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Exploring Textile Artistry in Iceland: My Second Month at the Os Textile Residency Centre, June 2023

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


Sun setting over the sea in Iceland summer solstice

Blönduós, a small town in the north of Iceland, is home to the Icelandic Textile Centre, a renowned institution that celebrates and promotes the art of textiles.


Most of the industry and livelihood in Blönduós has evolved around service for agriculture and tourism. In recent years, the town has become more well known for its connection with textiles. A wool washery, Iceland's only textile museum; Heimilisiðnaðarsafnið and the Textile Centre, are all located in Blönduós.


The Textile Centre is a hub for the community, acting as a base for a variety of events. They host local school visits, resident artists from around the world along with visits from members of the community to bring textiles to a wider audience.


June was a month of mostly new faces, midnight sun and a focus on weaving and creating (and also far too much swimming and whale watching).





1. Creating a Sketchbook from Photography: 

 

Creating a sketchbook was one of the main elements of my residency trip. I wanted to experiment with a new way of creating fabrics and take a closer look at developing the stages between my photography and final woven designs.


I began my sketchbook by looking back at the collection of images I'd taken during my first month of the residency and chose ones which conveyed specific moods and textures, laying the foundation for the visual storytelling in my sketchbook. Each image was a visual narrative, capturing the essence of a moment, whether it was the dance of light on the Icelandic landscape or the interplay of shadows on waves in a secluded fjord. By going through a curated selection of photographs I was able to narrow down the collection and select those which resonated deeply. I considered the visual motifs, colour palettes, and emotional resonances encapsulated within each image, focusing on ones which captured the diverse textures, colours, and atmospheres of the Icelandic landscapes from May. 


A physical sketchbook isn't something I've ever really included in my design process before so I decided to experiment with a variety of mediums and styles: 


  • I worked with watercolours to capture the translucence found in the photographs. They brought to life the shimmering waters of the Icelandic fjord outside my bedroom window, the ethereal glow of the midnight sun and the delicate hues of wildflowers against a volcanic backdrop.


  • Oil pastels were used to add a textural dimension to my sketches. I experimented with blending techniques for the rugged terrain of lava fields and infused textures into the sketches to provide a tactile quality for the intricate patterns found in the Icelandic flora.


  • Paints lent a boldness to my sketchbook, allowing for the expression of atmospheric elements. Experimenting with various brushstroke techniques conveyed the ever-shifting weather conditions, adding texture and allowing me to mix colour palettes as I went.


  • I utilised digital tools for layering elements, which allowed me to merge traditional techniques with contemporary, to enhance details and experiment with different compositions. This fusion allowed for precision in detailing, experimentation with compositions and the layering of elements, providing a dynamic and multi-dimensional quality to the sketches.


  • Layering mediums and incorporating collage techniques to elevate the sketches added narrative depth, allowing for the interweaving of different elements and creating a cohesive visual story. I encouraged a harmonious interplay between watercolours, pastels, paint, and digital elements within single sketches, creating a nuanced visual experience. I enjoyed exploring how the fusion of different mediums could add a depth and complexity to the representation of Icelandic landscapes and provide a bridge between my photography and textile work. 

 

Creating a sketchbook wasn't something which came easily to me, but I tried to embrace it as a space for uninhibited creative expression, allowing the fusion of mediums to unfold organically. The sketchbook became a design repository, housing the blueprints for my textile collection with each sketch acting as a source of inspiration, a reference point and a manifestation of artistic interpretation. The themes and patterns from my photography evolved within the sketchbook, shaping my artistic direction and became a testament to the vibrant and ever-changing landscapes that define Iceland, setting the stage for the textile creations that would soon come to life on the loom. 





2. Warping and Setting Up the Counter-Marche Loom


Working on a countermarche loom was completely new to me but as that was the only type of loom available at the residency centre (other than the TC2s) I had to get the hang of using them quickly. Winding the warp followed the same process as I was used to except that the warping mill was a huge floor one rather than the tabletop warping mill I use at home. 


Making The Warp:


  • To begin with, I selected yarn suitable for my project (I brought mine with me from Scotland) and determined the length of the warp, accounting for loom waste and sampling.


  • I then secured the warping mill, so that it didn't move around the room while I used it, and adjusted the pegs to ensure the warp would be wound to the right length.


  • Next, I secured the beginning of the warp by tying the yarn securely to the first peg on the warping mill before guiding the yarn through the pegs following the predetermined path, maintaining even tension as I took it around the mill.


