Nalbinding is a single needle knitting technique for creating fabric from short strips of material or yarn, using a large bone needle, and is most often associated with the Vikings and Scandinavian countries. Brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants, the needles created from toothbrush handles replaced the bone needle, resulting in the term “toothbrush” rag rugs. Purchase supplies for making nalbinding toothbrush rugs at hardware and craft stores.
Making the Needle
Purchase a toothbrush with a hole in the handle for hanging, or use an old toothbrush.
Cut the bristle end off of the toothbrush. Carve the end to a point using the knife. File the end free of any burrs or rough edges with the rat-tail file and finish smoothing with sandpaper.
Enlarge the hole in the other end with the knife, taking care not to cut through the material. Use the rat-tail files to finish the inside edge of the hole to remove any burrs or rough edges. Make the finished hole 3/8- to 1/2-inches long.
Preparing the Material
Lay the washed and dried fabric on a flat surface. Iron the edge of the fabric to be marked in Step 2, if necessary, to remove wrinkles.
Mark the edge of the fabric at 3/4-inch intervals with a pencil. Using the scissors, make a 1/2-inch cut in the material and then tear the material to produce strips.
Fold the strips in half and press along the entire length to produce strips 3/8-inch wide. Roll into balls for ease of use.
Making the Rug
Sew together the ends of three strips of material with a regular needle and thread to form the center braid. Make the braid 1/3 as long as the desired length of the finished rug. A 12-inch center braid will result in a rug 36 inches long by 24 inches wide. Cut two of the three strips when the center braid is the desired length and sew the two cut ends to the third strip with a sewing needle and thread.
Thread the toothbrush needle with the uncut strip of fabric. Hold the end of the braid in your left hand and the needle in your right hand. Loop the strip counter-clockwise over your left thumb and insert the needle from right to left through the last loop of braid nearest the cut ends. Pull the fabric through the braid loop, leaving the loop on the tip of your thumb.
Loop the strip of fabric over the left thumb again behind the first loop at the tip of your thumb created in the previous step. Hold the fabric strip taut with the ring and little finger of that hand. Insert the needle from left to right through the same loop in the braid from the previous step, but do not pull the needle through the loop. Put the tip of the needle over the loop closest to the tip of your thumb and then slide the tip of the needle under the loop toward the tip of your thumb and then through the loop. Pull the strip through the loop while pulling the loop off your thumb, making this loop part of the rug and leaving the second loop on your thumb. Move the second loop up toward the tip of your thumb.
Continue wrapping the fabric counter-clockwise over your thumb, behind the loop left from the previous step. For successive stitches, thread the needle through the next loop in the braid and the stitch created in the previous step.
Work stitches along one side of the braided loops until the final loop. To prevent the rug from cupping and to keep it flat, begin making increase stitches, which are extra stitches evenly added around the rug in each row. Work two stitches in the last loop of the braid; rotate the braid so the unworked side is to the right; make two stitches in the first loop and work along the piece to the top loop. Work two stitches in that loop and rotate the braid again. Continue making two increase stitches on either side of the center braid of the rug, in one of the increase stitches from the previous row. Each subsequent row will have four additional stitches. Mark the increase stitches with safety pins to keep the increases evenly spaced.
Add additional strips by sewing a new strip to the old strip with a sewing needle and regular sewing thread. Overlap the ends and use a basic back-stitch, making sure the folds of the strips match. Thread the toothbrush needle with the newly added strip.
Finding a toothbrush with a hold in the handle may be the most difficult part of this project. Look for inexpensive toothbrushes at discount stores. Children's toothbrushes frequently have less elaborate handles than adult toothbrushes.
The amount of fabric you need depends on the size rug you wish to make. Sixteen yards of fabric will make a rug approximately 2 feet by 3 feet.
Cotton is the easiest fabric to work with as it tears into even strips with minimal effort, washes well and is colorfast.
Practice makes perfect with this technique. The first few tries may result in a knotted mess. Use scrap fabric and a small braided section to learn to manipulate the fabric. Consider making a potholder or trivet for your first project.