One of my favorite Viking textile crafts is nålebinding (Danish: literally “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”, also naalbinding, nålbinding, nålbindning or naalebinding).
This is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. It’s also known in English as “knotless netting,” “knotless knitting,” or “single needle knitting.”
Vikings and Anglo-Saxons used nålebinding to make hats, socks, gloves and mittens. People would use different stitches to create varied textile patterns and thickness. Whilst over 30 different nalbinding stitches exist today, the evidence from grave sites suggest the Vikings only used three stitch types.
Hanna Van Aelst is highly skilled at basketry. She is a talented artist and basket-maker. Her YouTube channel is enthralling to me, as a craftsteader. Hanna grows her own willow at her country property in Tipperary, Ireland. She lives with her family, “off-grid in the forest on a mountain” and her website can be found here.
Hanna’s videos include information about how to grow willow, harvest it, grade it, and prepare it for basketry, as well as some basic basketry tutorials. Sometimes she makes videos about her many other interests, or philosophical musings. I love every one of her videos and always look forward to new ones.
Below is a selection of two of Hanna’s videos that fellow craftsteaders will enjoy.
Basketmaking for beginners: the base
Catalan tray made from foraged materials (tension tray, easy weaving project).
Vikings. Why do we love them? Some historians think it’s because Viking men are usually portrayed as strong, macho, and powerful. Or perhaps it’s because we admire their seafaring prowess, their cool costumes and their mythology.
I originally included a Viking and Anglo-Saxon section in my online store after I learned about the intriguing knitting and weaving techniques of the Vikings. Vikings were more than just raiders and pillagers – they were craftspeople and makers, too. I didn’t expect that this category in my shop would prove to be one of the most popular! Customers love the clothing and the jewelry.
Viking runes and Norse knotwork inspire beautiful jewelry designs. And of course the Vikings never used zippers or Velcro, so their garments were usually fastened with pins or brooches. Vikings were skilled metalworkers.
HINT: Type the word “Viking” into the search box above, and you’ll find a lot of Viking treasures!
Grandpa Amu’s YouTube channel has 1.42 million subscribers at the time I’m writing this post. No wonder it’s so popular, because Grandpa Amu is a genius at making things, and what’s more, he makes them with old-fashioned hand tools. His skill and patience are extraordinary. He’s a master carpenter. Most of his videos are about handicrafts and delicious food. His channel is informative and inspiring, and it’s relaxing to watch him work.
Cheryl Heng reported in the South China Morning Post on 29 Sep, 2020: “Grandpa’s an internet star: Chinese carpenter’s traditional woodworking skills wow millions online, but he says ‘I’m just an ordinary farmer’. “Wang Dewen, known on the internet as Grandpa Amu, creates works of art without glue, screws or nails – all filmed by his son who uploads the process online “Wang’s viral fame has brought improvements to his home village, and the local government has built a ‘Grandpa Amu’ attraction to bring in tourists. “His woodworking videos – showing him building everything from furniture to bridges and lanterns using traditional methods – have become on online sensation, earning him more than 2.8 million fans on the Chinese short video app Xigua Video. His fame has translated internationally too, garnering over 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube.”
Here are some examples of his videos. First, “Grandpa Amu uses bamboo roots to make tea cans, small bamboo baskets, pen holders and bamboo horns”.
And here’s an example of Grandpa Amu’s woodworking skills: “The principle of Luban lock to create tables and stools, detachable assembly, easy to carry.”
This post focuses on naturally occurring plant resins, and not on the man-made types. In polymer chemistry and materials science, resin is a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin that is typically convertible into polymers. Resins are usually mixtures of organic compounds.
Some resins are petroleum- or insect-derived. Shellac is an example of an insect-derived resin. Asphaltite and Utah resin are petroleum bitumens.
From Wikipedia: Plants secrete resins for their protective benefits in response to injury. The resin protects the plant from insects and pathogens. Resins confound a wide range of herbivores, insects, and pathogens, while the volatile phenolic compounds may attract benefactors such as parasitoids or predators of the herbivores that attack the plant.
