A knitter’s guide to Iceland

Icelandic sheep near Reykjahlíð in Mývatn.
Icelandic sheep near Reykjahlíð in Mývatn. Photo by Christopher Lewis
Sheep on a slope in south Iceland.
Sheep on a slope in south Iceland.
Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon in southeast Iceland on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park.
Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon in southeast Iceland on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park.

I feel very lucky to have travelled to two fantastic fibre destinations this year – Ireland in the spring and most recently Iceland. I remember the first time I knit with Icelandic wool, a clay-coloured lopi that I picked up at Romni Wools when I moved to Toronto in 2002. I loved it immediately – it shed like crazy but I didn’t care. I free-styled a capelet/cowl with a few balls of it, and immediately went back for more in navy to make myself a toque.

When I first went to Iceland in 2006, I didn’t buy a single ball of yarn. I had recently started my first job in media, and didn’t exactly have money to burn. This time though, I did it right. I not only brought back a nice stash of lopi, but a custom lopapeysa (Icelandic sweater) as well. Chris and I spent a little over two weeks in Iceland, most of it driving around the Ring Road (or Route 1) and the Westfjords. It was an incredible experience, and covering more than 3,000 kilometres gave us a taste of places we’d like to go back to and explore further.

But back to the yarn… a lot of things are expensive in Iceland, but yarn is not one of them. $3.50 CAD is pretty typical for a ball of lopi. You can find Icelandic wool almost everywhere – convenience stores, grocery stores and knit shops. So it’s plentiful and affordable, a dangerous combination for a knitter. My first fibre stop was on our first day in Reykjavík, at the Handknitting Association of Iceland. It’s wall-to-wall in there, stuffed to the gills with machine-knit socks, hats and sweaters as well as a whole room devoted to handknit lopapeysur, Ístex wool, patterns, needles and notions.

Just your typical convenience store yarn selection... in the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in south Iceland.
Just your typical convenience store yarn selection… in the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in south Iceland.
Icelandic sheep at the Viking Cafe near Höfn.
Icelandic sheep at the Viking Cafe near Höfn.
Lopi Loop
Lopi Loop. Photo by Christopher Lewis

The second fibre stop was Storkurinn, a 2nd-floor shop on Laugavegur, which is Reykjavík’s main shopping street. Guðrún Hannele Henttinen is the owner of this lovely shop, and we chatted with her a bit about her time spent in Montreal as a student. Guðrún has a very nice selection of yarn, Icelandic and otherwise. This is where I made my first purchase, four balls of Létt-Lopi, which I used to make my Lopi Loop (pictured above). I should mention that although our trip spanned the end of August into September, a wool loop was most definitely welcome (especially up north where it dipped down to around 2°C).

Guðbjörg knitting at the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavík.
Guðbjörg knitting at the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavík.

On our second day in Reykjavík, we stopped by the Kolaportið flea market down by the harbour. This is a great place to go if you’re looking for a lopapeysa. There are many, many options. I met a knitter there named Guðbjörg, and she agreed to make me one in shades of grey. Her son dropped it off when we got back to Reykjavík after our road trip and it’s perfect. This was my first time on the other side of that particular relationship and it was so special to meet the maker.

I love the lopapeysa Guðbjörg knit for me. Photo by Christopher Lewis
I love the lopapeysa Guðbjörg knit for me. Photo by Christopher Lewis

SPARK Design Space is a unique shop in Reykjavík, and while not specifically fibre-focused, it’s not to be missed. I kind of stalked it until the last day of our trip, when I had the good fortune of finding it open! It’s filled with art, objects, books and textiles. The owner Sigríður is a great person to chat with, and is so knowledgeable about the artists and designers she carries in the shop. I had seen Vík Prjónsdóttír designs elsewhere, but am happy that I ended up buying one of their Raven Wing scarves from Sigríður.

Lopapeysur at Álafoss in Mosfellsbær.
Lopapeysur at Álafoss in Mosfellsbær.
The Álafoss wool store in Mosfellsbær.
The Álafoss wool store in Mosfellsbær.

Just outside of Reykjavík, we made a pit stop at Álafoss in Mosfellsbær when we first hit the road. Chris found his lopapeysa there, which was knit by a woman named Hrönn. This is a nice touch with the Handknitting Association of Iceland lopapeysur; the makers sign their names on the labels. I picked up some plötulopi (unspun plates) and Védís Jónsdóttir’s wonderfully comprehensive book, Knitting with Icelandic Wool. We then made our way around the Golden Circle and drove counterclockwise around the island.

It was in Akureyri, a town in northern Iceland, that we visited one of my favourite shops. Flóra sells handknit goods (some made with alpaca/Icelandic wool blends), hand-dyed yarn, new and second-hand clothing, Icelandic music, food and housewares. The owner Kristín introduced me to a local knitter, who told me all about a wool centre/workshop in the south, Þingborg. I will definitely be paying them a visit on a return trip to Iceland. From what the knitter told me, the women select the fleeces by hand and oversee every stage of cleaning and production. Rather than the fleece being scoured, with lanolin reintroduced after cleaning, they wash it lightly so the original lanolin remains. They produce natural wool yarns without the use of synthetic dyes, which really appeals to me. The sheep were roaming the countryside freely when we visited, and will be rounded-up during the annual Réttir in September. The diversity and depth of colours was truly beautiful.

