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I have been lucky to visit Hélène Magnússon in her studio twice during my textile travels to Iceland. She is an expert and an artist with as much energy as the geothermal forces that power the country.

Just look at her impressive career: she has been a lawyer, is an expert in Icelandic textiles, runs adventure knitting retreats, is a knitwear designer, has written several books, has created her own yarn line, is a Knit Stars instructor, and is one of the leading advocates of Icelandic wool.

Nothing prepares you for the passion she has and expresses for Icelandic wool, textile history, and knitting. She follows ideas and techniques from library to museum to farm, updates them for a modern knitter, and presents them in beautiful patterns. You’ll see what I mean when you knit one of her patterns from Field Guide 26 launching on February 9, especially if you choose to use her yarn, Love Story. (Field Guides subscribers, get ready! You’ll get first dibs and a 10% discount.)

I know you have encountered a person like this—a writer, a teacher, or a friend. They effortlessly educate by elevating and connecting ideas, you nod your head yes (inwardly pumping your fist in the air), and in the end you’d happily follow them anywhere. 

Hélène was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. I think you can get a hint of the depth of her knowledge and her admiration for Iceland’s history, people, and wool.

What is so special about Icelandic wool?

The Icelandic sheep is an old breed that has stayed more or less the same in Iceland for a thousand years. It developed a dual coat in the northern climate: the þel (thel) are the very fine soft inner fibers, highly insulating. 

The outer fibers, called tog, are much longer, coarser, shiny and water-repellent. Tog and þel come from different cell skins and are both considered wool. Today’s machine-made yarns usually have both þel and tog. It makes a yarn that is extremely light and highly insulating.

Why did you decide to make your own yarn?

I created Love Story in the hope it would help to revive the Icelandic lace knitting tradition and give it a new life. It took me more than 10 years, a lot of research, experiments, and failures to create it. 

Love Story is the finest Icelandic yarn that exists today. It is the closest in fineness to the old Icelandic handspun yarns made of þel (thel) that were used for knitting the old lace shawls. They were so fine they could be drawn through a golden ring. Love Story was such a technical challenge to create. It is my biggest achievement and the one I’m the most proud of. 

What would you like knitters to know about the history (or culture) of Icelandic knitting?

Knitting came to Iceland relatively late, in the 16th century. But when it did, thanks to the presence of the sheep and their wool, it became the main home industry after fishing, and it is still very much a living craft today. 

We have a rich knitting heritage, which is worth exploring and/or rediscovering. The iconic Lopi sweater from the ’50s and ’60s and the associated Lopi yarn have more or less become synonymous with Icelandic knitting. 

I’m passionate about researching and sharing what existed before and led to the “supremacy” of the Lopi sweater. It is fascinating how, through the history of knitting, you get an insight into Iceland’s politics while unraveling the daily life of its people.

 

About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at jillianmoreno.com.

23 Comments

  • I’ve always admired the Icelandic Lopi yarns and sweaters but have shied away from knitting one as I have never been able to wear mohair as it’s so itchy…. I am wondering if this new yarn might be softer and wearable for one as sensitive as I am!!?

    • The great thing about Lopi (and I learned this from Hélène when I took one of her trips through Iceland) is that the more it’s handled – even just through the process of knitting – the softer it gets. Hélène is very hard on her sweaters and they only get better with time & use. Lopi gives you the warmth of cashmere without the weight.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Hi Lyn. I am Hulda an Icelander who runs a mini mill in the south of the country. Spinning the Icelandic wool gently in smaller machines makes it much less itchy, than we are used to. You can check out the website http://www.uppspuni.is – if I am allowed to post it here. So sorry if I am not.
  • Can’t wait until the next MDK Field Guide drops! Thanks for a sneak peek

  • Looking forward to the new Field Guide and that gorgeous yarn. Thanks for the sneak peek.

  • That sweater in the first photo is absolutely stunning!! Is there a pattern or is it from the new field guide?

    • That is her Mosi sweater – she has the pattern for sale on her website, The Icelandic Knitter. Not sure if it is also on Ravelry.

  • As a young woman in the late sixties I knit an Icelandic sweater. I think I must have found the yarn and pattern in my little LYS ( we didn’t call them that way back then) in Sheridan WY. It was owned by a Norwegian lady, an acquaintance of my grandmother who was also Norwegian. Grandma is the person who taught me to knit. I loved that sweater! I have just one old grainy photo of myself wearing it – no Ravelry archive in those days to capture our creative efforts.
    Thanks for this lovely morning stroll down memory lane.

  • I have long admired Helen Magnusson, and loved Icelandic wool. Years ago I visited Iceland and brought home more yarn than even I care to admit! It’s so insulating and light to wear….Amazing in the winter if you’re going to be active outside! I am really looking forward to this Field Guide! MDK…you do not disappoint!

  • Your story leaves me homesick for a country I have only visited!

  • I’m very interested in Helene’s yarn line, Love Story. I love traditional Icelandic sweaters but I find all types of Lopi too itchy for me. Her designs are lovely too, looking forward to this Field Guide!

  • Love it❣️

  • I’m very excited about this field guide. Can’t wait to see her designs!

  • I also love the green sweater Helene is wearing in the photo at the top, what pattern is this? Hoping it will be in the upcoming Field Guide!

    • It’s called “Mosi” and the pattern is available both on Ravelry and at Hélène’s website, icelandicknitter.com. She also has a kit on her website with the same yarn she used in the photo.

  • For those asking, the sweater Hélène is wearing in the top photo is the Mosi Sweater, which is available on Ravelry. I’m looking forward to seeing the new designs in the Field Guide!

  • So exciting to see all of the colors.

    When I made my Icelandic sweater in the mid-1970’s the colors were limited to a natural/neutral color pallet. I still have and love and wear this sweater.

    What is the pattern for the cape (?) in the horseback photo?

    Looking forward to the new Field Guide.

    • It’s called “Flowerpot” and is available on Ravelry or on icelandicknitter.com, Hélène’s website.

      • Thank you so much.

  • Thank you very much for your post that is so rich with information! As an experienced knitter, I had plateaued to knitting slightly challenging projects using traditional techniques and tools. Discovering MDK is like entering a portal of knitting nirvana for me! I look forward to reading the posts and expanding my knitting universe! Do you know if Helene Magnusson continues to run adventure knitting retreats and/or how I might find information about future ones?

    • If you go to her website, icelandicknitter.com, you can see info about her knitting retreats and lots more.

  • Do I dare hope? Puleeese tell me there will be lace knitting in Field Guide 26!

  • So exciting. One of my favorite designers. Such an interesting life!

  • One of the pictures includes a knitted skirt (or dress?). Is the pattern for that obtainable?

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