The Northern Women Arts Collective is a treasure trove of fascinating and useful information, and a few of the folks over there have done a project very similar to the apron dress project I’m (very slowly) working on.  This is the Lady in Blue project – they researched and reproduced the apron dress from a grave find near Ketilsstaðir in Iceland.  I’m doing something similar, with the main differences being that I’m not necessarily basing mine on that exact find – though that’s likely the one with the most information available about it, and the parameters I had planned out in my head basically match that one anyways, theirs was a group project, and they used pre-prepared rovings and modern tools to do their spinning and weaving.  I’m planning to do my entire project solo, and I’m also making replica tools and using them for the fibre processing, spinning and weaving, so don’t be surprised if it’s the early 2020s before the dress is wearable.

Yesterday I received a comment on an earlier post where I talked about Icelandic sheep from Marled Mader, one of the ladies involved in the recreation of the Lady in Blue dress.  She is from Germany, but keeps a flock of Icelandic sheep, and she offered me the use of some pictures of her flock.  I had previously been using photos I’d found by searching Flickr (though I am using them legitimately, as I’ve only chosen ones listed as being available under a Creative Commons license), and have plans in the future to get some of my own photos – some when I visit Iceland next year, but I’ve also met a few people recently that live relatively close to me who keep Icelandic sheep – but to have these photos to use in the meantime is wonderful.  So I thought I would show you some of the photos (and I’ve kept back some to use in future blog posts as well).  If historical textiles are your thing, you should also go visit Marled’s blog at Archaeotechnics – Textile Flache – I’ve only had a chance to skim a few posts, but it looks like she’s got lots of great info there and I will definitely be back in the future to read in more depth, as I suspect there will be useful info there for me when I’m working out more specific parts of my apron dress project.

So without further adieu, here are some photos of Marled’s beautiful sheep!



Today I’m going to take a little break from the textile stuff, and talk about something that almost everyone has some sort of interest in… food! More specifically, a food that is quintessentially Icelandic: Skyr.

Skyr is a dairy product that is very similar to yogurt, but is not quite the same. In fact, it’s technically cheese, because it contains rennet, which is a set of enzymes. Traditionally it was obtained from the stomachs of ruminant animals, but in modern times there are also non-animal forms of rennet available, which is good for vegetarians who do eat dairy products.

Skyr has been around since the Viking era, and in that time period, it was extremely useful as it was a method of preserving dairy products in a high-protein form for long periods of time –
up to 6 to 9 months, even. In a time period with no refrigeration, that was extremely useful. The byproduct of the skyr-making process, whey, could also be used to preserve meats, and
apparently could even be fermented into an alcoholic drink.

Skyr is mentioned in a number of the Sagas, showing us that it has been around since the Viking times.

In Grettirssaga, which is about Grettir Ásmundarson, Grettir trips an old friend which causes him to fall on the bag of skyr he was carrying, breaking it open. Auðunn, the friend, then throws the Skyr at Grettir, which covers him, and causes him to start a fight with Auðunn. This scene is is apparently the start of why it is considered a great offense to throw Skyr at someone – even in modern times. In the 2008 financial crisis in Iceland, protestors threw Skyr at members of parliament, instead of things like tomatoes or eggs like you might see elsewhere.

In Egilssaga, Egil Skallagrimsson, who lived between 910 and 990, was traveling on business for his king, and upon stopping at a farmhouse for the night, was served “only” Skyr for dinner, which was apparently cause for great offense. Skyr was an everyday food, and not something to be served to honoured guests.

In Ljósvetningasaga, skyr is mentioned in the context of a man named Gissur surviving when his home was invaded, his family all murdered and most of the house burned down, but he survived
because he hid in a barrel of Skyr in the storage room.

Unfortunately there are no descriptions of skyr detailed enough to know if what is eaten today is at all similar to what was eaten during the Viking period, but I would hazard a guess that
it’s quite similar.

