A Textile Artist's Icelandic Dream

Blönduós, Iceland

Blönduós, Iceland

We’re now in the dead of winter in Canada and like many of you, I am getting away on a winter adventure! Tara has asked me to share a little bit about what I have been up to since many of you might find this interesting. Some people go to Mexico in winter, I choose to escape to, well…Iceland. A country covered in rock and snow, with a very small population and even fewer trees. As I write this I am sheltered in a building near the ocean that is over 100 years old as the winds whip noisily and ferociously around us creating a whiteout in the night. As it is February the days are short with roughly 7 hours of light a day, and due to the position of the sun in the sky the contrast is high and the light has an otherworldly hue. I can see the mountains around me as I nestle into the tiny town named Blönduós. A town of approximately 850 people. I am here for one month as an artist in residence at the Textilesetur Islands, or Icelandic Textile Centre. I have access to a dye room exclusively for the use of natural dyes, a weaving studio with many historic looms and a long table in the sewing/felting studio. There are a total of 7 artists in residence this month and each month a new set of artists settle in, to a maximum of 10.

Icelandic Textile Centre
Garments constructed from handmade lace and embroidery,

Garments constructed from handmade lace and embroidery,

The residency started at Kvennaskolinn in 2015 and exists in what was previously a women’s school until the 1970s. The school is an important part of the history of the region considering many people living nearby would have either gone to the school or have had relatives go through the school. The Textile Centre serves as a museum of the school, an artist residency and a research centre for all things related to Icelandic textiles.

Next door to the residency is The Icelandic Textile Museum. The museum is open to the public in the summer months and is certainly worth a visit for any craft and fibre enthusiast visiting Iceland. As Artists in Residence we were able to spend an afternoon at the museum in its off season closure. There is an incredibly rich tradition of textile work in Icelandic culture dating farther back, before the familiar sweater design that we associate with Iceland. I am learning so much about a culture through their relationship to wool and textiles. It is absolutely fascinating!

Hand made wool insoles.

Hand made wool insoles.

In addition to the residency and museum, the Textile Centre is home to the Vatnsdaela Tapestry. This tapestry is essentially an incredibly long embroidered cloth which will be over 46 meters long when it is complete. It is an ambitious project started by Johanna E. Palmadottir in a similar fashion to the Bayeux Tapestry in France. The project is a community-based effort to embroider the family saga of the people of Hof in the region near Blönduós which takes place from the 9-11th century. The story tells of fate, love, and honour, and of the struggle against dangerous enemies. The story is set between Norway and Vatnsdalur in Iceland and it is believed that the saga was written ca 1270.

Vatnsdaela Tapestry at The Icelandic Textile Centre

Vatnsdaela Tapestry at The Icelandic Textile Centre

The sewing/felting studio before we made a big mess with all of our projects.

The sewing/felting studio before we made a big mess with all of our projects.

Author in Wonderla…the wool washing facility!

Author in Wonderla…the wool washing facility!

We’ve been on a couple of excursions learning about the wool and the sheep that are unique to Iceland. Icelandic sheep have two types of wool in their fleece. The outer layer is long and not unlike hair, while the interior layer is shorter and very soft. There is a wool washing facility in town that washes all the fleeces sent by sheep farmers in the region. We were able to get our hands on a few fleeces and have all been working with the wool separating these two layers, spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and felting like mad.

So far this has been a dream and I am so happy for the opportunity to be here. In my next post I’ll expand more on the project I am working on but in the meantime, read more about the Icelandic Textile Centre here.

Written by Kelly Ruth

Displaced Pegger, now learning to navigate inclines in her new home of Edmonton, AB