Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Åsle Tå Mitten Bibliography

Bibliography – Sources Cited

Arbman, Holger; "Åslevanten: I. Äldre Handbeklädnad" in Nordiska Museets och Skansens Årsbok, Fataburen; 1934; pages 67-72.

Briansdotter, Sigrid; Nålbinding: The Åsle Mitten Stitch: An Instruction Manual: U (U) O/U O:U OO F1+1; © Anne Marie Decker; Tangle Fairies, Snohomish WA, 2000. 

Hald, Margrethe; Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs And Burials: A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles; Publications of The National Museum of Denmark; Archaeological Historical Series XXI; Translated by Jean Olsen; Fyens Stiftsbogtrykkeri, Copenhagen, 1980; pgs. 277-312.

Hansen, Egon H.  "Nålebinding: definition and description" in Textiles in Northern Archaeology, Textile Symposium in York, North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles Monograph 3, NESAT III; London Archetype Publications, 1990; pages 21-27.

Finch, Karen. English Summary of Asle Vanten Description and Pattern by Lundwall, Eva & Nockert, Margareta; Riksantikvarieambetets Tekstilsektion; Stockholm, 1982.

Nockert, Margareta & Possnert, Goran; Att Datera Textilier; Gidlunds Forlag, 2002; pages 65-67, 109-112.

Strömberg, Elisabeth; "Åslevanten: II. Åslevantens Teknik" in Nordiska Museets och Skansens Årsbok, Fataburen; 1934; pages 73-82.

Claesson, Lars-Åke.  “The Åsle Mitten.” Date Accessed: 10/14/2105. http://asleta.se/en/kategori/19/asle-mitten.html
        Website for the Åsle Tå Upplevelsemuseum.  Photo of Mr. Svennson from this website.

Claesson, Lars-Åke.  “What is a Tå?” Date Accessed: 10/14/2105. http://asleta.se/en/kategori/13/What-is-a-quottaquot.html
        Website for the Åsle Tå Upplevelsemuseum.  Definition of a Tå community.

Franzen, Mari-Louise.  “Det bidde en tummetot.”  Date Accessed:  10/20/2015 http://historiska.se/upptack-historien/artikeldet-bidde-en-tummetott.html

Article on the Åsle mitten from the Website for the Historiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden where it is currently housed.  Photo on cover of documentation from this website.

Fulling and Fringing

To Full (Felt) or Not to Full (Felt)

Once the mitten was completed with the exception of the fringe I had to look at whether or not to full it. Where there have been several naalbinded items found that show the fibers either matted or felted together this is not the case with the Åsle mitten. In looking at the photos provided by Holger Arbman and Elisabeth Stromberg (shown below) I determined that this mitten was not fulled after construction. The photos clearly show the stitches in the construction of the mitten. Also, Ms. Strömberg ponders the original makers decision not the full (felt) the item. (Strömberg, 81)

The Fringe

The fringe is described as having been attached 3 to 4 stands together in a running stitch with the loops puled to the outside. There are no knots holding them on. A photograph from Elisabeth Strömberg’s article in Fataburen (1934) definitely shows a running type stitch on the inside of the cuff. A diagram in the summary by Karen Finch on an article by Lundwall and Nockert clearly shows the outside stitches being pulled and lengthened for a fringe.

Figure 2. Photo from Åselvanten Technique by Elisabeth Strömberg, page 81

Figure 3. Enlarged section of photo from Åslevanten I by Holger Arbman and Elisabeth Strömberg, page 69.

Figure 4. Diagram from Summary by Karen Finch showing technique for sewing in fringe, page 3.

Due to time constraints I have not had the opportunity to spin the yarn or to order the natural dye materials to dye them with for the fringe. I, therefore, opted to use wool thread by Renaissance Dyeing as they use natural dyes for their threads. These threads were gifted to me some time ago so I already had them on hand. I used colors in natural, madder red, and green created by dyeing with weld and then overdyeing with woad.