Making Skyr is actually a fairly easy process, similar to making your own yogurt today. In the Viking period, the cream would have been skimmed off of the milk from either a cow or a sheep, so that it could be made into butter, which was also an excellent form of preserving high-calorie content food (which would be necessary in the Viking period). You take a pot of milk that has been warmed slightly. A small portion of the previous batch of Skyr would then be stirred in, and the mixture left to sit in a draft-free place at room temperature or very slightly warmer, for however long is needed to coagulate the proteins. Typically overnight, or about 12 hours. Once the proteins have coagulated, you will be able to see the curds that have separated from the whey – the difference will be really obvious. You then spoon the curds into a cloth-lined colander and suspend it over a vessel and put it in the fridge, where the rest of the whey will drain out. It will be VERY thick and much sourer than Western-style yogurt, if that’s what you’re used to eating.

There are a number of commercial dairy manufacturers that are selling Skyr in the stores these days – here in Canada, the only one I’ve seen is President’s Choice, which is sold in Loblaws stores (No Frills, Superstore, there may be stores with other names out east), and Siggi’s Skyr in the US is probably the most well known one. I’ve tasted the President’s Choice Skyr, and while it was  yummy, it was also the texture of greek yogurt, so I get the feeling it’s not quite the real thing.

Next up… I’m going to actually make my own Skyr. Rather than starting with a container of PC Skyr, I’ve actually obtained a dried culture that supposedly originated in Iceland.  It’s sitting in a jar containing 2 cups of whole cow’s milk, covered loosely in a cloth and then placed in my oven, since it’s draft-free and will keep the temperature even.  By tomorrow morning, I should know if the culture is still viable (if it’s not, I can get a replacement) and if it’s viable, I will continue to let it sit for up to 48 hours until it becomes a solid mass.  At that point I’ll be able to use this starter to make a batch of Skyr in the method I described above, and put the rest of it in the fridge for the next batch… though I could also use the remains of the batch I make to start the next one, just like a modern yogurt culture.  If all goes well, I plan to do a taste test against PC Skyr to see how it compares.  Of course, again, who knows if it will be anything like what was made in the Viking era, but we can pretend, since this is as close as it’s going to get.  I’ve also found a potential source of obtaining some sheep’s milk from Icelandic sheep next spring, once the ewes have been bred and had their lambs, so I’m hoping to be able to keep this going long enough to try a batch with sheep’s milk as well.

Photograph of Skyr with blackberries and granola is ©Alyson Hurt, used with permission under a Creative Commons license and was obtained here on Flickr.

My translation process

My translation process

Here’s how I go about it translating a text that is in Icelandic, if you’re curious.

The first step is to type out the text from whatever it is I want to translate.  I know some people use either a scanner with OCR (optical character recognition) or an app on their smartphone that can take a picture and apply OCR to it, but I type about 110 words per minute on regular English text, and while the extra characters in Icelandic do slow me down a little bit because of the extra keystrokes they take to type, it still doesn’t take me THAT long to type a smaller piece out.  Speaking of those extra characters, I wrote an entry on my language learning blog at all those interesting letters and that helps speed things up, at least over the extra time it would take for the extra characters if I were using ALT codes.

The next step is that I set up a Word document with a table made of 3 columns – the one in the middle is as narrow as possible, just to have some space between the two columns of text – and the other two roughly equal in width.  I cut and paste the Icelandic text into the left-hand column.

Then I cut and paste the Icelandic text a sentence or two at a time into Google Translate.  And when I do that, I typically get a mess like this:

The Icelandic text I started with:

“Eins og ég hef gert grein fyrir í öðru riti, er efnið í þessum snúðum útlent, sennilega norskt, og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.”

Google’s translation:

“As I have explained in another verse, the material in these springs is foreign, probably Norwegian, and later it will be a part of the boiler.”

Excuse me, what now?  Most of this is utter gibberish.  Sure, it’s English, but the sentences make no sense whatsoever.  Here’s where things get fun.  Now, this sentence I’m using as an example is not from the start of the section of the book, so it’s lacking in context.  I picked it because the second half of the sentence is the one remaining part of this text that I’m struggling to translate.  It was just the easiest thing to go to for an example. So for a little bit of context, the previous paragraph and the rest of the paragraph that came before this sentence (it’s the last sentence in the paragraph) talk about the spindle whorls that have been found in grave digs in Iceland, what they were made of, how big they were, etc. The process up to now has had me going through the whole process I’m laying out here, so I’ve already picked up a few of the odder words that Google Translate has had difficulty with.  The example I’m using here is from the 3 paragraph excerpt in Kuml og Haugfé that I posted yesterday.

