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  • Icelandic Wool Month at Tolt : It’s hard not to fall in love with Iceland - by guest blogger, Dianna Walla

     

    It’s hard not to fall in love with Iceland.

     

    There’s something about islands in general that creates unique qualities: microclimates, microcultures, and a geographical isolation that can motivate a stronger connection to the land itself. Surrounded by water, islands are exposed to the elements, and in many places wool has been an important part of protection from wind, water, and other weather.

     

    Iceland is known for its relative lack of trees in the modern era, which lends itself to what can be a foreign-looking landscape. That’s not to say that the landscape is unchanging, though. From one corner of the country to another, and from season to season, the landscape is constantly changing. I’ve been fortunate to visit Iceland several times; I’ve seen the midnight sun dip low in the sky in the summer, and I’ve slipped along the icy sidewalks in the dark days of winter. The changing colors of the mosses and heath that cover wide lava fields form a beautiful palette. The rapidly-changing light contributes to the ever-changing landscape. Mountains in the distance are by turn glowing bright blue and purple in the strong sun, covered in the shadows of the clouds, or shrouded in fog and mist.

     

    At left, the Gullfoss waterfall; at right, the active geyser Strokkur. Both are stops on what is known as the “Golden Circle” tour.

     

    One constant on all of my trips to Iceland has been Icelandic wool. While its usefulness is obvious in the winter months, it’s common to see locals donning their lopapeysas even in summer - Iceland can be a very windy place, and a lopapeysa makes a great evening jacket when you need to keep out the summer’s evening chill (particularly when knit from the unspun Plötulopi, or plate Lopi, which excels at filling out the spaces between stitches).

     

    It’s funny, because I can no longer remember exactly when I first encountered Icelandic wool or the tradition of the lopapeysa, but I do remember spending a lot of time with the Sigur Rós documentary, Heima, in college. I watched it over and over again, and both the footage of the landscape and the footage of the people coming to these free concerts all around Iceland really stuck in my mind. The film is a feast for the eyes, and it’s chock full of beautiful Lopi sweaters. I was left with the impression that everyone in Iceland must own one. When I visited Iceland myself I realized that impression probably wasn’t too far from the truth.

     

     Sweaters line shelves upon shelves at the Handknitting Association’s storefront in Reykjavík.

     

     

    I have lopapeysas of my own now, both of which are hand knit - one by me, and one by a knitter from the Handknitting Association of Iceland  that I purchased in their shop on Skólavörðustígur in Reykjavík. I love the traditional form of the round-yoked lopapeysa, and that it has regained popularity around the country in recent decades. But I also love that new designers in Iceland are finding ways to get creative with their native wool. Whether that means using the design of the lopapeysa for new applications or using the wool in different, less traditional ways, I’m constantly inspired. My own desire to come up with a different kind of lopapeysa led to my design Moon Pulls  (and its recent little sibling, the Moon Sprites hat), with simplified motifs, modern colorblocking, and a casual and contemporary silhouette.

     

     

    Moon Pulls at left; Moon Sprites at right (Moon Sprites photo by Kathy Cadigan)

     

      I love working with Icelandic wool, which is light and airy, and softens up considerably when given a good conditioning bath (instead of using a few drops of Soak or Eucalan, go for some hair conditioner instead). I’ve even dabbled in spinning with Icelandic wool on my drop spindle. Icelandic sheep are a heritage breed, closely related to many other northern short-tailed breeds, some of which you’re probably familiar with: Shetland, Gotland, Finn, and the Norwegian Spælsau are all relatives of the sheep that give us Lopi. The fiber that comes from these sheep breeds is some of my favorite, and it’s so ideal for when you need your knits to stand up to the outdoor elements. I’ve worked with the lace weight Einband all the way up to the bulky Alafoss Lopi, and I don’t think you can beat Icelandic wool for warmth.

     

    I can’t wait to hear all about Anna’s own trip to Iceland this month, and should you ever find yourself with an opportunity to visit: go! I promise you won’t regret it.

     

     

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