Other liquid compounds found inside plants or exuded by plants, such as sap, latex, or mucilage, are sometimes confused with resin but are not the same.
Plant resins are valued for the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents. They are also prized as raw materials for the synthesis of other organic compounds and provide constituents of incense and perfume. The oldest known use of plant resin comes from the late Middle Stone Age in Southern Africa where it was used as an adhesive for hafting stone tools.
The hard transparent resins, such as the copals, dammars, mastic, and sandarac, are principally used for varnishes and adhesives, while the softer odoriferous oleo-resins (frankincense, elemi, turpentine, copaiba), and gum resins containing essential oils (ammoniacum, asafoetida, gamboge, myrrh, and scammony) are more used for therapeutic purposes, food and incense. The resin of the Aleppo Pine is used to flavour retsina, a Greek resinated wine.
Several natural resins are used as ingredients in perfumes, e.g., balsams of Peru and tolu, elemi, styrax, and certain turpentines.
Examples of plant resins include:
Balm of Gilead,
copal from trees of Protium copal and Hymenaea courbaril,
dammar gum from trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae,
dragon’s blood from the dragon trees (Dracaena species),
frankincense from Boswellia sacra,
galbanum from Ferula gummosa,
gum guaiacum from the lignum vitae trees of the genus Guaiacum,
kauri gum from trees of Agathis australis,
hashish (Cannabis resin) from Cannabis indica,
labdanum from mediterranean species of Cistus,
mastic (plant resin) from the mastic tree Pistacia lentiscus,
myrrh from shrubs of Commiphora,
sandarac resin from Tetraclinis articulata, the national tree of Malta,
styrax (a Benzoin resin from various Styrax species)
spinifex resin from Australian grasses.
Amber is fossil resin (also called resinite) from coniferous and other tree species. Copal, kauri gum, dammar and other resins may also be found as subfossil deposits.
Rosin is a solidified resin from which the volatile terpenes have been removed by distillation. Typical rosin is a transparent or translucent mass, with a vitreous fracture and a faintly yellow or brown colour, non-odorous or having only a slight turpentine odour and taste. Rosin is insoluble in water, mostly soluble in alcohol, essential oils, ether, and hot fatty oils. It softens and melts when heated and burns with a bright but smoky flame.
Rosin is obtained from pines and some other plants, mostly conifers. Plant resins are generally produced as stem secretions, but in some Central and South American species of Dalechampia and Clusia they are produced as pollination rewards, and used by some stingless bee species in nest construction.
History and etymology
Human use of plant resins has a very long history that was documented in ancient Greece by Theophrastus, in ancient Rome by Pliny the Elder, and especially in the resins known as frankincense and myrrh, prized in ancient Egypt. These were highly prized substances, and required as incense in some religious rites.
The word resin comes from French resine, from Latin resina “resin”, which either derives from or is a cognate of the Greek ῥητίνη rhētínē “resin of the pine”, of unknown earlier origin, though probably non-Indo-European.
The word “resin” has been applied in the modern world to nearly any component of a liquid that will set into a hard lacquer or enamel-like finish. An example is nail polish. Certain “casting resins” and synthetic resins (such as epoxy resin) have also been given the name “resin”.
It was here that I found out about – among many other amazing things – the existence of Vegetable Ivory. It’s the perfect substitute for the animal-derived ivory. Human greed for animal ivory has caused untold suffering to the world’s beautiful, vulnerable elephants.
But ivory grows on ivory-nut palm trees, too.
About Ivory from Ivory-palm Trees
As WP Armstrong writes,”. . . ivory-nuts contain a substance . . . that becomes so hard and dense that it can be carved and polished like elephant tusks. . . . Called “vegetable ivory,” the endosperm is used for buttons, chess pieces, dice, umbrella handles, billiard balls, and for intricate carvings in the art of scrimshaw, without endangering whales, elephants and walruses. Like wood, vegetable ivory is essentially composed of thick-walled dead cells; however, unlike grainy hardwoods it has a texture and hardness similar to ivory. In fact, vegetable ivory is remarkably dense, with a rating of roughly 2.5 on the scale of mineral hardness.”
