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Blog / Icelandic Wool

  • Skógafjall Sweater by Kathy Cadigan

    Today we welcome our dear friend, Kathy Cadigan, to our blog.   Kathy is a knitter, spinner, and photographer.  Kathy is a big part of our Tolt community and we just love her!
    You can follow Kathy on Instagram at @kathycad and on her website.  Kathy was also the photographer for our Farm to Needle book.

    All photos by Kathy Cadigan

    When I first began thinking of color choices for Skógafjall, Dianna Walla’s beautiful design for Tolt Icelandic Wool Month, I originally had every intention of going a completely different direction from the earth tones I normally gravitate towards… Perhaps I would do a turquoise blue and silver landscape or better yet, a rainbow colored landscape! But even after many wonderful visits to Tolt for vibrant color acquistion, I surrendered to my color comfort zone and decided on yoke colors from my earthbound stash.

    I did not plan to modify the yoke pattern, it happened sort of organically. In order to help visualize and figure out color placement, I made a few quick line drawings with pen and watercolor. Since color was my main concern, I kept my sweater drawing simple, not really to scale, not very detailed. At some point during the process, a few little “black agates” inserted themselves at the base of the yoke. The more I peered at the drawings, the more I really liked seeing the overall yoke pattern without the vertical lines that delineate tree trunks in the original motif. I had no idea how it would all translate to knitting but I decided to go for it. Between the two pictures, I loved seeing the tonality moving upwards, traveling from light to dark.

     Knitting the body and sleeves gave me plenty of “stockinette time” to ponder and dream about the significance of this project to me. I wanted to explore why it was that the downward pointing angles of my pattern motif appealed to my visual sense so much. A google search gave me a few bits of information and I also came across a book that shed some light: Signs and Symbols, Their Design and Meaning by Andrian Frutiger.

    With regard to graphic symbolism, downward pointing angles and triangles have been used to signify the concept of female, (upward pointing signifies male.) A downward angle can also depict a chalice or vessel. I really like that, particularly the vessel implication. And the same nesting vessels in my yoke have also been found as a signature mark on objects dating from the Late Stone Age.

    When I excitedly related all of these little revelations to a friend and exclaimed, “this is my Womyn Sweater!” we both had to chuckle. A casual observer would probably say, “Wow, okay. How’d you get from point A to point B? It’s just a sweater!” But to knitters, a sweater project presents us with among other things, a unique opportunity to connect to a greater tradition in a creative way… and the more we come to understand about the world outside of ourselves, the more we know and understand about ourselves.

    I love that Anna and Tolt’s collaboration with Dianna gave me the opportunity to translate Icelandic and Scandinavian knitting influences (see Dianna’s blog post on her design inspiration for Skógafjall) into a personal, regional application. I now have a lopapeysa that suits me practically and aesthetically here in the Pacific Northwest. So grounded am I when I think of knitting the beauty of this region, I don’t see how my Skogafjall could have been knit in any other color palette than what constantly inspires me here.

    Yesterday, I took a walk out to the marsh preserve in Carnation to make some photos of my finished project. I really appreciate Dianna’s thoughtful design and construction details… the graceful short rows incorporated into the body and neckline and the longer body length makes for an extremely comfortable, beautiful sweater--- keeps my back covered too when I’m executing “photo-yoga” moves! ;)
    Thank you Anna and Dianna. I enjoyed knitting every stitch and will enjoy wearing this sweater for many years to come.




  • My Skógafjall Color Inspiration

    I fell in love Dianna Walla's Skógafjall sweater design as soon as I saw it. The pattern was not released yet, and still in the test kitting phase, when I started picking colors for my version of the sweater.  

    My husband and I visited Iceland in March two years ago. In March, Iceland is not the lush green place that you see in all the photos, it's winter and the land is either white with snow or black lava rock with muted golden lichen or grass.  Still absolutely beautiful in it's winter glory.  This was the Iceland I saw, and the color inspiration behind my Skógafjall. 

    For the main body of my sweater I chose a charcoal Léttlopi, color 0005, and colors 9426 and 0054 for my contrast colors. Dianna added something very helpful to this pattern, along side the motif chart she added a  little chart indicating which color was held dominate in each row.  If your not familiar with color dominance I highly recommend reading her blog post about it.   

