Sagas of Sheep and Silk- Telling Tales through Textiles

I’m delighted that Sigrun Lara Shanko, creator of Shankorugs has agreed to be interviewed on the blog. We met at the Sleep Expo in London a few years ago. I was struck by the intricacies and storytelling element of her work. Sigrun is the designer and creator of her unique rugs, inspired by her native Iceland the landscapes and mystery are reflected in the pieces, in striking shapes and colours.

So to the first question , Sigrun, when did you start to create and how did you become a rug designer?

Perhaps I need to go all the way when I was a little child staying with my grandparents here in Iceland. They taught me to read and using old Icelandic books that I loved and when they were not teaching me I was drawing. There were no toys at their house but plenty of pencils and paper. So it started in their dining room at the dining table drawing the typical old farmhouses made from stone and turf. My grandfather showed me how to hold a pencil so light that it seemed to me that the pencil was drawing and not I.  I have been drawing ever since.

I sold my first hand tufted art work when I was 15-16 years old. It was the Northern Lights  made from un-spun wool and in the shade of the Icelandic sheep. People loved it and wanted more but I was such a shy teenager that I got kind a spooked and stopped tufting all together until 2012. Then a friend of mine that had learned tufting in Sweden asked if I would form a company with her and make hand tufted rugs. This was after the banks falling here in Iceland in 2008 and no one was purchasing textile art. (she left the company 3 years ago)

What inspires you?
When I started designing the rugs I looked to the Icelandic rugged landscape for inspiration. I know this landscape quite well as I used to do a lot of hiking in the wilderness when I was younger. I have been working with motives inspired by the glaciers, newly formed lava and the rivers.


Sigrun Lara Shanko

How does Icelandic culture and heritage and landscape tell a story and influence your work?
I love poetry and specially epic poetry and stories written in the 12 century, called the Sagas, here in Iceland. Icelanders were known for their poets in the Viking time and when they travelled to Norway they met the Norwegian kings and instead of giving them gifts they gave them poems.
The Sagas are full of inspiration, nearly everyone calls out to me to be turned into a different art form. The same I can say the same with the and landscape.. It moves me and some more than others so I start with those I must do. Those that give me the most goose bumps..
The glaciers are slow moving giants that are not for the un-experienced hiker to climb. Their beauty and grace is majestic and if you are so lucky to hear them when they make the smallest move… you feel the earth rumble in your whole body. It is both scary and wonderful at the same time.
The lava is so hot that even years after the eruption it can still melt the sole of your shoes if you are not careful.
The glacier rivers are so powerful that if you fall in there is little chance for survival.
I have great respect for Icelandic nature. It is very unforgiving and deadly but then it can give you goose bumps for the beauty you experience.

Do you work in different mediums?
I learned silk dying in England in 1995 and decided that it would be my medium. Before I had tried water colour, oil, pastel but nothing really spoke to me like the silk. I was mesmerized when I saw the silk at the Olympia exhibition of Needlework back in 1995 and decided to become a full time artist. However it took me 7 years of practise before I thought I was good enough to become public about it and sell my work. My silk studio opened in 2003 and I became a member of the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists the year later.

Did you always want to do this?
Yes I think so but I did not know it until 1995… however since I was a teenager I was always looking for the right medium so I was in heaven when I found the silk dyes and then later rediscovering the hand tufting was the icing on the cake so to speak.

What is important in life?
Never to lose sight of your goal and strive to be the best in your field

Thank you so much to Sigrun for such a poetic and insightful interview. You can find Sigrun’s work at: Shankrugs, she is also on Facebook at Facebook: ShankoRugs and on Youtube.

This interview is part of the’Live Your Childhood Dream‘ series, meeting inspiring and creative artists from around the world who have tapped into their childhood passions and using these in their day to day lives. Watch the videos here 


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