Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Nalbinding - not

Consider : and in particular photos

identified as 'nalbinding'.

On the other hand there is 

All, the result of a few minutes (time to drink one beer on a warm California afternoon) of my knitting some crochet thread.  Looks like the same stitch to me. This is about 10 spi. ( 450 stitch swatch).  Nalbinding, it would have taken longer than one beer.  If you want finer, I have finer (red) crochet thread and much finer knitting needles.  It would not be hard to run up a much finer fabric. It is a firm, dense fabric, utterly unlike most modern hand knitting. If you knit to fit, it is a nice sock fabric.  On the other hand, with its limited stretch, it must be knit to fit.  I think those old red toe socks are just knit from loom waste (short pieces of yarn).  In particular, the way the heel was turned looks like knitting.  I see the very same lines on the boot socks that I knit.  Someone working nalbinding would have turned the heel differently.  There are many heels that work well with nalbinding, but none of them produce those lines that look like my knit boot socks.

Some rows of the old red socks have a spiral or threaded appearance. Compare that to this well used gansey knit sock:

The difference is that the old red toe sock has crossed stitches, and is cotton 2-ply, rather than wool 5-ply of the gasney sock.  

There are good instructions on the internet on how to do the Coptic Stitch in nalbinding.  However, such instructions will not get you to the gauge used to make the old red toe socks.  Practice will make you better, but the nalbinding technology is not suited to produce the fine evenness and uniformity that we see in the Coptic socks.  However, gansey knitting and swaving easily product that style, gauge, and quality of fabric.  A good knitter could come close to a sock a day. 

 And trying to knit fine, tight, crossed stitches without the leverage of a knitting sheath will put a lot of stress on your wrists. You could knit a pair, but not 2 pair a week as a commercial knitter.

I will keep this opinion until I see modern nalbinding as firm, even, and at the same gauge as the original red toe sock.  Mary Thomas handled the old red toe socks and pronounced them KNIT.  She knew about nalbinding.  She also knew about knitting sheath technologies. Modern textile people tend not to know about knitting sheaths and what kinds of work they enable.


chathamh said...

Why, if you find this looks like sheath knitting, do you think that modern textile historians label it nalbinding? Sheer ignorance? There are knitting sheaths in the same collection as that sock. No curators from the Dales or graduate design students looking for a dissertation topic occupied themselves with finding out what those odd little bits of wood did? Is research passe at the Victoria & Albert Museum?

That said, whether the socks are nalbound or knit (and I lack sufficient familiarity with the garment to weigh in on that question) is beside the point. 4th century Egyptian knit socks do nothing to change the timeline of knitting's documented spread and introduction to Europe.

Pat Brunner said...

I know how to do nalbinding, I learned from my friend Nancy Bush, and have actually done it. It isn't very difficult at all to tell the difference between knitting and nalbinding. Just look at both sides. You could actually learn how to do it and then you could speak more authoritatively. The gauge of the work in nalbinding depends on the fineness of thread/yarn. I've seen contemporary Viking knitting done with 28 gauge wire. Surely as a scientist you know how fine that is. And nalbinding actually is not any harder on the wrists or the hands than knitting.

And as a scientist you must certainly know that you cannot draw conclusions based on the norm. So your conclusion that the heel construction of the Coptic sock indicates that it is knitted based on the norm for knitting is fallacious. What is your scientific (or historic) basis for that conclusion?

Our 20th/21st century society, and you in particular, value efficiency in production more than quality. We have no way of knowing what values the ancient Coptics espoused. But based on the extant examples of crafts through the whole of recorded history it seems to me that expenditure of time was less important to previous civilizations than producing quality products compared to our current standards. And I have to candidly say from looking at the photographs of the few examples of your work that you have produced, your work is distinctly lacking in quality based on current standards for the appearance of knitted fabric. And 99.999999% of 21st century sailors, climbers, and skiers would choose techno fabric over crappy looking knitted goods based on comfort, price and appearance. You don't get any street cred just by sayin' you're good.

I spent my whole career as an aerospace engineering designer. It's very hard for me to imagine how you could have worked as a scientist without any ingrained sense of or employment of the scientific method. The conclusions that you have drawn based on your "research" are those you have formulated with no basis other than random references in Wikipedia.

