Naalbinding

Naalbinding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A5lebinding ) is a fiber arts technique that dates back at least 8000 years. It is done with a single needle, of a particular design. At first glance, the fabric produced by naalbinding resembles crochet. However, the fabric is much more supple than crocheted fabric. Naalbinding was generally replaced by knitting, because knitting is faster. However, naalbinding survived in Scandinavia and the Baltic states, possibly because naalbinding produces a fabric that has fewer openings than knitted fabric, and is therefore more protective against the wind. Naalbinding is undergoing a bit of a renaissance — while it is still uncommon, more and more people are learning to do it. As in ancient times, most modern practitioners of naalbinding use a needle made of bone, horn, or wood. However, other materials are possible. When a modern practitioner asked me if I could make a bronze needle, it seemed like an interesting challenge.

After studying some naalbinding needles, I decided to make two — a blunt needle for coarse yarn and a sharp one for finer yarn. I decided to use Five Star bronze for the dull needle and Five Star light bronze for the sharp, so the needles would have a different appearance. I’m going to illustrate with the dull needle. The sharp one is basically the same, except that it is thinner and the tip is made sharper.

The first step is to roll out the clay to the desired thickness. I chose 4mm for the dull needle and 2 mm for the sharp. While the clay is wet, cut out a rectangle of the length you want the needle to be. Using a template, cut an oval eye in the needle. Using clay shaping tools, roughly shape the end.

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After the clay dries, begin finishing the greenware. For naalbinding, it is essential that the needle be smooth (although it does not have to be straight). This means that the greenware needs to be sanded. I used multiple grits of sandpaper, starting from a coarse grit and working toward a finer one. In each subsequent sanding, I changed the direction of the sanding — first the length of the needle, and then the width. It is very easy to break the greenware while sanding. This can be avoided by holding the needle on either side of the section where one sands. If it does break, it is easily repaired. I’m not certain if it is necessary, but my final step was to burnish the greenware with a metal burnishing tool.

The inside of the eye must also be perfectly smooth. I achieved this by sanding with a watch maker’s file. In the absence of such a file, a piece of sandpaper, folded into a file, will work. After sanding, the piece (Five Star bronze requires two firings, the piece below is ready for that stage) looked like this:

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The piece was fired according to package directions, and then tumbled. To prevent the bronze from turning green, it was sprayed with a lacquer. The finished needles, blunt and sharp, are pictured below. The coins are for scale.

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Did bronze naalbinding needles exist historically? I don’t know. If they did, they would probably have been family heirlooms, or something that would have been buried with the owner. However, bronze needles certainly work. It adds to the thrill of naalbinding to work with a needle that you have made, whether that needle is bone, horn, or bronze.

 

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