My Favorite Icelandic Horses

Did you know that there is only one breed of horses all throughout Iceland? None can be imported and the horses sold can never come back. It is a one-way ticket.

Icelandic horses are know to be short, almost pony size, and to have a double coat for insulation during the though Icelandic winters. They were most probably introduced on the island by Norse settlers around the 9th or 10th century.

They are all very communicative, hardy, and it does not take long for them to come and introduce themselves to people standing by their fences. They are also very photogenic, especially when the wind blows in their mane. I think they know it and move their heads accordingly. But that is just a theory.

I have met a few during my stay and let me introduce them to you. Which one do you think is my favorite?

To be honest, my favorite Icelandic horses do not graze in pastures. They are part of another story that was told to us by Johanna Erla, the Vatnsdaela saga. It is a story full of fights and murders, a story about the pursuit of one’s own destiny, full of marriages, betrayals, treasures, magic mushrooms, and a ring that can jump from mountains to mountain.

“My passion is to introduce textiles to the public, and it is, among other things, the basis for my Vatnsdaela tapestry – an embroidery project that welcomes people from all over Iceland and the world to come and embroider the original saga of our region. As people sew upon the tapestry the story is told and embodied in a new way, but remains true to the old saga and storyline. When completed the tapestry will measure 47 metres in length, at the time of printing [this quote] approximately 1400 people have sewn upon the piece.”

-Johanna Erla

It is a long saga, and so is the tapestry. From designing it, to tracing it on the fabric, to stitching it, they have been meticulously working on the project for 11 years now.

Before I show you my favorite horses, I will tell you a little bit more about the saga which took place in the very region we were staying, and features Johanna’s ancestors.

The Vatnsdaela saga was written during the thirteenth century and tells a family story over a few generations. From what Johanna told us, it is mainly the story of Ingemund who earned the good graces of the King of Norway at the time. One day, even though he did not want to listen to her words, a sorceress told him his fortune. He was told that he had to go Iceland to find a ring and then settle there. Ingemund did not want to do it and even hired assistants to complete the task of finding the ring and bringing it back to him. To their great surprise, the ring – which they were able to locate – kept jumping from hill to hill, making it impossible for them to catch it. Ingemund was left with no other choice than going to Iceland to get it himself.

This is just a short part of the saga, which also tells the story of his descendants and their many adventures. We are talking of swords getting stuck into bed frames, buttocks getting cut off, and even a sorceress who gets defeated by her own magic. Thrills, and twists and turns! Oh, and why not throw in a captured polar bear?

The whole tapestry is stitched using only two types of stitches. A “contour stitch”, like a stem stitch, and the Bayeux stitch, a laid stitch which comes from Norman and English traditions. It was famously used in the Bayeux tapestry, another conquest story that you can read about here.

And here are my favorite Icelandic horses!

They appear in the 31st chapter of the saga entitled: “Long-distance travelers came to Hofsland”. They represent the said travelers. Why they are so special to me is that I was one of the probably 1500 or more people who had a chance to embroider the tapestry. Most of these stitches are my contribution to the tapestry.

I learned the stitches from Stina, who has been so kind to teach them to me, as well as describing the whole process of tracing the blue lines that we need to follow. Basically, the tapestry designs were first printed on long sheets of paper. Then, all (all!) of the lines were perforated with the help of needles. The next step was to place the sheets of paper above the fabric and cover it in blue ink in the hope that the ink would go through every single hole and mark the design lines on the fabric. You can see them on the top left corner.

When embroidering, colors are absolutely non-negotiable. We have to follow the printed cartoons displayed on the wall. The angle of the stitches – and to some extent their length – are up to the person doing the embroidery. “We are the designers after all”, said Stina.

I was not able to finish embroidering the second horse, but I really appreciated the silent companionship in the embroidery room. All of us focused on on single task. Making sure that, stitch by stitch, this tapestry soon gets to be displayed!

Such masterful and beautiful work!


« My » Blönduós Photo Album

Some rules to help you create “Your” own Blönduós Photo Album:

  • Find pictures taken by previous visitors of Blönduós on the Internet. That way, you will get a great preview of what the place looks like. I found 779 photos.
  • Focus on one topic of your choice. You will find that the river, the seashore, horses, sheep (so cute!), hotel rooms, and dishes at B&S restaurant are favorites. I chose: Textiles. I found 25 pictures that showed something related to textiles.
  • Get to Blönduós and then try to go to and stand in the exact same spot as the visitor who took the pictures you selected.
  • Take two pictures. For the first one try to take the exact same picture. Do not cheat. Same frame, same angle. The strong winds on the hills will certainly help you with this task, so will the mannequins at the museum (!).
  • Second: take a picture of your selected picture in your next picture. Well, examples below.

Here is the Kvennaskólinn, our studio and our house. Hint: If you want to get this one, you will have to climb a hill.

Below is the mysterious store. When I showed the picture to the owner to confirm that I was in the right place, she sighed and said: “Yes, and then Covid happened”. The store will be closing soon and will move to a more central location next to the grocery store. She will be selling much needed yarns and other precious materials for us, fiber artists.

Here is a picture of the Textile Museum where I found most of “my” pictures (17 + 1):

Here are some of my best finds: A collection of historical Icelandic costumes. From the 18th century faldbúningur to the more modern 20th century upphlutur and peysuföt, with charming details.

Please come with me on a short visit of the Textile Museum collection.

All I can say about this one is that I have noticed that her work has not progressed much…

And I saved my favorite for last. One of the mannequins decided to sit down.

Even though I am still not sure why visitors would take the time to post close-ups of historical textiles on a tourist website, I am really glad they did. And I was really happy to be able to also enjoy all the landscape shots as well!

There are 5 photos for which I could not find the precise spot where they were taken. Three were from a past exhibition at the museum, and to most likely the other two were taken in the store.

Last night, I browsed through all of the 779 photos of Blönduós I found before coming here. It is amazing how I now have a much better sense of this wonderful place. I can even know from which angle each of the pictures of the river were taken! And I had a great time at the museum for sure.

Thank you past visitors! You turned my stay here into a quest and great textile adventure!