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Knitting in Iceland Posted by on Aug 14, 2011 in Icelandic culture

If you have any questions or want to see me take photos of/write a post on something, comment and let me know!

Wool, fish, and aluminum are Iceland’s biggest exports. Until recently it was only the first two that were available. Icelandic wool is “single ply” which means it is made in one strand, although I don’t exactly know what that means. My grandmother said that Icelandic wool is special because they leave the sheep’s oils on the wool and it helps to make it more water resistant.


This is “lopi – unspun” wool, and is what sweaters are usually made of. Online you might find it to cost even $9, but in stores here it only costs around 400kr, or $3.50. There’s also “létt lopi – light lopi”, which is a bit thinner and softer.

Here is the website of the company that makes this yarn, which is the most widely available one in Iceland.


This is my Icelandic sweater. A sweater made from lopi wool is a lopapeysa, with peysa meaning sweater. I have a very typical design with more traditional colours.


This is my friend A’s lopapeysa. She has many that she’s knitted herself.


Capelets with the so-called traditional Icelandic designs. This design actually became popular sometime around the sixties and isn’t actually traditional.

Someone who was an exchange student to Iceland in the eighties said in their high school, during breaks, everyone would be knitting – even the men during lunch break. When I go out I occasionally see people knitting in cafés, but most of the time they’ve actually been Finns. Most of the Icelanders I’ve talked to said they learned to knit either in school or from their parents when they were children. My former landlady, who is sixty-five, said they were graded on their knitting in class but her and her sister couldn’t knit no matter how hard they tried. In the end, one day they woke up to find their mother had knitted their assignments for them.

Random knitted items:


The puffin is made of felted wool. I also saw santa clauses and trolls done the same way.

Knitted street art:

There’s a few free patterns, including the standard lopapeysa, available online. If you want an Icelandic knitting book, I recommend this one:

I bought it for around 3.100kr ($26), and it has a variety of different patterns in it – hats, shawls, mittens, baby clothing, and sweaters. Most of the knitting books and magazines are focused mainly on one thing, so the entire magazine will be about sweaters or about mittens. This one has one or two patterns for each type instead of focusing on ten designs for the same type. Your Icelandic doesn’t need to be very advanced because it’s basically the same words repeated over and over for the instructions, like “knit 23, knit 4” et cetera.

You can buy an English version from their blog, and you could probably buy an Icelandic version from there too.

Here is a website where you can design your lopapeysa pattern online, then get instructions on how to make it.

Here is a small list of translated knitting terms between Icelandic and English.

Timarit.is is a site that collects old newspapers, periodicals, and other things from mainly Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroes. Here’s a list of old knitting patterns from Icelandic newspapers that you can view and download. The page will probably be messed up when you go to it, but just click on the down-arrow and you should be able to save a PDF of that page.

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About the Author:sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.


Comments:

  1. Laura:

    Great job, Sequoia!

    • sequoia:

      @Laura Thanks! Now I have your Email, too.