Traditional forms of nalbinding are used for a wide variety of purposes around the world. One area with a strong continuous tradition of nalbinding is the highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua, Indonesia. While one is most likely to be familiar with the Bilums from the region, another usage of nalbinding is found covering some Koteka.
A Koteka is a traditional penis sheath worn by some ethnic groups of Papua; mainly in the highlands. One may also see the koteka referred to as a horim. While often made of a particular gourd, the ones of most interest to this blog are the ones that have an outer layer of nalbound textile.
I have not yet had the opportunity to travel to Papua to see the amazing amount and variety of nalbinding that their traditions have and continue to produce. I do hope to make it to their annual Bilum Festival and Gala someday. And yet, Papuan nalbinding has been collected by colonizers and purchased by modern tourists for centuries and thus found its way into some of the most unexpected places. So much so, that when I once again find nalbinding where I didn’t expect it, I’m not surprised to often find that the example in question is Papuan.
On my most recent trip to Iceland, where I was honored to be able to examine the mitten from Arneiðarstaðir in Iceland, I also took the opportunity to go to several other museums. I picked up a new nalbinding needle at the Saga Museum. But having entirely forgotten about nalbound koteka covers, I was rather pleased and surprised to find nalbinding in The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Probably the last place I expected to find nalbinding. Even more so than finding nalbinding in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
The Festive Koteka in The Icelandic Phallological Museum uses both the Simple Looping variant (often called Blanket or Buttonhole Stitch) and a spaced and staggered Cross-Knit Looping variant. The Danai tribe Koteka shown in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! video has the Simple Looping variant on the sheath itself and what looks like a compound variant (undetermined) in the strap.
I’m excited to announce the publication of the peer reviewed article, “Three objects catalogued as vantsöm in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland,” in Archaeological Textiles Review No. 64 (2022).
I had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with my friend Cary Karp to write this article after we were allowed the opportunity to jointly examine the items in question at the museum storehouse in January of 2019. I posted about that visit here (where you can see a few extra photos). Cary will be making a corresponding announcement on his blog, Loopholes; which has lots of additional information on the technique.
ATR is now Open Access and so you can freely download the complete volume, including our article, by following the instructions at: https://www.atnfriends.com/. If you’d like a hard copy of the issue, you can purchase a print on demand copy from the University of Copenhagen’s Campus Print Webshop here. You can now also download or purchase all of the back issues as well if you like. An offprint of the article itself can be found here.
Abstract The looped structure termed a slip stitch in the craft glossary of crochet can be produced both with a hook and an eyed needle. These implements are not equally amenable to working that structure into complex constructs such as the toe and heel of a sock. This article describes the examination of three objects that have been misidentified as nalbinding. Two of them are certain to have been crocheted and the third is highly likely also to instantiate that technique. The provenance of the objects is recorded as “Coptic Egyptian” on anecdotal evidence and without ascription of specific dates. If scientific dating were to establish that any of them approaches even the youngest age this might imply, the accepted date for the advent of crochet would require major revision.
As I’ve mentioned before, incorrectly co-opting slip stitch crochet structures into the nalbinding atlas of stitch variants has obscured and made difficult the study of crochet’s history and transmission. Given that nalbinding has long suffered under this same issue of miss-classification/identification obscuring its own history, it behooves us to exhibit caution when examining textiles with which we may not be as familiar to avoid doing the same to our looping cousins.
The sock and the pouch discussed in “Three objects catalogued as vantsöm in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland” could very well be important early instances of the crochet technique of potentially pivotal historiographic significance, but we won’t know until they have been scientifically dated. This is an important reminder that dating crocheted objects based on the art historical dating of other nalbound items because the items were not recognized as crochet entirely obscures their potential place in crochet history and simultaneously muddies the water of nalbinding’s history, construction details, and definition.
I’m excited to be able to see this article in print and am looking forward to future projects and collaborations.
So many people have asked what the process of my research looks like. So this time I am taking notes and if this ever gets published, you’ll see the entire rough process. (Written October 2020 with edits November 2021)
Ever since I started to see the nalbinding community make its forays online, there has always been someone brave enough to make a sweater using the nalbinding technique. They are always fascinating examples of a very impressive amount of work. And yet, body garments for warmth just do not seem to show up in the archaeological contexts. We see lots of socks and mittens and some hats, lots of bags, and many many fragments whose original purpose is just unknown, but no hoods, shirts, or trousers outside of the full body ritual masque costumes of 19th & 20th century Central Africa. (Likely due to the efficiencies of woven cloth for those type garments.)
