Nalbound Milk and Hop Strainers

When we think of traditional,* rather than historical, Scandinavian nalbinding, I think most people think of the beautifully embroidered mittens. But today I would like to talk about nalbound strainers. There are apparently two types of nalbound strainers in Scandinavia. Those used to strain milk and and more rarely those to strain hops or ale.**

The nalbound milk strainers tend to be flat with a round or oval appearance. Sometimes with a slit on one side or both acting as a kind of handle. They are used by either folding them into a cup shape and holding them or by placing them in a cup/bowl and board (one piece or two) set up that can be placed across the container.

Melkesil HH.1954-0280. Photo: Mostue, Erik / Domkirkeodden Attrbution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)Additional photographs of this milk-strainer and support are available at: https://digitaltmuseum.no/021027744194/sil

Those identified as hop strainers, or more generically as ale strainers, tend to be more basket/bag shaped with two examples nalbound directly onto the rectangular support frame. This frame is the same shape as that found in hop/ale strainers having woven baskets for the strainer portion. The woven basket type appear more frequently in the online collection records for Norway, but I am most fond of the nalbound ones.

Both types of nalbound strainers are made of “hair,” not wool, generally from cow’s tails.*** We also see horse, goat, and pig hair in strainers and other nalbound objects made of hair.

https://i2.wp.com/mirrors.creativecommons.org/presskit/buttons/80x15/png/by-sa.png?resize=107%2C20&ssl=1
This milk strainer from 1850-1899 is made of pig hair. It is currently in the Skansen museum in Sweden. https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/91659/sk_object_SKANM0125122

It is one of the joys of updating the bibliography and reorganizing my sources for easier use that I get to re-read and explore books that I haven’t read in a good many years. In doing so, I am reminded of old favorites, the hop strainers have always been one, and interesting tidbits such as their anthropological use.

Concerning the actual use of the hair strainers, we have a short description from Flesberg in Numedal, Buskerud: ‘In the olden days they strained the milk through a straining which in Flesberg was called sællær and further up in the valley sallar. They spun cow’s hair and made sallarane in the same way as they made the short hair stockings, raggeloddar. When straining, they folded them up into a cup-like or bag-like form and ladled the milk into it. They also had wooden straining cups with a square hole in the bottom, over which they put the strainer. Such strainers may still be found on some farms. When they had strained the milk, they poured some hot water into the milk-cup, took the hair strainer and cleaned the cup with it. In that way they both cleaned the hair strainer, and rinsed the milk out of it at the same time. Afterwards the hair strainer was beaten against the wall or against something hard in order to thrash the water out of it, and then the strain was hung up to dry. But periodically they had to boil the hair strainer in a decoction of juniper, in order to prevent it from going sour. After they started to use straining cups of tin and with a strainer of brass netting, they utilized the hair strainer as a dishcloth.’

Odd Nordland, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (Oslo: Oslo University Press, 1961), p. 108.

Nordland goes on to state that in other areas, the practice is to use the nalbound fabric as a dishcloth first. Then, once it has been softened and properly matted, using it as a strainer. Apparently this is associated with areas that tend to nalbind looser density strainers in simple variants.****

Donna Kallner and vakerrysta.blogspot.com have both posted about this video from 1943 of Norwegian textile making.

Starting at 5:54 minutes in, the video starts a section on Cow hair and coarse wool spun on a handspindle. It starts with carding the hair and wool and creating a rolag. Then preparing a bundle of fibers which they hang from the ceiling and spin on a large spindle. Then plying from a ball. At 7:53 they shift to binding with a needle. At 8:06 they shift to looking over her shoulder at her nalbinding. While the majority of the film runs very fast, at 8:18 they slow it down to slow motion and you can see fairly clearly how she is working the stitch. At 9:16 it states “The yarn in a milk-strainer was of smooth cow-hair.”***** At 9:38 they start to show how she adds an additional length of yarn having used up the prior length. At 10:20 they show using the nalbound milk-strainer in a cup & board shaped strainer board. 10:52 they show washing it and striking it against a hard surface. The next section show hair shoe-covers being tied on over the shoes prior to putting on skis.

Nordland’s book, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting, is the best source for the nalbinding stitches used in these nalbound strainers. However, his classification system is based on describing 1/4 of the circle created by the spiral coiled variants which causes some difficulty in being certain of his description. His system only records the changes in intralacing within half of the working of a stitch, but not the initial direction. Thus each stitch he classifies could be one of two options. Add in the fact that when the stitch uses an F2 connection instead of an F1, he leaves off the last intralacement with the working thread, in those cases we can have four possible stitches that could all fall under the same classification of Nordland’s.

The red and green dots show the portion of the stitch that Nordland’s classification system describes. In this case he is describing the Dalby stitch. In Hansen’s classification this stitch is UOU/OUOO F1. As you can see, the superscript numbers of Nordland’s system describe changes in the intralacement as you exit the stitch. However, it does not specify which side of the fabric on which the intralacement begins. Thus 5112 could be Dalby, UOU/OUOO F1 or it could be OUO/UOUU F1. (Note: his system doesn’t address back or mid connections.) Had the stitch used an F2 connection, Nordland would have written it as 5111 (losing the green dot) which could be UOU/OUOO F2 or UOU/OUOU F2 or OUO/UOUU F2 or OUO/UOUO F2.

