Wire Weaving – Not as Simple an Issue as it Seems – Weaving, Nahlbinding, and Knitting

Last time we discussed three basic forms of chains – simple linked chains, loop in loop chains, and wire weaving. The reason that I needed to discuss those things was because we need to start looking objectively at the words we are using to describe a craft. And this time we are supposed to talk about Weaving, Nahlbinding, and Knitting.

Why? Because our ultimate topic is Wire Weaving.

If we enforce the idea of the name of a process being correct, based on the definitions of the words in that name, we need to look at each word separately. The chains that we have looked at all use wire, but the way in which that wire is used is dramatically different.

According to the name of the chain we are supposed to be talking about a type of weaving. Dictionary.com gives this definition of weaving: ” to form or construct something, as fabric, by interlacing threads, yarns, strips, etc. ” OK, I have to admit that my personal definition tends more towards the warp and weft theory of fabric construction, but if we use their definition, we are OK.

As always, being a crafty geek I don’t do just metal work, I also spend a lot of time doing fiber things, and one of those things that I tried was Nahlbinding. Now one of the first things that you will notice about this craft is that no one seems to be able to agree on how the name of the technique should be spelled. Why is that? Because every Scandinavian language has their own word for the technique, and they are each slightly different.

But getting back to the basics of the technique… guess what? The pattern that is used for the classic “Viking Wire Weaving” is the same as the Coptic stitch in Nahlbinding.

I had also been involved for a long time with the study of Nahlbinding vs. Knitting, and the arguments about which came first and where they both originated. So discovering that the Vikings were using the same technique for working in both wire and fiber was not really particularly shocking to me.

Craftspeople in less technologically isolated cultures (the crafts are often done in semi-home workshops, rather than in technology parks and factories) would have been more likely to be exposed to the techniques that were used in crafts other than their own. The Egyptians were using the “Viking Wire Weaving” technique long before there was such a thing as Vikings. And they were also using the technique of Nahlbinding to make socks before there were Vikings. This pair of socks owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum is an excellent example of that. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O107787/pair-of-socks-unknown/

Another unfortunate name for wire weaving is Knit Chain. But at least to Knitters, knitting means something very specific. The graphic below shows the structure of a simple knit piece, a very different structure from Nahlbinding.

Knit structureJust in case you have forgotten, this is the structure of Nahlbinding.

wire weaving

So obviously, Wire Weaving, or Viking Wire Weaving, is NOT a knit chain.

Next time: Wire Weaving and Trichinopoly: Are they the same?

Wire Weaving – Not as Simple an Issue as it Seems – Part 2

So last time I talked about taking a class at Gulf Wars and mentioned that it reorganized my thoughts on Wire Weaving and a couple of other skills. Before we can go any further everyone needs to have a basic knowledge of “Viking” Wire Weaving, Linked Chains, and Loop in Loop.

All three of these techniques use wire. For simple linked chains, the wire is wrapped on a dowel or other mandrel, individual links are cut, and then those links are joined together to form a chain. This diagram shows how a basic chain mail style chain is made.

Making a Simple Chain

Loop in Loop is a variation on the standard chain. It starts the same way, wrapped wire on a dowel, and then the wire is cut to create a link, but then the link is soldered. The link is then formed, and the formed links are woven together. This diagram shows the simplest form of this chain. This chain is very strong because the links are soldered and more than one wire goes through each link connection.

Loop in Loop chainThis type of loop-in-loop forms a very simple linked chain. The actual shapes of the wires can easily be seen. But more complex forms of this chain can create very complex interwoven shapes that actually resemble wire weaving. A considerable number of the modern Balinese silver chains, the ones that almost look like a snake chain, are made this way.

And then there is the “Viking” form of wire weaving that I learned and teach. This chain doesn’t use links, instead the wire is cut into pieces, usually 12 to 18 inches long, and the chain is “sewed” to create the structure of the chain. Here is the basic process, excerpted and abbreviated from my class notes that I use for teaching the Wire Weaving Class.

