Monday, September 20, 2010

Knitting Iceland Part 4: Textile Museum in Blönduós and Intarsia Knitting

The next part of our Knitting Iceland tour brought us to the picturesque seaside town of Blönduós. Blönduós boasts a population of 1000, spectacular salmon fishing, and one of the most amazing textile museums of all time! We were lucky enough to stay at an old women's college that is right next door to the textile museum and right on the water. The rooms were decorated with wallpaper, photos of past graduates, and antique sewing machines!

The textile museum at Blönduós houses the amazing collection of Halldóra Bjarnadóttir who had an affinity for weaving, knit items, traditional costumes and all sorts of woolen treasures. We were lucky enough to have the museum opened just for us (it usually closes September 1st for the winter) and we were allowed to don white gloves and handle the collection.

One unique part of Iceland's knitting tradition is their woolen shoe inserts. These inserts were knit with amazing garter stitch intarsia. It is very rare to see intarsia done in garter stitch, but it was probably used because garter stitch produces a fuller fabric that would have been warmer in Iceland's harsh climate. The inserts were put into traditional fish skin shoes and would wear out quickly when walking across the sharp lava fields, so they were a wardrobe staple that was knit often. They were very colorful - the perfect way for a knitter to use up scraps of bright yarn! The textile museum has an impressive collection of these inserts and it was inspiring to see all of the colorful patterns.

There were so many mittens! There were knit mittens, embroidered mittens, mittens made from naturally dyed yarn, and photos of naalbinded mittens. If you need ideas for knitting mittens, may we suggest a trip to the textile museum of Blönduós?

Amber and I found the most amazing artifact of all time in the textile museum - these shoes that were naalbinded with horsehair. We're not sure who would have worn these shoes which were perhaps the pokiest, prickliest shoes we've ever touched. It would take a real Viking man or woman to wear these shoes!

There were many examples of knitted lace. Our favorite were these two shawls which showed the difference between knitting with the thel versus the tog of the Icelandic sheep. Icelandic sheep are unique in that they are dual coated. The outer layer of wool is called the tog and consists of coarse, long hairs that are durable and waterproof. The undercoat is the thel and is soft and fine. The shawl in the foreground on the right is knit with just the soft thel and is very light and airy. The shawl in the background toward the left is knit with just the tog and is stiffer and holds the shape of the lace very well. Lopi yarn uses both the thel and tog together and that is what makes it so warm and lofty while also being sturdy and durable.

After our visit to the textile museum (and the super-fun Blönduós swimming pools) we sat down for a class on intarsia knitting with Hélène Magnússon. Hélène is one of the founders of Knitting Iceland and is also the author of the book, "Icelandic Color Knitting" which features modern intarsia patterns inspired by the patterns found in the traditional Icelandic shoe inserts. Hélène taught us how to do garter stitch intarsia while making a tiny shoe insert. Intarisa is challenging, but super exciting once you get the hang of it.

Hélène also showed us how to do Slynging (pronounced slinking) an old and traditional type of weaving that was often used on the edges of the shoe inserts (a future Lost Crafts Series class perhaps?).

Check back tomorrow for our trip to the Hvanneyri Agricultural College where we get to spin Icelandic wool and learn about dyeing yarn naturally with Icelandic plants...


Mrs.Canuck said...

Where can I find that book?! I love knitting and I have such a hard time finding good books on Icelandic knitting!

Anonymous said...

Bedankt voor je uitgebreide ;) verslag. Wij hebben op onze rondreis door IJsland dit prachtige museum gemist. Wel ergens een foto gemaakt van een boek in de etalage van een winkel die helaas dicht was. Thuis het boek opgezocht en via het internet gekocht. Het heet Icelandic mittens. Daarin las ik over het museum, omdat de patronen in dit boek daar vandaan komen. Spijt natuurlijk dat ik voorafgaande aan onze reis niets over het museum gelezen had. Nu heb ik toch een impressie door jouw verhaal met foto's!

Vriendelijke groeten,