There is nothing wrong with efficiently producing ordinary, functional handmade items but it is totally wrong to claim that your work is far superior because you have "unvented" whole cloth (so to speak) a "technique" based on an obscure reference you found on the Internet or single citation in a book while having no knowledge (first or second hand) of how the technique was executed. When I studied chemistry in both high school and college, the slacker/cheater derogatory phrase was "dry lab." If you're actually a scientist I'm sure you know what that means. Most of what you write in relation to spinning and knitting and now weaving smacks of "dry lab" ing. If you are seriously trying to pass yourself of as an expert you need to step back, eat a whole lot of humble pie, do a whole lot of practicing and show respect for the leaders in the field.

Sarah said...

You're actually going to argue with trained archaeologists and textile historians about this? The fabric you swatched doesn't resemble the red socks in the photo in the slightest. Anyone can go online and cherry-pick sources that will line up with their personal opinion, and that's what you've done, stated an opinion. I'll continue to rely on those who have spent their life devoted to the discovery of facts based on archaeological evidence.

Emma in France said...

All your measuring instruments are positioned in such a way that it appears that you are measuring rows per inch and not stitches.

Comparing the white knitting to the fingers and rulers present, it seems to be more like 6-8 spi. But congratulations on working out how to take photos of your knitting.

Mary Thomas wrote excellent books for her time but she did not have access to the equipment that modern textile historians have. The red Coptic socks were produced by nalbinding, they were not knitted.

As for hardwearing socks. My very first pair were knitted in 2005 using an Opal wool/cotton blend at around 7 spi on 5 2.5 mm needles. Despite being somewhat loosely knit compared to my more recent sock knitting (I went for a finer gauge fairly quickly after that first pair), they have withstood much heavy wear and have yet to produce a hole.

MorningGlory said...

Just out of curiosity - what kind of crochet thread are you using? I've never seen crochet thread like that.

Aaron said...

Coton Perle DMC 500 GR No.3 Art 5207 Made in France

A cone of stuff I got when a local company lost their contract to do labels for Hobby Lobby.

Aaron said...

If the V&A got everything correct, they would never have to change their display information : )

They have changed their display information since the days of Paul Lacroix, therefore we can assume that the V&A do not always get everything complete and correct on the first try.

I note that the V&A cite Rutt, and I know much of what Rutt says about knitting sheaths is wrong. If the V&A can use such an error prone reference, there is a high likely hood that they make other mistakes.

I will happily to change my opinion when I have seen a modern example of nalbinding at the same gauge and uniformity as the Coptic socks.

Nalbind a good replica of the Coptic socks, and I will believe. Until then, I expect that the replica that I knit would be closer to the original than the replica that you nalbind. Perhaps we should organize a competition to be judged by the V&A, Who can make the most faithful replica of the Coptic Socks?

By the way, I assume that everyone here has read;

I would say that the first book to be published without a single typo or error in it was The Art of Electronics (1985) by Hrowitz and Hill. Who would like to nominate a second? I certainly cannot think of one. When I was a lad, on the second day of chemical engineering, 468 of 500 ChemE majors flunked out of the program by parroting back to the professor, an error in their chemistry book. That was a lesson that has stuck with me.

Dianne said...

=Tamar said...

I only know what I read. What I gather from reading is that most Egyptian- style nalbinding that has been identified by modern methods includes at least one stitch that is made with a method that is easy in nalbinding and almost impossible in knitting (e.g. in the Dura Europos fragments). Sometimes edge methods are also cited as diagnostic clues. My point is that you can't tell how something was made from a photograph or a quick glance; it takes examination of literally every single stitch to see where the thread really goes. Often a microscope is needed because most early spinning was very fine. One example of how much a single stitch can tell you is the 13th century Votic cuff found in Estonia, studied recently by Anneke Lyffland and available online. In that case, an error not only identified the work as knitting, it identified the exact method of knitting.

Aaron said...

Not the same grist yarn.
Not the same gauge.
Not the same construction as the Coptic Socks.

Just not the same anything. I am still waiting for pix of similar garments produced by nalbinding.

Aaron said...


Nalbinding can produce a great many stitches that cannot, in any way replicated in knitting. When ONE of these stitches is found, there is no question that the item was produced by nalbinding.

