That that my latest obsession was practised by the Vikings is appropriate for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my paternal grandfather emigrated from Denmark when he was a young man, so I am one-quarter Danish, and secondly, my children and I dress in Norse garb for my medieval group, the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and we need some appropriate warm accessories for camping events.
Nålbinding (pronounced “nohl-bin-ding”) is Danish for “needle binding,” which is a technique for making sturdy woolen fabric. It predates knitting and crocheting by over a thousand years, and was used by ancient Egyptians and Peruvians, and by the Vikings (it is still popular in Scandinavia today). It is done with a flat, long, wide needle (usually bone or wood) that is threaded with pieces of pure wool yarn that are a yard or two in length. Loops of yarn are made on the thumb and then the needle is passed through the existing loops while creating new ones, forming a chain. As needed, additional lengths of yarn are spliced onto the previous ones by felting them together. Rows are worked on the chain, and a chain can be joined to work in the round.
Nålbound textiles can be left as they are to show the details of the stitches (of which there are hundreds of variations), or fulled (a process that mats the stitches together) to produce very thick, warm, felt-like fabric. The Vikings used nålbinding to create mittens and socks.
I turned to YouTube to learn how to nålbind, and found the clear and comprehensive videos of a Finnish woman called Sanna-Mari Pihlajapiha extraordinarily helpful (find them here). I am using what is called the Oslo stitch to make what I hope will be a serviceable hat. As patterns for nålbinding hats are not readily available, I am winging it. I have also found a nålbinding group on Ravelry!
My wooden nålbinding needle is a souvenir I purchased from the gift shop of the The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Olso on a trip I made to meet a relative over twenty years ago. I am delighted to finally put it to good use!