History · Looping · Nalbinding · Terminology

More historical terminology

In the third volume of his Glysisvallur — a massive description of all aspects of the Swedish province of Hälsingland written circa 1730 — Olof Johan Broman includes the following description of yarncraft under the heading of sheep husbandry.

“Caps, mittens, stockings, and sweaters are knit [stickes] from both single and plied wool yarn. These are also stitched [sömes], especially the first named garments, but never sweaters. The difference between knit and stitched stockings, mittens, etc., is known. The latter practice is also called ‘to bind’ [binda] and the product, for example, bound [bundna] stockings, etc.”

The phrase ‘to bind stockings’ (binna strumpor) has its own entry in a Swedish Dialect Dictionary from 1766. This defines its use in the province of West Götaland as “to knit stockings” (sticka strumpor). Nothing else in that dictionary clarifies if knitting is distinct from binding, a synonym for it, or a generic term that subsumes both. These various senses are attested in other documents, where knitting and binding are used both to name specific crafts and as broader designations for other forms of looping.

The term knitting is used in that overarching sense in the definition of a name for slip-stitch crochet in the same West Bothnian dialect dictionary from which the definition of sömma presented at the outset of this excursion into Swedish lexicography was taken.

påta — v. (pōtă) … 2. to knit [sticka] caps, mittens, etc., with a small hook [krok].

This craft is commonly referred to as “shepherd’s knitting” in English texts. Written and illustrated descriptions of it began to appear in several European countries in the second half of the 18th century. All share one important attribute — they treat it as a form of knitting, or even binding. Prior to the 19th century, wherever the word crochet appears in a craft-related document, it designates the tool.

The word påta remains an accepted Swedish designation for traditional slip stitch crochet made with a flat hook. In the preceding post, we also saw it used to designate stitching with an eyed needle to make mittens. It appears in an intervening fictional narrative from 1907 consistent in all regards with the preceding dictionary definition.

She graciously took out a half-knitted [halfstickad] mitten. to which the white wool yarn was still attached. It was påtad as the women in Norrland used to do, who with a small bone hook [benkrok] put together [påtade ihop] splendid strong mittens.

The hook and the needle techniques also share contemporaneous dictionary definitions that categorize both as forms of knitting, and the 1790s dictionary says both were used to produce the same kinds of functional garments. A redundant array of names for techniques and crafts can be teased out of all this — binding, hooking, knitting, looping, needling, stitching, etc. They are all applied to the production of a more clearly defined number of warm utilitarian garments — caps, mittens, socks, and stockings.

Of these craft designations, knitting appears to be the one used in the broadest generic sense. However, the early sources differ on the other techniques they place in that category. All obviously agree that it includes knitting as a discrete craft, and slip-stitch crochet generally appears there as well.

The 1730s narrative unequivocally regards knitting and stitching as separate categories. Given the native Swedish terms for the implements fundamental to each — sticka and nål — the term ‘needling’ contrasts most clearly to knitting. In fact, nålning is used preferentially in Swedish scholarly texts through the 1960s, despite Margrethe Hald having introduced the term nålebinding into the vocabulary of Scandinavian textile research in 1945.

In 1963, Anne Marie Franzén published an article about a nalbound medieval sock, with the Swedish title En medeltida socka i nålning. The report on nalbound mittens Maria Collin published in 1917 noted that traditional practitioners called them nålade. Franzén cites Hald’s earlier work but does not mention nålbindning.

A Norwegian article headed Nålbinding, by Marta Hoffman in a volume of a pan-Scandinavian encyclopedia published in 1967, lists the corresponding Danish term as nålebinding and the Swedish as nålning or vantsöm — again without mention of nålbindning. Anna-Maja Nylén did adopt that term in her book from 1968 (perhaps having consulted the other sources noted above) but landed somewhere in the middle with ‘needle looping’ in its English translation in 1976.

I’ve taken the derivation of the various Swedish designations for nalbinding about as far as I can. One of these terms — virka — appeared in a previous post about looped purses (linked to above), and will be revisited in the contexts of chain-stitch embroidery and crochet. In the meanwhile, I’m going to consider the 1730s distinction between knitting and needling from a technical perspective and set etymology aside.

Subscribe to this discussion
Notify me by email about
This will be displayed with your comment
This will not be displayed with your comment
Clicking the name displayed with your comment will redirect to this address
Inline Feedback
View all comments
1 July 2017 14:13

Does Broman mention if any of these items were patterned? Or were patterned knit stockings more likely to be done by guild knitters?

2 July 2020 09:48

Compliments with your very thorough research. While doing some research on nalbinding I found that the koptic stitch or nalbinding knitstitch is quite common in sailors ‘katning’. In English it is called fender stitch, because fenders are made with it. In Holland the technique is called ‘breien met touw’ (knitting with rope). Also the name for making new nets is ‘breien’. In the first decades of the last century Frisian fishermen used a technique that they called ‘stokjes breien’ for thick woolen gloves. ‘Stokje’ (‘stick’) is Dutch for treble crochet. So ‘stokjes breien’ translates to ‘knitting treble crochet’ . Which would be a very appropriate name for nalbinding, as most nalbinding stitches have the same clear rows as crochet. In the Ashley book of knots 1944, there is even a variety of York-nalbinding stitch in the chapter about bends. But so far, no Dutch Nalbound (or crocheted) gloves are known from this period. However, it seems that also the Dutch name for knitting was formerly used much more general than today.