History · Nalbinding · Nålbindning · Techniques

Nalbound mittens in 1917

The 1917 volume of the Swedish periodical Fataburen includes an article by Maria Collin titled Sydda vantar. This literally means ‘stitched mittens’ and is an inversion of the term vantsöm (mitten stitch) seen in preceding posts. She discusses alternate designations at length, including a dialectal reference to a mitten that was “bound with a needle or needlebound” (bunnen med nål eller nålbönnen).

The article was a watershed both for research into regional forms of nalbinding and the practical description of the underlying technique. Mittens provide the point of entry into the discussion but it extends to other items that were traditionally nalbound. Collin’s approach to relaying information provided by tradition-bearing practitioners and then turning it into illustrated instructions, has been applied by almost all subsequent writers on the subject in Sweden.

Collin begins by reporting the first time she saw nalbound mittens, shown to her in Värmland as an example of a characteristic old craft of that province. (She was born in 1864 but does not say when the encounter took place.) She asked how the mittens were made and was told:

“They are called needled [nålade] mittens and it is old women who make them. They sew them on their thumbs but do not want to teach the art.”

Collin got no further in obtaining the desired information until a regional handicraft exhibition in Uppsala, in December 1915. Many exhibitors displayed what the catalog listed as stitched mittens (sömvantar or sömmade vantar), and she was taught how to make them. Despite the way the mittens were named in the catalog, she said that the makers spoke about them as påtade (a term that lacks a direct English equivalent, explained below). That word also appears in the introduction to the catalog with the parenthetical clarification that the designated technique is also called stitching, in precisely the same sense as in the title of Collin’s article.

The word påta (which may be a cognate of the English ‘putter’) has otherwise been broadly applied to various crafts over time. In the context of mitten making in 1915 it would normally be taken to designate slip-stitch crochet made on a flat hook. (It retains that meaning but is also frequently applied to making i-cord on a small knitting dolly.) In fact, the catalog lists a number of påtade mittens, raising an interesting question about whether they were sömmade and the name was simply not normalized, or if some were slip-stitch crocheted on a flat hook notwithstanding the introductory remark.

In the next post, I’ll provide more information about the overlap in the use of påta to name the structurally and technically different crafts of nalbinding and slip-stitch crochet.

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