I’ve been learning nålbinding. (Other spellings are available.)
Not familiar with the technique? You’re not alone. It’s what people did at ‘Stitch-And-Bitch’ nights thousands of years ago, before they got round to inventing knitting and crochet. (And it’s still practiced today in some regions, in addition to enjoying a revival amongst historical re-enactment folk.)
But I’ll save the history and possibilities of nålbinding for another post. It’s been a while since I learned a new yarn-craft, and doing so got me thinking about the process of getting your head round a fresh technique.
It’s all about literacy. And the challenge of learning any new yarn-craft is that you have to learn to ‘write’ (stitches) before you’re very good at ‘reading’ (stitches).
As a beginner, you’re told where to put your yarn/hook/needle/whatever, but at this stage you haven’t yet even learned to ‘read’ the ‘words’ (stitches) of the fabric that you’re creating. In my opinion, that’s what makes it difficult. Not that there’s any way of circumventing this learning-to-read, just as my children (the twinnage) took their time learning to read words.
Slowly, slowly, one learns to interpret the meaning of that loop of yarn at the front of your work, and that makes the process of the craft so much easier. But you can only really understand the role of that loop of yarn once you have seen its siblings over and over and over again in different contexts. Your brain finally catches up and realizes, Yes, I know what that means. I’ve seen it before. That means I’ve – delete as appropriate – created a purl bump, dropped a knit stitch, made a double crochet, etc. At that point, the craft in question suddenly becomes considerably easier. You can put the instructions away and focus on your work.
It’s just the same as when the twinnage learned to read. They learned to recognize the letter ‘a’, for example. But what turned them into proper, skilled, readers was learning to encounter an ‘a’ in different fonts/words/contexts. And of course it was the fluency in reading that massively enabled the fluency in writing.
Just showing them a nice neat ‘a’ on a flashcard wasn’t enough, on its own. They needed to get used to all sorts of iterations of this oddball symbol in all sorts of circumstances. In the same way, diagrams of knit/crochet/nålbinding stitches alone, whilst useful, are rarely sufficient for the new knitter/hooker/nålbinder to really read and understand their work. And writing is r-e-a-l-l-y tricky until you’re fluent in reading.
Yet here you are at the beginning of your yarny journey, trying to write complex words that include the letter ‘a’ when you’ve not even yet become a fluent reader. Is that an ‘a’? Did I write it OK? Why does it look wrong? Should there really be three dots above it and a long tail?
So I’ve been practising this fascinating old craft for hours and hours and slowly, I’m learning to read. And the more I can read, the more I’m enjoying nålbinding.