So once I’ve put a whole sentence in, came up with something nonsensical, and decided the translation needs tweaking, then I start putting anywhere from one to three words at a time into Google Translate.  The way GT is set up, it can actually take the entire context of the sentence into account and if you start typing a whole sentence into it and have Instant Translation turned on, it will translate as you type, and it will adjust the translation as you add more words. This was actually part of what helped me develop this method of translation.  Now, I’ve been studying the Icelandic language for about 5-6 weeks now, and I’ve picked up a lot of the basics – and, the, or, but, etc. and then some of the words that are less common in everyday usage, but are really common in the types of things I’m reading. For example, Snældusnúdar, which was the heading for this section of the book.  I tried translating that.  Ekkert. (That’s Icelandic for nothing, by the way.) But I’ve learned both through trial and error and from a couple of my Icelandic friends that Icelanders LOVE their compound words.  So then I looked at the word and tried to figure out a logical place where it could be split.  I tried Snældus.  Nothing. I took the s off the end and bingo. Google Translate gave me “cassette”.  Probably not quite right, given the topic I’m working on, but gives me a place to start.

That’s when I head over to That’s a free online dictionary for almost every language in existence, and I’ve found it to be quite accurate and to have a pretty big database. It can also sometimes handle conjugations and modifications of words, for example how Icelandic goes from “fisk” for fish, to “fiskurinn” for the fish.  It also has this handy feature where, when you search on a word, a frame on the left will display 15 words that come before and after it in the dictionary.  Sometimes this can be a really big help.  Glosbe didn’t like Snældusnúdar, for Snældu it gave me cassette, BUT I looked at the word list and noticed it had an entry for Snælda. Jackpot.  The second entry in the definitions was “Spindle”, and even had the helpful description of “spike used for spinning fibers into yarn”.  Now I’ve been spinning for years and already knew that, but there are other things called spindles as well, and this helped to confirm that I was looking at the right thing.

So then from there, I took the context of the fact that I was looking at a picture of 3 things that looked like spindle whorls right next to the text in the book, plus the fact that the book happens to have a condensed English index in the back of it that actually used the term spindle-whorls, I can therefore conclude that the rest of the word meant something like whorl.  In fact, Glosbe didn’t like snúdar, but the word list showed a “Snúður”, which means “head”.  And yes, sometimes Icelanders do seem to be that literal.  In the case of a top-whorl spindle (and I’m starting to get the feeling that those were most common), the whorl would indeed look like a head on top of a stick.

Anyhow, back to that bizarre sentence.  The first half was quite easy to deal with.  “As I have explained in another” makes sense.  Verse… well, not so much, but I got the feeling it might mean paragraph here, which would make sense.  So I made a guess that the first 6 words of the sentence were what translated to the “as I have explained in another”, and started with the seventh word.  Fyrir.  This one I know – it means “for”.  It can also mean “already”.  So I backed up.  I know “og ég hef” is “and I have”. I checked “eins”. It means “like”, in the sense of “as” in “as I have said before”.  I went on to gert grein, which came up with “made an article”. Gert on its own is “done”.  Grein is “article”. Out of all of this, I put together “As I have noted in another article already”. There’s the first part of the sentence.

Continuing on, we have í – in. Ödru – other. Riti – writing. Seems a bit redundant, but Icelandic can be a bit quirky I’ve found.  (And I mean quirky in the most loving way possible… heck, I’m pretty quirky myself.  I like quirky.  It’s interesting.) Er efnið – “is the content”.  “Í þessum” – in these.  Adding “snúðum útlent” to “í þessum” gave me “in these foreign spikes”, which is nonsensical.  So I removed the í þessum, which gave me “spinning foreign”. Snúðum on its own gave me “turn”. Hmm.  So over to Glosbe I went… in fact the window was still open from when I looked up snúður, and hey, those look awfully similar!  In fact, they’re probably variations of the same word.  So let’s pop spindle into the sentence. In other writing is the content in these spinning foreign.  Now here’s the part where having my weird, ADHD-addled brain comes in handy, since it allows me to think outside the box (as obnoxious as that phrase is), and just think about how that sentence could be rearranged to make sense given the context.  This is how I figured out “As I have noted in another article, the material in these whorls is foreign.”  Sennilega norskt is easy – probably Norse – and I already knew that soapstone was imported from Norway as it doesn’t occur naturally in Iceland.