  • Ensuring accuracy by counting the number of ends as I wound the yarn around the pegs was an important step to keep track of, so I used marker threads or ties inserted at regular intervals to make counting easier.


  • Even, consistent tension throughout the winding process was important as an uneven tension could have led to difficulties during the weaving phase.


  • I finalised the warp once the desired length was achieved, by securely tying off the yarn at the last peg, ensuring it was snugly fastened to prevent unravelling.


  • The loom was prepared for the warp to be wound on by making sure the lease sticks were in position and the raddle was in place then each warp end was spread evenly along the raddle so that the warp would wind onto the beam smoothly and evenly.


  • With the help of a friend, the wound warp was transferred from the warping mill to the warp beam of the loom, stretched out across the room during the process to maintain the tension.


  • I kept a record of my warp plan, including the number of ends, colour sequences, and any adjustments made during the process in case I ever wanted to replicate the design in the future.


Setting Up The Countermarche Loom:


I spent a day sitting under the loom working on tying up the treadles in the right pattern. My AVL at home is programmed with the computer but with this loom I needed to translate the digital design into a physical set up by identifying the rising and sinking shafts for each pick in the pattern.


  • The number of shafts depend on the complexity of the pattern, so I used eight treadles for the pattern and had two controlling the plain weave structures.


  • Countermarche looms have both rising and sinking treadles, so I needed to attach rising treadles to the rising harnesses and sinking treadles to the sinking harnesses, easier said than done!


  • The harnesses were connected to the shafts via Texsolv cords with each harness linked to a specific shaft.


  • Each treadle then had to be connected to its corresponding harness using tie-up cords with the length of these cords adjusted to control the depth of the shed.


Working with this type of loom was certainly a new experience for me but once I got my head around how the loom set up worked, I really enjoyed the process and feel like it's deepened my understanding of weaving.

I was lucky that there were some lovely fellow weavers taking part in the residency who were able to help troubleshoot when I got stuck and of course Raga who visited the residency centre from Akureyri for a few days most weeks to keep us right. 

 





3. Blending Colours and Weaving on the Countermarche Loom


Weaving in the Loom Shed 


Weaving on a loom with treadles was a challenge for me initially.


  • I’m used to a single pedal loom which holds the shed open until I’m ready to move onto the next pick but with the Glimakra countermarche loom, I had to keep track of where I was in the pattern and hold the treadle down while I added my weft colours. I ended up keeping a note of where I was in the pattern by writing down and scoring off each step as I went. Not the fastest option but at least it kept me right and as I become accustomed to the treadle system, the process became more intuitive.


  • The countermarche system provided me control over a complex set of weave structures, something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do at the residency and I was able to create a fabric which was in a similar style to my artworks at home. Although I did get used to the treadles eventually, I don’t think I’ll be swapping my AVL for one anytime soon!


Blending and Choosing Weft Colours


A distinctive aspect of my artwork project during the residency was the intentional blending of yarn shades to mirror the hues found in the Icelandic landscapes. My colour palette drew inspiration from the diverse colours of the Icelandic terrain found in my photography and film taken during month one.


  • I wound my plant and indigo dyed hand-spun wool hanks into balls of yarn and set them out in a grid system, so that I would be able to see what I had to work with at all times. I used around three yarn strands per colour block making sure to change shades gradually.


  • Each artwork became an investigation into colour, capturing the essence of the natural surroundings. Blending yarn shades wasn't just about matching colours; it was a deliberate effort to craft visual narratives. The interplay of light and dark hues mirrored the play of sunlight on Icelandic landscapes, creating depth and dimension in the woven pieces. 


The loom room itself was an interesting place to spend my time. The looms were loud on the old wooden floor, and it took a while to get used to working in a shared space with so much going on around me. Being high up in the attic room, I could see the light change throughout the day through the window to my left and hear the geese and goslings pretty much all the time. There were a few very exciting moments throughout June when I spotted a humpback whale in the bay and of course promptly stopped weaving for the day to go and sit on the seawall with my camera.





4. Hand Spinning Class Using Local Icelandic Fleece

  

Although I hand-spin an awful lot of my own yarn, I’ve mostly learned through trial and error so when the opportunity arose to join a hand spinning class, I thought it was a good chance to go along and develop my existing skills.


  • The class began with a deep dive into the traditional practices of local sheep farming. Johanna explained the connection between Icelandic sheep rearing and the nation's identity, underscoring the vital role these animals play in the country's cultural tapestry.