I threaded my wooden needle with a strand of each color of the threads being used to create the fringe in preparation for following the steps as illustrated by the diagram. Starting on the outside edge of the cuff I took one running stitch the width of one naalbinding stitch and brought the needle back to the outside of the cuff. Laying my thumb on the cuff against the thread as it comes out of the fabric I put the needle back into the fabric to create the next running stitch. I used my thumb as the gage for the size of the loop creating the fringe. My theory for the gage size is that you are already using your thumb for the stitch gage in the mitten itself so it is already available to be used again for the fringe gage.

By repeating the above steps I created the fringe completely around the cuff of each mitten. (See Appendix B for steps with photographs - to be posted later)


This technique takes much longer than knitting; however, it creates a nice thick fabric perfect for cold weather garments. In future attempts I would like to spin the yarn for the fringe and attempt to use natural dyes to obtain the colors.

The Mitten Pattern

PATTERN (See Appendix A for process steps with photographs - I will post this later with photos)
Make a starting chain (caterpillar) of four stitches
Round 1:  Attach the next stitch to the side of the chain with an F1+1 connection.  Make a new stitch in the same connector.  Continue to the end of the chain making connections and make a new stitch in the last stitch.  Continue around the end of the caterpillar chain repeating the new stitches in the same positions on the other side.  (4 new stitches)
Rounds 2-9:  Repeat the process as in Round 1 until cap is 44 stitches around.
Round 10:  Stitch around with no additional increases.
Rounds 11-27:  Repeat round 10.  (Make to the length from fingertip to thumb)
Round 28:  Place mitten cap on fingers to determine placement for thumb hole.  Using two stitch markers indicate width and placement.  Start stitching across row until first marker reached.  By chaining without attaching to the previous row add the same number of stitches as the width needed for the thumb hole.  (Additional stitches may be needed in addition to the number skipped on the previous row.) Reattach the chain on the next previous row stitch after the second marker.  Continue to the end of the round making sure to connect each stitch.
Round 29: Stitch to the end of the round making sure to connect each one to the previous round.
Rounds 30-36:  Repeat round 26.  (Until length reaches about an inch below the palm of the hand)
Round 37:  As in rounds 1-9 increase 2 stitches on each end of the round.  (Increase by 4 stitches)
Round 38:  Stitch to the end of the round making sure to connect each stitch to the previous row.
Rounds 39-52:  Repeat rounds 34 and 35 until total length of cuff is reached.
Tighten the last stitch and weave the working end of the yarn into the body of the mitten.
Thumb insertion:
Round 1:  Starting in the middle of the upper portion of the hole, make a stitch making sure to connect to the previous round.  Continue to corner of the hole connecting stitches.  At the corner make additional stitches as needed to make sure there will not be a hole where the thumb connects to the mitten.  Continue on to the other side of the hole again taking additional stitches at the second corner.  From here continue to the starting point of the round.
Round 2:  Stitch to the end of the round making sure to connect each stitch to the previous row.
Rounds 3-11:  Repeat round 2 until thumb cap is even with top of thumb.
Round 12:  Decrease to half the number of stitches in the round by skipping every other connecting stitch in the previous round.
        Insert the needle into each loop of the previous round and cinch it tight to close it off.  Weave the end of the working yarn into the body of the thumb.

        Turn the mitten inside out to place the working side in. The open spaces between the stitches on the working side allow for an insulated effect.  The wrong side has a slightly better grip and is useful for working. 