And here’s where I had to stop the translation, because no matter what I did, I just couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the rest of the sentence.  “og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.” I know that og is and, seinna is later, and um is about. But even with using Google Translate AND Glosbe, I couldn’t make sense of the rest.  However, katla translates as “boiler”, but… a Google search on the word katla shows that there’s a volcano in Iceland named Katla.  And later, I did some searches on an Icelandic website where I found at least one spindle whorl that looks like it’s carved out of volcanic rock.  So it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out to be something like that.

So now that I’m at this point, the last step I use is… consulting with one of my Icelandic friends.  Sometimes I’ll go to one of them in particular, depending on what the subject matter is, since a couple of them have knowledge of particular areas that I also am interested in (like fibre arts, or animals).   Sometimes it’s for a particular word, but I’ve also said “here’s what I got out of this – how close am I?”  I’ve really lucked out with running into people on Facebook groups that I’m in who are Icelandic (of course, their naming system often makes it easy to identify someone who is Icelandic at a glance), and making friends with them.  Not specifically to have someone who speaks the language to ask for help – but just because I like making new online friends from other countries who I have things in common with, and since my husband and I are intending to travel to Iceland next year, I thought it would be fun to know some people there before we go.  And then I ended up getting my Icelandic Sheepdog puppy from someone who immigrated from Iceland to Canada.  And they are all super nice people – though I don’t think I’ve met ANYONE from Iceland so far who wasn’t nice – and seem happy to help out.  So I am SUPER thankful to have them as friends, and they may all just might be getting thank you gifts from me at some point in the not too distant future.


spindle whorls from Viking-age Iceland

spindle whorls from Viking-age Iceland

I picked up my copy of Kuml og haugfé úr heiðnum sið á Íslandi, by Kristján Eldjárn this morning with the intent of flipping through it looking for a spindle whorl to replicate. It’s now 8pm and I’m just now poking my head back out of the rabbit hole I fell down on this topic (with some breaks during the day to run errands and take the dogs out to play).  What started as just looking for one spindle whorl turned into me translating a small portion of the book, and then doing a search on for all of the spindle whorls in their database and making a summary of them with sizes, material, when they’re dated to, and any other interesting or unique things about them, like the few that have decorative markings on them.  I then went on a Google search, and the result of all this is that there’s definitely some sort of paper or something in the works about this.  That will take longer than I have available to me today, and I wanted to get an entry posted, so the spindle whorl project will definitely be a multi-post thing.  Today I’m going to share with you the text of the 2 or 3 paragraphs I translated from Kuml og Haugfé.

This is not a literal word for word translation, because Icelandic grammar and sentence structure is very different than English grammar and sentence structure. I’ve developed a process for translating things like this that results in a much more readable text than just cutting and pasting into Google Translate. I started to explain how I go about it, but quickly realized that it would make a great topic for another entire entry, so you’ll have to wait on that one.  I will mention, though, that the final step in the process is consulting one of my friends from Iceland on any words I’m completely stumped on, and sometimes to make sure my interpretation is correct.

And so, I am going to share with you my translation, and for the curious, I will include the original Icelandic text afterward.  Also, for the record, the spindle I choose to replicate will definitely NOT be one of the lead ones.  I neither have the facilities to melt lead, nor do I want them, and I want lead poisoning even less.

Spindle Whorls

Spindle Whorls have been found in four graves: Austarahóli, Hrísum, Daðastöðum and Ketilsstödum (Kt. 82, 83, 126, 142, 330. mynd). (Translator’s note: I’ve left the Icelandic abbreviation Kt. in there as I need to check with one of my Icelandic friends on what it means.) The spindle whorls from Austarahóli are made of lead, round, with a flat bottom and domed top, 2.7cm in diameter and 8mm in thickness.  The Hŕisum spindle whorl is also made of lead, semi-spherical, 2.5 cm in diameter, and 1.6cm thick. Lead spindle whorls were rare in ancient times, but nowhere near unknown.  In Norway, at least 6 have been found, and two other lead whorls here in Iceland.  Artifacts 3348 (photo 330), were found on bare ground in Skjögrastöðum in Thjórsárdal.  Most of the time, spindle whorls were made of any type of stone, such as the ones found in the other digs. In the Daðastaður grave finds, two whorls made from clay, the second 2 cm in diameter, flatter above and below, but with rounded sides, 1.7cm in height, and the other was was broken but was about 3.2cm in diameter, 2.1cm in height, and convex.

