Wolf Palette \\ death and dyeing

I am dyeing, I answer my faraway friends

met with reddening cheeks and mischievous giggles feasibly rooted in our collective tabooed associations with death and dying.

Explanation unfurls – I am colouring wool and cloth with plants. Mortality loiters elsewhere. Below the shell of this explanation is a knowing that there is a connection between infusing colour upon a neutral, receptive body (cloth or wool) and dissolving sentience and breath (death) – shapeshifting.

a connective tissue,

a single thread within a whole warp,

discreet until it is tugged on,

then a rippling affects the whole

weaving, body

Transformation steeps here.

When we dye a surface, we gather the pigment from a living, growing being. There is something that it is like to be that flower, plant, or root – that we will never know. In the process of colouring the porous fibre body, the plant dies. It is ripped from the soil, the fruiting body is pulled off, the petals torn, the bark stripped. Unfurled.

A death event occurs so as to allow for colour to bloom somewhere else.

The alchemical spiral – cycles embodied in coloured material to make things with.

I brought a skein of hand dyed wool from home.

An animated chartreuse yellow skein whose pigment was sourced from the fruiting bodies of wolf lichen – a slow growing algae-fungus found on the bark of dead or dying conifers in high altitudes in the Pacific Northwest. It was named wolf lichen due to its toxicity which was used to ward off or poison wolves (Galun).

Mordanting – the French mordre ‘to bite’, an essential element of the dyeing process. Through the mordant bath, the fibre is prepared usually with salts and heat to prepare it for colour. Wolves mordant too.

In Iceland there are Lupins everywhere. Etymologically, ‘Lupin’ uses the French root loup or ‘wolf’ stemming from Medieval times when the plant was thought to move through a landscape in packs, devouring everything in their path (Collins). We now know the opposite is true. Lupins are considered invasive species in Iceland as they do not originate from this place. However, they are highly adaptable plants – their “rhizobium-root nodules…allow them to be tolerant of infertile soils and capable of pioneering change in barren and poor-quality soils” (Kurlovich and Stankevich).

This characteristic of pioneering change in a barren landscape is a quality I wish to embody. I adore Lupins for this quality alone. Wolf Lichens and Lupins reflect one another – their etymology paralleling wolves, shadowy, poisonous, ravenous, and adaptable as well as the fact that they grow in dying landscapes and bring with them soil fertility and a spectrum of colours.

Bright yellow and pale blue. A palette of wolves.

Lupin Harvest
Wolf Lichen Dye Bath
Lupin Dye Bath
Yellow – Wolf Lichen Dye. Blue – Lupin Dye. Grey Icelandic Lopi Wool.

Julia Woldmo



Galun, Margalith (1988). CRC Handbook of Lichenology, Volume III. Boca Raton: CRC. pp. 98–99. ISBN 0-8493-3583-3.

Kurlovich, B. S. and A. K. Stankevich. (eds.) Classification of Lupins. In: Lupins: Geography, Classification, Genetic Resources and Breeding. St. Petersburg: Intan. 2002. pp. 42–43. Accessed June 19, 2022.

‘Lupin’ definition and meaning. Collins English Dictionary Online. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/lupin Accessed June 19, 2022.

Developing an acrylic allergy…


As a person who works with natural fibres in both my job and personal work, I thought my yarn snobbery had reached a modest limit. Though I prefer to work with animal fibres, and I appreciate the qualities that come with them – smelliness, shrinking, felting, and scratchiness alike – I also understand that I am in a privileged place to be able to use them consistently. Before coming to Iceland, I thought I was a simple woman with a love for wool. I have since realized it is so much more than that. 

“The wool is alive”, said Johanna during our first spinning class. She was explaining how the newly spun yarn needs a day or so to relax on the winding wheels before it can be taken off and washed. We mused about the tension from our bodies and minds being translated into the wool we spun, our first skeins holding extra energy from the palpable frustration of a first-time spinner. Deborah repeated the living wool sentiment in our natural dye workshop, speaking on the ability of wool to warm up a bucket of water via stored kinetic energy, and recounting how when crossing a river, travellers would get their socks wet first so as to warm them up in advance. 

I am now thinking of the physical memory of wool in relation to immaterial memory. If the wool can hold information regarding the diet of the animal, the mood of the spinner, and holds enough energy to warm water, why should it not hold something from the wearer of a wool garment? What memory can I feel in my thrift store Lopapeysa – and what energy am I placing in the wool garments I create? 