That said, Nordland records a large number of stitches being used in nalbound strainers. For example: Simple Looping in the center with 31 (probably a Danish stitch like U/OU F2) outer rows, Loop & Twist, 311 (probably Danish stitch, U/OU F1), 311m (Danish with a carried thread F1), 412 (Oslo, UO/UOO F1), 411 (most likely Oslo, UO/UOO F2), 4111 (probably Björsbo, UO/UOU F1), 51111 (probably Telemark, UOU/OUOU F1), 512 (possibly Fåberg, UUO/UOOO F2), and 522 (Korgen stitch, UOO/UUOO F1). He also emphasizes that there is the strong tendency for the strainers to be nalbound using whichever stitch was predominant in a particular location as traditional nalbinding in Scandinavia tended to reflect the use of one stitch only in any particular location. The need for a variety of textures and densities being filled by changes in yarn diameter/type and gauge.

We can be thankful to the anthropological and ethnographical departments for collecting these strainers. We have no archeological evidence of nalbound strainers being used prior to the late 19th and early 20th century collections of ethnographic materials. Most of the strainers themselves are undated. Their accession from anthropological circumstances instead of archeological ones imply that they were at least in use or in the household of the donator and unlikely to be of extremely earlier age than the collection date or century. The stitches used encompass the wide variety of stitches found in Scandinavia, including some of the simplest versions that are also found in earlier contexts. Odd Nordland argues that the peasant society changed little although we know from their clothing that there was a change around the 18th century. We know the technique of nalbinding existed earlier based on the socks and mittens that have been found. There is a cup and board support inscribed 1618. There is even a presumed board of a separate cup and board support for a strainer found on the Oseberg ship. Any evidence for Viking Era nalbound milk strainers has yet to be found. The concept is possible, possibly even plausible, but not yet provable.

As I was looking for more examples of nalbound strainers in the online museum catalogs of Scandinavia, I also came across a few in their Ethnographic collections from West Africa. Worked on the support more like the hops strainers than the milk strainers, though in a simpler variant. These are apparently used for palm oil.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into other traditional uses of the nalbinding technique. We so often think of it as used for mittens, socks, and hats that I find it fun to explore other uses. I’ve included a collection of links below to other Scandinavian nalbound strainers.


*Note: I tend to differentiate between “historical” and “traditional” era nalbinding. Generally when I say historical, I am referring to any time up to the early Modern Era. Usually pre-1600 AD or thereabouts. When I say traditional nalbinding, I am generally referring to more recent nalbinding. Anywhere from the 17th century to present day although the concentrations are more likely late 18th century through early 20th century.

**It’s not that hop/ale strainers are rare, just that nalbound ones are rare.

***Nordland, page 93.

****Nordland, page 109.

*****My translation.


Additional milk strainers:
A Sami strainer from Norway.
Additional hop strainers:

Tracking down a ?nalbound? sweater (spoiler: not entirely)

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.

Lady with Red Socks

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.

Anne Marie Decker standing in front of the Shroud of a Woman wearing a Fringed Tunic in the MET: Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.8). Photo credit: Anne Marie Decker

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.

Close up of the Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic showing her red socks.

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.

One of Anne Marie Decker’s nalbound socks based on the pair in the V&A held at a distance away from the Shroud of the Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic in the MET.

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.

Ruth Decker standing next to one of the Late Republican Era, c. 50-40 BC, Roman wall paintings from the Reception hall of the villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale now in the MET: Rogers Fund, 1903 (03.14.5) This painting is of a woman playing a kithara.

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.

Close up of the foot of the woman playing a kithara. The yellow is not the color used to paint her skin. It is also showing the same yellow above and below the line for some form of strap.

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.

Eleanore of Toledo’s red velvet gown on loan to and on display at the MET for The Medici: Portraits & Politics, 1512-1570 exhibit that just ended October 11th.
Mom and I enjoying our dinner outside on a perfect day for outdoor dining. Looking forward to getting a bit more “big city” time again soon.

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.

St. Simeon’s hat

I am slowly working on a catalog of nalbound items, but in the meantime wanted to let you know about one that is currently on display! My friend, Libby Cripps, visited Trier today and sent back pictures of St. Simeon’s nalbound hat.

St. Simeon was born in Sicily, but went to school in Constantinople. He then went to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and eventually Mt. Sinai in Egypt before living as a hermit near the Red Sea for a while. In 1026 CE he was sent to Rouen, France and after much roundabout travels ended up in Trier. He made one last pilgrimage to Jerusalem leaving in 1028 CE, but upon his return in 1030 CE he was enclosed in the Porto Negra (Black Gate) in Trier and lived as a recluse there until his death in 1035 CE.