At Ketilsstaðir, made out of clay, a spindle whorl was found with a flat bottom and rounded top, 4 cm in size, and 2 cm high (thickness), completely unlike most undecorated and ancient spindle whorls. These are the most common spindle whorls from the ancient and middle ages, but billions of such whorls have been found everywhere in the Nordic countries all from the Roman Iron Age.  In more recent centuries, spindle whorls have not been common here in Iceland, but in the middle ages, they have been used frequently and are often found anywhere humans have lived. They are made from various types of local stone and have not been counted together, but 27 locations have been found with whorls made of clay like the Ketilsstaðir ones, and more than one on some support. (Editor’s note: it means that the whorl was found still on the spindle). As I have noted in another article, the material in these whorls is foreign, probably Norwegian, and it will be important to note as it will discussed later in the section regarding Katla.

Spindle whorls were often found in Viking era graves overseas.

And the accompanying picture:

The original text in Icelandic:


Snældusnúdar hafa fundist í fjórum kumlum: á Austarahóli, Hrísum, Daðastöðum og Ketilsstödum (Kt. 82, 83, 126, 142, 330. Mynd). Snældusnúðurinn frá Austarahóli er úr blýi, laglega kringlóttur, flatur að neðan og hvelfdur ofan, 2,7 sm í þvm. og 8 mm á þykkt.

Snældusnúðurinn frá Hrísum er einnig úr blýi, hálfkúlulagaður, 2,5 sm í þvm, 1.6 sm á  þykkt. Snældusnúðar úr blýi voru sjaldgæfir í fornöld en þó hvergi nærri óþekktir.  Í Noregi þekkjast a.m.k. 6, og hér á landi hafa fundist tveir aðrir blýsnúðar, þjms. 3348 (330. mynd), fannst á berum mel á Skjögrastöðum í Vallahreppi, S-Múl., og þjms. 4159, frá Sámsstöðum í Þjórsárdal. Langoftast voru snældusnúðar úr einhverri steintegund eins og hinir kumlfundnu snúðarnir. Í Daðastaðakumlinu voru tveir snúðar úr klébergi, annar 2 sm í þvm., flatur ofan og neðan, en kúptur umhverfis, hæð 1,7 sm, hinn var í brotum en hefur verið um 3,2 sm í þvm., 2.1 sm á hæð, kúptur.

Á Ketilsstöðum fannst snældusnúður úr gráu klébergi, flatur að neðan, kúptur að ofan, 4 sm í þvm., 2 sm á háeð (þykkt), alveg óskreyttur eins og flestir fornir snældusnúðar. Thetta e rog hið algengasta lag snældusnúða frá fornóld og miðóldum, en ógrynni slikra snúða hafa fundist hvarvetna um Norðurlond allt frá rómverskri járnöld. Á seinni öldum hafa steinsnúðar ekki tiðkast hér á landi, en  á miðóldum hljóta  þeir að hafa verið notaðir mikið til einvörðungu og finnast þvi mjög oft þar sem mannabyggð hefur verið. Þeir eru úr ýmsum innlendum steintegundum og hafa ekki verið taldir saman, en á 27 stöðum hafa fundist snúðar ú klébergi eins og Ketilsstaðasnúðurinn og fleiri en einn á sumum stöðunum.   Eins og ég hef gert grein fyrir í öðru riti, er efnið í þessum snúðum útlent, sennilega norskt, og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.

Snældusnúðar finnast mjög oft í vikingaaldarkumlum erlendis.

From pages 399-400 of Kuml og haugfé úr heiðnum sið á Íslandi, by Kristján Eldjárn, 3rd edition.
Posted in accordance, I believe, with the fair dealing exception to the Canadian Copyright Law, section 29 which allows for use for private research and study. I’m a historical re-enactor with almost no money and this book had to be ordered all the way from Iceland. I’ve posted 2 paragraphs plus a sentence out of a many-hundred page book. Anyone who is interested in reading this is likely to be a broke history geek too. Don’t sue me – you can’t get water out of a stone.

