Nålebinding (Danish: literally "binding with a needle" or "needle-binding", also naalbinding, nålbinding, nålbindning or naalebinding) is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. Also known in English as "knotless netting," "knotless knitting,"  or "single needle knitting," the technique is distinct from crochet in that it involves passing the full length of the working thread through each loop, unlike crochet where the work is formed only of loops, never involving the free end. It also differs from knitting in that lengths must be pieced together during the process of nålebinding, rather than a continuous strand of yarn that can easily be pulled out. Archaeological specimens of fabric made by nålebinding can be difficult to distinguish from knitted fabric.
Nålebinding is still practiced by women of the Nanti tribe, an indigenous people of the Camisea region of Peru. They use it to make bracelets. Nålebinding also remains popular in the Scandinavian countries as well as in the Balkans.
The oldest known textile fragment of Nålbinding dating from c. 6500 BCE was found in Nehal Hemar cave, Israel. Another made of lime bast fibre, from the Ertebølle period c. 4200 BCE was found in Tybrind Vig, a Mesolithic fishing village in Denmark.
The oldest known samples of single-needle knitted clothing include the color-patterned sandal socks of the Coptic Christians of Egypt (4th century CE), and hats and shawls from the Paracas and Nazca cultures in Peru, dated between 300 BCE and 300 CE.
Historically needles were made out of wood, antler or bone. Contemporary selections also include plastic.
Nålbinding is believed to predate knitting and crochet. Historical samples have often been misidentified as knitting due to how closely they can appear in the finished products if made using the Coptic stitch. Often a textile historian will need to closely follow the path of the yarn itself to identify the item as either knitting or nålbinding. This is possible by knowing the textile structures created by the two crafts and identifying those within the fabric or by looking for a more frequent use of joining of strands.
Nålbinding was used during the Viking-age of 793-1066 ACE in Scandinavia before knitting and crochet were known. This was an effective method for them to use to create sturdy, serviceable garments.
Nålbinding works well with short pieces of yarn. Based on this, scholars believe that the technique may be ancient, as long continuous lengths of yarn are not necessary. The term "nålebinding" was introduced in the 1970s.
A famous piece of nålbinding is the 'Coppergate sock' found during an excavation of the Coppergate area of York. A clear Viking influence in the textiles was found in the finds in this area. This was a wool sock that had been created using a technique never before recorded in England. The sock was slipper-like in style and would have covered the whole foot.
Nålbinding was used in some regions of Northern Europe until the 1950s, when it most likely declined because of the changes in the textile industry and almost disappeared. It later gained renewed interest among many textile historians, archaeologists, craftsmen and reenactors, so that it is today an exotic but well-kept handicraft tradition.
The method creates a stretchy fabric using short lengths of yarn and a single-eyed needle.
The basic technique involves the use of a single flat needle. A loop is formed, and the needle passed through the loop. The thread is pulled through the loop, but the knot is not tightened. Left loose, the yarn forms a new loop. The needle is passed through the new loop, forming a chain. At the end of a row, the work may be turned, and each stitch passed through both its partner loop and a loop in the previous row. The work may be performed in a single direction "in the round", forming circles and tubes for socks and mittens.
The stitches can be made on the thumb or off the thumb.
Similar to other needle arts, when one begins learning nalbinding they must learn to read the patterns. Nålbinding uses pattern codes that describe the action taken to produce the different stitches within the craft. The codes are a combination of 'go Over or Under' and how many times of each. Examples of these codes are: O/UO, UO/UOO, UOO/UUOO, OO/UUO, OOO/UUUO, and OOOOOO/UUUUUUO. U represents 'Under' and O represents 'Over' in the descriptions.
Throughout the different forms of nålbinding, varying in degrees of complexity, up to 1024 variations of stitches can be produced. Using the various stitches, not only can different designs and textures be produced but also various degrees of thickness and elasticity. The artist's finger is often used as the gauge for these stitches.
Often projects will be done using a woolen type of yarn because of the methods used to join the strands together, which is a felting technique. Pure wool is ideal. However, some techniques have been created that make use of yarns that do not felt together for the joins.
In the construction of the 'Coppergate sock', the work began at the toe and worked in circular rows. Looping continued by the passing of the needle through the center of the first row and then brought back through the next to last loop of the current row. A heavy, thick fabric was created with great elasticity. No loose ends were visible and are thought to be joined by splicing or having been stitched into the fabric. Shaping was achieved by adding an extra loop or leaving a lower loop out of the sequence. The heel had been turned back on itself several times to create the heel shaping.
Due to the "pulling through," this technique is well adapted to short lengths of yarn which can be joined together to form a textile.
Nålebinding is repeatedly called more laborious and slower than knitting. This is not necessarily true, especially for the simpler stitches such as the Oslo-, Mammen- and Brodén-stitches. Although each stitch might take slightly longer than a knitted one, nålbinding is often quicker than knitting, because each row's height (in the most common nålbinding-techniques) corresponds to 2-3 rows of knitting. It is also easier on the shoulders, back and hands, and the fabric it produces can be more dense and durable than knitted fabric. It is still used in Peru, in Iran to make socks, and in parts of Scandinavia to make hats, gloves and other items that are very warm. Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism may use nålebinding to produce durable and authentic head covers for use under armor.
Another common mistake is to think of nålbinding as superior to knitting, because it requires more skill. It is very easy to learn and master; given proper instruction, even the more complex techniques are quite possible to learn with comparably little prior knowledge (though some is recommended). It can create different textiles, thin and flexible ones as well as thick and comparably stiff ones, depending on which technique is used. It is equally false to say knitting is superior to nålbinding. They are different; each has advantages and disadvantages.
Nålbinding does not unravel and therefore special finishing borders are not necessary.