How to Make a Bone Needle for Nalbinding

Nalbinding is a looped textile technique that uses a single bone needle and one to three yard pieces of yarn. It’s generally associated with the Vikings and Scandinavian cultures. But it actually dates back much further than that. Surviving examples have been found in the Tarim Basin in China estimated at 3000 years old. And other examples have been found in Egypt, Isreal and Syria. European artifacts are mainly hats, mittens, socks and bags. Middle Eastern examples range from hairnets to garment trim.

The technique uses a large, flat bone needle with an eye big enough to carry a heavy weight yarn. This video set explains how to make the needle with minimal tools. All you need is a saw and a knife. Of course, more modern tools will give you a faster result, and more primitive flint tools will give you a more authentic experience. But regardless of the tools you use, the process is simple. You cut the blank from a rounded corner of bone, shape it, smooth it and finally cut a hole for the eye.

This video is in two parts and shows the whole process start to finish. Enjoy!

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{ 10 comments }

Geirmund June 26, 2010 at 12:03 am

You know, as someone trying to teach, you might want to consider teaching safety as well, like properly anchoring the bone you are cutting in a vise or with clamps and wearing proper protection like gloves so you don’t cut yourself. It doesn’t HAVE to happen if you are safe!

Julie June 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Good point. Safety first!

Cynwyl July 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Personally, I always put the hole in before doing the carving. I find it easier and safer, when there is no rounded off surface.

John K July 4, 2010 at 6:11 am

I guess he doesn’t find much risk in his ancient art. I wonder how the northlanders ever managed to survive without wearing safety glasses? A skilled artist generally knows how to work in such a manner as to deflect chips away from his/her own face. Like the fellow in this video, I too have cut my hands a thousand times. Each time it happened I became a little more careful, until a certain point, at which I decided that the results outweighed the risks. Really, you couldn’t even see any blood. Thanks for the informative video, Mybushcraft.

Frosti G December 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Thank you very much for sharing your skills. I have wanted to try making a nalbinding needle for myself. I am just learning this textile art and thought it would be nice to have my own needle that I made. Could I use antler for the needle instead of bone? I do have power tools available, however I think I will try it without the electricity. Watching your demonstration has given my enough information to make one.
thank you again!

Julie December 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Hi Frosti,
Yes you can make them with antler. It was a readily available material throughout history. Glad you enjoyed the video! Please email us a picture of your completed needle. We’d love to start posting people’s projects.

Cedric December 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Absolutely. Antler makes great needles and is not really harder to work than bone. Red deer would be typical for Europe. This is probably more akin to the North American elk. That said, just about any antler works fine. We’ve also found that it’s not completely necessary to use a drill if you want to go hardcore. A narrow chisel can be worked from opposite sides of the needle to make a hole large enough for use. You’ll want to smooth it afterwards with a round file.

Kitta Freyvithardottir June 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Mybushcraft-

Thank you SO much for making these videos! I bought a nalbinding needle at an SCA event but would love to make one of my own now. I will be sharing this with others I know are interested in nalbinding :)

-Kitta

Cedric June 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

The videos are a compilation of efforts, some ours, some friends who are willing to freely share their knowledge.

Needles can easily be made of wood, bone and antler.

JD March 7, 2012 at 1:46 am

Thank you….Just now found your video. it is excellent showing how things can be made with simple tools. as close as it gets to ancient ways. Looking forward towards more of your videos.

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