably want some of this wool.

Are you with me so far?

As time progressed to the 20th century, the islanders cross bred their Gute/Gutefar sheep with with Karakul and Romanov sheep during the 1920s and 30s. This resulted in the modern Gotland (Swedish: Gotlandsfår) breed.

Photo by PeterHasselbom

The Gotland, also called the Gotland Pelt (Swedish: Pälsfår), were named after the island in the Baltic Sea called Gotland that we started with. These are a modern breed of sheep descended through cross breeding from the Gute sheep. This fibre was worn by actors playing Hobbits in Peter Jacksons Lord of the Rings Trilogy. If you want a groovy modern wool and want to spin and weave cloth for a magical elven cloak you probably want some of this wool.

I’m after Gute fleece for Viking living history, fibre purposes and if you could help me that would be very Gute!

Viking Age and Living History Wools in General

Getting wool from local sheep in Australia which the Vikings may have worn around 700AD onwards isn’t viable. Our breeds of sheep are very well up the evolutionary line. The first breeds of sheep documented in Australia were only arriving in the late 1700s and were Spanish Merinos and South African fat tailed sheep. To my knowledge there are none of the Swedish or Norwegian Ancient breeds here but there are some Finn sheep. (I would love to here from any sheepy people who are raising ancient breeds because I would probably want your wool ) So what was a girl into ancient vikings from Staraya Ladoga in 700AD to do?

I was pretty sure the wool was going to be a heck of a lot different from what the modern world appreciates as wool and many Aussie re-enactors and living history people and I was quite right. Below is a picture of Spelsau Wool and Merino wool after they have been washed and then after they have been combed. The Merino is the lighter, finer wool. IMG_3931.JPG


If you are serious about accurate living history you really have to think about the wools that were around at the time and I set out to look into this area which seems to have been neglected all the way down here in the Southern Hemisphere amongst those interested in this educational hobby. I don’t think people mean to, I just don’t think anyone stopped to think about the breeds of wool around in their chosen time periods. For many, wool is wool and they are unaware or unconcerned about the providence of their wools. I sat down and thought that perhaps I could do some of the leg work and some of the hard yards and even make these more accurate fibres available. I sat down to write this to introduce the subject and damn the torpedoes. I’ve got a much longer journey ahead and I would appreciate your help.


So the first ancient breed I was able to get some wool from was the Icelandic sheep. Evidently this breed has been in Iceland since the Vikings bought them there. It’s a long way from Staraya Ladoga. It’s a long way from anywhere but the creatures have not had too much chance to interbreed with other sheep breeds however they arrived much later than the 700s from what I have read. It’s an interesting hairy wool and spins very nicely on a drop spindle but wasn’t quite my period, I noticed they descended from sheep in Norway but I put that on the back-burner. I Nålebindedålebinding some socks with it and I made viking leg wraps with it which sold on ETSY as soon as I put them there. Here is a picture of them


Next I tried to get some Russian sheep wool, the type I could find was Romanov sheep and I am not really sure how long this breed has been in Russia it seems they were only noticed in the 1800s. Not helpful. Not enough info and I can only translate so much Russian Cyrillic with Google translate. Still not happy but I played around with it, spun it on a drop spindle and then woven it on my floor loom into a beautiful shawl. Which is up on ETSY for those interested.

Then I found a lady from Norway who was able to provide me with Old Norwegian Spelsauælsau and wild Norwegian sheep wool. This is another very interesting hairy wool that spins well and has long hair and wooly fibres. I spun a whole swag of that on my drop spindle and then wove a herringbone patterned shawl out of that. This one is not on ETSY its in my living history kit and comes out for exhibitions. Im rather proud of it. It is pictured here.

I really am pretty happy with this wool, but its not from Sweden, and there seems to be evidence that Vikings who were hanging out in Staraya Ladoga were most likely Swedish.

I have been patiently waiting for a Swedish contact to move house and get back to me as she knows someone who has ancient Gutefår sheep and may be able to provide me with some, that will probably be the closest wool I can get to something that may have been worn by Swedish Vikings in Staraya Ladoga around 700AD. Phew. Mad I hear you say, well just a bit :). I really want to know what the wool and the fabrics were like.

I also inadvertently came across another reason why people doing re-enacting and living history might look at their woollens more closely. If there is no demand for supply, these ancient breeds will die out. I recently purchased a DVD from a fibre lady, Debra Ronson, to supplement my interest in ancient wools. She has made a little video promoting her DVD but she pretty much sums up the importance of rare wools as passionately as I would have to say on the matter so I will let her explain it to you here.