At the same time, while my most recent focus has been primarily on the Egyptian examples, I am interested in nalbinding worldwide and have been collecting interesting tidbits for a long while now. Some of those were just tantalizing glances at things I did not have ready access to at the time, but for which the world has since become more technologically savvy and interconnected. Objects for which I had perhaps only an out of focus photograph from what was likely a book in a language I didn’t read, are now having high resolution photographs uploaded online and machine translation, while not perfect, is helping to be able to get the gist of what is written about them.
Our Nalbinding Get Togethers* on Zoom, which we began as a social gathering of nalbinders around the world to help alleviate some of the isolation of the COVID-19 shutdown, have given us the chance to meet people across the world. Peruda Florit has been especially interested in Russian nalbinding given her current circumstances. When I first began researching nalbinding, getting information out of the then USSR was extremely difficult from here in the US. I could track nalbinding right up to the Karelian border from the Finnish side, but barely make any headway across. However, over time I had run into the finds from Novgorod and a few other places. Occasionally, I’d get snapshots of images from books etc. Peruda has been having me go through some of those old snapshots to try and find some pieces she may be able to go see in person.
That day, not long after talking about Yuko Hirata’s newest nalbound sweater design, all of which are amazingly beautiful, I thought I’d take a stroll through the old photo files to find some more Russian examples for Peruda. In doing so I ran across this “sweater.”
It’s a picture I collected sometime during or before 2011 of a photograph in a book. Probably found on VK’s nalbinding forum although I don’t remember exactly now. I believe this is the 2nd photo of it I had seen. The other being even smaller and less detailed. The image is not that clear, but the surface texture has the horizontal banding reminiscent of compound nalbound textiles. At the time, machine translation was not very good. I vaguely remember taking the time to translate the caption and look up the saint associated. As I knew that there was an extremely high likelihood of nalbinding in Russia being done at the time of the saint (15th century), I was not too surprised by the concept of it being nalbound. While I was very intrigued, my access to Russian sources was soo limited that I did not pursue it at the time.
With all the amazing sweater designs coming out of the modern nalbinding usage, and the ever present interest in history, running across this particular find again sparked a good bit of interest. My access to Russian speakers is much greater now than it was then. Machine translation, while in no way perfect, is much better and can help narrow down what pieces I want properly translated. And… there are others interested which helps motivate any search.
So step one of the search, I run across a potentially interesting photograph or tidbit of information. In this case, all the wording is in Russian and I’m on my phone (which is currently reducing my ability to find Cyrillic letters). I send the link to Peruda, who kindly transliterates it for me and runs it through the machine translation.
Saint Nilus of Sora’s hair-shirt. So we look him up. Saint Nilus, otherwise known as Nil Sorky, lived between 1433 and 1508. Very interesting. Early for a cardigan styled item of clothing, but hair-shirts don’t seem to have followed standard practices and I don’t know that much about 15th & early 16th century Russian clothing in detail.
A quick poking about by Google search of Saint Nilus of Sora’s name, revealed a new picture of the hair-shirt on display: http://cultinfo.ru/news/2008/5/1096. A bit more and I find a book reference within a Pinterest pin which also has a slightly better quality photo: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/531495193517251984/ “Власяница и четки преп. Нила Сорского. Кирилло-Белозерский монастырь // Романенко Е. В. Повседневная жизнь русского средневекового монастыря”
And then, several more interesting hits. This one caused me to exclaim, “Captions, I need captions!” https://xtkani.ru/vlasyanica/ As there appears to be an additional interesting hair-shirt for which I have no date or place information. Peruda then sent me this link, with another image of the more dress-like hair-shirt: https://otzovik.com/review_5601725.html
Having not had much luck in my search using English, I shifted to the Cyrillic for St. Nilus of Sora and the word for hair-shirt. That got me the very interesting link to the Kirillo-Belozersky museum (whose name we had sussed out as likely to have it in their collection via the sources above, but had not yet reached out to) with a very nice photo of the hair-shirt in question that is of such high resolution one can zoom in to see details: https://kirmuseum.org/ru/object/vlasanica-iz-verbluzei-koricnevoi-sersti Much excitement ensued. Of interesting note, the image appears to be reversed from the printed ones above with what had appeared to be the left sleeve now on the right. (It’s not unheard of for an image to be flipped when printed.)
