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Category: animals (dýr)

Fyrir Hundana

Fyrir Hundana

This post is a slightly edited version of the most recent post on my language learning blog.

I’ve posted about my dogs before, and just in case it wasn’t evident, I am a big dog geek.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ve already met Ása, who is a 1 year old Norwegian Elkhound.  Then not even a month ago, we were joined by Þórný the Icelandic Sheepdog puppy, and now you know that yes, I am that much of a nerd that I even got dogs that would be appropriate for my persona.  It doesn’t hurt that both breeds fall right in line with the type of dog my husband and I like. Before these two, we had an Akita, and all three of these breeds are in the spitz/northern category.  We likes our pointy ears, curly tails and double coats, that’s for sure.

Anyways, there’s definitely some information out there about the dogs in Iceland during the Viking period, and I’m working on some documentation on that.  I can tell you that Icelandic sheepdogs were absolutely around during the Viking period in Iceland, and they were very likely veeeeery similar in appearance to how they are today, but I don’t have the documentation to prove it… yet.  That is absolutely coming in the future.  There’s many references to dogs in the Sagas, though, and there’s actually also a reference to an “Iceland dog” in one of Shakespeare’s plays!  It may actually be Macbeth, but I can’t quite remember.  I’ll have to look that up again. Of course, having studied a few of Shakespeare’s plays in school, he may be using that as a euphemism for something else.  And Shakespeare is way past the Viking era… but it’s still very period for the SCA in general.

Despite knowing that there WERE dogs in Iceland during the Viking period, I have serious doubts that I’d be able to find any info on whether they were trained, how they were trained, etc. I’ve heard that there’s been evidence of leather strips being used to collar and leash them, but need to dig up that info for myself still.  But I decided that regardless of what evidence is out there, I’m going to train MY dogs in both English AND Icelandic just for fun and geekery.  So with that in mind, I set about researching the right words for the Icelandic commands.  I’ve been studying the Icelandic language for almost two months now, and I know enough to know that very little is an exact translation of the English version of something, because Icelandic grammar is quite different, I didn’t want to just use Google Translate to help me with the commands.  I first posted on the Icelandic Sheepdog group on Facebook, since there’s plenty of Icelandic folks on there, and got a bit of advice, but I also got the suggestion to reach out to Galleri Voff – Hundaskóli (I haven’t translated that last word, but how much do you want to bet that it means “dog school”? ) so I went over to their Facebook page and sent Ásta a message.  She was super fast with responding and super helpful.  Major thanks to her for her help!

Anyhow, on to the language lesson!  First off, the word for dog is “hund”. If you want to say THE dog, it’s “hundurinn”.  Dogs plural is “hundar”.  Puppy is “hvolpur”, the puppy is “hvolpurinn”, and puppies is “hvolpar”.  Icelandic Sheepdog is “Íslenskur Fjarhundur”, and Norwegian Elkhound, well… in Norwegian, it’s “norsk elghund”, and I suspect it’s probably the same in Icelandic.  It might be Norsku Elghund… I need to check with my friends and I’ll update this when I do.

Here’s what I’m going to be using in terms of Icelandic commands.  The pronunciations are in the parentheses after the word.

Come – koma (pronounced like the english Coma)
Sit – sestu (sesstu)
Stay – bíddu (beethu)  (this is literally “wait”, so it’ll be the same command for both)
Lie down – leggstu niður (leg-stew neethur)
Up – upp (the U is pronounced like a German ü.  I don’t know how to represent this in text other than maybe “eupp”)
No – nei (nay)
In the car – inn í bíl (In ee beel)

A few others that Auður, the breeder that Þórný came from, helped me with (since she is Icelandic herself):

Leave it – ekki snerta (literally “do not touch”)
Drop it – sleppa

There will eventually be a part 2 to this entry, as Thorny’s education progresses, but for the time being, as she’s only just under 12 weeks old, this is a good start!

dúnkennd hvit ský af ull (fluffy white clouds of wool)

dúnkennd hvit ský af ull (fluffy white clouds of wool)

Yesterday I spent my whole lunch break out on the back lawn of my workplace, working on sorting and separating the drawstring bag full of fleece I have washed up.  I took advantage of the natural light to take some pictures while I was working, as well, so I can show you better the difference between the tog and the þel.

This picture here shows the fleece before separating – but it happens to be a section of it that doesn’t have very much tog in it.  I’ll get a picture of some that has more tog in it fairly soon, hopefully, and also some pictures of what it looks like before washing.  There’s a bit of tog in this one though – middle of the picture vertically, a little right of centre.  The bits that are more curly and a bit darker are the tog.

This next picture shows all the locks of tog I’ve separated out.  There may be a bit too much þel attached to them, judging from the abundance of fluffy white stuff on the left side though.  I can further pull more of the þel out if need be though.