  • Johanna had brought a box of raw fleece from her own farm and explained to us that Icelandic fleece has an irregular and unpredictable crimp, making it a little trickier to spin than a more regular fleece such as merino. The crimp makes the yarn warmer and means it can be 35-40% soaked before it feels wet, making it perfect for creating gloves and socks with.


  • Icelandic sheep are a double coated breed to help cope with the harsh northern climate. Johanna demonstrated to us how to separate the longer, hard-wearing outer coat or ‘tog’ from the much softer inner coat or "þel" (pronounced "thel"). 


  • We used a traditional style, double treadle spinning wheel and had handfuls of the þel to spin directly from rather than carding and drafting the fleece as I was used to. These days I’m used to spinning with an e-spinner, but it was fun to try and get the hang of foot treadling again.


  • Spinning with unwashed fleece was a new experience for me and I was surprised at how quickly the oils built up on my hands. It did leave me with soft skin for a few days at least! I spun two spools of yarn before plying them together and winding off my skein.


  • Johanna demonstrated how to spin yarn which had colour patterns running though it and consisted of multiple strands of very fine wool, fascinating to watch but far beyond my own skills.


The class was a lesson in more than just spinning; it created a tangible narrative connecting us to the heritage of Icelandic sheep farming. By understanding the journey from the fleece on the back of a sheep to the spools of yarn in my hands I was able to deepen my appreciation for the interwoven threads of tradition and craftsmanship. 





5. Designing for the TC2 Digital Jacquard Loom  

  

I used the emotions and moods captured in my photographs and subsequent sketchbook, to guide the mood and aesthetic of my woven designs with intricate textures and patterns observed in nature becoming the foundation for the structural patterns on the TC2 loom. I had used a TC2 loom once or twice before, but I’d never had so much time and freedom to experiment with new ideas than I did in the textile lab.


  • The TC2 Jacquard Loom operates on the principles of Jacquard weaving, a technique that allows for individual control of each thread in the warp. Unlike traditional dobby, floor or hand looms, the Jacquard mechanism enables the creation of intricate patterns and designs.


  • I stated with working from images in my sketchbook based on photographs I had taken of the sea from above using the drone. These designs were opened in Photoshop (which was available on the textile lab mac!) and I reduced the number of colours in each design to a more manageable amount.


  • Each colour in the design became a separate layer and Photoshop's layers transformed into a digital loom. Using weave structures, each layer represented a thread in the warp or weft with each pixel a potential thread.


  • I ‘built’ the weave structures I wanted to use in Photoshop and saved them as patterns before choosing a different weave structure for each colour. The result was a black and white image made up of thousands of pixels with intertwining structures and patterns: confusing when viewed closely but the image became visible when zoomed out.


  • These layering capabilities allowed me to mimic the depth and texture found in the Icelandic landscapes. By strategically arranging structures on specific layers, I simulated the play of light on rugged rocks and the nuanced tones of moss-covered plains. Each layer contributed to the visual and tactile richness of the final design.


  • The digital design needed translation to the loom's language with each weave structure in Photoshop finding its counterpart through the loom's controls. The TC2 loom reads designs in binary, a language of 0s and 1s. Each binary digit corresponds to a warp thread, creating a matrix of possibilities. Luckily, I didn’t need to work this part out myself, the textile lab had a programming interface capable of translating the intricate design into a series of binary codes that would guide the loom's movements. 

 

The process of bringing my designs to life on the TC2 Jacquard Loom was a balance between a virtual canvas of Photoshop and a tangible interlacing of threads on the loom. Creating weave-able designs for the TC2 was a lot more like designing for my AVL than I was expecting it to be, and it came a lot more naturally to me than working on the countermache looms did. I had a lot of help from my wonderful friend Alice, as well as hands on help in the Textile Lab from Margrét. It was fascinating to delve into this more technical element of weaving, and I learned many skills I hope to translate to designing for my own loom at home. 





6. Weaving on the TC2 Digital Jacquard Loom


The digital TC2 sample loom was available to book for a day at a time in the Textile Lab and was pre-set up with a mercerised cotton warp. It was a very fine, strong yarn with a close sett. I was using my hand-spun yarn made and dyed in May, in the weft so had to go through a few different steps to account for the difference in yarn weights between it and the warp:


  • I had to test the designs on a smaller scale to help to identify any issues or adjustments needed. There was a few. The difference in warp and weft yarn weights was causing my design to be dramatically elongated when woven on the loom.