And at this point though, I’m questioning its designation as a nalbound textile.
Zooming into to focus on the rows reveals a texture on all but the bottom most rows that I have seen before, but in slip stitch crochet (SSC), not nalbinding. Looking closely at the neckline and cuffs and I can see loops pulled through loops. While it is possible to achieve that structure with end-led nalbinding as discussed in my NESAT presentation “But it looks like...,” the direction of work would be from the outside edge into the shirt, not working from the body out as one would with the loop-led slip stitch crochet. However, the surface texture was not an exact match for the SSC I had seen before. Both sides appeared to have the same texture, instead of dramatically differing textures, and the rows appeared to alternate between what would be produced by the technical front of back loop only (BLO) SSC and that produced on the technical back side of front loop only (FLO) SSC. It appeared to potentially be a match for working back and forth, instead of in the round or separate rows in the same direction. I immediately sent a copy of the link off to my friend Cary Karp who is researching the history of crochet and is the one that helped me learn to recognize SSC structures and surface textures. Cary tells me that this type of back and forth turned flatwork work in SSC is called a Rib Stitch in the 1840’s Victorian fancy work literature, but as a specialty stitch with nothing in any earlier literature.
Our web search did turn up some information about the provenance of this hair-shirt. It is attributed by legend to Saint Nilus of Sora. However, the first solid mentions are that it was displayed in the Tikhvin Cathedral in the 19th and 20th centuries where it was used for healing.
The Russian term Вязка is often translated as knitting, but in truth is a broader term that might be more appropriately translated as looping as the Russian language does not differentiate between the various looping techniques such as knitting, crochet, or nalbinding. Instead, if one is intending to be specific in Russian, a modifier is added that tells you what type of tool is used.
The Nalbinding Get Togethers (celebrating one and a half years now) are an interesting addition to my research. I used to fill that slot by reaching out to friends that had expressed interest (both casual and academic) in person or one on ones via phone or email/text/messaging. I still do reach out to certain ones specifically, though the in person option hasn’t been available. But as some of my most useful foils aren’t local anyway, those conversations have just continued as they always do.
But my usual process goes something like this: Either I find a hint or mention of a new to me find that might be applicable or I do one of my regular searches to see if something new to me shows up (or I stumble across something as I was looking for something else). I then go see what else I can find out about it. If what I stumbled on originally wasn’t a treasure trove of pictures, I go looking for images as the objects I’m interested in are not clearly and consistently described. In this process I am looking for as many images as possible. Presentation photos, documentation photos, conservation photos, right on down to someone’s terrible vacation photos as sometimes that’s all I can get and sometimes they just happen to capture something the formal ones don’t. I’m also looking for associated diagrams and any analysis that has already been performed. Mining bibliographies for previously published books and articles that relate to the object or its type.
All the while I’m comparing and contrasting with the corpus I already have. I may also start making test samples to help work out or confirm what I’m seeing on the surface structure shown. Then I start talking with others about this interesting thing. In person (my oh so patient husband who doesn’t understand the details, but loves to see me excited about a new tidbit. My mom, who does understand a good bit more) and online via messaging to my sometimes collaborator, to my mentee, to friends, to the get togethers (the group is intended to be a social space and sometimes all we do is chat and work on/show off/encourage our projects, but a big part of my projects is the research and the group is interested in the history of the craft).
Then I start working on in what format I want to share the info (and how detailed) to the broader world: blog post, popular media, peer-reviewed article, seminar presentation (academic or crafting), or multiples of varying depth. I may start formally teaching a particular craft portion at this point as an additional way to find out what words and order best express the concept. Eventually I may end up writing an instruction manual (that’s happened twice, but quite a while ago now as I had a break from the intensive analyzing part and some of the crafting part too due to health issues). And we’ll see where the whole ends up someday, because each new piece adds to the whole as well. I’m working with others on a cross technique standardization of language used to describe the specifics of structural details common across Looping techniques. Trying to see trends that can better improve the overall understanding as so many of these finds are still dated on art historical principles yet without a proper understanding of the specific corpus. Worldwide trends, both historically and where its usage has continued through to today.
