Recently, I became an empty nester. Instead of getting a puppy, I decided to lean into my love of textiles and travel by co-hosting textile travel tours with Janine Bajus, an expert Fair Isle knitting teacher. We went to Iceland in September, on the hunt for yarn, interesting textiles, and beautiful vistas.
We started with the big yarn-tourist magnets in Reykjavik: Hallgrimskirkja, cinnamon rolls at Braud and Company, And Red Cross Thrift Stores (for used sweaters).
The big spot for Lopapeysa sweaters and Lopi yarn in Reykjavik is The Handknitting Association of Iceland. I was overwhelmed when I first stepped in, there were giant piles of sweaters, blankets, accessories, and of course yarn.
All of the things here are handmade in Iceland, which isn’t the case with some of the other stores selling sweaters.
There is art and color everywhere. I was thrilled to see houses painted bright, bright colors, but it was the street art that really captivated me. There are murals and paintings all over the main part of the city. I poked into little alleys and wandered into residential neighborhoods just to look at the art.
We were lucky to meet with two Icelandic knitting experts. Hélène Magnússon (on the left) spoke to us about her designs based on traditional Icelandic knitting and about the development of her yarn line. Helga Thoroddsen (on the right), a Lopapeysa expert, gave us a talk on the history and construction of these iconic sweaters.
She also spoke about how the country turned to knitting during the pandemic. Everyone knit Lopapeysa sweaters, and the most popular pattern was the grey sweater she’s holding, Riddari by Védís Jónsdóttir. (Does it look familiar?)
What does an Icelandic knitter to do when in desperate need of Léttlopi? Head to a 24-hour grocery store. Look at this wall of Lopi at a 24-hour grocery store! I think this concept could catch on here in the US.
On the road
We visited with Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a natural dyer, at her studio Hespa. She talked about her natural dye process and the natural dye plants of Iceland. Look at the beautiful range of colors she gets. Several (many) skeins came home with me.
Here’s proof that we didn’t just haunt yarn shops our entire trip.
This is a black beach in the east fjords. The tide was out and we walked for miles on black sand. We visited glaciers, and waterfalls, and sometimes just pulled over on the side of the road to get out and stare at all of the beauty.
Near Borgarnes, we stopped for lunch at a fancy gas station with a food court. As soon as we stepped out of our van we realized we had entered some sort of Icelandic yarn Brigadoon.
This was just one corner of one gift shop, full of sweaters and accessories knit by local knitters.
Is it silly to get emotional over every day knitting? The displays of everyday knitwear, like gloves and woolen shoe inserts, got to me.
The Icelandic Textile Museum is small but well worth the trip (especially if you have someone to drive while you knit). They have wonderful displays of knitting, spinning, weaving, costumes and tools. It’s amazing how many textiles they have preserved. I was especially struck by the fine handspun lace shawls; they could easily pass through a wedding ring. These displays show how important wool and knitting have been to Iceland—that they are something to be preserved and cherished as part of history.
One last stop
Grocery self-checkout with yarn—yes, please.
At this particular grocery store I met an Icelandic woman in the parking lot with a grocery cart more than half filled with Plötulopi. She didn’t speak much English, but we communicated just fine. I asked, “Is this yarn all for you?” She nodded smiling. “Knitting makes me so happy,” I said showing her my bag of yarn. “Yes!” she replied laughing and summing up my Icelandic sojourn, “knitting is happy!”