Trier is located in Southwestern Germany near the border with Luxembourg and France. This hat is sometimes used as evidence of Viking Era nalbinding, but given St. Simeon’s life history and the fact that nalbinding of a similar structure has been found in Greece and in several objects in Egypt, that is a likely provenance. St. Simeon was in France/Germany for only two years of his life before he was enclosed shortly after returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The hat is currently in the Treasury of the Trier Cathedral. Visiting information can be found at: https://www.trier-info.de/en/museums/cathedral-treasury

For additional photographs from Libby’s trip to Trier, you can take a look at her Facebook page:

For a view of the entire hat: https://www.trierer-original.de/Uns-Trier/spektakulaere-Bauwerke/Porta-Nigra-51622.html Scroll down just under half the page to figure 4.2. Click on it for a larger/higher resolution photograph of the St. Simeon’s hat.

Another image of St. Simeon’s hat

I’ll be pulling together more information regarding the cap in the future, but wanted to share these lovely photographs that Libby so kindly let me use.

“Coole Socke” – Visiting the Museum der Kulturen, Basel

Back in January of 2019, I had the honor of meeting up with Cary Karp to examine several items that had caught our attention in the significant collection of “nalbound” socks in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.

They interviewed us and posted a lovely blog post about our visit with additional photographs. Direct link is here: https://www.mkb.ch/de/services/blog/2019/q1/sockenforscher.html

Coole Socke: Ein Hoch auf die Häkelkunst der alten  Ägypter by 
Andrea Mašek
Photo credit: Ruth Decker

While we both had separate reasons for wanting to visit this particular collection, it was the baby sock, Inv. No. III 16705, that brought us to arrange a joint visit as it appeared to be of a structure that has previously been misattributed as nalbound. Much to our amusement, a baby has clearly been in that sock! When I inserted the endoscope to get a picture of the inside of the toe to assist with understanding the structural details (yes, the fabric of this one is still quite flexible), my view was obscured by fuzz.

While there have been delays, Cary and I have been working on writing up our findings regarding the misattributed baby sock (pictured). My reports on the details of the nalbound socks in their collection are also in the works.

As reported in Cary’s blog post shortly after, https://loopholes.blog/2019/01/the-second-bootee/, the baby sock made it into both of our presentations at the TAES seminar a few days later. I’ve already posted the link to my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, here. The baby sock shows up briefly on slide 17 at about minute 26:47.   The seminar had some issues with recording causing Cary’s presentation to be in one file with the prior unrelated presentation. Thus Cary’s presentation, The Museological Value of Misattribution, begins at minute 18:47 of that recording with his slides starting shortly thereafter.

We are very grateful to the Museum der Kulturen, Basel for the opportunity to examine these socks.

Cary has also written a blog post and subsequent article on a pair of baby booties from late 18th century Scotland that were also misattributed as nalbinding in the 1950’s: https://loopholes.blog/2018/11/two-bootees/

Earlier I discussed the dangers of insufficient understanding of the the variety of looped techniques and how to differentiate them. I am preparing a presentation for NESAT XIV that addresses the issue of identifying the textile technique used based on the structural details and surface textures (including common surface texture confusions) entitled “But it looks like… methods for differentiating non-woven looped structures.”

The Textile Museum in Washington D.C.

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.

Knitted socks: Open loop stranded stockinette

Tube: two blues and white Arabic writing
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=1259

Sock: alternating leaves zigzag. Heel missing and some damage https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=1443

Sock: solidly patterned in a large gauge
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=3360

Sock: zigzag and writing stripes
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=6216

Sock: two blues & white entirely patterned sock, diamonds, triangles, writing, eight pointed star
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=8239

Tube: vertical stranded stripes with bands of horizontal S and writing
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=9443

Fragment: white with writing on bands
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=10840

Fragment: white with bands of alternating horizontal hearts and scrolls
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=10885

Child’s sock with deer
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=10958

Sock: bands of multiple diamonds. Missing most of the foot
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=13430

Sock: bands of writing
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=13698

Sock toe: two color bands, both dark blue and white and dark and light blue
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=15064

Tube: Bands of opposing hearts vertical
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=15399

Tube: bands of overlapping circles
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=17230

Nalbound socks: Compound nalbinding

Fragment: Toe and Instep cream colored: https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=21310

Sock: Cream with two stripes of blue near heel, potentially repair? https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=11119

Sock: Cream with brown toe and stripes near heel. Reddish and green? remnants at the cuff. Clear repair with blue fabric at heel partially remaining. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=7021

Sock: Two toes, cream with pink & blue toes and a pink and blue roped edge https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=4595

Crochet sock: Front Loop Only Slip Stitch Crochet

The technique and shaping both belie the listed dating. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=19973
*This would not be the only time that a slip-stitch crochet sock was slipped into a lot as a nalbound object. Such miss-identifications and resultant dating assumptions based on said miss-identification severely complicate research into the history and transmission of both crochet and nalbinding. Further discussions at https://nalbound.com/2019/05/03/nalbindings-myriad-of-variant-possibilities-and-the-dangers-of-insufficient-understanding-of-other-looped-textile-techniques/ and https://loopholes.blog/2019/04/crochetedness-nalboundness/ and https://www.mkb.ch/de/blog/2019/q1/sockenforscher.html

