Monday, May 6, 2024

Nalbinding a gnome hat

 Last month at a Medieval Fair, I spotted a spinning wheel. My fiber-loving heart jumped, and I ducked inside the tent, where a few women sat around doing different fiber crafts. My children stopped suddenly at the entrance of the tent, however; they were engrossed in the work that a different woman was doing. Glancing out of the corner of my eye, it looked like she was knitting. That's nice, but not nearly as exciting, I thought. But then, I did a double-take. Instead of working with a couple knitting needles, she was using a thick, plastic-looking needle, a few inches in length, to loop and weave yarn around her thumb and through a dense fabric that was forming. 

"Is that a type of knitting?" I asked, leaning closer. 

"No," she responded. "It's nalbinding." 

As this woman proceeded to tell me about this endangered, ancient handicraft, I was gripped with a strong desire to learn it for myself. When she mentioned that, due to the fabric's construction, you can't "drop stitches" that unravel like in knitting or crocheting, I knew I needed to learn this. It sounded perfect! When she added that, since the gauge is determined by your thumb, making specific patterns difficult, I became even more excited. No complicated patterns to keep track of as I keep my toddler from destroying the house? When can I start?

After watching and reading several tutorials online, I finally started teaching myself how to nalbind using this video playlist. I used scrap yarn and a small yarn needle, and I was thrilled to see fabric finally begin to emerge. Unfortunately, my needle soon broke, and I decided that I should just buy an actual nalbinding needle. 

Finally, after perusing the assortment of nalbinding needles available on Etsy and Amazon, I ordered a couple. They came in the mail, I bought some good yarn, and I got to work! 

Since I don't own a good winter hat, I decided that it would be the perfect project for my first nalbinding adventure. The problem with winter hats is that they never seem to cover my ears. Not only do I have a large-ish head, but if I have my hair up in a bun or ponytail, the hat really doesn't fit correctly. I knew I could find a good hat (maybe with earflaps?) to buy, but that's not nearly as fun as making my own, is it? I found a tutorial/"pattern" to use as a reference, and I dove in!

It took five days of nalbinding as I got the chance: while meeting friends at a late-night coffee place, while relaxing on the couch after dinner, while winding down before bed--and it was done! It's warm and huge, so I'll be able to wear it no matter how I've done my hair, and it's a lot of fun to style in different ways. 

There's the "Gnome" style, which is also reminiscent of Wirt, from Over the Garden Wall

There's the Legend of Zelda Link-inspired look. 

And, also in the Zelda vein, I can "Mido it" in the words of one of my sons (Mido is the leader of the Kokiri). 

It could even double as a Christmas tree! Really, the possibilities are endless. I thoroughly enjoyed trying out nalbinding and making this hat. Even if there were some mistakes, that's all part of the process and I only yelled at my yarn a couple of times ;) Nalbinding was a very fun and relaxing experience, and it was a really nice change of pace from knitting or crocheting. I'm pretty excited to try out more nalbinding projects in the future. So, if you're trying to find me in the coming months, chances are I'll be sitting in the air conditioning, covered in yarn as I nalbind to my heart's content. 


  1. Wow i have never heard of this craft! I am definitely trying it. Good for you for diving right in. There is a Fiber Arts festival in my small town in a few weeks that i am excited for. Last year i did buy a used spinning wheel there! I dont spin but i dream about learning day.... maybe this year I will buy some wool to spin! Or ask about nalbinding!

    1. I hope you enjoy your nalbinding experience! It is so much fun, and it's neat to do a craft that's not very well known. That's awesome that you have a Fiber Arts festival where you live! That sounds amazing. I love that kind of stuff (I don't think I've ever been to an actual fiber arts festival, but I once went to an art festival that had a section of fiber artists, and I went to a "Sheep to Shawl" festival a few years back that was a lot of fun). Good luck with your spinning, too! I haven't spun on a wheel before (maybe someday; I think it'd be fun), but sometimes I pick up my drop spindles to play around with. If you are completely new to spinning, it may help you to start with a drop spindle before you move to the wheel (you can usually get drop spindles fairly cheaply, and they are very portable) so that you can get used to working with the wool and the motions. Regardless of going from spindle to wheel or jumping straight into the wheel, I hope it goes well and that it's a delightful adventure :)