    I cast on for my Skógafjall in mid February and was finished a couple weeks later. A great thing about most Lopapeysas, is that they knit up quickly (and even faster if you have a broken leg and can't do much else but knit). It's been a cold and wet winter here in western Washington so my newly finished Skógafjall has already gotten a lot of wear.

    We love to see your finished projects and if your working on your own Skógafjall we would like to see the color you chose, be sure to tag us on Instagram with #toltknits and #tolticelandicwoolmonth .




  • Guest blogger, Colleen Diamond

     I first started following Colleen on Ravelry.   I loved her finished projects and she seemed to be "favoriting" knits that I was also drawn to.   Not only does Colleen have an amazing style, she is also a very talented photographer.   All the photos in this post are hers.  Be sure to follow Colleen on Instagram and her Ravelry page.

    Colleen wearing her finished Telja sweater by Jenn Steingass from By Hand Issue 2

    Hello, My name is Colleen. I live on the Southern Shore of Lake Ontario. I'm an avid photographer who enjoys documenting my creative projects online.

    I've been making things with my hands all my life, so it was only natural I wanted to learn how to knit. My mother taught me to knit as a young girl, she showed me the basics, and I knit my first garter stitch scarf using a pair of vintage aluminium needles and acrylic yarn. Many years later (in 2004, to be exact) I revisited knitting after being inspired by Debbie Stoller's Knitters Handbook: Stitch'n Bitch. Knitting sort of became a way of life for me after that. There is not one day that goes by without me knitting or daydreaming about it.

    Lately, I've been putting my ideas on paper and writing patterns for my own designs. I'm much more confident at following a pattern than being in the design seat, but it's nice every now and then to switch gears and push myself out of my comfort zone. I'm often test knitting for designers that I know and admire their work  It gives me a better understanding of what it takes to be a good designer.


    If I'm not knitting, I love to naturally dye wool fibres with plants and kitchen scraps. I love the process of harvesting plant matter to make into a dye — I'm always stunned by the beautiful shades that nature can produce. Some of my favourites to dye with are black walnuts, black turtle beans, marigolds, avocados and European buckthorn. 

    Holding a basket of Léttlopi and wearing her Afmæli sweater by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    As a Canadian, I spend half the year being extremely cold! For that reason I need to find ways to keep as cozy as possible!

    Icelandic wool is like no other wool. For starters, it's incredibly warm and insulating, thanks to its two types of fibres. It is lightweight, breathable, water repellent and hard wearing. All of those qualities, plus the rustic feel of the yarn, and the wide array of saturated and natural colours make me choose it whenever possible, it's also very reasonably priced. 

    I always block my finished garments with a mild wool wash, in lukewarm water before I wear them as it softens the wool and blooms the fibres to a beautiful fabric.

    Wearing Grettir by Jared flood, knit in Léttlopi .

    Wearing her Aftur sweater by by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    The back of her Afmæli sweater by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    I'm often drawn to the traditional designs of Icelandic patterns for their beauty and function. Usually the patterns blend Icelandic nature and landscapes into their designs which appeals to me as a knitter/designer.
    With a wide range of Icelandic patterns to choose from, my favourite is the bottom-up yoke. I love how quickly a lopapeysa flies off the needles — for me, it's the anticipation or reaching the yoke that makes me knit a lot faster!

    Ultimately, I love the task of picking colour combinations and watching the magic unfold as I knit. Each lopapeysa is like a work of art with the possibilities being endless. 
  • Blær


    When you think of an Icelandic sweater a delicate and feminine lace cardigan may not come to mind, but Blær, our sweater for last year's Icelandic Wool Month is just that.   Designed by Beatrice Perron Dahlen, Blær , which is Icelandic for a gentle breeze, is the perfect sweater for cooler spring mornings and evenings or for those that live in warmer climates.  Knit in Istex's Einband, this lovely cardigan is knit from the top down with a lace yoke inspired by traditional Lopapeysa motifs.  