Case in point, a comment on a picture that was posted in the Sprang group asking if the item was sprang work (it wasn’t) provided me with a search term that opened up a whole area of current traditional use of nalbinding in South America that I hadn’t known about which I can tie back to historical records of the region and can help with understanding working techniques, direction, etc. Very much fascinating. I’ve lost more sleep again. Bit frustrated at one of the museums because a number of great photos pop up in searches, but they don’t have an organized online search their collection function. Those photos are just from photos they’ve used in illustrating their exhibition announcements etc. A blog post has been drafted, though I don’t know when I’ll finish it. More information has been added to the corpus in my head with very interesting ties across the world.
Sometimes I get the opportunity to see the object in person which leads to object reports for the museums with my aggregated analysis of the object, what’s previously published, and how it fits into the broader corpus, and further potential publications.
I’ve had people comment on how I seem to find so many interesting artifacts. They wonder and ask how do I keep finding so much nalbinding when it is hidden, mislabeled, or in areas one just doesn’t think of nalbinding existing. The answer is quite simple. I keep looking.**
* The Nalbinding Get Togethers are currently still occurring each weekend on Zoom at 8pm Eastern Saturdays and 10am Eastern on Sundays. Sessions generally run for two hours, sometimes more. Drop me a note via the contact page for the link or find us on social media (Facebook is easiest).
** If you’d like to help support my continued search, a link to my Patreon is on the side bar menu.
The other weekend we had the opportunity to head up to New York city to see, amongst other things, an old painting of a Lady with Red Socks! I was soo excited to finally see her in person!
Now some of you will immediately know which Lady I’m referring to, but for those that have not yet been introduced, she is the “Woman wearing a Fringed Tunic” painted on a Roman Era, c. 170-200 AD, Egyptian linen shroud, perhaps from Antinoopolis, that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Her socks give us an idea of how the split toed nalbound socks may have been worn. It is important to note, however, that the painting is not so detailed as to reveal the technique used to make her red socks and we do have extant socks with split toes from a similar time frame in Egypt that are made of cut and sewn woven cloth and a different pair of felt. All three kinds, woven, felt, and nalbound, appear to have very similar characteristics with slits at the ankles (necessary in the less flexible techniques, optional in nalbinding) and ties at the top.
If you look closely you can see that the artist has drawn lines at the back of her ankles that appear to indicate that the laces were tied at the back. One on each side of her right foot (showing on the left) and also at the back of her left foot.
You can also see that the socks are relatively thin as the artist did paint some definition of her toes, besides the slit for her sandals.
I did have to bring my own pair of red socks, just because I could not pass up the opportunity. The reason that my ties are as long as they are is because I had seen pictures of this Lady before I made them.
My thanks to Matthew Pius for letting me know that she was out on display and sending my first close-ups.
While I was there, I also got to get a close look at some Roman wall paintings (and lots and lots of Roman/Greek statuary feet). One of which became very interesting… a detail I had not noticed in photographs before. Her foot is not painted in the same color as her skin. I cannot say definitively that it is a sock, more research into Republican Era painting styles and clothing/footwear is necessary, but it is an intriguing detail. Please let me know if you run across any other potential depictions of socks.
While we spend much of our time in the Roman and Greek areas of the MET, we did take a quick look at the Medieval, Egyptian, and passed through areas of paintings on our way to the Medici exhibit that was on temporary display. I could not pass up the opportunity to see Eleanore of Toledo’s red velvet dress in person as who knows when I will get to return to Florence.
After a very exciting, but very very long day, mom and I had a wonderfully relaxing and restorative dinner at an amazing restaurant just two doors down from the hotel. Which was absolutely necessary given that I have not walked over 14,000 steps in a long, long time.
Our trip ended after a tour of the Garment District and St Pauls on one day and Coney Island and the Aquarium on the next. I was so glad to have to be back to work on Monday after nearly 40,000 steps in three days. But, we are very much looking forward to being able to travel again. We learn so much.
While at the MET, I picked up several books on art and textiles of Central Africa. I’ve been really enjoying getting a glimpse into an area with which I have been unfortunately less familiar. It’s fascinating to see the very strong traditional usage of nalbinding in the region. There are a variety of stitches, ranging from simple variants to lacework in compound variants, in a variety of garments and other usages.