  • I went back and forth between the photoshop stage and sampling a few times on my first day. The software allows for quick modification, so I was able to work out then adjust the compression of my initial images to account for the thicker weft yarns.


  •  Once I was satisfied with the digital designs and after a few successful tests, I started to work on choosing weft colours. 

 

I wove samples of a few different styles of design but decided to concentrate on two main pathways:



  • Indio dyed weft yarns in a gradient shade pattern with multiple weave structures.


Creating gradient effects by strategically arranging and transitioning between different weft threads made the woven image seem to fade into the fabric. I’d like to experiment more with these pieces with overdying both with indigo and plant dyes. I think the mix of cotton warp and Icelandic wool weft yarns could create some interesting dye resist effects.

 

  • Triple cloth designs with only three weave structures and three main weft colours.


The use of multiple weft threads and a triple layer fabric composition added a complexity and depth to the artworks which I really loved. The variety of thick and thin hand-spun yarns made the designs, which could have looked flat, tactile and visually diverse. This complex style of weaving introduced a three-dimensional quality to my work and fit well with the slightly more abstract, aerial beach photography. My photography and sketchbook imagery directly influenced my yarn colour palette, and I had great time sampling a variety of colour combinations. 


A few of my finished and framed TC2 artwork designs are currently available here





7. Rug Tufting in the Textile Lab: 

 

Rug tufting was a skill I had really been looking forward to trying for the first time at the residency centre. There was a selection of tufting equipment available to try out in the textile lab, including cut and loop guns along with frames, backing cloth and even yarn to experiment with. Here are a few of the techniques I experimented with:


  • Loop pile tufting was the first technique I tried and involved leaving the yarn loops intact, forming a textured surface. This technique lent itself well to creating intricate patterns and designs, but I’m not convinced my yarn colour choice was on point that day!


  • Cut Pile tufting was used to create plush and velvety textures with a different aesthetic to the loop pile. The precision cutting of yarn loops at the surface level resulted in a soft, even surface.


  • Experimentation with variable pile heights added dimension to my samples, creating patterns and motifs that play with light and shadow.


  • Beyond traditional cut and loop pile techniques, another method of creating texture involved carving and sculpting the tufted surface. This created a three-dimensional effect, pushing the boundaries of conventional rug tufting.


Once I felt I had the hang of the rug tufting guns, I decided to refer to my sketchbook for design ideas and make a few small sample pieces. I liked the cut pile best so decided to stick with that and to use some of the yarn I had dyed in the organic indigo vat during my first month at the residency. My time in the textile lab was perfect for experimenting with blending the indigo shades together to create a smooth transition from the darkest blues to the palest washes.  I loved how instant rug tufting was compared to the weaving process and how quickly I could go from conceptual sketches and ideas to creating tangible artworks.





8. End-of-Month Exhibition: 'Several Infinities'


The 'Several Infinities' exhibition marked the culmination of June at the textile residency and showcased a wide variety of creativity. There were many weaving styles on display including some really interesting pieces woven by Helen Bower Jones which used the traditional Icelandic weft-faced weaving style 'Glit'.


I displayed my rug tufted samples, TC2 indigo designs and my handwoven artworks. The conceptual pieces, textile samples and knitted final designs meant the exhibition was a fascinating insight into the many facets of textile design. It emphasised to me how much could be achieved during a month of intensive focus and how beneficial it could be to pause for a while to take a closer look at my own textile practice.


Images include work by Eileen Morley (Knitting) and Helen Bower Jones (Weaving).





9. Final Thoughts


I thorourghly enjoyed my time at the Residency Centre and hope to go back one day to take advantage of the amazing range of specialist textile equiptment and to visit friends. The residency offered a unique learning experience from artists with varied backgrounds from around the world, a few of whom I'm sure I'll stay in touch with in the future.


Now that I'm back in Scotland, I plan on continuing to work on the designs I explored during the residency and develop them into a full site specific, capsule collection by Spring(ish) 2024 and to get my hands on a rug tufting gun! Until then, you can read and share my last post all about May at the residency centre and find a little taster of the new collection 'Úr Lofti || From The Air' available to buy here or join me at one of my new weaving workshops 'Coloured By Nature', inspired by my experiences and research at the residency.


I have one more post about my time in Iceland coming up where I'll be covering a few slightly more general topics like the history of the Textile Centre, a few of the places I visited out-with the centre, day to day living and the summer solstice. If you'd like to stay up to date with where weaving takes me next, sign up to the mailing list, follow my Instagram profile below or feel free to leave any questions or comments below!






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