How the Icelandic Textile Center is keeping traditions fresh
In the scenic seaside in northwest Iceland lies Blönduós, a town that may seem unremarkable at first sight. However, Blönduós is home to the Icelandic Textile Center, a makerspace and innovation centre with ambitious goals and a manifold structure. “What keeps everything together is the textile focus,” says project manager Katharina Schneider.
“Historically speaking, it’s an important region for textiles,” says Katharina. Northwest Iceland is a sheep farming region: over 90% of the country’s wool is processed in Ístex wool washery in Blönduós. The Icelandic Textile Center was founded here in 2005, in the building of Kvennaskólinn, a former women’s college.
“The Center is doing a variety of very different projects,” shares Katharina. From running the TextileLab and organising events, it also collaborates on research projects important for the region. “There’s always a focus on fibre, textiles, wool, traditional crafts, the digital future and building a bridge from one to the other,” Katharina explains.
Director of the Icelandic Textile Center, Elsa Arnardóttir, adds: “Once a year, we have a knitting fest—that’s a whole week of knitting courses. We have local, national and international teachers, a lot of lectures and activities connected to knitting on the weekend, as well as a market for yarn.”
Unique textile lab
The centre’s TextileLab was opened in May 2021. “This is the very first textile lab in Iceland,” Katharina says. The lab is a part of the Center’s international collaboration with CENTRINNO, a four-year research project funded by Horizon 2020.
The lab includes two Tc2 digital looms, a felt loom, laser cutter, laser printer, digital embroidery machine and knitting machine. You can visit the lab for free, but there is a fee that applies for using the lab’s equipment, some of which cannot be accessed anywhere else in Iceland. “It’s for makers, scholars and just the local community—anybody who is interested in making, creating and innovating with textiles,” says Katharina.
Ós Textile Residency
“We also run an art residency, which has been quite successful,” shares Katharina. “We host up to fourteen people every month, coming from all over the world.”
Katharina and Elsa agree that people coming to do an art residency have really versatile backgrounds, not necessarily in textiles at all. “I think what people sometimes don’t realise is how diverse the field of textiles really is,” Katharina says. “It could be a biologist, it could be somebody working with microfibre, a sheep farmer working with wool and handicrafts. It’s so diverse, and that makes it so special.”
In 2022, the art residenсe programme includes artists from Canada, Sweden and the Faroe Islands. “The international community that we have here in a small, rural, isolated village is quite special,” says Katharina. Within the residency, the centre also organises an exhibition, usually at the end of the month, and every Wednesday there’s an open house, so everyone interested can come, see and try the equipment.
Repurposing Icelandic wool
One of the recent projects developed within the Icelandic Textile Center is Felt—a collaboration between design studio Flétta and textile designer Ýrúrarí. The objective of the project is to find use for leftover Icelandic wool by repurposing offcuts from Icelandic wool manufacturers with a needle felting machine at the centre’s TextileLab.
The project started in the summer of 2022 when the designers conducted experiments at the TextileLab with different leftover wool that otherwise would be sent abroad for re- or downcycling.
“The reason we went to the TextileLab to work on the project is because they have a variety of machines that are only available there. We specifically wanted to work with the felt loom, a needle felting machine. It is very valuable for us to have access to new technology in order to test out ideas and develop new techniques in the creative environment of the Textile Lab. After our stay at the TextileLab we have decided to invest in our own needle felting machine to continue developing the project,” says Birta Rós Brynjólfsdóttir, designer at Flétta.
The pieces made at the TextileLab within this collaboration will be on display at Reykjavík’s Epal gallery until October 11.
Plans for the future
With only six employees currently involved in running the Icelandic Textile Center, Elsa and Katharina hope the team will be able to expand in the future to bring more value to the centre. “I think knowledge transfer and new skills are really important in what we are doing,” says Elsa.
“It’s a very complex institution with a lot of very interesting things going on. And, of course, opportunities for makers, scholars and all kinds of people with a focus on textiles to come, invent, explore and bring their project to life,” sums up Katharina, confident that the Icelandic Textile Center is there to help.
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