May in North Iceland is the very beginning of the season for natural dyeing. When we arrived at the start of the month the hills around, the gardens and river banks were still yellow-brown after the long winter, and the trees were bare. Now, nearly four weeks later, the overall view from the Textile Centre is one of a fast-growing green except on the mountain slopes which still retain some snow. Relative warmth and extended daylight have brought on a rush of growth.
Dandelions on very long stems compete for height among the grasses at the edge of the river path, lupins are in flower and the birches and rowans are suddenly in leaf.
I have collected lupin leaves and dyed some mordanted wool. After an hour of gentle heating and a couple more hours cooling in the dye bath the colour was surprising in its almost neon yellow-green.
Lupin flowers too produce colour. Initially the water turned a translucent pink but the wool became a greenish-blue, quite unusual for natural dyeing.
I have experimented too with angelica leaves, birch leaves and horsetails, all giving yellow, but each one slightly different. Photos just don’t capture the exact colouring.
Although I have done a little felting before making a bowl was something new. Fellow Textile Echoes artist Delia was creating several felted bowls and then Annette with Delia’s guidance decided to make one too. I thought it might be an idea if we all made one in a collaboration project. So, with Delia’s help we all made our own bowls putting our own mark on each one. I used the sheep’s wool we had access to that I had washed and carded along with some we had bought. I couldn’t resist putting some holes in it and then stitched on some stiffened embroidery using horse hair, wool and thread to finish it off.
Next, I decided to try some circular tapestry as I wanted to make rounded pieces to join together inspired by some of the unusual floor formations made of the tops of the basalt columns at Kálfshamarsvík. I set to work on making a circular frame. Annette advised me how to soak some cane I found in the studio and then showed me how to make a good join so it wouldn’t overlap. I then made a warp and started to thread yarn around it using various stitches. After completing a few I decided I preferred the reverse side. I made several but will stitch them together when there are a few more.
As I knew there was a small dye room here at the Textile Centre, I thought I would take the opportunity to do some natural dyeing. Having only done chemical dyeing in the past, this would be another new experience. With Delia’s knowledge of suitable plants to dye she explored around the centre and came back with some lupin leaves. We boiled them up and I placed some wool and some cotton fabric in the pot. After a while I took them out and they had become a beautiful lime yellow. I will use them in my Continuous landscape piece. Knowing I dyed it myself (with a lot of help from Delia) has made me want to explore this more – a project for when I return home.
Looking around the weave studio here, I noticed a loom set up for plain weave with a warp of neutral coloured linen and cotton warp yarns, crammed and spaced in the reed. It soon became apparent that it had been left behind by a previous artist weaver. Another ‘leaving’.
The warp was crying out to be used, otherwise it would just end up being cut off and left in one of the boxes that occupy all corners.
I searched around and gathered up anything in neutral colours, all the bobbins, warp ends, and left over yarns that had been left behind.
I have woven them into a length, using each quantity as it came to hand, I introduced cut ends of lengths that were not long enough to make a complete pick to add texture and the result is quite pleasing.
I shall take this length home with me but leave behind some weaving for someone else to continue.
Looped basket –handmade cordage using gathered grass and felt made from raw wool.
Jóhanna Erlu Pálmadóttir of the Textile Centre arranged visits to the wool washery factory ístex in Blönduós and the Tannery at Sauðárkrókur.
The whole process of cleaning the fleeces delivered from all over Iceland could be seen at the Washery. The grades of the wool obtained from the fleeces was explained and the subtle range of colours in the bales of raw wool, from the intense blacks and mottled greys through the browns and soft creamy whites, could be easily seen. We felt the different quality of the raw wool and were shown how the higher quality lambs’ wool could be identified. The coarser outer protective layer of the fleece might be used for carpets and the inner, softer insulating layer of the fleece is used for finer textiles and clothing. 80% of their production is exported to the UK.
The skins of cod, salmon, wolf fish and perch are processed at the Tannery at Sauðárkrókur to make distinctive and multi-coloured leathers used in the fashion industry. They also process primarily sheep skins and cattle hides.
Icelandic wool, horsehair, raw wool and fish skins.
After visiting the Tannery in Sauðárkrókur and the Washery in Blönduós I continue to increase my knowledge about the range of materials available in northern Iceland. Exploring and experimenting with these new materials takes time, but this process slows down my making and is subtly changing how I perceive the boundaries between basketry and other textile practices and techniques.
Although I have been enjoying creating response pieces to the basalt columns, I have discovered using purely visual inspiration is not enough. My work is normally concept led so I had anticipated using the landscape and scenery would be a challenge,
Ever since we arrived in Iceland, I have had an overwhelming feeling of space from the vast endless landscape. I have been having thoughts for a while on how I could incorporate this into my work but nothing had been forthcoming.
Yesterday we went on trip to a beautiful beach not far from the Textile Centre on the north coast. While the others collected things, made artwork and photographed their work, I found myself wandering up and down the water’s edge, sitting on a rock staring out to sea and feeling a little lost. The sea magnified these feelings of space but I was still unsure how to proceed. All night I contemplated, knowing I needed to make something that expressed a continuous feeling. I started to think about wrapping. This maybe a default reaction, a technique I have used several times before but it somehow felt appropriate.
I decided to make an incredibly long and continuous length incorporating all the colours of the landscape. I will use natural Icelandic materials from the land and sea like wool, sheep fleece, horse hair, fish leather and kelp, binding them together into 1 piece. It will then be placed in piles and draped along the ground. Taking it to the coast and photographing it on the long stretch of black sand could also be an idea to enhance the concept. Watch this space!
Beginnings of the continuous length