The first step in making a chain is to create a mandrel to hold the first line of loops. These mandrel loops are then spaced as evenly as possible around the mandrel and held in place with a piece of masking tape or a wire.

wire on mandrelOnce the mandrel is in place, cut a piece of the chain wire about 12-14 inches long and make a hook in the end of the wire that has about a ½ inch “tail”. Hook this “tail” through a loop on the mandrel and cross the tail under the remainder of the piece of wire.

mandrel loop and wireTake the free end of the wire and loop it through the next loop of the mandrel, going over the mandrel wire and then under it and cross the chain wire. Repeat this process until all of the mandrel wire loops have a wire loop in them. Try to make the loops as even as possible, but do not despair – when you draw down a chain through a draw plate the process evens out the chain more than you can possibly believe. Continue this process on the chain wire loops. Important: As the chain increases in length, slide it off of the end of the dowel so that only about an inch and a half, or two inches of the chain remains on the dowel.

wire on wire loopWhen you run out of wire, simply cut another piece about 14 inches long and piece it by adding it in the same way as the first piece. Be careful to tuck any loose ends under the following rows.

wire weavingNow, this brief explanation of how a “Viking Knit Chain” is made should give you some insights into some of the problems that we have with terminology. Can you guess what they are?

Next Time: Weaving, Nahlbinding, and Knitting

Wire Weaving – Not as Simple an Issue as it Seems – Part 1

Knit Chain has been a form that I’ve loved for 16 years. A recent class unexpectedly expanded my understanding of this technique and changed my view of some other skills, too.

Sometimes when I go to an event I wind up taking a class on a lark. Something I hadn’t planned to take. Something that just sparked a moment of curiosity. And sometimes that class can turn out to be an entirely new thing for me – a new area of study and experimentation.

Well, that happened this year for me at Gulf Wars. I was reading through the class list, and there it was – a class on Anglo Saxon Style Knit Chain.


I have been making and teaching Knit Chains, often incorrectly called Viking Wire Weaving, for about 16 years. I took a class at the Pennsic War and took my skills home with me to the West Kingdom. Many dozens of people now do this craft as a direct result of my classes – and some of my original students have gone on to perfect and teach this skill. I’ve helped dozens of others figure out how to finish or improve their pieces, so I am VERY familiar with the technique.

Since “Viking wire weaving” fascinates me, I’ve also done a considerable amount of research on the technique. I’m always looking for evidence of how these early skills were actually performed – tools, and artifacts.

Some researchers and academic papers told me that the technical name for the technique was Trichinopoly – an unfortunate term that was applied by a British Gentleman back in the late 1800’s – but more about that later. I wondered how long the technique had been used. So I started looking for other artifacts that could be credited to specific cultures and dated. Real artifacts pushed the use of the technique back to 400 BC in Turkey – waaay before the Vikings. It was surprised to find knit chains there. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Scandinavian thing? But I kept watching for more pieces, and one day I randomly happened upon a traveling exhibit of the female Pharaoh Hapshepsut ( 1479-1458 BC) from Egypt. I was wandering through, and there was a gold necklace made with this technique.

It was now very clear to me that this technique had nothing to do with the Vikings. They may have used it, but they did not appear to have invented it. In fact when I initially went to look for Viking pieces that used the technique, I couldn’t find any. I eventually did start to find them, first in Ireland and Scotland, and then in other areas, but it was really NOT that common. In the long run I discovered that the lack of consistent terminology that was used for the technique was one of the things that made it so hard to locate true knit chains. Most museums just lump the technique in with all of the other “chains”. The only way to actually tell if a piece is wire weaving is to find a good up close picture and actually figure out the pattern of the wire in the chain. Not an easy task.

Now to the individual who is used to standard chains made from links, it may seem silly that identifying something that was woven from something that was just “joined together” would be difficult, but if you understand the actual structural forms of wire weaving, and chain making, it will become obvious.

Next time: Viking Wire Weaving, Linked Chains, and Loop in Loop