Andean Cross-Knit Looping variant

Nazca fringe band: https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=50046

Nazca Faces:
1. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=49784
2. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=49696
3. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=49611
4. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=49546

Nazca Bird & Flowers:
In the Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=47959

Nazca Birds & Beans:
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=48993

Nazca Beans:
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=14862

People with Fans:
1. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=47772
2. https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=48676

Nazca, a really nice small fragment so the photo blows it up really nicely:
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=50471

Sihuas simple looping bag:
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=49780

One of several lovely forgeries: (Clearly crochet)
https://de1.zetcom-group.de/MpWeb-mpWashingtonGeoWashUniv/v?mode=online&objectId=59128

And of course a large number of other fascinating textiles.

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:]
https://www.facebook.com/pg/medeltidsmuseet/videos
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]
https://www.facebook.com/medeltidsmuseet/playlist/250464109343324/

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.

https://loopholes.blog/wp-content/uploads/mammen-insole.jpg

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

Egyptian sock in Edinburgh

Photograph by Cary Karp. Used with permission.

Searching for more examples of Romano-Coptic socks can lead to many surprises. A quick mention here, a random unidentified image there, the numbers go up as information is found and the numbers go down as disparate pieces are matched together. This is one of those cases where the numbers went down.

Searching through old catalogs of the early Egyptian collectors, I ran across a mention of a “knitted” Coptic sock in A Catalog of the Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of F. G. Hilton Price, Dir.S.A. As it was published in 1897, I was fairly certain that this reference was actually to a nalbound sock as the differences between nalbinding and knitting were not well known in the late 19th century.

“89. Sock, knitted in various coloured wools, with a receptacle formed for the great toe. Length 9 in. Coptic period. Ahmȋm.”

A Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Possession of F.G. Hilton Price. Page 14 (page 36 of the scan), Number 89.1

Not too long before that, I had run across an image of the bottom of a two-toed nalbound sock that had been saved without any identifying information. Tracking the image down led me to Dr. Margret Maitland, Principal Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean, and Head of the Mediterranean, Africa, Americas, and Oceania Section in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, but no further information on the image.

Then, in October of 2018, I ran across another photo in my Twitter feed. It clearly was the other side of the same sock. And yet, still no identifying information; although it was obvious the sock had clearly undergone conservation since the original image.

The second image I found of this lovely sock in the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh. Added to my notes 10/1/2018.

By November 2018, my search had turned up a then recent entry for A.1911.315 into the National Museums Scotland’s Online Catalog. At the time, there was only one image of the sock available. However, the catalog entry did note that the sock was from the Hilton Price collection. So where I had thought I might have two socks to add to the corpus, I only had one. The numbers go up and the numbers go down as images show data pieces are not a match, that a mention is not actually nalbinding, or as in this case matches are made between separate mentions. (I am currently tracking around 110 separate items in the Romano-Coptic corpus, but the numbers go up and the numbers go down.)

As I was preparing my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, I reached out to Dr. Maitland to request permission to include a photo of this sock. She was kind enough to forward me twelve beautiful photographs to use in my research. These quickly made it into the online catalog for public viewing as well.

One of the earlier images released after conservation in preparation for display.

This lovely sock was one of the items to be included on display in World Cultures, Ancient Egypt Rediscovered, a new gallery that opened in February 2019. It was also reported in the news as one of the five most unusual objects in the three new galleries. See: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-47129600 and https://www.list.co.uk/article/107153-five-of-the-most-unusual-objects-from-the-national-museum-of-scotlands-new-galleries/

It is actually possible to see the sock on display, even now while the museums are closed, via a Google Arts & Culture tour: Google Museum View – Ancient Egypt Rediscovered Gallery. (Note: I set the link to take you directly to the sock case instead of the gallery entrance.) You can tour the entire National Museum of Scotland in the same way.

There are, as of this writing, 19 images of the sock available online in the the National Museum of Scotland’s catalog entry for this sock: https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=404856. Several of them are quite close up. The sock clearly shows ridges evidencing a middle, not top edge, connection between rows (excluding in the back and forth short row construction of the heel). This is similar to, though likely not exactly the same connection as, the stitch described as being used in the 13th century nalbound fragment from Müsen, Germany;2 mentioned as it is a mid connection most likely familiar to nalbinders. It is also at least similar to, and quite possibly the same as, the stitch used in five Coptic socks currently located in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland.3 These are a Mammen/Korgen/Müsen base stitch with an M1 connection: UOO/UUOO M1.4

One might say the sock is inside out, although we do not know which side the maker and wearer intended to be the “right” side. The exterior of the sock is showing the technical back of the fabric as made. Most prominently this is noticeable in the ridging as the ridges of a mid connection are formed on the technical back as worked. The direction of the spiral start on the toe also indicates that the current exterior is the technical back as nalbinding is conventionally worked from left to right and the toe is spiraling right to left. Of the four socks using a visually similar stitch in the Museum der Kulturen, four show the ridges on the outside (two adult split toed socks, one undivided children’s sock, and one undivided incomplete children’s sock) and one has the ridges to the inside (undivided children’s sock).5

On April 7th, 2020, the BBC Scotland posted a ‘One Night in the Museum’ video on their YouTube channel that features the sock for the first minute. It shows some lovely closeups of the toes.