I’ve come to accept that the wool is too magical to ever put down and I will be a yarn snob forever. My snobbery has shifted however, moving more towards the most natural, hand-produced, straight-from-the-sheep wool possible. While I still feel a certain lust towards shiny silk and 26 micron mohair, there is something about the rustic, earthy feeling of Icelandic wool that feels simultaneously of the earth and beyond it. 

Encountering the landscape and the textile know-how

Despite being transported by the beauty of the Icelandic landscape, particularly that of Blönduós, our first week at the Icelandic Textile Center was rich in learning. We received expertise from three exceptional women regarding the history and some of the textile techniques related to our host location.

At first, Ragnheiður Björk Þórsdóttir taught us the basics of tapestry weaving. Then, she introduced us to the history of Icelandic textiles by talking about the origin of spinning, the advent of the first stone looms, the symbolism associated with weaving in Nordic mythology and the critical role of fabrics in the country’s socio-economic system. Finally, we could appreciate some of the many textile structures, costumes, patterns and colours that have shaped the Icelandic identity. This meeting with Ragga also allowed us to visit her exhibition ÞRÁÐLAG, (Threadscape) in her company at the Textile Museum in Blönduós. Her woven works provide a contemporary look at the Icelandic textile legacy.

Afterwards, Jóhanna Erla Palmadóttir taught us how to identify the different parts of the fleece and then to card and spin the wool from the Borgares sheep. Watching her transform this wool into yarn seemed so easy. Despite our first clumsy attempts, Jóhanna’s assistance and a bit of perseverance slowly transformed the fleece into a string. Fascinated by the gestures of spinning wool, many of us spontaneously devoted moments of our daily life to this discipline, refining a little more each day the yarn proudly produced by our hands. Capturing the precise moment when the texture of the wool transforms from soft fleece to smooth thread between our fingers is rewarding. It allows us to better grasp the complexity of this precious textile fibre.

To conclude this week’s workshop, Deborah Grey shared her passion for foraging plants for natural dyes. The landscapes of Blönduós provide gorgeous chromatic possibilities with their diverse vegetation. We joined our efforts to prepare and dye wool with many of the plants that surround us. We learned to recognize and discover their respective pigments with Deborah.

As I prepared for this field school, I suspected my art practice would be transformed by the encounters and learning I experienced. My classmates and I are enhancing our technical knowledge through the enlightening conversations that accompany us throughout the days. The sharing of textile know-how echoes the landscapes of Blönduós, the plants, animals and humans that inhabit it. This manifests in my experiments where I combine the techniques I have recently acquired with Ragga, Jóhanna and Deborah. This time-space offered by this residency will undoubtedly impact my further research in textile arts.


Enjoy the struggle

As a teacher and artist coming from an installation, painting and drawing practice, the thought of learning about new techniques and acquiring new skills is always exciting. With this mindset, these fresh experiences are usually enlightening and satisfying. Usually. Spinning wool proved otherwise at first.

Johánna, our very very experienced spinning instructor (not the stationary bike kind) was gracious, informative and physical in her demonstration. As she covered my hands with hers to help me mimic the gentle push and pull motion to feed the spinning wheel, I was confident I would “get it”, even though she repeated many times that our priority was to enjoy the struggle. I was SO not getting it. Mistakes were being made all over the place. I had no idea what I was doing, no matter how many times Johánna showed me. I was getting so frustrated that my fleece strands were not being spun evenly on the bobbin that I found it impossible to enjoy the struggle. I was more in the same frame of mind as some of my classmates who wanted to “get off the struggle bus”. My fleece was not turning into the beautiful, even, delicate and romanticized wool strands from the cute sheep I had seen earlier in the week, but rather became a gnarled, over-spun, thin, yet bulbous hot mess. But I still had fleece left, and my strand had yet to be plied (look at me using wool lingo!), so I was not done.

Besides learning about a new technique, what became relevant to me as the session wore on was how Johánna’s words connected to my current research on mitigating fears of making mistakes in the high school art room, so promoting the enjoy the struggle mantra was apropos. Putting myself in the frame of mind of my students who are expected to try new techniques with this same “it’s ok to make mistakes” growth mindset, I shifted my perspective.

