Book Review: Traditional Icelandic Embroidery

Book Review: Traditional Icelandic Embroidery

(article originally published in Summer 2004, Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog)

Traditional Icelandic Embroidery, 2nd edition.  Guđjónsson, Elsa E.  2003.

List Price: $35.00.  Selling through the Barnes & Noble site at this time for $28.00.

This book is more of a history then a how-to book, yet it still provides some excellent diagrams on how to execute historical embroidery stitches.  The focus of the book is reviewing extent historical embroideries that were created in Iceland.  The author has done extensive research on the subject and shares her knowledge on these embellished textiles that survive from the 15th century through the 19th century.  She provides details on all of the still existing medieval embroideries and on most of the post-reformation embroideries.  There are only a couple score of historical embroideries that were created in Iceland still in existence; through this book a reader will discover the present location, materials of creation, size of the item, and techniques used to create them.

The only drawback is she tends to write about these items in an overview manner, grouped together by embroidery technique.  To figure out exactly what materials, what colors and what techniques were used on each item, one has to go through a chapter and take extensive notes to reassemble the details on an individual item.  Fortunately there is always less then a score of embroideries for each technique.  If you are interested in the scholarly dissertation of each item and can read Icelandic, the author has published a number of articles covering the individual items she has studied; it is from this body of work, which is listed in the bibliography, that she has created this book for the general public.

About half the book, illustrations and text, deal with information from SCA period.  The best part of the book is the fifteen illustrations from eleven little-seen extent embroideries in beautiful color and focus.  There are more illustrations than these, but only the fifteen mentioned deal with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  In the back are twenty-four pages of designs the author has created based on historical embroideries.  Unfortunately only one of them is from the SCA period, and it is for a piece not covered in the book.

For SCA purposes, this book gives a good overview of the embroidery in Iceland, though not a clear progress from one embroidery and time period to the next.  Overall the book is for more advanced embroiderers who want to look into the history of embroidery or for those gentles of Icelandic personas.  It lacks coherence and detail for deep research, but it is a good start on the topic.

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