New project: Icelandic Language Blog

New project: Icelandic Language Blog

I’ve started a new project that’s somewhat of an offshoot of my persona development, and decided it deserved a separate blog of its own: I’m learning the Icelandic language!

I’ll probably post the occasional entry over here when something significant happens, but if you’re interested in following my progress to speaking, reading and understanding spoken Icelandic, head on over to this separate blog: Íslensk Tungumál – the journey to speaking Icelandic.

Velkomin Þórný! Íslenskur Fjarhundur

Velkomin Þórný! Íslenskur Fjarhundur

I don’t have a cute story for you this time, but it is definitely time for me to introduce to you the newest member of my family, and piece of my persona development puzzle. Please welcome Audurs Sumarsól (Audurs is the kennel name, Sumarsól is Icelandic for Summer Sun), known around here as Þórný.  Her name, just like Ása’s, is a documentable female name from the Viking era in Iceland.  The anglicization and pronunciation of that is “Thorny”.  That character at the start of her name is the Icelandic Thorn, which makes a hard Th sound, like in Thor, Thorn, and Thunder.  She came to us from Biggs Ranch, a farm in central Alberta that raises not only Icelandic Sheepdogs, but also Icelandic Sheep, Icelandic Horses and Icelandic Chickens.  (And Angus cattle, but those aren’t Icelandic.)  As you might guess, one of the owners of the ranch is Icelandic.  They’re both lovely people who raise amazing dogs.

Icelandic Sheepdogs are another northern/Spitz breed, just like the Norwegian Elkhound.  This means they will have pointy ears, a curly tail, and a double coat.  They’re also smart as a whip, and have a bit of attitude, though Icies are supposed to be a bit more eager to please than Elkhounds are. They’re known for being very happy, smiley dogs, and that’s definitely Thorny.   As you may guess from the name of the breed, they were bred to herd sheep in Iceland – and they have been in Iceland since it was settled in the 800s. Most of the Icies (a nickname for the breed, just like Elkhounds are nicknamed Elkies) you will see have a long-haired coat, but Thorny is going to be a short coat – though it’s still not super short like you would see in a smooth coated breed like a Boxer or Bulldog.  She’s still got plenty of snuggly fluff.  She’s what is called a “black tri” – they’re born looking black and white but a third colour starts coming in pretty quickly, and in Thorny’s case, that third colour is tan.  It’s hard to see in the pictures I’ve taken so far, but she has tan eyebrows and patches on her cheeks, and on her hind legs.  She’s got one double dewclaw on a hind foot – double dewclaws are a thing that is common on Icies – and desirable.  There’s even a name for a dog with a double dewclaw on all four feet – alspori.  These are pretty rare though.  Icelandic sheepdogs aren’t the only breed that can have double dewclaws, but in the case of this breed, it’s actually right in the breed standard that they have them, and they shouldn’t be removed.  Iceland is a very rocky, mountainous island and I’m sure the extra digit came in handy when the dogs were climbing hills to go after sheep, or walking on snow.  I’ve read that the extra toe can even help the dogs walk on snow better, acting somewhat like a snowshoe.


No pictures of her with me in my Viking-era clothing yet, but her first event is coming up next weekend, so hopefully I’ll get some then!




It would appear that at some point, the database running my website got nuked.  Please pardon the dust while I try and put things back together around here!  I’m hoping I can get a fair bit of my old content out of the wayback machine, since I was silly and didn’t keep copies of what I’d written on my local drive.

Coming soon… new research on animals in Iceland, pictures of my puppy who is almost all grown up now, and 10 new Icelandic chicks that I’m raising!

Ása the Norsk Elghund: a story written in persona

Ása the Norsk Elghund: a story written in persona

The year is 913. My name is Ásny, and I am a farm wife living in the north of the island called Iceland. I am in my early 40s, and I was born in Norway, but many years ago, when I was newly a woman, my husband and I packed up our belongings and set out to seek a new life. We sailed west with some other folk, and after a short voyage, thanks to favorable winds, set our feet on land again near the place called Husavik. We built a farm near where our ship landed, and we have lived there ever since. We make our living raising sheep and goats, and I make beads from glass, and every summer, my husband Bjorn joins a group of other men to go a-Viking.