I sometimes must remind myself that I am here not as a teacher feeding my professional development, but that I am here as a student; so, I am learning to spin. I took a few more stabs at it and plied my single strands together with not much more ease than with how I started. Yes, it’s a total disaster, but that’s ok. It’s gnarled and over-spun, thin, yet bulbous, and soft and light and two colours. It’s a beautiful disaster.

That gorgeous wool sweater I bought during my last travels? I think I need to perform a small gratitude ceremony to spinners past, present and future every time I put in on now. During my spinning time, I looked over at a classmate, who is clearly practised at this. I studied with awe their very carefully timed, deliberate yet unhurried hand and gentle arm movements. It’s not that I was unaware of wool’s passage through spinning on its journey from sheep to clothing. What occurs to me now is that I never factored the spinner’s physicality – their body rhythms – as connected to my garments, and subsequently to me, when I put on my wool sweater. It is sometimes the case, as has been proven during my talks with some of the vendors at the Blönduós knitting festival, that the spinner is also the knitter, but in most instances, the knitter gets all the glory. Here’s to those who “get it”, who can beautifully channel their inner-arachnid, and who need a little spotlight of their own.

Nancy Long, PhD candidate, Art Education

Wisdom from the sky

Since arriving here in Blönduós, now 17 days ago, I have really been trying to prioritize my time outdoors. Living in cities my whole life, I have always appreciated any stay in a rural area that much more. It is so easy to take for granted the need to slow down our pace of life; to consider our surroundings and appreciate the beauty of the natural landscape. The Icelandic landscape holds its own unique and special kind of beauty, which both confirms and confounds the expectations I had of it before coming here. The rugged, weather worn fields full of hardy sheep and horses are dominated by purple mountains that seem to glow in evening; completing the mental picture I had formed of this windswept Nordic land. On the other hand, I have also found a landscape filled with a softer kind of beauty; of delicate pink flowers that cling to moss covered rocks, the blueish purple lupins that controversially blanket the hills and river banks, and the endless array of birds that circle the grey clouded skies and skim the steel blue waters. While these birds continually seem to elude my camera’s attempts to capture their flight, there is one bird I find myself drawn to again and again.
I saw my first raven during a walk on our first day here, flying right overhead and out over the water towards the Westfjords. I have been told that the raven holds a mixed position in the Icelandic consciousness. While some have come to see these inky black birds as negative omens associated with death or mis-fortune, the ancient Icelanders viewed them as symbols of wisdom and prophecy; believing in their kindness in helping the first settlers of this land to find their way here. I have always found myself to have an affinity with their cousins at home the crow. I now find myself continually sensing their presence on my daily walks, majestic and mysterious beings that glide across the landscape in silent flight. Whatever the wider thoughts towards these creatures (good or bad), I choose to believe they are helping me on this journey of discovery.

Jacob Le Gallais, MA, BFA (Student, Ph.D. Art Education)

Transforming the Traditional: Using new technologies to reimagine watercolour painting and embroidery practices

When preparing for Iceland Field School, I knew that I needed to be open to any form of artmaking that may present itself. I had been working primarily with silk and acrylic paint for the past few months, and relocating to a new place without these materials easily accessible to me felt daunting and restrictive; I was intimidated by the idea of not having control over the direction and methods of research-creation within my practice. With some embroidery floss and a travel watercolour kit in hand, I ventured to the beautiful town of Blönduós, Iceland.

We’ve been learning several techniques to manipulate and unlock the potentials within fibre practices, such as tapestry weaving, wool spinning, and natural dyeing. I’m sure these will be elaborated on in future posts, but what felt like a turning point for me was the introduction to the TextileLab. Laser cutting, tufting, 3D printing, machine felting – all of these often-elusive processes were readily available to us thanks to the efforts of the Textílmiðstöð Íslands staff. But to me, the crown jewel was the digital embroidery machine.

I am always looking for connections between my painting and textile practices. This machine seemed like a perfect opportunity to not only learn a new skill, but to imagine these connections in new and exciting ways. With the help of TextileLab manager Margrét Katrín, I was soon learning all the steps and features of the machine – and all of its peculiarities! My idea was to upload a photo of a watercolour painting I had done while here in Blönduós, and have the machine embroider it so I have two versions of the same image. But after selecting my photo (below), I quickly realized I was missing some crucial steps!