I’m happy to announce that we are now offering real Vegetable Ivory, tagua nuts, for sale at the Craftsteading Store. Choose between carved or raw form for you to carve or decorate as you wish.
Meanwhile, here are WP Armstrong’s words about Vegetable Ivory. The copyright belongs entirely to him. I’ve reproduced it here to save it, if ever his marvellous website disappears.
“What do African elephants and the South American rain forest have in common? They are both being eliminated from the face of the earth at an alarming rate. During the past three decades, poachers in search of ivory tusks have decimated large populations of African elephants, some by as much as 50 percent. Bans on international trade of elephant ivory have discouraged the slaughter of elephants, but the demand for polished ivory has pushed the world’s largest living land animal to the brink of extinction.
“Across the Atlantic Ocean, in a land that was once connected to the African continent, another kind of massacre is happening to the rain forest. In Central and South America this destruction amounts to about 50 acres per minute, an area roughly the size of West Virginia each year. Slash and burn agriculture is directly responsible for the extermination of hundreds of plant and animal species each year, largely for plantations of exportable products such as fast-growing pines, rubber, bananas, coffee and cattle.
“However, there is a glimmer of hope in this modern day battlefield of people against nature: A lovely Amazonian palm might help to save its rain forest relatives and the African elephant.
South American Vegetable Ivory
Several tropical American palms are known to produce vegetable ivory, but one of the most important is Phytelephas aequatorialis, also known as the ivory-nut palm. The generic name Phytelephas literally means “elephant plant.” It is derived from the Greek words phyton (plant) and elephas (elephant). The specific epithet aequatorialis refers to the equatorial region where this palm is native.
Another name used by some authors is P. macrocarpa, in which the specific epithet macrocarpa refers to the large fruits bearing ivorylike nuts. Ivory-nut palms have an extensive distribution along banks of tropical American rivers, from Panama and Colombia to Peru. They are most abundant in the Amazon Basin of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
“One of the best places to see the beautiful South American ivory-nut palm (Phytelephas aequatorialis), is the Napo River of Ecuador, a major tributary of the Amazon. It typically grows under large rain forest trees along streams and on wet hillsides. . . . Female palms bear clusters of large, brown fruits, the size of grapefruits or melons. Each fruit is studded with numerous woody, pointed horns and contains four or more large seeds.
“The seeds have an outer shell (seed coat) and a large white endosperm. Called “taguas” by local Indians of the Napo River, the endosperm of immature seeds is pulpy and sweet–food for people and animals of the region. Mature, dry seeds are so hard that it requires a hacksaw to cut one in half.
“Although the heavy seeds typically sink in water, some become buoyant due to internal cavities from endosperm decay. These buoyant seeds are washed downstream by torrential rains, eventually ending up in the Atlantic Ocean where they may drift to Caribbean Islands and beaches of the southeastern United States.
“The white, dried endosperm inside the seeds of ivory-nut palms contains a substance called hemicellulose that becomes so hard and dense that it can be carved and polished like elephant tusks. [The white “meat” inside coconuts and the exploded morsels of popcorn are also endosperm tissue.] A small cylindrical cavity near the outer edge of each ivory-nut was once occupied by the miniature palm embryo. This cavity can sometimes be found in carved objects.
“Called “vegetable ivory,” the endosperm is used for buttons, chess pieces, dice, umbrella handles, billiard balls, and for intricate carvings in the art of scrimshaw, without endangering whales, elephants and walruses. Like wood, vegetable ivory is essentially composed of thick-walled dead cells; however, unlike grainy hardwoods it has a texture and hardness similar to ivory. In fact, vegetable ivory is remarkably dense, with a rating of roughly 2.5 on the scale of mineral hardness. [Compare this rating with 3.5 for a copper penny and 10 for diamond.] Ivory-nuts can be polished in a stone tumbler, as you would polish agates and quartz, or by using tin oxide and a buffing wheel.