On May 7th 2020, we get an excellent article, The Lost Sock, from Miriam McLeod, the conservator, on the conservation process preparing it for display. https://blog.nms.ac.uk/2020/05/07/the-lost-sock/?fbclid=IwAR3FI85o1Xf-H9rnpBfzPFcrDbmV9x7BfkVQMmL7drideQoSboVjJooRMxs
It includes several additional images taken during the conservation process.

The National Museum of Scotland has a very nice Twitter feed with all kinds of interesting items.

Visitors to the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland occasionally post additional photographs of the sock online as it is now on display. The one below was an exceptionally fine example posted as a response to a tweet of another sock from the Romano-Coptic corpus currently found in the British Museum.

My sincerest thanks to Jennifer Blaikie who posted the link to the “The Lost Sock” blog post where I would come across it and to Kirsten Donaldson Wheal who posted it where Jennifer would run across it. It gave me just the push I needed to finish up this post. If you, dear readers, happen to run across interesting nalbinding tidbits, I’d love to hear about them.

Footnotes/Additional sources:

  1. Hilton Price, Frederick George. A Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Possession of F.G. Hilton Price. London: B. Quaritch, 1897. Page 14 (page 36 of the scan), Number 89.
    http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/16500440.html (BW scan) or
    http://dlib.nyu.edu/awdl/sites/dl-pa.home.nyu.edu.awdl/files/catalogueofegypt00pric/catalogueofegypt00pric.pdf (Color scan)
  2. This stitch description has yet to be independently verified. However, it is the stitch most likely recognized by nalbinding craft workers as being a mid connection. Mid connections are unfortunately never specified as to taken from the left or right, but either is possible and distinguishing important. More information on the Müsen fragment is available in:
    Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindungstechnik: Mittelalterlicher Textilfund in Müsen – Nachbildunsversuch” in Experimentelle Archäologie: Bilanz 1991 Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland. Beiheft 6. by Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte. Oldenburg: Isensee, 1991. ISSN: 0170-5776
  3. There are very few published photographs of the Museum der Kulturen’s collection of nalbound socks. The largest collection is in this article: Flury-v. Bültzingslöwen, Regina, and Dr. Edgar Lehmann. “Nichtgewebte Textilien vor 1400 / IX. Teil.” Wirkerei- und Strickerei- Technik: Fachzeitschrift für die Fabrikationspraxis und Betriebstechnik der Wirkerei- und Strickerei-Industrie 1955 (5): 38-41.
  4. Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindung – Koptische Textilien un Museum der Kulturen Basel und un Stadtischen Museum Simeonstift, Trier” in Archaeological Textiles Newsletter, No. 39 (Autumn) 2004.
    There is another fragment extant that appears to be in this stitch in Finland. It is described in Vahter , T . ‘Tuukkalan neulakinnas’, Finska Fornminnesforeningens Tidskrift X L, 1934: 236-243. See also: Vajanto, Krista. “Nålbinding in Prehistoric Burials – Reinterpreting Finnish 11th–14th-century AD Textile Fragments” in Sounds Like Theory. XII Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group Meeting in Oulu 25.–28.4.2012. Edited by Janne Ikäheimo, Anna-Kaisa Salmi & Tiina Äikäs. Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland 2, 21–33. ISBN 978-952-67594-7-0 (PDF) ISBN 978-952-67594-6-3 (hardback)
  5. The Museum der Kulturen posted a blog post about our visit to see the collection in January of 2019. https://www.mkb.ch/de/blog/2019/q1/sockenforscher.html While the blog post focuses on another sock in the Museum der Kulturen collection, the images do include a few of the socks mentioned in the background.

Sock in the Warrington

Last January, I headed to Europe to present my preliminary research into Romano-Coptic nalbinding from Egypt and surrounding regions. As I generally don’t often get the opportunity to visit Europe, I had arranged several appointments with various institutions to see nalbound objects in their collections. One of these was with the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

I had attempted to reach out to the Warrington before I left, but as the timing had been short, I had not been able to make contact. So after my appointment at the Whitworth Art Gallery to view their collection, my mother and I met up with Regina De’Giovanni and, after a quick lunch, we made our way to Warrington to see if by chance the sock I had heard of was actually on display. The Warrington is a lovely museum. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it.

Thorough examination of the Egyptian displays did not reveal a sock hiding anywhere. But, as they are rather crowded displays, we decided to ask. The lovely young lady on duty said that there was no sock on display. However, if we were interested in seeing it, she had a form we could fill out and she would get it to the collections manager to see if a visit could be arranged. She was surprised that I had the inventory number on me. Given that I would be leaving Manchester in just a few days, we did not expect there was any chance I’d get to see it.

