Friday, 15 April 2016

Memories of Iceland 2012

It’s been almost four years since we visited Iceland and a couple of events combined recently to start the creation of a memory quilt. 
  •  A serious clean of my sewing room looking for a missing pattern turned up a package of goodies I brought back from Iceland but had never opened.  A bag of Icelandic sheep fleece in various colours, rocks, shells, buttons from animal bones and some fish leather were just asking to become part of a project.
  •  I took two workshops on weaving that has me seeing yarn in a whole new way; not the tedious boredom of knitting or crocheting, but creating fabric aka quilt squares.  Ordering yarn online had me finding Custom Woolen Mills Lopi Yarn – spun in the fashion of the Icelandic yarn that I had seen but never had a reason to purchase.  And looking a bit further found a Canadian distributor of the actual Icelandic Sheep Yarn.

The art quilter rebel in me started playing with the fibres I had to create blocks for a scrapbook like reminder of the great times we had visiting Iceland in June and July 2012.  Not smooth and delicate like I learned at the workshops, but rough and textural like I remembered the landscapes of Iceland. 


Summer is short in Iceland and all the plants rush to grow, flower and turn to seed before winter arrives again. In the 1960s, the Americans dropped Alaska Lupin seeds all over Iceland with the hope that they would grow and help with erosion.  The plan has succeeded beyond expectations.  Everywhere we went, there was a haze of purple.  Lupins growing in Reykjavik in all the formal flower beds, out in the countryside along the roads, in the distance on the hills and they were the first plants other than mosses and lichens on the volcanic lava flows.  Our guides explained that the success had created quite the controversy – should they try to eradicate the introduced species which was competing with local plants, or should the lupins be recognized for the success they were?  Probably, it would be impossible to get rid of them no matter what the decision. 

When we came home, I found  lupin seeds to plant in our yard to join our very successful almost weed Snow in the Mountain.   I was also reminded of this story when we were on the South Island of New Zealand in 2015, where the dominant “wildflower” is also lupin – apparently seeded by a farmer’s wife on her way from home to town to brighten up the landscape (most natural plants have a small white flower).  The problem in New Zealand is that it loves to grow on the rocky river banks and provides cover for the predators (evil possums introduced from Australia) of the flightless native birds.

My lupin is silk ribbon embroidery on a block of Icelandic Lopi and Western Canadian sheep/alpaca wool.  Like the Icelandic lupins, you’ll find hints of purple everywhere you look on the rest of the quilt.

Finger Weaving

I created two rectangular blocks of fingerweaving in the style of the traditional Metis sash, but with Icelandic Lopi to give a sense of the landscape.  The one, a lightening pattern with accent of purple and the other with a deliberate emphasis of the natural curving of a fingerwoven sash if you aren’t careful of the tension. The Icelandic Sheep wool is not soft but almost prickly.  The two layers, one providing warmth and the other waterproofness, are ideally suited for the climate.  As I was weaving these, I was thinking about the comment of my B&B hostess who was from Mongolia that her country also created fingerwoven sashes.  I suspect that in Iceland, too, there was some type of weaving with their wool to create fabric. I also embellished the one with buttons made of bones.

Icelandic Sheep came with the first settlers in 900 or so.
Very hardy and the wool makes great warm garments.

Aurora (Northern Lights)

We didn’t see the northern lights in Iceland as we were there around the Solstice when daylight hours were at their maximum. Instead, I let my imagination create a dark winter night with sparkles of light crossing the sky. More buttons decorate the sky.

Glaciers and Lava Flow

Even though we visited in late June, snow remained and there were places that we were hiking on it.  Many of the mountains were home to glaciers.  Apparently, each volcano has a characteristic type of lava and our guides were able to tell us which bit of rock came from which volcanic erruption.  This square, woven simply of Alberta sheep wool with a subtle glint from machine embroidery thread, was embellished with a selection of bits of lava that I collected, quite frankly, for their colour and texture.

Bryn (Landmannalaugar to Skogar)

I still think of this multi day hike and of our guide, Bryn, who shepherded me through a day that challenged my physical as well as mental abilities. This square is my tribute to a patient and expert guide who believed I could do it.  I have a picture of me behind Bryn heading out the next day along the snow toward the ocean (about 20 km away).  My view was of his yellow, handknit sweater leading the way. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with other guides who share their passion for their home with a belief that any trek is possible, one step at a time.

Bryn and the rest of our group.  Somehow it was gourmet
meals despite some very basic accommodations.
The photo which inspired the weaving.

Bryn's yellow sweater is Canadian Lopi style and the white is spun on a 19th century mulespinner (yes, that's the name of the type of machine).  Icelandic Lopi for the ocean in the distance.  I played with many ways to make fringes on the bottom with a mixture of wool and alpaca.  For embelishment, some shells and bits of lava.

The Textures of Iceland

Here's the seaweed on it's beach.  Surprisingly little
change in colour or texture in four years.

The central panel combines Icelandic fleece in the blues, greens, greys, blacks and whites of the central highlands.  In my mind was our second guide, Ari, lying on the boulders of a lava field from the 1800s, trying to convince us how comfortable the moss covered rocks were.  Yes, they looked soft and fluffy, but the cover was only millimetres thick.  I added a bit of commercial yarn as well as some Alberta wool and alpaca to create the scene.  The embellishment is a strand of seaweed, still subtle, from a beach we discovered on one of the stops along the north side of the island.

Ari, lying on the moss covered boulders from
the eruption that "caused the French


One of the beaches we spent time on was to allow us to look out toward the Arctic Circle and the small island of Grimsey.  Too far to see, but it gives Iceland the claim that it is one of the countries with land above 66 degrees.  I was less impressed by that (hey, in Canada, we can drive to Inuvik above 68 degrees) than the chance to go beachcombing.  Some shells and this great piece of plant fibre just asking to be part of something creative were tucked into my backpack.  Wrapped around the stem is some fish leather (pleather) found while exploring the shopping district of Reykjavik.  Pleather in Canada is an exceedingly rare and expensive item you find embellishing high end clothing items.  In Reykjavik, this was in a hardware/sporting goods store that had some craft items (think any small town store that has a bit of everything), including shelves of fish leather sorted by type of fish and colour of dye.  No wool in this store – all things wool were to be found in the Handknitting Association of Iceland store around the corner.


In keeping with the roughness of the blocks, I created the background from burlap which was stitched with thick cotton Eleganza Perle to a firm interfacing to provide support for the weight of the blocks and embellishments.  Of course, there is a trail of lupins.  One final embellishment is a knitting row marker hand made and found at the Handknitting Association, where all things knitting were available.

If you're interested in reading about our time in Iceland, I wrote a blog post here about a year later.  Check out the photos I posted on Facebook just after we returned home.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! These are amazing! I love how you incorporated some physical parts of your journey along with the weavings. I especially love how you put them all together. What an interesting way to remember your travels.

    Kim McCollum