Caring for our farm is hard work, especially because the gods did not see fit to bless us with children. Every other woman around seems to have given her husband least a few sons to be his heirs, but I was not blessed the same way. My mother always said I was very sick as a little baby, so maybe that’s the reason. I certainly have made all the appropriate offerings to the gods, so I can’t imagine they are mad at me. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise, since it meant fewer mouths to feed, and we did not have to watch any children die when they were babies, but with just two of us to work our farm, and Bjorn often gone for the summer months, it made for much more work for me. Fortunately one of our closest neighbours had many, many children, and we were able to get a bit of help from them in exchange for wool and milk.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved animals. My mother would often find me in the fields with the sheep and the goats, and at night our farm cats and hounds would all pile into my bed with me, as I was an only child. So it was to no one’s surprise that when Bjorn and I left for Iceland, we brought many animals with us. In addition to the sheep and the goats, we of course have many cats around our farm to keep away the mice and the rats, and I keep chickens for the eggs and meat, and we have always had a dog or two around as well. I have found that with many animals around, the heartache from never having children of my own has lessened over the years, and I dote on my animals like others would a child. Of course, as a husfreyja I was given cats when we first established our household, as any good farm wife would want cats to keep the mice away, but I always seem to have more around me than most other women around.

This year, Bjorn and his friends that he would usually spend the summer a-viking with, decided that instead of going raiding, that this summer they would venture back to Norway, to visit friends and family there. Word had passed to us Bjorn’s father was getting very old and sick, and it might not be long before he made the passage to Valhalla. He had never died in battle, but had survived many of them and would surely be chosen to join Odin when he passes. Bjorn decided he wanted to make the journey to try and see his father one last time. And besides, there are no bees in Iceland, and our kegs of mead were all but depleted, and what would the men do without their beloved mead? Of course, as someone needed to stay to take care of the farm, I wasn’t able to join him on his journey.

Shortly before Bjorn’s ship set sail, we suffered a great loss here on the farm too. Our old dog, Snorri, who we knew was not a young pup anymore, as he had been with us for many years, had been slowing down, and had been making sounds that told us his joints were stiff and hurting, for a while now. Finally the time came where his body just couldn’t keep going, and he went to wait for us in the afterlife. It was a very sad time for us, and hard, but time stops for no one and so we had to continue on with our lives, taking care of our farm and our other animals. But the loss of our close shadow, for Snorri always seemed to be no more than a few feet away from one of us at all times, left a vast hole in our hearts.

So as I said earlier, Bjorn made the trip back to Norway, and by his telling, the trip was as easy as ours was when we first came to Iceland. He was able to see his father, and be there for him when he passed, and give his mother comfort, and of course replenish our mead supply. He also did return with supplies for the farm, and gifts for me, as he often does when he is gone for a period of time. This time he returned with a little green stone, carved in the shape of a dog just like our Snorri, with a loop so that it can be hung around one’s neck, and a beautiful white fox fur, and some grains for planting next spring… but none of those compare to the final gift he gave me.

While he was visiting his family, Bjorn happened on a local man who greatly enjoys hunting with a bow and arrow, who also raises dogs to hunt with him. It just happened that one of this man’s bitches had recently had a litter of puppies, and my husband thought that would be a suitable gift to bring home for me. He certainly knows me well, my husband does. It was the best present he could have possibly brought me. I named her Ása, and she’s been with us for a month now. She’s just three months old, and a little bundle of mischief. But when she finally stops jumping at my side and nipping at my heels, she’s her Mama’s little baby.


(((Out of persona aside: we lost our old dog, Cody, to old age and arthritis in mid-August, and we miss him dearly. As luck would have it, someone in our area posted a litter of Norwegian Elkhound puppies on the local classifieds that would be ready to go in early September. Well, being one of our top choices for dog breed, and pretty much perfect for my persona, there was not much hesitation in putting a deposit on a new puppy to join our family. She turned 8 weeks on September 4th, and came home on September 6th. And her name really is Ása, which is a name which can be documented to the Viking era, as it was found in the Landnámabók, the Icelandic Book of Names. Documentation is available here: We pronounce it Ay-sa, and it means Goddess.)))

