Iceland 5 – Ullarselið

After our visit to Ístex, we drove north to Hvanneyri and the Agricultural University of Iceland (AUI), which combines strong research with a mission of teaching. Thanks to Google for the map.

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Through this year’s North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Conference, I was delighted to be able to meet Emma Eyþórsdóttir, who is on the university faculty, has written a number of papers pertinent to my research, and has been kind enough to guide me to resources I wasn’t able to obtain through normal channels.

AUI appears to be one solid reason that a number of young people are going into farming in Iceland, and are being well prepared to do so.


During part of our time there, the sky cleared up enough for us to appreciate the setting. It also rained a bit, and the mountains played hide-and-seek.



The campus in Hvanneyri is also the site of Ullarselið, a wool center with a shop and workshops.



Those of us who were itching to cast on with the wool we’d been given a couple of hours earlier at Ístex found knitting needles, along with a selection of Ístex and other yarns, which hadn’t been available for sale at the factory. Pattern books, too. That was all on one side of the hallway. On the other side, we discovered a big room graciously stuffed with finished textile goods: sweaters, mittens, kits containing specially dyed wool (tempting), and other delights.

The packaging for purchases consisted of re-purposed newspapers, with edges reinforced and seams joined by zigzag machine-stitching.


I bought test balls of several Ístex yarns. The newspaper container held together for most of the day: for normal travel, it would have been ingeniously fine. For the rather rough treatment that our travels involved, it wasn’t sturdy enough. Fortunately, I had a lightweight shopping bag with me to catch the contents.

The agricultural museum was in the process of being moved from the building that houses Ullarselið to another structure nearby, so some exhibits were in place, some were missing, and none had multilingual interpretive signs (most places we visited did). Fortunately, our group consisted of people who could figure out what they were looking at, and it was fun to be in the middle of so many solvable mysteries. The topics included all types of agricultural history, but of course we focused on the textile-related items.

This motorized device was made to wind yarn onto spools. (The skein winder/swift underneath needs to be pivoted outside the frame in order to work.)


The abundance of braided utilitarian cords would have been overlooked by most viewers.


Finding them turned into a bit of a treasure hunt.


(And what’s that fiber? There are hints later in this post.)

Some time I’ll gather all the spinning wheel photos that I took during my time in Iceland: tremendous variety and quantity, although only one in this particular museum (some may have been moved already).


I want a box like this to keep my ready-to-spin wool in. (If I currently had a cat, I’d be well aware that it is exactly cat-nap sized. Which could be a plus or a minus.)


I also like the style of lazy kate, similar to those found in Shetland—I’ll show a bunch of Icelandic ones in a later post. There were many, many at another museum.


The conference group gathered in a former barn for a meal (soup, which I’m told was very good—not vegetarian; plus excellent bread and cheese; and coffee), a few welcoming talks. . . .


. . . and a musical interlude.


Those guys had senses of humor, and they were also terrifically talented performers with a lot of experience working together. If they’d had CDs, they would have been at risk of selling out. I’m not exactly sure who they were. One thing that was missing from many of the presentations during the week was the people’s names! (This happened with a number of the speakers, too.) Note the sweaters, of course. . . . Icelanders do wear Icelandic sweaters: practical and beautiful.

This line-up of tractors resulted in an extended discussion among the folks on the bus, some of whom were familiar with every model, and why and how the designs had evolved. These are all, of course, historic tools now (except that some of them still chug along on particular farms).


Because AUI covers all agricultural topics, these horses make their home on campus.


Icelandic horses share some history—and some of the common grazing areas—with Icelandic sheep.


Two more images from that day when we drove from Reykjavik to Blönduós, with stops at Ístex and AUI:


At home, we’d be worried that billowing white clouds like that indicated a wildfire. In Iceland, however, that’s steam, not smoke. It’s easier to find sources of hot water than of cold. Natural hot water is used to heat homes. (Sorry for the tilt of the photo: taken from the bus, and I’m still not up to speed with the hardware/software changeovers that happened just before I left on this trip; on the old system, I knew how to straighten horizon lines without having to go through about ten steps, and some day I’ll know how to do it on this system as well.)

Like many of the mixed-weather days we experienced, this one produced rainbows.



3 thoughts on “Iceland 5 – Ullarselið”

  1. In the conference links, I was interested to note that the organisers welcome handcrafters. I don’t think is something that I would read at an Australian sheep conference. In your experience, is the significance placed on handcrafters involvement peculiar to Iceland and the cultural importance of wool there?

  2. Rebecca, the North Atlantic Sheep Wool Conference always welcomes handcrafters, in large part because it was initiated by a handcrafter.

    The breeds that are the topic of the North Atlantic Native Sheep Wool confererence are all comparatively small in populations number (on a global scale this includes even the Icelandic sheep, of which there are quite a few). The economics of their survival depend to some extent on handcraft markets and support. The Australian sheep industry is predominantly industrial, so handcrafters would not be likely to be considered important (or even relevant) to include.

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