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My New Hobby: Nailbinding

Blog/FavouritesJune 30th 2020
Jason Allen

Like so many other people who were housebound by the shutting of all things fun for COVID-19, I was looking around for something new to try. 

Years ago I had stumbled across the idea of nailbinding in a Bill Copperthwaite book and was intrigued.  I had even gone so far as to pick up a little kit at L’Anse Aux Meadows during a family trip years ago, with disastrous results. After hours of effort I had managed to make what was best described as a squash ball cozy.

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I’m not a big fibre art guy.  I can knit, but only know two stitches, and have to watch a YouTube video as a reminder on how to cast on every time I start a new project.  However, like most knitters, I had a stash of wool calling my name. Being bored at home seemed like the perfect opportunity, and I was fortunate enough to stumble across the best Youtube video I’ve found so far to teach me the nailbinding basics.



Nailbinding is an ancient Norse system of using loops and knots to make clothing, toques, socks, etc. out of wool. More similar to crochet than knitting, the biggest difference is that you have to cut the yarn you’re using and thread it through a single straight needle, and then splice on more yarn as you go (more on that later).

There are about a half dozen very complex stiches one can learn for nailbinding, all of which have been recreated based on the study of Viking textiles, as no record of the technique exists, but they all felt well outside of my abilities.  I stuck with the basic loop stitch and did my best to start a toque I was convinced would be ready for next winter.

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The process consists of looping the yarn through each previous stitch, once if you want it to curl down on itself like a toque, or twice on the same stitch if you want to grow and expand the piece until you get to the desired size.  More complex stitches are needed for socks or bigger garments, and nailbinding is famous for how inconsistent the sizes of your end products will be.  No two socks are ever quite the same.

The fun and kind of gross part comes when you have to splice new yarn onto your old piece as it runs out.  This involves fraying the end of both the piece you’re working with and the piece you want to attach, licking your hand and rubbing the two ends vigorously together until the heat and moisture seals them into one strand.  Kind of like felting on a smaller scale.  It’s called spit splicing, and was perhaps the least COVID friendly part of the process.

The piece I’m working on sure has puckered oddly, and I’m not sure it will lay flat after I have added all the rows, but it has been an adventure to learn a new skill, and short of forging my own blades, is likely as close as I’ll ever come to being a Viking craftsperson.

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