Yarn Detective: Léttlopi Love
One of my quarantine comforts has been candy. Not fancy candy, but candy from when I was a kiddo—comfort candy. The sugar and the nostalgia help to soothe my addled feelings.
Léttlopi yarn is a comfort yarn for me a bit in the same way. For as long as I’ve been knitting, it’s been there for me. It was never quite sitting stacked at the checkout, but close. I always know what I’ll get when I knit with Léttlopi—it’s reassuring in its stalwart simplicity.
Ístex, the company that makes Léttlopi, buys directly from Icelandic farmers and buys 99% of the fiber raised in Iceland. Dealing directly, and not through a wool broker, allows the farmers to make more money. Happy farmers raise happy sheep and happy sheep make the best wool.
Ístex has all of their yarns OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified, which means the yarn is tested for chemicals and substances that may be harmful to human health. The test criteria are globally standardized and are updated at least once a year on the basis of new scientific information.
Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together
Everyone talks about how Icelandic sheep are dual coated and these coats are blended to make yarn. But what does that mean and what does it look like?
Look at this beautiful washed Icelandic lock. (Please note this lock is from an Icelandic sheep raised in the U.S. I love my readers, but not enough to import a fleece from Iceland.)
A quick look and you can see that it’s shiny at the bottom and fuzzier at top—those are the two coats. They are layered on top of each other, the shiny part on the outside and the fuzzy part on the inside.
Once the coats are separated you can really see what’s going on!
The short fuzzy coat, the thel, is fine, soft, springy, and airy—it keeps the sheep (and you) warm.
The long shiny, hairy coat, the tog, is there for protecting the sheep from the elements—for knitters, the tog is what makes Léttlopi a durable yarn.
Taking a closer look can you can really see just how different the two fibers are—long, shiny, and smooth vs. soft and smooshy looking. You can work with them separated if you prepare your fleeces by hand. I’ve read that the tog was used to spin and weave the sails for Viking ships. The thel is soft enough to wear up close and personal against your neck or other tender bits.
Two distinct fibers growing on the same sheep—wool is magic.
For Léttlopi yarn the two coats are combined to make a warm and durable yarn. It’s the Reese’s peanut butter cup of yarns. (While we’re at it, Reese’s are a fave, but have you tried Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups? There’s no going back.)
Léttlopi is a woolen spun yarn. The woolen style spin encourages the yarn to be light and airy, helping to trap warm air against your body. Because of the two types of fibers in the yarn, Léttlopi can be spun with a looser twist and still be strong. The looser twist does let the wiry-ness of the tog fly free, and that is what contributes to any prickle you might feel on your skin.
If you untwist a strand of Léttlopi, you will see that it is actually two strands twisted together. All of the twists are going in the same direction, so it’s not really a 2-ply yarn—it’s more a single-ply with a little more substance. It knits and behaves like a single-ply yarn, giving a softer stitch definition.
top left 4.5 st/in; top right 4 st/in; bottom left 3.5 st/in; bottom right 3.25 st/in
Léttlopi is the original gauge-shifting yarn. Even when I was a fledgling knitter (for me that was in my mid-20s), I noticed that I could knit it at a looser gauge and it wouldn’t collapse on itself. The samples in the photo are knit at different gauges. All four have structure that would hold up to making a sweater.
The fiber blend, the airy woolen spinning, and the frizz make the shift work. Smoother, denser yarns don’t do it.
The frizz, or halo factor of Léttlopi is a big part of making it a superstar shifter. The longer tog fibers are like little hands reaching out to each other, they connect and hold on creating structure around the air and softer, airy thel fiber, like the candy part of a Tootsie Pop around the chocolate. I have never made it to the chocolate without biting.
A looser gauge makes a more comfortable garment. I am not going to lie and say that Léttlopi is melt in your mouth, caramel soft. There is a prickle there from the tog fibers–the hairy bits. I will say, however, that Mary Jane Mucklestone is a genius for designing garments for us at a looser gauge.
When Léttlopi is knit at a tighter gauge, it squeezes the yarn and the prickly hairs stands up straighter and stronger, but knit it up looser and those same fibers relax.
In the photo the top swatch on is knit to 4.5 stitches to the inch (what the ball band recommends) and the swatch on the bottom is knit to the gauge for the Daytripper Cardigan, 3.25 stitches to the inch. I can see a big difference in the number of fibers standing up wanting to tickle me.
Thank you, Mary Jane, for a beautiful sweater that’s quick to knit and less tickly to wear. (I bet she doesn’t bite her Tootsie Pops either.)
When choosing colors, keep in mind that wooly stitches mean colorwork is softer looking overall, and can be really subtle if you choose colors that are close in value, like this green and dark grey that I love.
What about texture and lace in Léttlopi? Moss stitch looks textured, but it’s hard to tell what the pattern is—Léttlopi isn’t great for stitch definition. Lace stands fabulously wide open. Woolen yarns aren’t known from draping, so you won’t get swingy lace, but your stitch pattern will be crystal clear.
Looking closer you can see exactly how the woolen-spun fuzz obscures the texture stitch, by creating soft stitches; it’s hard to see the edges of the stitches. And that the same fuzziness that makes Léttlopi a great gauge-shifter also holds the lace decreases together and the holes open.
Now that I’m thinking about knitting my Daytripper in Tootsie Pop colors, I’d better buy a bag for inspiration.