Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Needle bound driving mittens

Here comes the last pair, and the jewel in the crown, of my series of mittens based on Heidi Fossnes' book "Håndplagg til bunad og folkedrakter". The original pair of mittens was found in Sauherad in Telemark. The original pair came to the museum in 1892, but they do not know exactly how old they are. They do, however, have a similar pair at the museum, which they know is from 1811, because it is embroidered on the back of the mittens. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that this pair is from the first half of the nineteenth century.

These mittens are made by an ancient technique called "nålbinding" (Norwegian) or needle binding (English). They have found garments made by this technique all the way back to the viking area, and even earlier. Needle binding is great fun and quite easy to do, when you get the hang of it. Basically, you are winding the yarn around your thumb, while you are anchoring it in the loop under and besides. This is an excellent technique to use on mittens, as it does not run. This makes the mittens easy to repair. On the other hand, it makes it extremely difficult to correct an error, as it is virtually impossible to unravel the work. The last point was a problem for me, as I had never tried needle binding before. On one occasion, I had to cut of an entire thumb to fix a problem.

Heidi Fossnes does not describe how to needle bind in her book, so I had to look it up on the Internet. It turned out not to be a problem, as there are several good instruction videos out there. You only have to search for "naalbinding" or "needle binding", and several alternatives pops up. I preferred this video. It is in German, but if you know some German (as I do) it is a very good instruction. For this project I used "der Oslo stitch", since it looked like this was the stitch applied in the original pair of mittens.

The mittens are made in PT 3, which is a thick wool yarn which is easy to felt. The mittens are relatively large when they are made (43 cm), but they shrink dramatically during the felting and is just over 30 cm when finished. The embroideries are made in a combination of cotton thread by DCM and a fine wool thread by Appelton, which I doubled in order for it to fill out the embroidery properly.

I could not use a fabric pen to draw the pattern on the mittens prior to the embroidery, since the felting made the drawings unclear. Thus, I needed to sew these mitten by free hand. Thus, I waited a while, to get some practise on the other mittens I made in this series of mittens (which was probably wise), before finishing the embroideries on these mittens.
In the book, there were almost no instructions on how to make the actual mittens, only a down scaled drawing of the outline of the mitten. Thus, I did not know how many stitches to cast on or how to increase or decrease to give the mittens its shape. This was a bit problematic, since needle binding is like knitting and crocheting: it tightens up after a couple of rounds. Thus, it took me several attempts to get it right (in particular considering the difficulties I had undoing what was already made). I have written down the pattern for the mittens I made, in order to make it easier the second time around.  You can download the pattern free of charge here. Unfortunately, the pattern is in Norwegian, but with the help of Google translator, I hope it will be possible to understand for non-Norwegians as well. Together with the book and an instruction video of how to do the needle binding, it should be possible to make these mittens. The embroideries are pretty hard to do, but the needle binding is easy when you get the hang of it. And the result is tremendously rewarding. Good luck!


  1. bente, I'm really overwhelmed now: you did such a great job with those mittens. They are spectacular!- I just knitted the mittens on page 75 and now ordered some Crewel yarn from Renaissance Dyeing (they tint the yarn with plants only)...I have n e v e r stitched with wool on wool...I hope I can manage that.
    Congratulations again for y o u r work! you already know for which movie your mittens will be used?
    Ha en fin uke.
    Mange hilsen fra


  2. Hi Claudia

    I did ask her about the movie. The movie does not have a name yet. In fact, it is not 100 present sure that they will make it, but she told me that it is a BBC-movie based in the 1940ties. They seem to prepare everything before they know for sure if the movie is made, but I guess (and hope) that this means that the probability of it being made is relatively high.

    I keep my fingers crossed.


  3. Oh, Bente, I really d o wish that they will use your beautiful, handcrafted items. -You should do them again and keep them...just in case. Keep up the good work!


  4. Hei, dette er juvelsen i kronen, Nyyyyydelig.
    Jeg kan å tove, jeg kan å brodere, men her har jeg noe å strekke meg etter. Du er flink !


  5. Truly beautiful artwork with the embroideries :) !

  6. Hello Bente !
    This pair is so amazing!
    I am so so so so so much in love with them and i would give everything to make one pair by myself :)
    I downloaded the pattern ( thanks to you and google translator and several youtube instructions :) I will be probably able to make the actual mittens, but I don t think i ll ever manage to get the book to find out how to do the embroidery pattern :/ Do you maybe know how could I get it ?
    Thank you and happy knitting !