And yet, before we had even finished viewing the rest of the collections, Craig Sherwood found us. He knew exactly the sock I was asking about. It was in a box with some of their other Coptic textiles. He was going to the store rooms the next day and could bring it to the Museum the day after that. Would I be available in two days time? Would I? Luckily our flight out of Manchester was not until Wednesday evening and we had no specific plans for that morning.

It was rainy on that Wednesday and we missed the best train. After finding a place to set up (all the exam rooms were full), we proceeded to have a lovely time discussing Coptic socks and examining the precious little example in their collection. As this sock had not previously had a photograph published, I had very little information about it beforehand. I got to learn what its current condition was, the fineness of the yarn used, and which foot it was for. It had clearly been worn and the dust of Egypt was still on it.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks and appreciation to Craig Sherwood and the other employees of the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery for their assistance and gracious hospitality giving me the opportunity to examine this beautiful blue sock in their collection.

I was honored to be granted permission to include a photograph of the sock in my presentation (shown on the 5th slide), Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, to help round out a visual summary of the variety of nalbound socks from Egypt and the surrounding regions.

Travel Log – or why it’s been quiet

Once I got back from Copenhagen and Nantes, it was time to quick turn around and prepare for the presentation at the Textiles from the Nile Valley study group’s conference and associated travel. Unfortunately, this left me little time to work on the blog. That said, I have been gathering lots of interesting information that I will be processing and hoping to share in this and other appropriate venues.

Note: This was a long and involved trip. This is a summary, but it is still quite long. I will be making more detailed posts as to the specific appointments/items as time permits.

There was only a month and a half between the two trips, so I had to immediately start arranging my travel plans and requesting permissions from museums to use photographs of items in their collections in my presentation. Complicating that, is requesting, arranging, and confirming research examination appointments along the way. As luck would have it, almost all of the institutions I approached were able to accommodate my schedule, so this became a very packed trip.

The chicken in the gift shop spoke to me, but there was no room in the luggage. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

We started off by heading to Nashville, Tennessee. An online friend of mine was being honored and I had been asked to participate in the ceremony. Mom and I had a lovely time exploring Nashville. We went to the Tennessee State Museum. An evening at the Grand Ole Opry (very fun) and some tire pressure trouble (not so fun) with the rental car topped off the evening before we drove out to our hotel near the site.

A slow morning, one of the few this trip, got us to site just before 2pm. We then proceeded to try to not be noticeable as it was supposed to be a surprise. It worked well and I got to spend a lovely evening chatting nalbinding with Muirghein. The temperature drops rapidly when the sun goes down in the Tennessee mountains and we were not prepared. By the time the ceremony actually occurred, I could barely speak I was soo cold. Thankfully, due to the hospitality of the locals, I was not actually frozen. Nonetheless, the heat and water pressure of the shower was greatly appreciated once we got to the hotel.

Our friendly inspector, Mr. Clyde. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

The next morning involved repacking for Europe. An hours drive to the airport and a quick flight up to Newark brought us to where we were met by my heroic husband. His visit solved several of our issues; how to not take extra luggage to Europe we weren’t going to use there and collecting a few forgotten items. It also solved how to get to JFK for the next flight. A quick dinner and we were off. Except for a minor issue regarding overweight luggage, everything went smoothly at the airport and we landed in London on Monday the 14th. After which we followed our host’s excellent directions to her house, where we were greeted, and inspected, by a beautiful and friendly cat named Clyde.

Tuesday was filled with appointments at the Blythe House. The first was with the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre. My sincerest thanks to Benjamin Hinson for his excellent support during our visit. The lighting was challenging, especially with two of the items in melamine envelopes. However, I did get the chance to see details that I had not previously seen of the purple sock with lacing loops (link), the red and yellow striped children’s sock (link) with its mix of cross-knit and pierced loop variations, the brown sock with many patches (link), the toe cap once thought to be a doll cap (link), and the “bag” that looks like a cat toy (link). Unfortunately, but certainly not unexpectedly, they were unable to pull the pair of red socks (link) off display for me to examine. I did manage to capture some details of them on display as we took a quick trip to the V&A at the end of the day.

The display case in which the red socks, 2085&A-1900, appear is in a different location than when I first saw them on display in May of 2014. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

My second appointment was with the British Museum’s Textile Study Room. Here I requested, and got to see, their red Egyptian sock (link), a pair of Omani sand socks (link), and some beautiful Peruvian bird and flower bands (Am1931,1123.21.a is the one I most closely examined). The Collections Manager, Helen Wolfe, was kind enough to have brought out another piece of Peruvian cross-knit looping for me to see as well; a lovely fingered turban band of which glorious photos are published in Textiles from the Andes by Penelope Dransart and Helen Wolfe.

I was very fortunate in the timing of this trip as the Blythe House is closing soon and the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre and the Textile Department of the British Museum will be closed for a while as they navigate the move to new locations.

