Iceland 7 – Hveravellir, and Þingborg

posted in: Knitting, Sheep, Travel, Wool | 0

For reasons why the blog posts are getting farther apart, check out my newsletter (of which there will be a new release soon, but this blog post comes first).

Up over the top

After learning more about winter housing of sheep, we got back into our mountain-ready bus and went up over the Icelandic Highlands. There are reservoirs providing hydroelectric power, and we were told there are also mountains and glaciers and gorgeous views.

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We made what passed for a lunch stop at Hveravellir, a well-known geothermal area between the two largest glaciers in Iceland, Langjökull and Hofsjökull.

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Apparently this was not an appropriate place for a busload of people to make a mid-route stop. I’m sure the folks at Hveravellir are nice enough on a normal basis, but our welcome was not warm and we ate in the rain. Ólafur assured us this was not typical of Icelandic hospitality. I walked over to take a look at some of the hot springs, although I didn’t venture out to see the farther areas. I was already coming down with a bit of a cold and didn’t want to push my luck.

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The map two images back shows the tip of the Langjökull, the larger portion of which appears below. After lunch we drove south along the road that skirts its eastern edge.

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After a lot of this. . . .

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and this. . . .

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. . . beautiful in a moonscape sort of way (and, amazingly, inhabited at this season by occasional sheep), we arrived at a small white building with a sign on it, not knowing what to expect except that Ólafur said that they would be glad to see us, and would have some refreshments for us. Both of those sounded appealing.

Þingborg

Written Icelandic retains two ancient characters that aren’t familiar to people accustomed to most western European alphabets: eð or eth (uppercase Đ, lowercase ð), which also is used in Faroese, and þorn or thorn (Þþ), not used in any other modern language. Although their pronunciations are slightly different when Icelanders say words using them, someone new to the language doesn’t hear much difference, putting a variant of “th” in place of both (there’s also a touch of “d” in the ð). This can be handy to know when looking for names involving eð or þorn on a keyboard that doesn’t make producing those symbols easy: type in “th.”

Thus the website for Þingborg can be found by seeking Thingborg, and the pronunciation is not far off from that.

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So: What was this place we were coming to, cold and a bit hungry and wet and having crossed a wide expanse of the moon?

Wool, it said—a friendly word.

Another sign around back:

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We went through a small door into the lower level of what used to be a school, and found smiling women welcoming us with a table with a selection of cheeses and breads and beverages: quite the contrast to Hveravellir.

After we nibbled and chatted and warmed up a bit, someone among us discovered that if we climbed up a short flight of stairs, went through a medium-sized workspace, and down another half-flight, there was a shop.

Keep in mind that we had already seen superb Icelandic fiber-related shops, including the Handknitting Association of Iceland (in Reykjavik) and Ullarselið (in Hvanneyri). This was the end of the conference. We were tired. We may have been just a bit overloaded and jaded.

But what we walked into woke us up all over again.

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The building used to be a school, but in 1990 the school moved to a new building and the following year a group started using the space for something knitters and spinners from other parts of the world would recognize as informal guild meetings. Now the structure houses workshops, a small gallery-like area (creatively manifested hats! in the front rooms, not for sale), meeting rooms, a dye studio, and the shop (finished goods and yarns at eye level, but look under the tables for carders, spinning wheels, and other tools—no small selection, all neatly boxed and ready to be carried off to new homes).

Did I need more wool? I did not—but I left with some yarn, and a small cake of plötulópi (unspun roving) which did not feel quite the same as the version I’d picked up at Ullarselið. (It wasn’t—I’ll explain why in a moment and offer a brief comparison of the two.)

The yarn? I struggled. And I yielded.

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I’m not entirely sure what I’ll make with these, but with those colors . . . well, they’re just too beautiful. Yes, when I stray from the naturals of my studies, I find myself fingering the blues quite often. Both skeins were made by Dóra Óskar. The top one is indigo-dyed, and if the bottom one’s dyestuff has been identified it’s in Icelandic and I don’t know, but it’s been overdyed on a mix of light and dark fibers.

I’m open to suggestions on how to use these skeins. Yardage wasn’t on the labels, but I counted about 231 yards (211m) of the indigo and 208 yards (190m) of the variegated. Singles, probably about fingering weight (“4-ply” singles, which always seems as weird to me as calling a yarn worsted weight).

