Icelandic Traditional Costumes

During the open ceremony for the knitting festival in Blönduós (June 8th to 10th)  there was a demonstration of the traditional Icelandic costumes collectively known in Icelandic as Þjóðbúningurinn. Aspects of these costumes date as early as the 16th century, although they regained popularity in the 19th century as an essential symbol of Iceland’s independence from the Danish.

The demonstration featured a wide variety of different Icelandic costumes, including the upphlutur for girls. Photo: Avy Loftus
From the book, Faldar og Skart. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

Although the opening ceremony demonstration was entirely in Icelandic, it showed the complexity of the various outfits as the women took of their jackets to show the detail on the backs and metal ornamentation. This complexity sparked my interest in doing more research on the national costume and its variety.

A trip to the library led to me a few books (mostly in Icelandic) on these various costumes, showing drawings from around 1680 that show a variant of the headdress faldur (Helgadottir 95). 

Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

On June 17th, the Icelandic National Day, we saw more examples of these costumes, such as the Peysuföt (pictured above).

The most informative outing in relation to the Icelandic costume occurred on June 22nd on a fantastic tour of the Textile Museum in Blönduós by museum manager, Elin Sigurdardóttir. She explained in detail the differences between the costumes and the changes that occurred in the 19th century.

The Icelandic costumes can be divided into five different styles:

Falbúningur– dates from the early 18th century. It includes the headdress faldur, embroidered skirt, apron, shirt, bodice, jacket, decorative collar, handkerchief and neckerchief. The silver chains and embellishments were called kvensilfur, and the amount was often in relation to the woman’s wealth and status. The faldur later changed into two forms, the krókfaldur (the curved headdress with a smaller point at the top) and the spaðafaldur (with a splayed top and smaller bottom).

Photo of Faldbúningur, taken from Íslenskir Þjóðbúningar Kvenna Og Telpna. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos
Beautiful upphlutur at the Textile Museum. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

Upphlutur– (18th and 19th century) originally just the name of the bodice underneath the jacket as part of the falbúningur, this eventually evolved into its own popular variation. Elin told us that the upphlutur is the most common of the Icelandic costumes. It is characterized by the white sleeves and the collar. In 1907, the upphlutur became the independent festive costume, dating from a state visit with the Danish King. It is also usually worn with the knitted or velvet cap and tassel.

A doll wearing upphlutur. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos







Peysuföt– became an independent costume at the end of the 18th century. It features a similar skirt apron and cap as the upphlutur. Traditionally this skirt can be made from tog, the long-haired overcoat of Icelandic sheep. The most characteristic aspect of the peysuföt is the large single or double bow, decorated by a brooch. In later versions, the bow is replaced by a silk scarf.

Peysuföt with floral embroidery at the Textile Museum. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

In the 19th century, Sigurður Guðmundsson designed two new costumes that became symbolic of Iceland’s independence, the skautbúningur and the kyrtill.

 Skautbúningur- designed in the 19th century as a variant to revive the earlier falbúningur, this costume uses mostly dark fabric, with bright floral embroidery. Elin went on to explain that the  lavish headdress, called skautfaldur, was meant to represent the Icelandic landscape; the mountains, glacier and sun.

Two examples of the skautbúningur from the Textile Museum. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos







The skautfaldur was meant to represent the mountains, glacier and sun (gold headpiece). Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

Kyrtill- designed in 1870, Guðmundsson made this costume much more light-weight using also lighter colours. Later it developed into other darker colours such as black, blue or green. The kyrtill and skautbúningur could also be worn with a möttull, a mantle made from black wool and trimmed with velvet or fur.

Photo of kyrtill (Birgisdóttir 15). Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

These costumes are extremely ornate and beautiful. The detailed embroidery and knitted accessories showed the extensive care to detail that is worthy of great admiration. Thank you, Elin and the textile museum, for your thorough explanation and tour!

Icelandic National day on June 17th featured traditional Icelandic costumes, including the “Lady of the Mountain” (Fjallkona) pictured on the right. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

Works Cited

Birgisdóttir, Ásdís. Íslenskir Þjóðbúningar Kvenna Og Telpna. Translated by Steinunn J. Ásgeirsdóttir, Icelandic Handicrafts Association, 2004.

