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 


On not being a mummy blogger

I am not a mummy blogger or in anyway a parent (I am a Godmother to my  gorgeous godson). I have a theory there is a gap in the market for people who would like to work in traditionally stay at home mum jobs and yet are not parents. I have this theory as I am one of those people and one of those people who are making it work.

For a number of a years I had a plan, that after having children and when they were still young I would not go back to work but would work at home in my own business, self employed selling children’s books, providing storytimes and music for young children and parents. Nothing particularly wrong with this you might think. Only that I have not had children, I am not even pregnant and yet I had a fully formed plan of not just what I would do if I had children but what I would do when those children had grown up enough for me to think about working.  And then one day I realised quite how ridiculous this was, the revelation hit and in a fortunate ( although it did not seem at the time) I took redundancy from my job in the library.

I spent my time hibernating for a while, I refreshed my skills by signing up to a rapid response to redundancy course through learn direct and I focused my efforts job seeking, and teaching myself through the internet how to promote business using social networking. I also spent time with books from the library really finding out what I wanted to do, working through career coach books but also working on my own personal being. Reading inspirational titles such as ‘ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ and anything by the amazing Gill Edwards. For me it was also a time to work on my spiritual life, arts and being creative including writing out my favourite affirmations on index cards and displaying them where I could see them. The key when you are reading is to make notes, as much as it feels a little like being back at school it is amazing how much you take in. Also especially if you are reading library books you can go back to your notes and be inspired all over again.

Something else that has been very important for me has been to find my identity again and how it it is not dictated by work. I had known for a long time that I wanted to be a librarian and Ruth not the librarian was a strange person to find. I also knew how important it was to me to be a professional, something that I found I emphasised even when temping in admin. Being a professional in my book was concrete to my work identity as well as my personal life. This is all from someone who has only worked in a full-time job for 5 years since leaving university but had felt being professional from much younger. I can only imagine what it is like to have to leave your job when you have been there for many years.

I had a lot of anger and fear linked to the redundancy some of which I believe is rooted in my father being made redundant when I was a child. It was a difficult and upsetting time and I knew as an adult that it would bring back these memories.

An alternative view on redundancy.

  • Training- signing up for free courses even if they are a little basic or not quite relevant. You can add these to your CV and may pick up something you might not expect,

  • Social networking- I am not telling you to go and play Farmville for hours or update your status constantly but Facebook and Twitter can be used to promote business. It is well worth spending time learning about social networking and trying out different tools. Some businesses are being run almost exclusively using social networking,

  • Similarly learn about blogs and start writing one. You can be anonymous to begin with (this is sometimes advised) but you can learn about the use of a blog. This is something that I am still learning about. If you are not comfortable writing online, just write in a note book express it, let it all out. You can always burn it afterwards or delete!

  • Be creative. Find something you enjoy, I admit that I find it difficult to imagine not being creative so I believe that everyone has something. Who knows you might find that you have a talent which you can create into your own business. Being creative also helps re-build your confidence in yourself, many people who experience redundancy experience a lack of faith in themselves. Being creative reminds you that you can make something else purely from your imagination and your hands.

  • Use your library, find your library card or sign up (its free to join you know) borrow books that you might never buy, use the internet for free or a small cost and keep an eye for special events. Some libraries hold job seeking seminars, hold networking groups and provide a space.

Fairytales in Sintra

So, last week the Magic carpet ( with a little bit of help from a budget airline) took me to the beautiful town of Sintra in Portugal. The occasion was the International Seminar of Fairytales and Storytelling Therapy. This very special conference was truly set in a fairytale setting and included a range of seminars on subjects such as Sandplay, therapeutic stories, expressive arts and more. We spend the days experiencing a little of each of these approaches. The delegates came from all over the world including America, Lativia, Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, Africa and China and from a range of disciplines. Storytellers who wanted to know more about therapy, therapists who wanted to use storytelling in their work and practitioners who already used both and wanted to swap ideas and network.

Personally I came as a storyteller, with a little bit of experience in therapeutic stories. My own experience comes from training with Bag Books while at the library and attending an introductory course in play therapy last year in London.

The Seminars ( a little taster) 

Sand Tray Stories 

The seminars covered a range of topics. I was partically excited to attend the one on using Sand Tray Therapy, something I have been interested in for sometime. Sandtray therapy involves the client creating a picture or story using objects they are drawn to from a vast collection. The sand in the tray can be moved to create a landscape or even brushed to the side to reveal the blue tray and symbolise water or the sea. Something similar is done in Godly Play (a form of telling bible stories to children and something I will blog on in the future ) something I love and have had some training.

Open Storytelling

During the conference we had two evenings to share a conversation of stories emerged across the hours. Ranging from folk tales, to real life tales, life death, humour and of course fairy tales. We were also invited to share the ‘Once upon a time’ in our own mother tongue. The wonderful diverse range of languages, many participants spoke two or more languages, was a real treat. We also heard complete stories in participants own languages. For me this was one of the highlights of the week as being English everyone was speaking English, even though we were in Portugal. In the second evening of storytelling I shared the Aesop tales Lion and the Mouse, a firm favourite of mine

This was the second International Conference of Storytelling and Fairytale therapy, created by the talented Adriana   and inspired when she experienced her own fairytale therapy, writing a fairytale bringing together cultures. The next conference is set for 4th-8th April next year and submissions for seminar proposals open until 31st July.

I will be interviewing Adriana as part of my ‘Live Your Childhood dream Webcast series and finding out a little more about her inspiration for  her  culture and tourism company Moonluza, her own fairytales and childhood dreams. Watch this space for more.

Website for Moonluza