Chicken Update

Chicken Update

Life has gotten away from me a little bit on the Viking Age end of things, so I haven’t had a whole lot to post about recently. But… I did hatch a second batch of chicks on June 26/27th, and they’re 2 and a half weeks old at this point. I originally had 6 hatch out of the 12 eggs I set, but we lost one after a few days – it had splayed legs and curled toes and just failed to thrive. 4 of the remaining 5 are doing really well, growing like little weeds, and I’m excited to see how they turn out. I’m super pleased that they’re all different colours than my original batch. The 5th chick is a little smaller than her siblings, and I suspect this may be partly to do with the fact that she has a malformed leg. But she is growing, and we’ll see how things go – I may end up with a house chicken.

The bigger chicks went out to the coop outside at about 4-5 weeks old, and are doing great. My Easter Egger hen, who has tried to go broody repeatedly – she just REALLY wants to be a mama – decided that if I wouldn’t let her set a clutch of eggs, she was going to adopt all these little ones I put in her coop. It was pretty amusing to see her fluff her feathers up and come running at our dog (a 110 pound Akita!) when he got near the pen.

Unfortunately, only 3 of my 10 older chicks are identifiable as hens. 3 out of 10! Very frustrating. But now that I know at least 3 are hens, I’ve been able to name those 3. So let’s introduce…

Kolfinna inn svarti (Kolfinna the black)
Vigdis, and…

Inga inn harfagri (Inga the fair-haired). Inga is named after a friend of mine in the SCA.


Íslenska Sauðkindin: Icelandic Sheep

Íslenska Sauðkindin: Icelandic Sheep

a photo of three Icelandic sheep

I’ve actually been a spinner for a lot longer than I’ve been interested in all things Icelandic. Up until now, however, I’ve never worked with the fleece of an Icelandic sheep. I started planning this particular project before I decided to focus on Iceland and have an Icelandic persona, so it’s a bit of a happy coincidence that this project fits in quite nicely with my overall goal here. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to do a sheep to dress project – going from raw fleeces, straight off the sheep, and do every single step along the way myself, by hand, as close to the way it would have been done in the Viking age, and ultimately end up with an apron dress for myself. The first step in this project was to research breeds of sheep to find the right one, and as I did have a Viking era persona at that point, even if it wasn’t Icelandic at the time, I came to the conclusion that the Icelandic sheep was probably the closest to what would have been available in the Viking era. There are a few other breeds that would also have worked – the Soay, the Norwegian Spaelsau, and the Jacob, for example – but for some reason I decided on Icelandics. As it turned out, that was a good choice for me since a few years later I decided to narrow my focus to Viking-era Iceland! Icelandic sheep are directly descended from the sheep brought to Iceland by the people who settled it.

The Icelandic sheep is a Northern European short-tailed sheep which has a double coat.  They have a soft inner coat called the thel, and a coarser, longer outer coat called the tog.  When the two are mixed together during carding and spinning, they can make a yarn which is very stable while still being able to be spun fairly thin, called Lopi.  This yarn is best used for outerwear, though, as it’s not super soft and fine like Merino or wools like that.  Alternately, the tog and the thel can be separated with wool combs (or by hand) and spun separately.  The tog spun by itself will produce a softer yarn, and the thel will make a coarser (and I suspect more waterproof) yarn.  I will be doing some experiments with a small portion of the fleeces I get, to decide whether to separate the tog and thel, or to spin it together.

My project got put on hold for a while over the past couple of years, because I was struggling to get my hands on some Icelandic fleeces, for a few different reasons – but the main one being finances. I have not been able to find anyone in my immediate area who keeps Icelandic sheep, which meant either having the fleeces shipped to me, or going out of area to get them. While fleece is too heavy, unless you’re getting a lot of it, it is quite bulky, and would not be cheap to ship. Fortunately, I realized that the site for June Coronation is only a couple of hours from Biggs Ranch, a farm in central Alberta that raises just about Icelandic everything… sheep, horses, chickens, and dogs. They’ll be shearing their sheep sometime between now and the end of June, and I’ve made arrangements to make a stop there on my way to Coronation to pick up some fleeces. I’m hoping to get going early enough in the morning that I’ll have time to meet their dogs (they have new puppies that were born in the past few weeks too!) and take some photos for my project as well.

So now that I FINALLY have fleeces coming, it’s time to get going on researching, building, and documenting the fibre prep tools I’ll be using! First up: wool combs based on the Oseberg ship find.

Photograph of Icelandic sheep by Andrea Schaffer, used with permission under a Creative Commons license, and found posted on Flickr at