Helgadottir, Sigrún. Faldar og Skart. Opna, 2013.

Íslenskir Þjóðbúningurinn,

Living in Light

The beautiful view of the lake from Jóhanna’s farm. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

As Jóhanna Pálmadóttir, director of the Textílsetur, drove us to her sheep farm, she told us about the fishers who rent out her lake. When we asked if she gets some fish from the lake as well, she jokingly added, “there is no darkness here, so I can’t go in the night and steal the fish when they aren’t looking”. Although this was a jest, it did get me thinking about our relationship with the dark. Night is the time for loud parties, movie nights, and theatre. As a puppeteer and performer, I quickly became interested in the interpersonal relationship one has to the sun and its patterns. How does living half of the year in sunlight and the other in darkness affect people’s lives?

A quick chat with a Blönduós local in the hot pools on Friday evening gave me some insight. He told me that kids were often taught about bedtimes with blackout screens in their rooms, and bedtime/rules changed depending on the family. This seems to hint at the necessity of a sort of separation between the internal habits and the external world.

That being said, some research on blogs documenting human experiences living in 24-hour-sunlight has also revealed the amazing flexibility of humans to adapt to their environment.  Trausti Thor Johannsson, an Icelander living in Scandinavia, wrote that the light and dark of the summer and winter months never bothered him growing up since it was all he had ever known. It was only later on when he had moved away and would return to visit that he felt some negative consequences during the dark winter months such as grogginess and irritability[1].

The purple sky on second night in Blönduós. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

Since arriving in Iceland, I have had many different emotions in response to the brightness outside my window. I’ve woken from a nap and even though I had slept three hours, the sun would make it feel as if no time had passed. It can be disruptive for certain activities, like watching a movie on a computer screen. It has also proven a new challenge in designing a puppetry show, as the focus light needed in theatre is very difficult to achieve.

On the other hand, the midnight sun can be extremely liberating. Morning walks can be taken at any time during the day or night. Yoga on the lawn is equally possible at 9 am or 12 am. Suddenly, the patterns and habits I make aren’t connected to the sun going down.

As an anonymous Northerner wrote humorously on the blog mentioned above, “If you are out on a sunny evening, you tend to forget time, and you end up coming back from a hike at 3am. or 6am. Who cares. As for meals, who cares if it is breakfast or dinner. Or 2nd dinner.”[2]

The midnight sunset. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

There is definitely a balance that needs to be achieved when living in 24-hour sunlight. It has wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. Many of our group commented on how the sunlight has altered their internal clocks during our class. Dave mentioned, “Everyone I’ve talked to is having some weird experience with sleep”. It does become necessary to regulate your habits and activities regardless of what the sun is doing, oftentimes leading to the external and internal being extremely separate. There we are, tucking ourselves in for a goodnight’s sleep while the birds chirp loudly as if it was already 6am.

The sky and the sea meet on the coast of Sauðárkrókur. Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos

This can also be true with emotions and feelings. During our class yesterday, Kathleen spoke of the 24-hour-sunlight stating, “You really notice what is going on inside of you…if I’m feeling anxious it’s not an external cause, but something going on in my own mind”.

I wrote a poem about this experience of 24-hour-sunlight; the separation between internal emotions and habits and the outside world.


written on June 12, 2018

Without dark there is no you
only seas of blue
blue being what my eye lets in
when it lets in everything

without dark there is no day
no way to take the pain away
it cycles in and out like waves
a painful memory

without day there is no dawn
no way to justify a yawn
no up, no down, its all around
the birds just stay awake

without change the sky just makes
the colours of a mood
it’s sometimes bright, it’s mostly light
it’s occasionally rude

it ebbs and flows as the ocean goes,
it’s rough, it rows
it moves and throws
it can throw me all around
but without dark
there’s no way to mark
I’ve even hit the ground
without day there is no way
the birds can make a sound

and so it goes, it spins and throws,
everything to keep me on my toes
and no one know where the dark goes
until it shows its face
perhaps it grows straight from my woes
the darkness out of place


Photo: Elise Timm-Bottos


[2] ibid.