A nalbound insole? in Stockholm’s Medeltidsmuseet

I got a lovely present from my friend, Cary Karp, this week. He sent me a link to this video from the Medeltidsmuseet in Stockholm with a bit of nalbinding in it. https://www.facebook.com/medeltidsmuseet/videos/3047349822025268/

@ Medeltidsmuseet
Digital visning: Nålbindning [Digital Display: Nalbinding]
Nålbindning kan dateras minst tusen år bakåt i tiden i Sverige. Hör vår museipedagog Anna Lilliehöök berätta mer om denna hantverksmetod. [Nalbinding can be dated back at least a thousand years in time in Sweden. Hear our museum educator Anna Lilliehöök tell more about this handwork method.]

Visningen är gratis och för att se den behöver du endast besöka vår sida med videoklipp: [The display is free and to see it you only need to visit our page with video clips:]
där du hittar sommarens digitala visningar i spellistan Digitala visningar [here you can find the summer’s digital displays in the play list Digital Displays]

Du behöver inte registrera dig eller betala något. Bara att njuta, gilla och dela. [You don’t need to register or pay anything. Just enjoy, like, and share.]

The language is Swedish of course. Anna Lilliehöök gives a bit of a tour of the museum and several of the artifacts therein. At around minute 6:50, she brings out a leather sole with a nalbound fragment stitched to it. She speculates that it might be the remains of an insole or perhaps a sock/stocking to which a leather sole had been applied. She tells us that stitch used is Mammen; which is UOO/UUOO F2 in Hansen’s classification. The dating is 1300-1400 CE.

Edited to add this lovely photo taken by Cary Karp. You can even see the fine sewing thread mentioned.


Photo: Cary Karp

What I find very interesting is that the row appears to follow the edge of the leather sole. That direction under and along the arch does not match the row direction that I see in contemporaneous nalbound socks. So for now, I think I find the insole theory more plausible. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting find as it appears to have been sewn to the leather when the find was whole and new. The concept of an integral insole sewn into a leather turn-shoe is very intriguing.

For more information on the Medeltidsmuseet, their website is: https://medeltidsmuseet.stockholm.se/in-english/

You can actually tour the museum virtually through Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@59.3277462,18.069453,2a,75.1y,179.65h,89.74t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sGTnLYZNksG4FqdeIL5u_zQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Author: Anne Marie Decker

Nalbinding Researcher

7 thoughts on “A nalbound insole? in Stockholm’s Medeltidsmuseet”

  1. Very cool, Anne! So, was that fragment left flat against the sole when worn, or was it folded up so it was against the insole of the foot? And was it added for comfort or to replace a worn-out part of the leather? Such a strange thing to do with a textile.

    1. We do have evidence of nalbound insoles from much later periods. I always wondered how they were meant to stay in place.

      I have not examined this object, but I don’t believe it was replacing a worn out part of the leather. I suspect she would have mentioned that and a nalbound textile would not really survive the abuse a leather sole does. I don’t think it would be a reasonable substitute for a leather patch or resoleing the shoe.

  2. Another possibility: Since a lot of 14th century images of men seem to show continuous footed hosen with no apparent shoe, many re-enactors have theorized that they were wearing cloth hosen with leather soles. One can imagine people in places where nalbinding was commonly practiced using it for this purpose. Give the direction of the stitches, is it possible that the nalbinding was worked through holes punched in the edge of the leather sole?

    1. The Medeltidsmuseet’s museum educator proposed two theories as to what the fragment might have been: an insole or potentially a leather sole sewn to a pair of nalbound hose. While we do not have a lot of contemporaneous socks from Sweden, those that we do are, at least currently, short socks. All, of the ones I can think of, are worked in a manner that puts the rows perpendicular to the length of the foot, not parallel to the curved edge of a sole. This is clearly a special find, because what we also don’t have is complete insoles from this timeframe to compare it with. However, given the lack of evidence of socks being constructed in such a manner at that time, and later evidence of insoles that are, I lean more towards the theory that it was an integral insole.

      We don’t really see how the fragment was sewn to the sole in the video clip. We also don’t particularly see well enough to determine if the outer edge is the top, or bottom, of a row. I suspect top, but have not examined the object. That would make it awkward to bind it while working. Additionally, for long term wear, and potential replacement, I don’t find the idea of binding it as worked practical. That said, I do think that this fragment could lead to some very interesting experiments.

  3. The nalbinding and the leather are sewn together. I have pics that show the construction in close detail and will them put them online in the middle of the week and post a link here.

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