Wednesday we headed to the British Museum to the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Study Room. I spent the morning examining several fragments of knitting: some knitted tubes (link & link) and a lovely bit of multi-colored cotton stranded knitting (link) from Nubia. The afternoon was spend examining the colorful child’s sock (link) that recently had its dyes analyzed by multispectral imaging (link to article), the brown cross-knit sock (link), and the compound nalbound sock with embroidered cross (link) that is so similar to the one I examined in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel this last January (link to our visit, but not that particular sock).

Capturing my own photos of UC16766 at the Petrie Museum.
Photo credit: Ruth Decker

At the lunch break we took a quick dash to the Petrie Museum to see the pair of socks they have on display (link). Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a research appointment as they are booked solid through February which meant I was unable to see their other sock (link). I look forward to the opportunity in the future as there are several places in the UK I still need to see.

Thursday morning it was up early so that we could catch a train to Oxford as I had an 11am appointment with the Pitt Rivers Museum. A quick walk to the storage depot and I got to spend the day examining 5 pairs of Bedu sand socks collected in Oman (2003.9.134 .1, 2003.9.135, 2003.9.136, 2003.9.137). Interesting tidbits include noting that the inside heel of the vibrant red and green striped pair was made using the most glowing orange yarn (2003.9.138) and that the technical front does not appear to have been considered when applying the additional pads. The accompanying paperwork so kindly provided by Nicholas Crowe included the the fact that one of the pairs was made specifically for the collector and thus we know the specific dates of its creation. I was also granted the chance to see the pair of split toe felt socks collected by Petrie (catalog entry link & images link & link).

Friday morning took us to the Ashmolean and The Von Bothmer Centre for the Study of Antiquities; which is currently entered through a fresco in the Pompeii exhibit. Here I met with Liam McNamarra, the Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator for Ancient Egypt and Sudan, to examine the baby bootie and larger brown sock. The brown of the baby bootie is actually purple, so it’s purple with orange and green stripes. The brown sock also revealed a few surprises. Never let anyone tell you they only have a boring brown sock of no consequence. Every single one I have examined has had some special interesting detail to add to our understanding of these objects. Unfortunately, these socks have yet to make it into the Ashmolean’s online catalog as of yet. I did provide a link to one online image in an earlier blog post on January’s visit to the Bolton, New Walk Museum, and Ashmolean (link).

My brother and I at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. We had such fun opening all the drawers.

After my appointment at the Ashmolean, we met up with my brother. Having stashed our luggage we went back to the Pitt Rivers to actually explore the collections on display. The Pitt Rivers has to have my favorite ever directions on how to get to their museum. Once in the Natural History Museum, go past the dinosaurs. When you find Darwin, turn left. There you will find the entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Bring a flashlight and some patience. It is absolutely packed with all kinds of interesting items. The bilums and baskets were of course a favorite, but I was also enamored with the wheat weaving from 1900 and several of the wax votives.

We finished the day with a walk all the way around Christchurch. Unintentional, but we caught the sun setting in the golden hour on a beautiful building covered in red ivy. We attended the Evensong service and then my brother drove us home for a quiet relaxing weekend.

Monday morning it was back to London and the British Museum to meet up with Joanne Dyer for a delightful chat about her work with multispectral imaging for dye analysis as done on the British Museum’s colorful child’s sock and my work on understanding the sock within the context of the broader corpus of Romano-Coptic Egyptian socks. https://twitter.com/JoanneDyer_BM/status/1186351417419796480

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Tuesday morning was an early train to Amsterdam. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place. We took a walk down Niuewendyk were we saw what has to be my favorite T-shirt shop (mashing various genres together in a beautiful and cohesive manner). The Dam square was populated with Santa and Darth Vader as well as a beautiful bubble maker and a great swarm of pigeons. While mom and I often don’t use the audio tours, the one offered for the Royal Palace was excellent. The gift shop left me trying to work out how to bring home a full size umbrella. Didn’t manage it this time.

All of a sudden the pigeons took off and swirled through the air. Dam square, Amsterdam.

Wednesday was an appointment with the TropenMuseum. Veerle van Kersen brought these socks brought to my attention very recently and I was lucky enough to have a day free in my travels that could easily bring me to Amsterdam. There was a slight mix up as to what day I would arrive, but Sofie de Weger made time to ensure I had the opportunity to examine them. They are all small children’s socks, but the largest of them has several colors (link). There is also one other complete sock (link) and two toe/heel pieces (link), one of which is very small (link). Not much is known of their provenance as is unfortunately the case for much of the compound nalbound finds.

One of the windmills of Dokkum. Photo credit: Anne Decker

The day ended with a multi-train and final bus leg trip up to the Northern end of the Netherlands to a small town called Dokkum. We arrived just after 9pm, which unfortunately meant that all the kitchens were closed, but the lights were so beautiful. We took an evening stroll around to see the sights. We saw two lovely windmills and met a very friendly cat that hopped up on a post to be petted. It was a perfect evening. The scent and crisp chill of autumn setting in.