When attempting to digitize my image into an embroidery pattern, the software was unable to isolate sections of the painting due to the colours being too light, and too similar in value. There was also a lot of background “noise” and texture from the watercolour paper, and it would have taken hours of editing and manual selection to make the file legible to begin stitching. So instead, I created a new, digital version of my painting in Procreate. I imported a photo of my original watercolour as a semi-transparent layer, and traced the key elements to create a newer, more solid version:

With this new version complete, I uploaded it to the embroidery machine and tried again. However, we soon discovered a new issue: my palette was still too light, and similar in value for the machine to clearly distinguish the sections. Margrét suggested I make another quick version, but choose extremely contrasting colours in the image. This was the result: 

While this looks nothing like what I’d choose, and bears little resemblance to the original painting, it was a necessary step in order to allow the machine to create a pattern and embroider my design. And it worked like a charm! Before I knew it, the machine had started working away on the first green section. 

But of course, there was one more thing I needed to keep in mind. As you can see from the latest digital version, the vibrant colours aren’t what I intended. Thankfully we managed to find an easy solution.

The trick was to know what each colour was supposed to be in the original, and to pick the correct colour thread when the machine prompted me to. For example, when the machine told me to load in the bright red colour in the centre of the piece, I instead threaded through a pale blue to match the original painting. I was lucky that the TextileLab had a fair selection of colours, and my usual pastel palette was almost entirely available to use!

After some careful colour picking, the process went quite quickly. Each section took less than 5 minutes, and the switching of the thread became almost reflexive, and meditative. After about 20 minutes of waiting and swapping colours, I was left with this beautiful finished piece!

Not bad for a first attempt! Margrét and I looked closely at the work to determine ways we could improve next time, such as tightening the original placement of the cloth to avoid puckering, and overlapping the colours slightly in the design software to avoid small gaps between sections.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this piece and I’m even more excited to make more! In my work, I often explore methods of working and re-working materials as ongoing investigations into their individual and collective potentials – that is to say, I like to experiment with new techniques, and push the limits of what we think a medium or material is meant to be. The TextileLab is an incredible resource for artists, both visiting and local, to have fun and see for themselves the potential locked within each piece of equipment, and within their own work. Needless to say, I’ll be back to do more work very soon!

Daniel Rumbolt (he/him)
Student, MFA Fibres and Material Practices

No Photos

It’s been 14 days since I’ve been situated in Iceland and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the landscape, sunsets, and the wildlife it offers. I catch myself trying to document the beauty with my camera even though I know it’s impossible, yet I still try. Right now, there are 923 photos and 161 videos on my phone. There is one place I’ve been desperately wanting to photograph but I am also aware that I can’t and it will not do it justice. You might think it’s the looming mountains, the majestic horses flocking in the field or even the light that makes time seem frozen. Those are all true but the Blönduós pool in the Sports Centre is what I’m talking about.

Prior to this experience, Kathleen mentioned the pool and the sense of community it offers to all the residents in Blönduós, especially the older folks. I was excited that a pool exists, and it was a place to relax and (maybe) get my exercise. I was also very intrigued about the coffee/hot tub ritual which Google translates from Icelandic as “open, always hot in the jug”. However, I didn’t put too much thought into it.

Now fast forward to my arrival in Iceland

I had a short end of the stick coming to Blönduós as my flight was delayed and a series of unfortunate events came after. Luckily the environment and the positive vibes from the cohort immediately evaporated my negative feelings. I was touched by gestures of warm hugs and smiling faces as the class met me at the gas station. I noticed a kind and relaxing energy exulting from the group, and some seem to have damp and wet hair from the pool. I was excited to finally arrive, and even though it was difficult to settle down with all that excitement, I eventually did. The next morning, I felt that same kind and relaxing energy but this time everyone was raving about this magical pool. I was hesitant about everyone’s reviews, but I knew the best way was to try it myself. Ever since that first time, I swear I have never looked back. In an unexpected way, the pool has become part of my rhythm and routine of some sort. I use the sauna as a mediative space and many of my thoughts on my art-making process have been found there. The hot pool is where I socialize and say hello to friendly strangers from Iceland or other visiting members. By now I think this is the part where I give a comprehensive description of my transformative experience, but words can’t do it justice just like a photo. The best way I can elaborate is to see you there!

Hot tip: you need to always finish off with the 5 degrees tub (preferably 1 minute or more)

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Jacky Lo, MA Student, Art Education