A discussion on construction of the mitten

The Mitten
        I used a natural colored coarse wool from Mora, a small village near Dalarna Sweden, which was machine spun in an S-spin (left or counter-clockwise) direction and Z-plied (right or clockwise direction). It measures 2-3mm in diameter. I chose to use a machine spun wool over hand-spun as I did not have enough time to spin the amount of yardage needed to make a pair of mittens.  Due to time constraints I also opted to use a smaller hand dyed thread in the colors called for to add the fringe to this set of mittens.
        I was gifted with a lovely bone needle measuring 6cm long with which I constructed the mittens.  I also used a smaller wooden needle to weave the loose ends into the fabric when the mittens were completed and to attach the fringe.
        I used the Åsle naalbinding stitch to build the mittens.  The original find is a single left-handed mitten; however, I created a complete pair as it is my hope to wear them after presenting them.  My mittens measure 11 cm wide just below the thumb and 17.5 cm wide at the base of the cuff.  They each measure 27” in total length.
        I chose to start the mittens from the tip based on a theory by Anne Marie Decker (Mistress Sigrid Briansdottir) in which she states due to examination of photos and trial pieces she believes that the mitten was started at the tip.&  I also made some trial pieces and agree with her assessment. (Briansdottir 5)

        As this technique uses short pieces of yarn, periodically you will need to attach additional yarn.  There are several techniques for doing so.  A banner from Mammen (Hald 299) shows knots where additional yarn was added; however, in garments this might not be feasible.  Another join called a “Russian join” splices the yarns together by sewing them into each other.  Yet another join called splicing involves fraying the ends of each of the yarns to be joined and then spinning them together.  As of yet there has been no determination as to which method was used in the mitten as the joins are not visible so I chose to use a felted join wherein you lay the ends together overlapping each other, moisten them, and then rub them together to create enough friction to felt them together.  In this way I have been able to create joins that are “nearly” invisible.

A Really Brief Introduction on Naalbinding

Extant finds of naalbinded items have shown materials such as silk, linen, and wool being used to create these items.  A pair of stockings dating to the 12th century from Delsberg (Delemont), Switzerland are constructed from linen. (Hald 309)  The Staatlisches Museum in Berlin houses a cap from the 9th-10th century made from silk. (Hald 310)  There is also a set of pennants from a Mammen grave find made from gold thread. (Hald 299)
        The material used in the Åsle mitten was a 2-ply coarse wool, S-spun (left or counter-clockwise) and Z-plied (right or clockwise).  The direction of the spinning is important in that the yarn tends to unspin itself during the naalbinding process when it is a Z-spun thread. The yarn was 2-4mm in diameter and was undyed.  The current coloring as seen comes from the bog water. (Hald 302)
        On the cuff was a simple striped fringe of red (obtained from madder), green, and undyed natural wool.  The red yarn was a softer, shinier yarn in a single-ply and S-Spin. It measures 2mm in diameter.  The green is also a softer, shinier yarn but in a 2-ply measuring 2-4mm. It is also S-spun and Z-plied like the yarn from the body of the mitten.  The fringe is applied in 3 to 4 strands at a time using a simple running stitch with the loops pulled to the outside.(Strömberg 80)
        The extant mitten was created using a technique most commonly called naalbindning.  Other names for this technique include schlingentecknika (german), neulaskinnatecknika (Finnish), Vantsöm (Swedish), and “knotless-netting” (English).  Naalbindning is a technique that uses a large “sewing” needle and short lengths of yarn to create interconnected loops which in turn make small fabric items such as hats and caps, mittens, socks, shawls, and milk strainers.  The needles used for making these items were typically made of wood, bone, and antler.
        The technique dates back prior to knitting and crochet.  Some of the oldest known pieces date back as far as 6500. (Briansdottir 3)  Historic samples are often mistaken for knitting.
        There are literally hundreds of variants of naalbinding “stitches”.  There are several different classification systems in use for naming stitches.  Each have a different name or classification category based on where the items made using the stitch were found or the number of threads or loops other loops cross.    Margrethe Hald introduced a classification system based on the number of loops newer loops pass through. (Hald 285)  Type 1 describes passing through one loop where Type 2 describes passing through 2 loops and so on.  Odd Nordlund created a classification system that describes a thread loop as a circle and the new loops pass through “quadrants” of that circle.  This classification system was quickly rejected. (Hansen 21)

