Iceland is known for it’s spectacular scenery. Lava flows, glaciers and hot springs tempt thousands of tourists to visit Iceland every year in the hope to explore the fascinating natural landscapes. But this country has a secret weapon hidden amongst it’s natural beauty… Knitting!
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Knitting has been a significant part of Iceland’s culture and heritage for the past 1100 years but it’s only in the past 80 years that Icelandic knitting has developed the signature style we know today. The craft experienced a rebirth in 1944 when Iceland gained independence from Denmark and, as a result, the traditional Icelandic sweater (known as lopapeysa) was born.
ICELANDIC PUREBREED SHEEP
The Icelandic sheep are one of the purest breeds in the world. They out number humans on the island, 2 sheep for every person! Lambs are normally born in the month of May and, once able to venture into the outside world, are released to explore the hills and mountains of Iceland as they wish. Every September, farmers across the country grab their sheepdogs and horses to gather the scattered sheep into one place ready to be identified by their farmers and taken back for winter. This process is known as Réttir and is celebrated by many Islanders who help the farmers during September & join in the festivities.
Icelandic sheep have a dual-coated fleece which provides an incredible yarn-cocktail of valuable qualities. The inner layer of the fleece (known as thel) is supersoft, superlight and super-insulationg, whilst the outer layer (known as tog) is much stronger and waterproof. These two fleeces can be used individually for specific purposes, or together, producing a superyarn (unique to Icelandic sheep and known as Lopi) which combines all characteristics in one product. This yarn is the material of choice for knitting the famous Lopapeysa sweater.
THE ICONIC LOPAPEYSA
If you’ve ever researched Icelandic knitting, the Lopapeysa will no doubt have cropped up a couple of times! Designed in the mid 20th century, the traditional wool sweater is the star of Icelandic knitting & an icon of Iceland itself. An authentic lopapeysa is decorated with a symbolic yoke design and will be made with lopi, adopting the qualities of this fantastic yarn making it ideal for the cold Icelandic winters. This makes it extremely popular with the locals as it’s warm, practical and has even become a bit of a fashion statement. Tourists have also fallen in love with the lopapeysa, making it the must-have souveneir from Iceland. And the best bit? Apparently you only need to wash an Icelandic sweater once a year due to the yarn’s self cleaning quality!