Here I wanted to see how long one lock of tog was, to compare with a picture that my friend Marianne had sent me to demonstrate how long it could be on a good fleece.  I didn’t have a measuring tape with me, but I did have my keychain with its piano lanyard on it, so I took a picture compared to that so I could measure it later.  The lanyard itself is 16 inches long when folded in half, which is about 40cm.  It turned out that this tog is just as long as the tog from Marianne’s picture!  These really are some darned nice fleeces I’m working with.

And finally, a picture of the three piles together.  On the left top, the unseparated fleece.  On the top right, the þel after the tog is pulled out, and in the middle bottom is the pile of just tog.  I’m going to save the tog for another project in the future – it might be suitable for spinning up a little thicker and then naalbinding into mittens, since the tog will make for very sturdy items, and a bit more waterproof too.  We’ll see how much of it I have after I finish separating all 3 fleeces that I have.

I’m already starting to think that I might need to reserve a couple more fleeces from next year’s shearing… coloured ones this time.  Icelandic sheep come in all sorts of different colours – white, black, grey (which is actually a white þel coat and a coloured tog coat – it can be either black or brown), brown… and then there’s all sorts of stuff about the different patterning that Icelandic sheep can have (spotting, Badgerface, mouflon, etc.) and I haven’t even begun to understand how all that works so I’m just not even going to talk about that yet.  Maybe I can talk one of my Icelandic friends who know lots about sheep into writing a guest post for me. 🙂

smá uppfærsla

smá uppfærsla

Just a little update, since I have a number of projects on the go but nothing really major to report about any of them at the moment.

On the Skyr front, my culture was indeed too old and had died.  I’ve ordered another one, and will be putting that one on to grow the minute it arrives in the mail.  I got the notification that it had been mailed today, so hopefully it won’t take too long.  I also recently talked with one of my Icelandic friends who mentioned that Skotidakis (the Greek Yogurt brand) is now making Skyr too, though it seems to only be available at Costco right now.  I did get to Costco on Saturday, though, and picked up a case.  Sadly it only comes flavoured, not in plain, otherwise I’d try using that as a culture and start a batch from that. Apparently the Skotidakis brand comes a lot closer to actual Icelandic Skyr than the President’s Choice brand does.

I’m close to being able to post another project I’ve been working on for a while, which is a translation of a 7 page article from an Icelandic journal on the origins of various domestic animals in Iceland.  The article itself is modern, and isn’t geared towards people focusing on the Viking era, as it talks about changes since then, but since Iceland as a country basically started during the Viking period, talking about where the various Icelandic breeds of animals came from is relevant to my interests here.  Getting this article in the first place originated from my work towards showing documentation that Icelandic Sheepdogs have been around in much the same form as they are in now since the Viking era.  I still have to go further in this research on the dogs, but the other information in this article is interesting as well.

Speaking of the Icelandic Sheepdog, this past weekend was Þórný’s first event, at Vinfest in Grande Prairie.  We were only there for a few hours for various reasons, but she got lots of attention and good socialization time, and I had my first experience helping to run the lists for a fighter tournament!  Here’s Thorny and I – she’s passed out on me from all the excitement, just like that picture of Ása passed out on me from Vinfest 2017.  We brought Ása as well, and she gets lots of attention to as she’s a sweet, friendly girl, but she was more interested in digging holes on Saturday.  Þórný’s more likely to become my eventing companion, because she likes car rides whereas Ása isn’t fond of them.

Finally, I am currently working on separating a big pile of fleece into two smaller piles.  As I mentioned in this entry (Íslenska Sauðkindin), Icelandic Sheep fleece has two different layers, the tog and the þel (thel).  The tog is a long, straighter part of the sheep’s fleece, and is more coarse.  The þel is the under-layer of their fleece, and is much softer.  For the purposes of my project, I pretty much want to use only þel, so I am separating the tog out and saving it for another project.  Once this process is done I will then be able to pretty much spin straight from the handfuls of þel I have, I won’t even really need to do any further preparing before spinning.  The portion of the fleece (it’s maybe 20-25% of one fleece, at the most) I’m working with has been washed, so it’s clean and has only a small amount of lanolin left in it. Once I pull the tog out (I’m just doing this by hand – no tools necessary), the þel pretty much comes away as a fluffy white cloud.  I’ve been doing some research on how the thread for weaving with was spun during the Viking era in Iceland, so there will be a post about that soon too.

Another upcoming sub-project for the sheep to dress project is going to be making my own drop spindles.  I managed to find my larger pieces of soapstone this past Friday while I was looking for something else, so I can finally get started on carving some spindle whorls.  Then I’ll just need to take Ása and Þórný for a walk in the woods to look for some appropriately sized and shaped spindle shafts, since if I’m putting the time and effort into carving the whorls myself, I am certainly not going to use a commercial dowel for the shaft.  I’ve been also making some spindles out of commercial dowels, toy wheels, and cup hooks lately, but that’s not exactly appropriate for period.




The Northern Women Arts Collective is a treasure trove of fascinating, valuable 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. (correction: these aren’t her flock, they’re pictures she took while she was in Iceland).  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 great photos of some beautiful Icelandic sheep that Marled took in Iceland!

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!