Our adventure at Þingborg continued with more random discoveries. After we’d been there a while, someone asked, “Have you seen upstairs?” Nope . . . so I made my way up another narrow staircase and found a magical room where part of the reason for the difference between Ístex plötulópi and Þingborg plötulópi became apparent. They’re produced on different machines (as it turns out, the fiber is selected and washed a bit differently, too).

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I’m pretty sure this is some of Pat Green’s equipment for carding and making pencil roving. That’s his logo on the side of the drum at lower left, and the style (and color) of the machinery look like his. You won’t find information on his cottage-industry tools on his website, and shipping would be a serious challenge, but this room contains just the right tools for the jobs they do and they’re being put to very good use.

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The story starts here. . . .

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And goes along to about here. . . .

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With intermediate steps that I found equally fascinating, but others might not, at least not without the machine present in its entirety so the pieces make sense (instead of being just a series of snapshots).

Next, however, is the piece that might interest more of us. On the left is the plate of plötulópi (unspun roving) from Ístex and on the right is what I got at Þingborg, Yes, they both come in colors, but for my demonstration swatches I cut out the variable of color and pick natural white or as close to it as I can get (which explains the thrill of breaking out of the box with the two dyed skeins shown above).

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They are both splendid fiber preps that I would happily use. The differences are subtle. Let’s look at what they are, and why they exist.

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Icelandic wool is bulk-washed at Blönduós, in northern Iceland. That’s true for the fibers that end up in both of these materials. What’s different is that Ístex wool is processed in much larger lots. During a slow time at the plant, the Þingborg folks bring in specially selected fleeces and use the same equipment, with the help of the normal professionals who operate it, but a different type of scouring solution. The Þingborg plate had already been wound doubled (which is the way plötulópi is often used). The Ístex version was wound as a single strand, although I wound off a doubled portion for my comparison swatches.

What differences did I perceive?

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In knitting, the unspun Þingborg wool was slightly less fragile than the Ístex wool. The fibers were slightly longer. (Neither, of course, is held together by twist.)

They worked up at almost the same gauge; the widths of the swatches are identical, and the Þingborg swatch (on the left) is exactly one row shorter than the Ístex swatch (on the right)—but there are 19 rows in its stockinette area to 20 rows in the other’s. (I eyeball my swatch lengths, instead of counting.) Both combine the two coats of the fleeces; the Þingborg swatch is slightly softer (very marginal: they are both delightful). The Þingborg stitches are not quite as bulky or dense as the Ístex ones, the fabric has a touch more luster, and it drapes more. Hmmm . . . I might be able to demo that. . . .

Istex:

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Þingborg:

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You could probably work up the Þingborg fiber at a slightly tighter gauge, but I like the fabric as it is and wouldn’t want to.

On the other hand, the Ístex swatch has a bulkier hand, is slightly whiter (the Þingborg has a very subtle ivory cast, only evident when it’s right next to the Ístex), and is more even.

Ístex: 20141001-IMG_1639

Þingborg:

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Which would I want to knit with most?

BOTH! For different reasons.

Yet at first glance, they’re identical, except for the size of the plate and the fact that one has been wound with two strands together (Þingborg) and one is a single strand.

Now I need to finish putting together something that resembles a newsletter—and wash more Shetland fleeces. The two Shetland-focus spinning retreats are starting in a month, and I have a significant amount of prep done—and more to be accomplished. Four more fleeces arrived yesterday and I need to get them into the bathtub.

{Note: Because the first Shetland-wools retreat was full to overflowing, we added a second one, November 2 to 7 (arrive November 2, retreat November 3 to 6, depart November 7). They’re both in the San Juan Islands, in Washington state. There are still some spaces available in the additional retreat. (Background information is here; questions? check in with jess at drobson dot info—I’m washing and packing wool and prepping handouts.) Given what it takes to put together an all-Shetlands event like this, it’s not something that will likely come along again. I might do another, but right now I think this is it. Reasons to be explained in that newsletter I mentioned. I’m having a blast getting ready—and it’s taking months, and thousands of miles, to do it right. . . . }

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