However, the nalbinding stitch known as the "Coptic Stitch" is also a twisted knit stitch. This raises the question, "Was this bit of fabric knit, or made by nalbinding?" And, we can look to makers marks and construction to see if some part of the garment was knit and some part was produced by crochet, nalbinding, weaving, etc., etc,.

Yes, a careful stitch by stitch review of the fabric maybe required to find that one stitch that proves the fabric is knit or made by nalbinding.

However, both knitting and nalbinding leave patterns of tension and gauge that provide broad hints of how the fabric was produced. When the information from the making marks conflicts with the results of "microscopic" examination then then one of the analysis is flawed.

I always carry a linen tester with me. So does every textile judge that I know. (Along with every curator that I know : ) I cannot believe that Mary Thomas did not also. A linen tester and some experience is better than fancy, computed tomography without context. Mary Thomas had experience with fabrics produced with knitting sheaths that modern textile experts do not.

In context, I refer to by someone who was given a set of knitting sheath and gansey needles, but never bothered to learn to use them. Thus, she still lacks the experience with knitting sheath produced fabrics.

Einar Svensson said...

I think that you need to look closely at nålbindning to understand it, and you cannot look closely by just looking at a picture. Mary Thomas with all respect but I wonder if she knew as much about nålbindning as you are giving her credit. There is a very deep history of nålbindning here in Scandinavia and I think maybe you need to explore our sources in order to successfully make a judgment about the technique that you deduce from a photograph.

Fallon Logic said...

So, are you saying you examined the famous coptic socks with a linen tester?

Aaron said...

No, not at all. When I was at at the V&A, all of my appointments were for other items.

Aaron said...

Have you handled the Coptic socks (with linen tester in hand) and do you think that they are nalbinding?

Can you replicate them (fiber, grist, gauge, construction, uniformity) with nalbinding?

Have you knit with a knitting sheath/knitting pouch so that you understand the kind of fabrics that can be constructed with the additional leverage provided by a knitting sheath/pouch?

Pat Brunner said...

Thank you so much for referring your readers to The Knitting Genie blog. The author, lives in the Dales area and has done a lot of first hand research on the obscure reference to "swaving" which you have only read about in one reference on the Internet. As you know, she has totally debunked your "unvention" of the "swaving" technique since there are no known extant descriptions of it.

In her latest blog post she does an excellent job of citing museum examples of ancient nalbinding. I've actually seen two of those examples too. You've stated before that that the gauge of nalbinding couldn't possibly be as fine as your knitting. You didn't prove that with the example of your "recreation" of the Coptic sock. Your gauge is nowhere near as fine.

You've asked for pictures of nalbinding examples. I direct you to the Ravelry Nalbindiing group. Go to Group projects and you will find hundreds of beautiful examples, many of them at a much finer gauge than your knitting. Look especially at avior's Finnish Stitch Hat in bulky wt wool at about 8 sts/in. And samapifi's mittens in Aran wt yarn at about 9 sts/in. You work doesn't come anywhere near that gauge and the quality of your work nowhere near approaches theirs. You have done something for me though, I've never liked the look of nalbinding but these examples are beautiful.

You really make no sense by trying to compare your knitting to nalbinding or by making any of the other outrageous claims about your work. You won't get any respect by saying how good you are, you can only show it. And so far you've only done a mediocre job of smoke and mirrors.

Einar Svensson said...

No, I have not. But you have also not handled them, so your logic makes both of us unable to be certain on how they were made.

So we must leave it to people who have examined them. On the one side you have art historians and archaeologists who have spent many hours, maybe even careers, studying with microscopes and other precision examination tools. On the other side you have Mary Thomas, who was a fashion journalist who wrote a charming knitting textbook, with maybe a linen tester for maybe an hour or two. I fear that she was maybe not so familiar with the possibilities of nålbindning.

I have seen a great deal of nålbindning, both older and modern. I have seen nålbunden mittens that are incredibly fine gauge and flexible, made by a woman I know. I could not do what she does. But she can.

Maybe living where you live, instead of in a place with a long tradition of nålbindning, you have just not been exposed to very much and so when you see it, you believe that it is something that you are more familiar with.

You are passionate about fine gauge knitting, so maybe you are forcing something into your matrix of possibilities that does not quite belong there.

Dianne said...


First of all, my name is Dianne, not Diane.

