Weaving the past into a circular textile community
About the pilot area
Amidst the glacial landscapes in the northwest of Iceland, lies Blönduós, a small town home to fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, resulting in a population density of just 4.9 people per square kilometer. Rich in heritage, the town features the Kvennaskólinn building, one of Iceland’s four Women’s colleges founded in 1879. These colleges pioneered women’s education in the country by integrating traditional academic subjects with practical skills such as cooking, knitting and weaving.
The original college was destroyed in a fire in 1911, but was subsequently rebuilt into the structure that stands in Blönduós today. Since the college’s closing in 1978, the historic building has found a new purpose that is still close to its heritage.
It now houses the Icelandic Textile Center and Textile Residency, the community embroidery project Vatnsdæla á Refli, as well as an exhibition on the history of the school, and facilities for distance learning and adult education. The ownership of Kvennaskólinn is currently shared between the Icelandic state and the Húnabyggð municipality.
The area also presents its set of unique challenges. Environmental concerns include soil erosion and methane emissions, while the social landscape struggles with lack of innovation and opportunity in the wool and textile industry. Economically, the locality experiences challenges linked to the competitiveness of local wool, fast fashion, and limited textile recycling waste.
The Icelandic Textile Center is working hand in hand with its heritage towards creating opportunity for local textile production and transforming waste wool and recycled wool into a sustainable enterprise in Iceland. The use of innovative biomaterials such as seaweed is another avenue that is currently being explored. The Icelandic Textile Center seeks to nurture a textile cluster, fostering a tighter-knit community of all actors in a circular economy.
FOLLOW BLÖNDUÓS' CARTOGRAPHY JOURNEY
Challenges around Blönduós and Iceland
Soil erosion: Decades of overgrazing degraded the delicate tundra ecosystems
Waste: Iceland has one of the highest waste generation rates per person in Europe.
Emissions: Especially wetland drainage is the culprit for Iceland's high emissions
Which insights have been gathered by our local context detectives?
Read through our gallery of local anecdotes, research findings and in-depth analysis
The loss of soil remains a concern in Iceland
Iceland - When we think about soil pollution in the traditional sense, we often envision industrial chemicals, hydrocarbons, and fertilizers contaminating soils. However, Iceland faces another significant soil problem, one that carries ominous implications - erosion.
In Iceland, approximately 45% of its soils are in poor condition due to overgrazing and deforestation. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that northern permafrost soils contain a substantial amount of methane, making the erosion of these soils a source of immense greenhouse gas emissions. To put it into perspective, permafrost soils in northern latitudes hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere itself! It comes as no surprise, then, that soil conservation and restoration are of utmost importance to the Icelandic government. Above all, this involves the restoration of woodlands and collaborating with farmers to implement soil-protecting practices.
Parallel to Iceland’s efforts to understand challenges related to the farming and wool ecosystem, the team has embarked on a journey to get to know the local stakeholders along wool value chains.
Who was mapped
Wool crafts and artisans
Alternative fiber resources
The Blönduós pilot team is interested in building a textile cluster of stakeholders from traditional wool industries, alternative fiber producers and textile recyclers to jointly collaborate for a stronger and more sustainable local textile sector. The mapping of players in both traditional wool and textile alternatives helped our pilot gain an understanding of the existing knowledge and skills (old and new) which can be leveraged in a Textile Cluster.
The mapping of stakeholders in Iceland’s wool industries and alternative materials sector was followed by a selected mapping of material resources from key stakeholders, such as local wool processing companies.
What local resources were mapped?
Expertise (e.g. in using alternative or recycled fibers)
Natural alternative resources (seaweed, fishskins, hemp, linen)
What else was asked?
The pilot team was also interested in identifying heritage-related resources, such as traditional skills and knowledge on knitting, weaving and dying wool garments. To dive deeper into the heritage of wool in Iceland, visit the CENTRINNO Living Archive
How was data collected?
Wool production and wool waste data was collected via a survey that we sent to the main wool producer in Iceland
Knowledge & skills was collected either by interviews with stakeholders or extracted from online research
Collecting information via KUMU for the cartography helped us identify stakeholders and get an overview of where textile makers and key partners are located in Iceland
Showing data visually was helpful for telling our story & presenting facts on wool / textile processes in Iceland
KUMU is a great way to simplify information and present data to an audience without much background knowledge
Which ideas did we find to make Iceland's wool and textile ecosystem more circular & regenerative?
Exploration of seaweed as alternative fiber for recycled wool blend
Exploration of other sources for fiber to complement wool (hemp, linen, lupine)
Experimentation with local students on machine development for better textile recycling
Exploration of seaweed-based fodder for sheep during winter with local agricultural university
In 2023, the Textile Center organized several events and programs to further research & innovation on identified opportunities. Amongst others, the Fabricademy 2022 - 2023, organized by the Textile Center, supported design students in exploring the uses of local seaweed resources in biofabrication for material development. The result of months of research is now published here.
The Icelandic Textile Center also has started to explore together with Agricultural Universities how seaweed fodder can replace other fodder sources for sheep. Lastly, with the goal to make better use of local non-wool resources, such as mapped available textile waste, the Center engaged local engineering students in the building and improvement of a textile recycling machine.