Back at the end of August and beginning of September my hubby and I went on an amazing trip to Europe.  Over ten days we visited Reykjavik, Amsterdam, and Paris.

I’m finally getting around to going through all the pictures from the trip (though I haven’t even started on the ones on hubby’s i-pad), and I thought I’d share some of the better ones here.  So today, we start with the magical city of Reykjavik, specifically some fiber-related pics.

These pics are all from the National Museum of Iceland, which I heartily recommend to anyone visiting Reykjavik.  It houses an amazing collection (though fewer items from the pre-Christian era than I expected) and I only wish I’d had more time to explore it.

Iceland is well known for it’s woolens industry even today.  In fact, every tourist shop we saw was just full of hand-knit sweaters and other knit-wear.  It was nice to see handmade items being sold at their actual value (though it meant that I wasn’t able to afford anything, LOL).  So often those of us who make handmade items for sale have to undervalue our items just so that they will sell.

This is a Scandinavian warp-weighted loom.  Back in university I actually wrote a paper on Viking-age weaving.  Surprisingly, archaeologists know quite a bit about fabric from this time period.  Very little actual fabric remains, but there are impressions of the weave of the fabric in other items, specifically the round metal brooches which were a part of women’s clothing.  To a modern weaver, this set-up looms rather primitive, but looking at my own loom which was manufactured in the 1970s (behind me as I write this), not much has changed.  It’s a little more slick and there are a few more bells and whistles to make the weaving faster and easier, but the essential parts are still the same.  The biggest change is that the warp is wound around a breast beam to provide tension rather than tied to stones (a vast improvement time-wise).  As a comparison, here is a schematic from a modern loom (similar to my own, except that mine is a counterweight loom and this is a jack loom):

To give you an idea of how labour intensive fabric production was in Viking-age Iceland, the spinning wheel was not introduced in Iceland until the 18th century.  All the yarn you see on the warp weighted loom above, and all the yarn which would have been used to weave that warp, was spun on a drop spindle, by hand. If a cow was worth 90 ells of cloth, and a woman could weave half an ell (aprox. 25 cms) of cloth in a full day’s work, that is 180 days of weaving for one cow.  This does not include the time it would take to prepare the yarn for weaving, including picking and washing the fleece, carding it into rovings, and the act of spinning it into yarn.  And then there was also pregnancy, childcare, cooking and cleaning.  Not to mention the fact that Icelandic wives were among the first so-called “navy wives.”  Suffice it to say, a woman’s life was not easy.  The spinning wheel must have been revolutionary.

The harshness of the Icelandic climate is evident in this 19th century house called a Badstofa.  It was very small with a sharply peaked roof, but would conceivably have been cozy in cold weather.

And by cozy, I mean cramped and claustrophobic…  let’s just go with cozy.

Here you can clearly see the spinning and winding equipment that would have been used by the women of the house.

Iceland is a hard place to live even today, more so than I realized before I visited.  We were there at the end of August and already people were wearing what most of the world would consider winter-wear.  The landscape is very bleak and the people are very resilient because of it.  It is very very beautiful.

One of the best things we did was go horseback riding.  Icelandic horses are simply amazing.  They are extremely calm and affectionate, almost like big dogs.  They’re quite small, almost like a large pony,  and their gait is extremely smooth.  They grow long coats in the winter to cope with the cold.  Our ride was very enjoyable, even though I threw up on my horse (poor Rieker was so nice about it, too.)  I kept riding, which impressed our guide to no end, even though I had to stop several times to be sick.  She told me that there was something very strong about me, something Icelandic.  I was extremely flattered.

Iceland was very very beautiful.  We went to the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa in Grindavik.  This place is so amazing it’s hard to describe it.  Picture a pale milky blue lake wafting with steam.  The water is bathtub-warm, and there are currents of warmer water throughout it.  The first thing you notice is the strong, rich smell of salt in the air.  The depth goes from about waist-deep to chin-deep (on me, though I’m quite short).  The bottom of the lake is volcanic rock covered in a layer of clay.  There are boxes of this clay at various intervals and you are encouraged to smear it over your face and any other exposed skin.  The atmosphere makes people more gregarious so everybody is laughing and talking with one another.  The swim-up bar helps too, I think.  There is a waterfall of warm water that you can stand under for a lovely massage.  There are steam rooms and dry saunas as well.  The Blue Lagoon is simply the most famous of such spas in Iceland, and there are even undeveloped places in the wild that the locals know of where you can go for a long, free, soak.

I know this was quite long, but I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Iceland and it’s fiber-related history.  I’ll have some items made from Icelandic wool up in the shop as soon as I get around to crocheting them.

In Frigga’s name,

Ellen

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