“Like elephant ivory, the seeds can be fashioned into all sorts of beautiful objects, from chess pieces, buttons and pendants to knife handles and belt buckles with intricate scrimshaw designs. The workability, density and fine-grained texture is also similar to true ivory.
A valuable cargo
Ivory-nuts have been exported from South America for more than a hundred years. In fact, near the turn of the century Colombia and Ecuador were exporting nearly 40,000 tons of the precious nuts to the United States and Europe. According to an article in International Wildlife (1991) by Anne Underwood, a ship sailing from South America to Germany in 1865 carried a load of tagua nuts as ballast. Upon arriving at dockside in Hamburg, curious stevedores began playing with the taguas and noticed their ivorylike characteristics. For many years the buttons on uniforms worn by U.S. soldiers came from ivory-nuts. Like so many natural dyes and textile fibers, vegetable ivory has been replaced by less expensive synthetics. By l950, the discovery of new plastic polymers put an end to the demand for tagua nuts.
But what about the demand for elephant ivory? Vegetable ivory is a very desirable substitute. Like elephant ivory, it is completely natural and it comes from a marvelous wild creature. Unlike elephants which must die for their precious ivory, tagua palms are a renewable resource; as long as their native habitat is preserved and sufficient seeds are left to perpetuate the palms. A single female tagua palm may produce up to 50 pounds of nuts in a year, that’s roughly the amount of ivory in an average African elephant tusk. The elephant, however, yields its ivory only once while the palm produces nuts year after year.
Other Vegetable Ivory Palms
There are several other palm species from distant rain forests with large, extremely hard seeds that are also used for vegetable ivory. The Caroline ivory-nut palm (Metroxylon amicorum) is native to the Caroline Islands of Micronesia. The unusual one-seeded fruits are covered with numerous shiny brown scales and superficially resemble a closed pine cone.
Another source of vegetable ivory is Hyphaene ventricosa, a beautiful African palm native to islands and banks of the Zambezi River in the vicinity of Victoria Falls. Although the seeds are smaller than the Caroline ivory-nut palm, the bony endosperm is just as hard. The fruits of Hyphaene palms contain a sweet, juicy outer pulp that tastes like gingerbread and is the source of the name, gingerbread palms. Unlike most other palms, they have an unusual branching growth habit resulting in forked trunks.
Fruits and seeds from two distant species of vegetable ivory palms: Metroxylon amicorum from the Caroline Islands of Micronesia (A) and Hyphaene ventricosa from the Zambezi River of Africa (B). The seeds are so hard that it takes a hacksaw blade to cut them in half.
Note: A closely related species of Metroxylon called the natangura palm (M. warburgii) is native to Vanuatu & the Solomon Islands.
Most consumers of ivory would probably buy jewelry and carved articles made from vegetable ivory. If their greed for ivory is based on its rarity and exotic origin, then vegetable ivory should be equally acceptable. This is especially true considering the endangered status of tropical rain forests where ivory-nut palms grow. Very few ivory lovers could tell whether beautiful rings, necklaces, belt buckles and carved knife handles are made from the modified dentin of enlarged elephant incisors or the dried hemicellulose of palm seeds. The only drawback of ivory-nuts is their size. Average seeds are about two inches (5 cm) long, and this would limit the size of articles made from them. However, milled nuts can be fused into a larger, solid mass with modern bonding cements under heat and pressure.
Another ecological incentive for using vegetable ivory is that renewed trade in tagua nuts could help protect endangered rain forests in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. According to a Massachusetts-based environmental group called Cultural Survival, natural rain forest products such as vegetable ivory can generate up to five times the income of banana plantations and cattle ranches. In fact, two California-based companies, Patagonia Inc. and Smith & Hawken (closed in 2009),use(d) buttons made of tagua rather than plastic on their clothing products.
