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I have a passion for mittens in nalbinding. I grew up in the southern US where mittens are kind of pointless. Then I lived in a series of very cold places (Finland, mountains in the western US, and Minnesota) and learned how valuable they can be. I love mittens. Nalbinding makes mittens even better because you can gain great control over the thickness and especially how windproof you can make them.

My most recent mittens are a set I made for my husband after mitten fragments found in a man’s grave in Tuukkala, Finland, dating to 1200-1300AD.

Here are my mittens:

Here’s a picture of the fragment I took at the Finnish National Museum:

I wanted to use Finnsheep wool, so I ordered some lovely yarn from Riihivilla. From what I understand, most of not all the Finnsheep in North America are actually mixes with other lines of sheep. The yarn is 2 ply, Z-spun, S-ply, which conveniently matches many of the yarns described by Krista Vajanto in her nalbinding thesis, as well as the fragment I was basing my mittens on.

Pretty much everyone who has written about the original fragment agrees it was made with a Finnish stitch (with the exception of Vahter 1934). There appears to be less agreement on the connection stitch used. Kaukonen and Vajanto agree that it is a 2 loop connection, and Vajanto goes with an F2 connection. I went with an M1-F1 connection because I hadn’t worked with it before. Here’s what those connections look like:

One problem I needed to solve was how to decreased stitches with this type of connection. I considered two possible ways: skipping over a set of previous loops, or running the newest stitch through 4 old loops simultaneously. After some experimentation, I decreased with a connection best described as M2-F2.

This type of a connection makes for an asymmetric stitch. You’ll notice the construction pictures show prominent ridges and that’s because of the “stacking” effect of the M1-F1 technique. The final mittens are turned inside out to make a texture like this:

I began my mittens at the fingertips. It is also possible to start at the wrist, but I prefer the fingertip start for the rectangular shape: it does not require finishing with darning stitches and it is quite warm and durable. Another design feature of these mittens is that the increases are added at the sides of the hands rather periodically throughout a row. I think it looks nice, and is pretty much the only way to add stitches given the rectangular shape I chose. A lot of people seem to make mittens by leaving a slit for the thumb and then adding the thumb directly from that. I like a more shaped thumb, which I think works much better functionally. Here’s how I create the openings for my thumbs:

The mitten fragments are most notable for their embellishment. Vajanto has examined the fragments under the microscope and describes the stitches as a chain stitch, cross stitch and a stem stitch. It is done using a single-ply, s-spun yarn, between 0.8-1.0mm thick. The color is either blue, green or brown, according to Kaukonen and Vajanto (or possibly yellow and green according to Vahter & Hald). A chemical analysis of the dyes has never been made. My husband likes blue, so I used some wool embroidery yarn I had around.

To create my design, I used motifs found on extant metalwork from Finnish finds of this period and an aspect of my husband’s heraldry, a bear. Bears hold an important place in Finnish folklore and in the rune songs of the period (this alone is the topic for a paper). I based the shape of my bears on the cuff links I bought for my husband for our wedding 13 years ago, which were replica bears from a grave find bear pendant from Finland (from Kalevala Koru). Prior to these mittens, my embroidery on nalbinding experience was pretty limited- I have definitely been working on improving this!

I should be getting some of my other mittens posted soon. Currently working on spinning the yarn for the next set- its going to be a while on that set.

A few references:

  • Hald, M. (1980). Ancient Danish textiles from bogs and burials: a comparative study of costume and Iron Age textiles. Copenhagen, National Museum of Denmark.
  • Kaukonen, T.-I. (1960). “Kinnasompelun levinneisyys ja tyotava Suomessa.” Suomenmuseo 67: 44-73.
  • Schmitt, L. (2006). Lessons in Nålbinding: Mittens, Mittens, Mittens! Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Vahter, T. (1934). “Tuukkalan neulakinnas.” Suomenmuinaismuistoyhdistyksenaikakausikirja40: 236-243.
  • Vajanto, K. (2003). Euran emman neulakintaat: tukielma luistarin haudan 56 neulakinnasfragmenteista. Kulttuurientutkimuksenlaitos. Helsinki, Helsingin Yliopisto.