• Álfkonudúkur frá Burstarfelli

The Elf Woman‘s Cloth

 artist unknown 1600-1700

This altar cloth is one of very few objects in the National Museum collection that is claimed to be made by hidden people. The cloth is made of yellow homespun cloth with embroidered cut out flowers and peddles from dark velvet, embroidered with a wire thread. The cloth is pieced together from two pieces of the same type but there is clearly something missing between the two halves. The bottom corners have cut out images of fantasy women.  They are glamorously dressed with long and thick hair. They sit on their floral thrones and leafy trees form pillars on the thrones. The left woman plays the harp but the other seems to be holding feathers. In the upper part of the seam are two cut out angel pictures but one of them is not whole. The cloth was last used in Hofskirkja in Vopnafjörður.

The folklore that accompanies the cloth says that a magistrate's wife in Bustarfell had a dream that she was lead into a rock inhabited by elves. Inside the rock she helped an elf woman give birth to a child who in return rewarded the magistrate's wife with the finely woven textile. The cloth is well made, exotic and unique for Iceland. There are however two extant cloths in Norway, clearly of the same nature, although there are some differences between them. Both of them have embroidered dates, 1687 and 1688 and they are thought to have been made as table cloths although both of them would later be connected to churches. It has been speculated that proficient women or men in Norway made the cloths and that the makers were prolific seamstresses since no such workshops are known to have existed where such cloths were made, even further south in Europe. The question of where the Bustarfell cloth came from therefore remains unanswered. There are various cases of relations between Iceland and the region south of Trøndelag in Norway that span centuries, not least in the 18 th century, and perhaps the elf woman cloth is further evidence of these relations. Unless of course the folklore is true and the cloth really came from the elves.


Þjms 3465

The National Museum of Iceland