    From the designer,  Beatrice Perron Dahlen: 

    “Icelandic wool lives up to its reputation in every way. It is light, warm and very resilient—an experience that every knitter must give themselves the chance at. Einband is all of those things, but even softer and lighter. It’s like wearing a divine cozy cloud. This piece was designed with the iconic Icelandic sweater in mind, but rather than bold colorwork on the yoke, it has a simple, elegant lace that evokes the diamond shapes so often found in a lopapeysa yoke. It is knit top-down and seamlessly, because I do love a top-down seamless yoke. Increases for the yoke are incorporated into the lace pattern. The neck and hems have a subtle ombre color change that could be tweaked for a different look, or omitted altogether. This timeless design will become a wardrobe staple and heirloom knit.” 


    Beatrice Perron Dahlen of Thread & Ladle is a knitwear designer from Maine.  Her newest book, Maine Knits is available here.

  • Hespa by Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    During my trip to Iceland two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guðrún Bjarnadottir at her dye studio in Borgarnes.   My trip was in March which is the off-season of tourism and the Hespa studio was only open by appointment.   Guðrún was so kind to welcome my husband and me to her lovely studio and to share with us her story of naturally dyed Icelandic yarn, she also took us to her neighbor's farm where we got to see some Icelandic sheep.   We are so excited to be able to carry Hespa yarn at Tolt and are to happy have Guðrún on our blog today!
    Photo courtesy of Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    I started coloring with plants about 8 years ago when I was writing my masters thesis about Ethnobotany. I found old information about coloring with plants and became facinated by the idea. I started experimenting and lost control of my hobby. Coloring with plants combines everything that I am interested in: Agriculture, icelandic sheep, dye plants and plant identification, handcraft and old traditions. It all comes together in one dyepot. Coloring with plants is always a surprise, you can never get the same color twice while coloring with synthetic colors gives you the same colors again and again… It is the surprise part that keeps me going. If the colors stop surprising me I will probably lose interest.


    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    Coloring with plants is seasonal. In Iceland we have a short summer, 3-4 months, and I have to collect plants in autumn so I can color in the winter and then I wait very excited for the first plants to start growing. When I was younger my grandmother taught me to identify the plants and told my about how they were used in the old days. My mother was a handcraft teacher so I did a lot of handcraft when I was young. I live in the countryside, not on a farm but very close to many sheep farms. I only have to walk outside of my house to get most of my coloring plants and meet the sheep from the next farm. Some plants I have to go further to collect like the lichens and Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). I teach botany and plant identification at the Acricultural University in the next village so plants and the nature are very important to me. I am very lucky to live in the countryside in a beautiful house with my studio in the garage. Outside of my house is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the area and the Troll peak (Skessuhorn) mountain that is symbolic for the West of Iceland is very close, there is also a Lake (Skorradalsvatn) and lots of beautiful nature and walking paths in the area. All this environment makes it perfect to work with nature and enjoy working in the area and at home in my studio.

    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    I color according to the old coloring tradition in Iceland. Our problem with coloring is that we are only a small Island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and we have very few plant species. We have about 500. We came as settlers from Norway to Iceland in the 9th century and in Norway they have 1300 plants. We also came from the British Isles and they have 4000-5000 plants so they have much more options of getting colors from nature. We can not get blue and good red from our nature so we have for centurys imported indigo and Madder root for those colors so that is according to our tradition. I color with the same process as people did in the old days but I have electricity and better dyepots (Stainless steel) and I also use houshould cleaning ammonium instead of old cow urine as people did in the old days. Same methods, same chemistry but easier and cleaner process.

    It is very important to me to respect nature, never take to much of the plants and be careful with the chemicals if I use chemicals that are bad for the environment. In the earlier centuries people used iron, chrome, tin and copper powder alot for changing the colors. To day we know that these chemicals are bad for us and the environment. I only use copper in very little amount and I take the leftover water to the recycling company. As a mordant for all my yarn I use Alum and that is not bad for the environment and I reuse it constantly.

    Coloring with plants and teaching provides a very happy and diverse lifestyle. In the winter I teach botany and in the summer plant identification for a few days. In the summer my studio is open for guests to look into the dyepots. I get to meet a lot of fun Icelandic students and people from all over the world that come to my studio in the summer and also in the winter. I go outside to pick plants, get to walk around in nature and working in my studio gives me great pleasure.

     Photo from Annas trip to Iceland


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