Thursday morning we met up with Harma Peining and her husband before heading to the Museum Dokkum to examine their 19th century hat. More will be forthcoming on that in future articles. We had a lovely visit and a chance to explore the museum as well. Harma and her husband graciously gave us a ride to the train station which cut down on some of our travel time and gave us time to catch up on the way.

An unfortunate delay in Rotterdam meant that we got into Antwerp after 10pm. The delay itself was kept pleasant by some lovely Belgians we met on the platform and it is due to them that we had an easy time catching the bus towards our hotel in Antwerp. A bit of a walk and we arrived. Such a relief to know I didn’t have to pack up again for three days.

Friday morning I sent mom off to explore Antwerp while I finished up my slides for the presentation. The last of the permissions I needed had come in on Thursday and thus it was easier than it could have been. However, getting all the last minute minutia arranged took me through until the afternoon. I finished up just as my friend, Cary Karp, arrived. After giving him a few moments to freshen up, we were out the door to the Katoen Natie headquArters so that I could examine the beautiful pair of children’s socks in The Pheobus Foundation‘s collection. I got a good look at a particular detail I had been confused by in previously published images of the pair. While we were there, Kristin Van Passel, asked us if we’d be interested in examining some knitted tube fragments that are also in their collection. We were able to take a very close look at their structure which was aided by the multicolored patterning of the tubes. When we finished up it was time to join in the conference’s social gathering upstairs. A chance to meet up with old friends (a few) and new (many).

Saturday was spent enjoying the excellent presentations being delivered at the Textiles from the Nile Valley Study Group’s conference dedicated to “Explorers, first collectors and traders of textiles from Egypt of the 1st millennium AD.” Putting names to faces in some cases. The study group does not maintain a website, but the program was uploaded on the Universität Bonn’s website (link). The book table was also fun to peruse and caused some difficulty in how to get them all home. You will notice several new entries to the Annotated bibliography page.

Saturday evening was an optional dinner gathering with conference attendees at a lovely, but loud, restaurant near the water. I got to try more new foods. During the lull between courses, I was able to finish up my theoretical re-construction of what the Dura Europos patterned fragment might have looked like as a complete sock, based on my examinations of other contemporaneous finds. This is the piece Lily had been helping me with earlier in the month.

My evening ended with a quick lesson in how to steam block a sock using a steam iron and hotel towels. After basting in a rough outline of the fragment edges, it was ready for its photograph and insertion into my slides for the morning’s presentation. My presentation, Fringed and patterned: decorative elements in Romano-Coptic nalbound socks, was first thing on the schedule Sunday morning.

Sunday morning before my presentation. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

The submitted abstract reads: “Approximately ten percent of the recognized corpus of Roman-Coptic nalbinding consists of items with fringe or stitch patterning as decorative elements. This paper will report on the results of a preliminary structural analysis of a number of such objects and place them in a broader museological context. These are three pairs of socks found in Gebel Abou Fedah by F. Cailliaud (1787-1869) now in the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, France and the single sock recently rediscovered in the National Museum of Denmark in an older unexamined lot. These socks will be compared with similar contemporaneous items such as: the image of a sock collected by T. Graf (1840-1903) of currently unknown location, the fragment collected by F.W. Kelsey (1858-1927) now in the Kelsey Museum of Archeology in Ann Arbor, the sock collected by C.T. Currelly (1876-1957) now in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and the fragments from Dura-Europos.” 

My investigations turned up several more comparables after submitting the abstract, so there were also examples from the collections of The Whitworth Art Gallery (University of Manchester), the Bolton Museum and Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, and the musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. All of whom were gracious enough to grant me permissions to use images of their collections in my presentation.

Once the Sunday presentations were completed, many of us boarded a bus to Brussels to visit the “Crossroads – Traveling through Middle Ages” exhibit at the Art and History Museum (once known as the Cinquantenaire Museum). I enjoyed learning more about their collections, but my attention was, not surprisingly, held most by the child’s sock (and tunic) on display (link). The exhibit is ongoing through the end of March next year (2020) in case you happen to be in Brussels.

We left Brussels that evening heading up to Leiden in the Netherlands. Another delay in Rotterdam (brake trouble on our train) meant we took a detour past Delft through The Hauge, but as it was already dark we did not get to see much. The morning light in Leiden, on the other hand, was perfect. We decided to forgo finding a bus and took a walk instead to meet up with Diana Lankhof at the Textile Research Centre. Lies van de Wege, the depot manager, was kind enough to open the Centre an hour early as we had limited time before we had to leave to catch the plane home from Amsterdam. I had a lovely time chatting with Diana and Lies over tea and getting the chance to explore TRC’s “Socks & Stockings” exhibit which runs through the 19th of December.

Unfortunately, the time to leave drew quickly nigh and we had to catch our train to Amsterdam to begin the trip home. Schiphol Airport made the process easy and we were soon on our way to New York where my dear husband awaited to drive us the rest of the way home.

This has been a very busy year. While there are still objects out there that I would dearly love to have the opportunity to see, and I am set to present a poster at NESAT next year (schedule), I also need time to write up my reports on all of the items I have been honored to see this year.

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