Filigree - Víravirki

I have been blessed in my life to have had some of the best teachers.  Really.  And many of the best teachers have been a lot older than I.  So I was really thrilled to get an opportunity to take a class from one of the oldest working goldsmiths in Iceland. She is over 80 years old and has been untiring in keeping the old traditional silver filigree making alive.  Silver filigree adorns the old dress that women wore and the art of making filigree goes back all the way to the vikings who settled Iceland.

I do not own a dress myself and I guess one of the reasons is that the cost of the silver is high, anywhere from US$ 3.000 - 5.000.  I have become more interested in making a dress for myself, using natural materials, like they did in the olden days.  Today it's not usual to use natural dyes, but I think the dress would be even more charming if one did.  But I saw the course for the filigree and decided to sign up.  I did two courses of jewelry in my fine art studies in the 80's, but I haven't touched a torch since.  I am not really a fan of taking courses in order to learn stuff.  I'm much more of a do it yourself type person so I tend to just dive into learning on my own.  But learning from the very master was too tempting, and sometimes it's just a lot quicker to have someone teach you the right way to do things.  It was fun.  More fun than I remembered.

The course was a short one, just two weekends and we were expected to do a brooch in that time.  I did a small one and turned it into a ring.  Brooches are an essential part of the dress, but I do not wear brooches really ever, but I have been wanting a large cocktail ring.  I also did a pair of earrings.

I was really surprised by the process.  It is very simple, but also very fiddly.  I got the bug very badly and although I hadn't thought about doing it myself, I decided to make the silver for my dress myself.  It is of course a lot more economical, even if here is some cost involved in equipment.  Most of the cost is in the amount of time it takes to make.

The Icelandic filigree is made out of two sizes of wire, an outer wire (Höfuðbeygjuvír) and an inner wire (Innanbeygjuvír).  The outer wire is a round 1mm silver wire that is rolled into 0,5mm.  The inside wire is especially textured and much finer.  To start to make a shape that is round, one bends the outer wire around two nails that have been hammered the desired distance into a piece of wood.  It is a humble beginning, and doesn't look like much.

The next step is to use pliers to coax the silver wire into a nice round shape with a small center and then this is soldered.  The resulting round shape is then worked with the pliers to make it into the shape one wants and to make it even and then it is ready for the finer filigree to be filled into the shape.

I chose to make mine in a heart shape and filled it in with little round shapes (Snirkill) which always get a small ball of silver (Korn) on top.  I had planned to fill in with leaves (Lauf), but that proved difficult so I choose another traditional shape, whose name I do not know.

I have since this time spent a lot of time reading about the dress and the silver that accompanies it in order to choose what type I want to do.  There has been some change in the style of dress and also the style of silver and one has to make a lot of choices.  I have chosen to do an older version, 19th century rather than 20th century.  There are no surviving dresses until around 1800, but there are illustrations of dresses back to the 16th century.  One day I want to do an 18th century dress (Faldbúningur), but that takes about 3 years, if one is quite diligent and I don't have the time right now.

I signed up for a course in sewing the shirt and the apron.  I started the 19th century shirt, which is made of a very fine linen (can also be cotton), but I can't find a linen thread here so I can't finish it.  I've almost finished sewing the apron, with thread from the fabric.  I just have to do buttonholes and slight finishing.  In the olden days it was either made from local wool, striped or checked, imported silk or, rarely, white linen.  I would love to weave the fabric for my apron, but then it also becomes tempting to spin the yarn for it and dye it myself.  So silk apron it is.  I have also started the knitted hat, which is most often done in black, but the older hats were more commonly blue and even red or green.  Since I didn't want black, I used the woad dyed alpaca from last summer, very happy to have found a worthy project for it.  I'm waiting for a course in sewing the very delicate embroidery for the corset, as well as a course in sewing an underskirt.  But the overskirt and the corset itself may have to wait a while.

This project is taking on a life of it's own.  It's my goal now to make a dress for July 19th which is my grandmothers birthday.  This year we will celebrate the centenary of her birth and I plan to finish some form of a national dress to wear that day.  It will undoubtedly deviate quite a bit from what is most often done, a lot of black, but it will be handmade and I will stay true to the handiwork and even more correct in terms of the colours I use since I plan to use mostly indigo dyed wool and a lot of white.  The white is not very traditional, but I don't care.  After all it will be summer.


  1. The silver filigree you made is beautiful. And I love this project of making a 19th Century dress and apron! How will the dress be adorned with the silver filigree, I'm wondering -- on the fabric itself or as a pin? So interesting. xx

  2. Peggy, the corset is closed with silver thingys (up to 12 on either side) that are laced together with a silver chain. There is also a belt and a brooch, the apron is fastened with silver buttons and on some forms of the dress there are sleeve buttons, up to 10 on either sleeve and then some gold chains and necklaces. The hat also has a silver tube. So there can be a lot of silver. Hopefully I can post about it as I go along.

  3. That is a very interesting project. And the filigree is beautiful. Im looking forward to see the dress. In Bavaria there are also traditional costumes in some regions, which are heavy loaden with silver buttons, chains etc.

  4. Who is the 80 year old silversmith and how can I find out when she teaches another class?
    Also, it looks like you are knitting a light blue tassel hat. Are you using a pattern, or making one yourself?

  5. Tree Peeps, She is Dora Jonsdottir and runs a company in Reykjavik; Iceland ( She does a number of courses every year here in Reykjavik, all held during the autumn and winter months. I did knit the hat in light blue, just for fun. There is a pattern that I kind of used although the yarn I was using is a lot courser than what is traditionally used in the hats. And they were always black (except in the 16th century). I can't wear the blue hat with the costume, they would throw a fit :). I can post the pattern sometime in the future, I would need to translate it from Icelandic which takes a bit of time. Be warned though. It takes forever to knit the think in the proper gauge. I have started the hat in black and it's seriously tedious to knit. I may end up buying one :)


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