Icelandic Sweaters: A Love Affair
As you know, I’m a superfan of the traditional Icelandic sweater, or lopapeysa. I like the sturdy structure of lopapeysas, how quickly they come together, and how great—how actually happy—they look on people of every age, size and body type. To wear a lopapeysa is to say to the world, “I am wearing a loud graphic sweater and I feel just great about life.”
(Two of my greatest hits, Riddari and Verur. No nephews-in-law were harmed in the making of this photograph.)
I also love that knitting with real Icelandic wool, or lopi, is one of the few remaining bargains in knitting; the stuff is priced so reasonably that I do not have to spend more than $40 to make an adult-size sweater (in my favorite weight, the létt-lopi or worsted). The yarn of these hardy Viking sheep is lustrous. It takes dye beautifully, and the Icelandic manufacturer, Ístex, makes the stuff in many colors, from heathered neutrals to Pretty Pony brights. It is so warm that unless you live in a very cold climate, these sweaters work as outerwear even in winter. (This is a good thing. I don’t find lopi “scratchy,” as some claim, but it’s not merino. It’s good advice to wear a t-shirt or other smooth layer between lopi and skin.)
There is a comforting continuity to the sweater designs in the wirebound collections that Istex regularly publishes, and in the two books I knit from most often, Knitting with Icelandic Wool by Védís Jónsdóttir, and Icelandic Handknits by Hélène Magnússon. This continuity is compounded by my own tendency toward repetition of the familiar.
So I was excited to hear that there is a new book of lopi designs. It’s Modern Lopi: New Approaches to an Icelandic Classic, by Lars Rains, with photographs by Gale Zucker. (Neither of these people has a single accent mark in their name, but whatever.)
Of the twelve designs, three jumped out at me, saying KNIT ME NOW.
Hildur. I love the almost plaid effect of the yoke design, and the beautiful corrugated ribbing detail. I’m concerned that it’s knit with the chunky weight Alafosslopi—I find the létt-lopi plenty warm. My other concern is that it’s knit from the top down. That’s crazy talk! All my lopis have been knit from the bottom up. But I like it well enough, and I have enough faith in this top-down business—people seem to like it—that I am willing to try.
Rúntur is, quite literally, a drunk sweater. (Rúntur is an Icelandic tradition for passing the long, dark winter. It involves beverages.) Rúntur is also knitted in the Álafosslopi, but constructed from the bottom up. It starts out prim as you please, and then the yoke gets attached wrong-side out. Crazy! Crazy beautiful. I love the woven look of the inside of Fair Isle.
A third favorite is Winter Blueberries, a shawl/scarf in the heaviest weight of lopi. You could make a winterized yurt out of yarn this bulky. Consider this scarf a swatch for your yurt. I love all the textured stitches in the background of the simple, vivid color work.
Congrats, Lárs and Gále, on a smashing collection.