Meanwhile the tropical forests and their inhabitants are rapidly being destroyed. Who knows what biological secrets may reside in the genes of these vanishing species–perhaps cures for many tragic human diseases.
We usually get our stock from suppliers who have big quantities on hand, but sometimes they run out. This has happened a few times, now, to the consternation of some customers who had put off buying something they liked, only to discover it had suddenly disappeared from this website!
Wherever possible, if a stocked item becomes “no longer available” we do our best to source a similar item, to fill the gap. But we can’t guarantee it! (Just letting you know, to avoid disappointment.)
Liziqi’s YouTube channel is a joy to watch. It depicts a lifestyle of sustainability and self-sufficiency, wrapped in a stunningly picturesque environment. Liziqi makes things from scratch, and I mean, really from scratch. You can watch her plant some seeds, see the plants grow and the fruits (or seeds or leaves or roots) ripen, watch her harvest them and carry them home through heavenly landscapes in beautiful handwoven bamboo baskets, then see her wash, chop and cook them into a gourmet meal, or use them in other ways.
Liziqi makes her own furniture, wades in vast ponds to harvest giant lotuses, grinds her own grain, brews her own beverages and more. And barely a word is spoken, which is very relaxing. You’ll enjoy the sounds of nature – birds, falling water etc.
Here’s a sample from the numerous videos on her channel. It’s called “The Life of Cotton”. Scroll down and you’ll find the bamboo furniture one, too. Make yourself a cup of your favorite brew, sit back, put your feet up, click “play” and enjoy!
At Mill Cottage, the home of Craftsteading, we strive to provide products and services that are ethical, organic, cruelty-free and sustainable. This is why we offer SOY WAX and COCONUT WAX as bases for candle-making. They’re available at our online store.
How to Make Scented Coconut-Soy Candles
Note: Items in CAPITAL LETTERS, are available in the Craftsteading Online Store.
Imagine your home in the evening, softly lit with the gentle, flickering light of candles you’ve made yourself. Imagine the air delicately scented with your choice of fragrant oils.
You can make your own perfumed candles with SOY WAX and COCONUT WAX for your home, or as housewarming gifts for friends. Leave them plain, or add a few drops of ESSENTIAL OILS to blend a perfume of your own design.
The Craftsteading Store stocks CANDLE WICKS, FOOD COLORINGS FOR CANDLE DYES, and other candle-making supplies.
It’s best, if you can, to make your candles in recycled glass jars, washed clean, with lids. Many people keep empty jam, marmalade or jelly jars instead of throwing them out. If you don’t hoard them yourself, perhaps you have family, friends or neighbors who do, and who are glad to give them away to be re-used. Or re-use any small ceramic bowls or cups you might have.
About candle-molds Some people like to use silicon candle-molds to make free-standing candles in various shapes. We don’t sell these because we try to avoid plastics whenever possible. You can make your own candle-molds by recycling materials found at home. Any paper carton can be re-purposed into a candle-mold, or use discarded metal cans, or re-useable glass containers.
If you cannot get hold of any clean, used jars with lids, we stock pretty, aluminum or glass CANDLE CONTAINERS at the Craftsteading Store.
Our choice of materials Glass containers are considered more environmentally friendly than aluminum cans or jars, due to their lower greenhouse gas emissions during their lifecycle. However, glass is heavier than aluminum and thus it costs more to ship. So the impact of new glass or new aluminum containers on the environment could be considered approximately equal.
“If you can find aluminum cans made from 100% recycled materials, they should be your top choice when shopping for single-serving beverages,” according to an Earth911 article. “Their low transportation footprint and ease of recyclability make them a winner.”
But perhaps the best solution overall, if you are conscious of environmental sustainability, is to ditch the single-serve packaging altogether. Filling a reusable glass container generates zero waste.
EQUIPMENT YOU’LL NEED
COCONUT WAX – 1 part (You can experiment with adding up to 2 parts, because coconut wax increases the shelf life of soy wax candles, as well as softening the wax to make it stickier, which is useful in cool climates.)