I was honored to be able to present “But it looks like… methods for differentiating non-woven looped structures” at this year’s North European Symposium for Archeological Textiles (NESAT) conference. There were soo many very interesting papers, posters, and excellent discussions. I posted the abstract a few weeks ago, but I’m pleased to announce that my recording of the presentation is now uploaded and available for viewing on YouTube: https://youtu.be/pNqq2Z7vwgQ. Additional supplementary content, including short demonstration videos and other structural details, is available on my “But it looks like…” page at: https://nalbound.com/but-it-looks-like
NESAT XIV was originally planned for May of 2020 in Oulu, Finland. Restrictions on travel due to COVID-19 led to delays, but we were finally able to hold the conference online via Zoom the week of August 23rd-26th, 2021. The presentations were pre-recorded and the scheduled sessions allowed for some excellent discussions. We got to learn about many amazing textiles and some very fascinating advances in textile science. A few of the videos are being made public and links to them are located here: https://www.nesatxiv.org/public-videos
The Textile Museum is working to put images of its collection online. Luckily that now includes multiple Islamic Era Egyptian socks. Beautiful photos of the blue and white cotton knitted socks and several compound nalbound socks.
The pilot site does not yet have their complete textile collection, but it does have several stunning examples of blue and white stranded knitting (interlooping) and four nalbound (interconnected looping) socks to add to the list of the Egyptian corpus. There is also one slip-stitch crochet sock that is going to require additional investigation into its provenance.* The catalog data is not necessarily up to date, which is not surprising given the volume and speed with which they are entering the records. They also have several Andean artifacts of interest as well.
Note: The pilot site doesn’t seem to react well to Facebook. So if you are viewing it there, you may get the same sock repeated. Try viewing it via WordPress or a different browser.
Sometimes one just needs to share one’s notes. After January’s post on Nalbound Camel Muzzles, people were asking to see more of the brightly colored nose caps. I had gathered many more images of camels in muzzles while doing the research than I could possibly use in the post. And truthfully more since, as I too enjoy seeing them and am still curious as to the breadth of their usage. However, the aggregated volume of all those camel muzzles is just too large for another blog post.
Thus, this post is to direct you to my new site page, More Camel Muzzles, where you will find images and video clips, both embedded and linked depending permissions. Each link includes a brief description, including colors and location if known. So far, the images predominantly come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman, but some appear in images from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Unfortunately, many of the stock photos do not contain information as to where they were taken. Additionally, we have relatively few photos in general from certain regions, so their lack of inclusion may be due to a lack of access versus a lack of use.
The photos are broken out by category depending on how closely they could be identified. Starting with the nalbound muzzles where the images are close enough and clear enough to identify as worked in Mammen stitch (UOO/UUOO F2), both on and off a camel. Then those that can be identified as a Loop & Twist stitch (more often found across North Africa than Arabia), those identifiable as some form of Simple Looping follow. This section ends with a large collection of muzzles of the same style and appearance as the Mammen stitch muzzles (predominately), but the images are either too far away or insufficiently clear (or I was too tired at the time I added them) to be certain of the stitch determination.
Also included, because they are both interesting and to show how identifiable the nalbound muzzles are, is a selection of Not Nalbound Muzzles. Starting with the Ply-Split muzzles, a technique I first ran into with Peter Collingwood’s publications, this section also contains Crochet muzzles, which all appear to be from Turkey, and a brief selection of other styles of muzzles for comparison.
The myriad of theoretically possible stitches in nalbinding can be quite exciting. Nonetheless it is very important to exhibit caution, especially when “finding” new stitches in the wild. A solid understanding of all looped structures is necessary to avoid accidental and injudicious co-opting of the natural structures of other looping* and knotting techniques. Not all end-led structures are nalbound structures.
Over time, I will be addressing the issues surrounding properly and clearly defining nalbinding (doing so by what it is instead of what it is not). I will also show how surface structure can both assist with and obscure identification of technique. Additionally, how to spot those higher level construction structures which help differentiate the specific technique used to create a particular base structure. This means that there will be an amount of not directly nalbinding related posts as we explore other looped textiles enough to get an understanding of how exactly they differ from nalbinding. As we’ve noted throughout the study of nalbinding, it is easy for objects to be miss-classified as an entirely different technique and structure by those that are insufficiently familiar with the possibilities available within the family of non-woven looped textiles.
For example, Cary Karp has pointed out in his blog, in the post Crochetedness vs. nalboundness, how incorrectly co-opting slip stitch crochet structures into the nalbinding atlas of stitch variants has obscured and made difficult the study of that technique’s history and transmission. Given that nalbinding has long suffered under this same issue of miss-classification/identification obscuring its history, it behooves us to exhibit caution to avoid doing the same to our looping cousins.
* While all loop-led structures can technically be produced via end-led means, those means may not be at all practical or reasonable.