The Icelandic sheep is an integral part of Icelandic society. Not only is lamb one of the most popular meat in Iceland, but the Icelandic wool has been keeping Icelanders warm for centuries. I’ve knitted before, but never with the Icelandic wool or Icelandic patterns, so I decided to seek expert help with learning. The Culture and Craft knitting workshops are run by a woman called Ragnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, or Ragga. She has been knitting since her childhood and knows everything there is to know about wool and knitting in Iceland.
I decided on the workshop that promised 3 hours of knitting with Ragga. You’re provided with two skeins of léttlopi (light wool) and knitting needles, so you don’t need to bring anything except yourself. There’s not a set program for the workshop, instead, people choose what they want to work on with guidance from Ragga. To give you an idea of the projects, I decided to tackle making Icelandic woollen socks, and another girl at the workshop focused on learning to knit Icelandic style and making patterns. This makes the workshop perfect for beginners as well as advanced knitters.
Icelandic Wool: The Basics
The Icelandic sheep has many unique qualities, one of them being a layered fleece. Lopi, the spun wool most popular in Iceland, is a combination of both of those layers, and as a result, it’s waterproof, warm and very lightweight.
Knitting with Icelandic wool is fairly easy, you only have to be careful not to stretch it. Most knitting designs in Iceland rely on circular, seamless knitting, which makes it easy to do (no purling required) and knitting a pattern with multiple colors is not very hard either, after some practice. Finishing one simple project should be enough to get you acquainted with the wool and knitting techniques. Knitting a hat successfully, for instance, should give you enough confidence to take on the lopapeysa knitting challenge.
The Famous Icelandic Lopapeysa
The Lopapeysa is a woollen sweater that’s popular with Icelanders, almost everyone has one. Despite its ubiquity, the lopapeysa is actually not that old. In fact, it wasn’t invented before the mid-20th century. People had of course knit sweaters before that, but the distinctive pattern of the modern lopapeysa is not very old.
The lopapeysa is knit in the round and doesn’t have any seams. It is knit from the bottom up; the sleeves are knitted separately and then joined together with the body of the sweater to form the yoke. There are some stitches at the armpits and at the neckline on the inside, but that’s pretty much it. Because of the knitting technique, making a lopapeysa for yourself is actually much easier than it seems.
Go Forth and Knit!
After the workshop, Ragga takes her students out for a well-earned light lunch, and to the Álafoss shop, the mecca of Icelandic wool production in Iceland, where lopi was first made. There you can get more lopi and knitting needles to continue with your knitting projects along with ready-made handknit items, all at a discounted price.
I left the workshop feeling like I had been initiated into the community of Icelandic knitters. The Icelandic wool is an amazing material and Ragga is a great teacher. She’s attentive to the knitters in her class and tries her very best to make sure they learn as much as humanly possible. The workshop is recommended, not only for dedicated knitters but also those who just want to glean an insight into the Icelandic culture through that fabric that’s kept Icelanders warm (and alive) through many a dark winter.
I’d recommend the workshop to people of all ages, sexes and occupations, but for the hardcore knitters, Ragga also offers 4-day workshops and knitting and craft walking tours in Mosfellsbær.
For more information on the knitting workshop, visit her website.