Secondly, of COURSE it isn't the same yarn, because naalbinding wasn't done with perle cotton, it was done with wool. And the picture I showed you was done by a young Swedish woman who is an expert on the subject, and, coming from Sweden, has had the opportunity to see far naalbinding than you have.

It is very, very easy to tell naalbinding from knitting, simply by raveling it. Do you really think the experts at the V&A haven't figured that out, in all their years of study, which include actually handling items found in situ? Do you honestly believe you are that much more informed than they are?

You cannot duplicate naalbinding with knitting because they are not the same thing. Even with a knitting sheath.

Stacey said...

Look at the sixth picture from the top. It looks exactly like the V&A Coptic socks. Caption says made by nalbinding not knitting.

Stacey said...

Look at last picture. Nalbinding.

Aaron said...


The V&A Coptic socks were done in 3-ply cotton, not wool.

And the cotton used, no longer exists as Old World cotton cross bred with New World cotton after 1492. All modern cotton is different from what was available to anybody in prior to 1492.

Aaron said...

Stacy, other links did not work, sorry.

Aaron said...

The pix of Raverly nalbinding group are finer than the knitting that I have put pix here.

This blog is about clothing for sea men, not lace.

And remember who said that knitting sheaths were never common and never needed when I first started researching them?

Aaron said...

If I do not sometimes over-reach, then it will be clear that sometimes I did not reach far enough.

One must balance risk of aiming too high with the risk of aiming too low.

I am very aware that most nalbinding stitches cannot be produced by knitting. It is not that I deny nalbinding, it is that I do not think museum curators are omniscient. I grew up under the tutelage of Joe Ben Wheat ( It would be hard to find a more knowledgeable curator of a textile collection. However, he was not omniscient.

Väkerrystä said...

Do increases and decreases look identical if you compare knitting (twisted knit) and nalbinding (coptic stitch)?

Charles said...

You realise, don't you, that you are refering your readers to a blog post showing its author using a knitting sheath? This in spite of your claim that "she still lacks the experience with knitting sheath produced fabrics"? I know the lady concerned and I can assure you that she is very knowledgable about the knitting techniques used by Yorkshire Dales knitters and has studied them at first hand, whereas you... have seen a photo on the Internet.

Aaron said...

You realize that I made her first knitting sheath? And you realize that the Yorkshire Dales demonstrations that she watched were being performed on knitting sheaths that I made?

I would not say that I trained those knitters, but there was a good bit of back and forth as I answered questions on how to use those sheaths.

I would expect that a good assessment of a particular knitter's skill would be made by a knitter of greater ability.

Aaron said...

Let us say that the nalbinder can replicate the knit stitches, but the nalbinder can also make stitches that the knitter cannot.

As the fabric is produced, modern nalbinding and knit fabrics are mirror image. Thus, if a sock is knit ankle to toe, the replica by nalbinding would be worked from toe to ankle. However, the finished objects should be identical. We know that nalbinding can always produce a replica of a knit object. The question is, can a knit replica of the Coptic Socks be produced?

The bulk fabric is not a problem to knit. Some of the error stitches on the instep are not a problem. Now I am swatching toes.

Aaron said...

I am reminded that one of the volunteers Yorkshire Dales watched my knitting sheath videos from March of 2008 until she had worked out the details of using a knitting sheath, and then she gave lessons to everyone else at the Dales.

So, I guess in a way, I did teach the folks at Yorkshire Dales how to use knitting sheaths.

I just did not give them lessons, per se.

Charles said...

Aaron, Aaron,

You didn't publish my comment. But you replied to some points in it. That's cherry picking and it's dishonest. I must assume that you're doing the same thing with all the other comments, so that a commenter may be making several good points directing readers to more authoratitive and accurate sources and you are responding to a tiny snippet because you think you can disprove it.

Have you read PenelopeSpider's blog entry about knitting sticks? Let me sum it up for you: she had a very nice goosewing knitting stick before you sent her a sample; she didn't think much of the one you sent her; she knows quite a lot about local knitting traditions because she's actually studied them instead of making wild suppositions; she writes well, and backs her blog entries up with clear photographs and citations.

Your statement that you taught "the folks at Yorkshire Dales" to use knitting sticks is (a) mind-blowing in its arrogance, and (b) proof that you don't know much about the area. You think it's a place, like a museum or knitting shop? Tut, tut, Aaron. You have so much to learn, and humility and the ability to admit your ignorance would be good places to start.