SOY WAX FLAKES – 10 parts
CENTERING WICK HOLDERS
CANDLE WICK STICKERS
CANDLE CONTAINERS (glass or aluminum)
CANDLE-WAX MELTING POT (for mixing and melting wax)
LONG-HANDLED MIXING SPOON
KITCHEN MEASURING CUP
FOOD COLORINGS (we consider they’re safer than other candle dyes)
CANDLE SAFETY STICKERS
ESSENTIAL OILS (60-80 ml candle fragrance per kilogram, or 2 to 3 oz per 2.2 pounds).
Step 1: Glue Wicks into Jars
Secure WICKS to the bottom center of your clean GLASS JARS (or other candle containers) with a CANDLE WICK STICKER or a dob of hot glue.
If your wicks are long, wrap the excess around a skewer or pencil laid across the top of the jar, to keep them taut while pouring the wax. Or use a CENTERING WICK HOLDER.
Step 2: Measure Soy Wax and Coconut Oil
Using a MEASURING SPOON, measure a ratio of 10 parts soy wax flakes and 1 part coconut wax into a CANDLE-WAX MELTING POT or double boiler, or heatproof glass jar siting in a pot of water on low heat. Four cups of melted wax should yield approximately two small candles.
Step 3: Melt and Mix Wax
With your LONG-HANDLED MIXING SPOON, stir mixture continuously over medium heat until wax flakes are completely liquefied. Use your KITCHEN THERMOMETER to make sure the mixture does not get hotter than about 175 F ( 80 C)
Step 4: Allow to cool slightly
Remove melted wax from heat and let the mixture stand until your KITCHEN THERMOMETER tells you it’s reached about 145 F (63 C). If you choose to add scent or color, now is the time to stir in a few drops of ESSENTIAL OILS (60-80 ml candle fragrance per kilogram, or 2 to 3 oz per 2.2 pounds) and/or candle dye FOOD COLORINGS. You can use as many drops as you like to get your desired strength of perfume and color. The cooler temperature will help protect the essential oils.
Step 5: Pour Wax
Carefully and slowly pour the liquid wax into your recycled glass jars or CANDLE CONTAINERS, leaving 12 mm (1/2-inch) of space at the top of the jar.
Step 6: Allow to stand overnight
Let your candles cool overnight before trimming the wicks down to about half a centimeter (roughly 1/4 inch). Your candles are now ready to use. If you need to store them, be sure to cover them with a lid and keep them in a cool place.
The history of candle-making goes back thousands of years.
Our forefathers (yours and mine) used any sort of fat or wax they could get their hands on to make candles. This was usually tallow or other animal fats, or beeswax.
By 1800, people discovered that colza oil, derived from the mustard plant (Brassica campestris), and a similar oil derived from rapeseed, (Brassica napus var. napus), yielded candles that produced clear, smokeless flames.
More recently in the history of candle-making, people used paraffin wax for candles. This is a soft colorless solid derived from petroleum, coal or oil shale. By the end of the 19th century, most candle-manufacturers used paraffin mixed with stearic acid to add hardness.
During the 1990s, scientists developed new types of candle waxes, partly due to rising costs. Manufacturers replaced paraffin with new waxes and wax blends. Candle-makers used ingredients such as soy wax, coconut wax and palm oil. They often blended them with paraffin in hopes of getting the performance of paraffin with the price benefits of the other waxes. Palm oil, however, wreaks havoc on the environment and the habitat of endangered wildlife species.
Coconut wax, obtained by a simple extraction process, burns slowly and it is good at giving off scent. It’s probably the most sustainable and ethical of all commonly available candle waxes. but it’s quite soft. Blending it with soy wax helps make it firmer. It is not easy to source soy wax that is verifiably 100% non-GMO and sustainably farmed, and we cannot guarantee that this is the case, but we have done the best we can.
At Mill Cottage, the home of Craftsteading, we strive to provide products and services that are ethical, organic, cruelty-free and sustainable. This is why we offer SOY WAX and COCONUT WAX as bases for candle-making. They’re available at our online store.