        In his article presented to the NESAT conference in 1990 Egon Hanson describes a classification system based on whether a new loop passes over or under a previous loop in addition to where it attaches to the previous row. (Hansen 23)  This is one of the most widely used systems for describing stitches.  For example, the Åsle stitch would be described as U (U) O/U O:U OO F1+1.  Each U corresponds to going under a loop thread where an O corresponds to a pass over a loop thread.  The F1+1 is the indicator as to where to connect to the previous row.  “F” indicates that the connecting stitch will go through the front of the stitch on the previous row where the number “1” indicates that it will only go through one stitch.  The “+1” directs you to drop down another row and pass through a stitch on that row before making the F1 connection.

A Mitten is Found

In 1918, Frithiof Svennson, a farmer from the Åsle Tå community near Falkoping, Sweden, was digging for peat moss in the Åsle Mose (bog) when about half a meter down he came across an incredible find. (Arbman, 67) He found what he believed to be a very old mitten.  He took it home and stored it in a drawer only to be taken out when visitors came by to see it.  In 1933 the Riksantikvarien, the National Heritage Board of Sweden, purchased the item for 300 kronor (approximately $50 US).  It was then given to the Statens Historiska Museet, the State History Museum, where it has since been housed. (Franzen)
Figure 1.  Photo from Asle Tå Upplevelsemuseum website (http://www.asleta.se/en/kategori/19/asle-mitten.html)
        The mitten found is a left-handed mitten made from handspun wool in naalbinding technique.  It measures 27 CM long and at its widest point is 17.5 cm (at the cuff).  At the wrist its width measures 11.5 cm, while below the thumb it is 11 cm, and above the thumb it is 9.5 cm. (Briansdottir 5)
        Originally the mitten was thought to have dated to between 300 and 400 AD based on analysis of the pollen found on the mitten and in the surrounding dirt.  Comparative analysis of a fire starting stone found in the bog earlier also seemed to confirm this. (Arbman 68)
        In the 1990’s several items were chosen from the exhibits at the Statens Historiska Museet for dating using the newer Carbon 14 dating technique. (Nockert 109)  Among those items was the Åsle mitten.  Of the items tested the mitten was the only item that had a differing set of results from the original pollen analysis.  The analysis showed that the mitten was from somewhere between 1510 and 1640, about 1000 years later than originally thought. (Nockert 67)
        The location of the mitten might provide some information as to the type of person that could have used it.  Tå communities were once inhabited mainly by the landless poor and elderly. (Claesson, Asleta.se)  This would indicate that those inhabiting the community also farmed and performed manual labor.  The mitten therefore might have belonged to a laborer or elder rather than an upper or middle class citizen. 
        Another clue is the type of wool used.  The wool is described as coarse wool.  This would not be wool used by upper or middle class but rather by poorer people.  During the evaluation of the mitten it was determined that it was made and then turned inside out as the interior surface had a gripping quality. The fact that the mitten is turned “inside out” once finished to place the gripping side out might also suggest a laborer.
        The smaller size of the mitten also indicates that it was possibly for a man with small hands, a woman, or an older child.

A 16th Century Naalbinded mitten

As many of you know I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  We research and recreate items and activities from pre-seventeenth century history.  One of my favorite things to do is naalbinding, something I learned to do about 14 or so years ago after joining the S.C.A.

For several years I participated in Arts and Sciences, whereby you researched a project, wrote a set of documentation for it, basically a paper, and recreated whatever the object was that you were researching.  I stopped that, and teaching, due to health issues a few years ago.  This past year I decided it was time to jump back into the fray.  I decided to pick a project that used the naalbinding technique.

I chose to do my project on the Åsle mitten.  This was a mitten found in a bog near the Åsle Tå community near Falkoping, Sweden.  It was originally thought to have been from the 3rd to 4th C A.D.  Later testing proved it to be from the 16th C.  

In the next series of posts I am going to share my documentation and  steps to recreating this mitten.

Stay tuned.