Gestastofa Sútarans

While attending knitting festival in Blönduós last weekend, I was intrigued by the colourful leather I saw, which I believed to be snake skin. Later on, I spoke to Hjördís Þorfinnsdottir who made some colourful buttons from the leather and I found out the material was actually salmon skin. She showed me how to make a button from salmon skin step by step.

Draw a circle according to the button’s size template. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Cut it and place it in a button holder. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Put the fish skin into the button holder and press it together with the back of the button. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Beautiful yellow button. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018

After that, we conversed and she informed me about a tannery centre in Sauðárkrókur, about 40 minutes bus ride from Blönduós, where she bought all the salmon skin displayed at the festival. After the festival ended, I decided to go to the only tannery visitor centre in Iceland, Gestastofa Sútarans in Sauðárkrókur with some Concordia students and Deborah, a residency artist/teacher from Scotland.

At the Gestastofa Sutarans, we were greeted by Marianna Margeirsdottir. She gave us a tour where the fish tanning process took place at the back of the visitor centre shop.  It is also a place where staff and workers process the skin of lamb, horse and sometimes seal and other skin, according to the customers’ order.

The tanning process for fish skin takes about a month, because every fish is different – different texture, oil content, etc. The fish skin that the Gestastofa Sutarans use are wolffish, perch, salmon and cod. None of these fish are on the endangered species list.

The fish skins are purchased from commercial fisheries and shipped in boxes. The combination of chemicals are used to remove all the fish oils so that there is no fish odor anymore. Through a month chemical and mechanical process, the skins are churned, soaked, fleshed, vacuum dried and dyed. The special tanning treatment prevents the fish leather from becoming stiff, once all the oil from the skin is taken out. Unfortunately, we could not see the earlier processes of tanning the skin. The following pictures are half of the processes of fish tanning that Marianna had shown us.

The fish skins are stapled onto a shelf to stretch them, in order to achieve the best possible result with an even surface. This has to be done one by one. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
The skins dry on a shelf between 1 to 2 weeks. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
The backs of the skins must be shaved properly to remove excess fibres. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
The skins are softened by spinning them in a tumbler. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
According to the customers’ orders some skins are treated with a finish, e.g. glitter paper is imprinted onto salmon skin. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Perch skin. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Salmon skin. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Cod skin. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018
Wolffish skin. Photo: Avy Loftus, 2018

The fashion world is in constant flux, always changing and innovating. Within the last couple of decades, one of the most exciting trends to have emerged is the use of fish skin as leather. Fish produce a variety of textures from the vast amount of species, which has astounded leather specialists around the world.