Monday, 31 January 2011

Looking for Nailbinding – the Roman way

I am so happy to introduce this guest post written by Evelyn Arnott who is a volunteer and occasional member of the Education Team at the Roman Palace, Fishbourne, West Sussex where she demonstrates Spinning & Weaving to Children and visitors of all ages. I met Evelyn when she came to the Hampshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to talk about Roman nalbinding and I managed to convince her to write up her story for Historic Crafts. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Guest post by Evelyn Arnott

Who mentioned, did the Romans knit ? I ask -well actually I did.
One day as I was drop spindling and walking around, the thought occurred to me that surely people as clever as the Romans would make the most use of any yarn produced, and wondered if they did knitting along with spinning & weaving. Bearing this thought in mind, I asked the then Director David Rudkin “Did the Romans knit ?” to which he replied – “I don’t know, research it !!” I thought oh help! I hadn’t carried out any research since my student days but undaunted I started at the beginning.

Front of Vindolanda Tablet 346 (© Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents and The British Museum)

I found out that ancient Egyptian socks had been excavated from tombs and their construction was of Nailbinding linen. An excavated child's sock from the Roman period had been made by Nailbinding. My research continued and I ploughed my way through numerous books, I read translations of Plinny – not a lot regarding knitting to be found there.
Then I read about the letters to the Roman Soldiers at Hadrians Wall mentioning 'pairs of socks from Sattua' (Vindolanda Tablet 346).
I also studied the method of making Sprang (from Peter Collingwoods Book: [amazon ASIN="0823052206"]The Techniques of Sprang[/amazon]) but as this word was Scandinavian in origin, I dismissed it as it was from a later period in time. During the following two years, I read numerous books mainly regarding the bog burials in Scandinavia and looked at various photographs of nailbinding hats. Archaeology tells us that textiles do not survive well in chalk soil and the pieces which have been excavated were found in peat/bog/marshy soil.
During my research I also contacted Museums in Italy and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It was their textile department which finally confirmed my research that at 45AD in Romano-British life Nailbinding would have been the form of knitting used.

I could have stopped there but my curiosity as to how Roman Nailbinding would have been crafted still nagged at me. I asked my Swedish friend Christina if she could show me how she worked Nailbinding, which she did and I was able to ascertain that the stitch that the Romans would have used would have been the basic stitch and that is what I now demonstrate.

Through the ages Nailbinding has had many names including “Needle Looping, Needle Binding and Knotless Netting/Knitting”. I too have added a few names of my own (which I will keep to myself!) as I struggled to learn the the intricacies of the stitches. There are as far as I can tell over 80 known Nailbinding stitches to learn.

The images in this post are listed with their copyright holder. If you wish to use the images please request permission from them.

1 comment:

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