A handsome black sheep in the Westfjords. Photo by Christopher Lewis
A handsome black sheep in the Westfjords. Photo by Christopher Lewis
Me wandering around the Hverir geothermal field at Námaskarð, Mývatn. Photo by Christopher Lewis
Me wandering around the Hverir geothermal field at Námaskarð, Mývatn. Photo by Christopher Lewis
Beautiful Icelandic horses in Fljótsdalur, east Iceland.
Beautiful Icelandic horses in Fljótsdalur, east Iceland. Photo by Christopher Lewis
Svartifoss in Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park.
Svartifoss in Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park.

Malian Cotton

I felt the urge to share some undyed Malian cotton that I picked up at Romni Wools this week. It’s just too pretty and I’m about to dive into it and disturb its neat appearance. Romni’s basement is literally wall to wall and floor to ceiling cone yarn and fleece. I have to admit, I fell for this Malian cotton because it comes on a stick. I didn’t spend too much time pondering other options.

I’ve started a continuing ed Fibre Arts with Natural Dyes class at OCAD U and am preparing my materials for next week: wool and cotton yarns, and linen and silk fabrics. The course runs six weeks so I’ll be sure to share what I’m learning. This coming week, yellow!

The yarn is pictured on bookhou’s laurel tea towel, which I love. They’re made of 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton – perfect for napkins and tea towels!

I have some knits to share as well, but as it’s inching towards 30 degrees here it feels kind of silly to be modelling wool knits. I don’t really vary my knitting projects by season. Do you?

Until next time – enjoy the weekend!

Road Trip: Wellington Fibres

Doe and kid

Buck

Wellington Fibres is located just outside of Elora, Ontario and we were lucky enough to stop by on our way to a Pixies concert (yes, revisiting surly, misunderstood teenage days!). There was something a little bit unnerving about walking into the barn and seeing 30 goats just turn and stare. Especially the buck in the second photo. He didn’t take his eyes off of us! Some of the does kidded in early April so there were some very new little kids.

The goats produce mohair, which Wellington processes in their own mill on the farm. They also do custom fibre processing, so if you have a fleece lying around, here’s a place you can take it! The owner, Donna, was kind enough to give us an in-depth tour of the mill and introduce us to the goats.  It was my first time at a functioning mill so it was really interesting to see the equipment and dye set-up. Donna has solar panels that power some of the mill and farm as well.

I picked up a few skeins to try: 50% Mohair/ 50% Wool; 60% Mohair/ 40% Wool; and 100% Wool. I’m looking forward to testing it out – the mohair has such a lovely sheen to it. I also picked up some Philosopher’s Wool at Yarn Bird in Elora, right on the gorge. There were three skeins left of a rustic, heavy-worsted in a deep green. There are no labels so I’m not sure of the yardage. I think I should be able to get a pair of mitts out of it though. I’m thinking Coler by Stephen West. Now I’m cut off, especially after this weekend’s Knitter’s Frolic!

[Photos courtesy of Christopher]

Blue Moon Alpacas

Alpaca

Blue Moon Alpacas

Shadow the alpaca

We came across these guys on our way from Bunjil’s Shelter in Victoria, Australia. Glenda and Stephen run Blue Moon Alpacas and sell undyed yarn, fibre, knits and other alpaca goods out of a small shop on their organic farm. Glenda introduced us to the alpacas – very inquisitive, handsome fellows. Since they had all been shorn for the year, 10 of them were going to work guarding sheep.

8ply Blue Moon Alpaca yarn

I walked away with a big 800g bag of 8ply yarn, which I learned would be DK weight in North America, in a natural charcoal grey. I’m thinking about using it to make Kate Davies’ Manu cardigan.

Blue Moon Alpacas don’t have a website (EDIT: they do now!), but if you find yourself in the Grampians, they’re at 340 Pomonal Road, Stawell, Victoria (phone: 03 5358 2581).

View Larger Map

[Photos 1 and 3 courtesy of Chris]

Fallen: Two Extremes

I ordered this beautifully soft roving from Hedgehog Fibres. It’s hand-dyed 21 micron merino in the colourway Fallen. I was really drawn to the muted purple and brown tones.

My first go resulted in one overspun single. I experienced some technical difficulty (the hot weather had caused an elastic band on my wheel to disintegrate), and some frustration. However, the corkscrew, telephone cord look of it has grown on me. Another skein to add to my ‘novelty’ pile, which is by far the largest pile as far as my handspun goes!

In contrast, my second go at this roving resulted in one underspun single. I reduced the tension on my wheel and was a bit gun shy when it came to the twist. Now, if only I could settle on a happy medium!

Indigo

I’ve been doing some very belated Spring-cleaning and came across these fantastic indigo-dyed fabrics that my knitting partner for life brought back for me from Togo. I’ve had them for at least seven years and have yet to find the perfect project for them. They’re so beautiful with such deep, rich colour, and hold so many memories of a dear friend being far away. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to cut into them!

They were in the back of my mind when I was in Vancouver last weekend, and inspired me to pick up a natural indigo dye kit at Maiwa Supply.

Indigo has likely been in use longer than any other dye and grows in India, China, Indonesia and South America. Dyeing with it is reminiscent of a high school chemistry experiment. You have to remove all of the oxygen from the alkaline dye bath before the indigo will penetrate the material or fibre. Then, once removed from the dye bath, the indigo reacts with the oxygen in the air and returns to blue from green.

I’ve only dyed with indigo once, as part of Julie Sinden’s natural dyeing workshop. It was like magic, seeing the indigo turn from blue to green to blue again. My shibori sampler can be seen above. Maybe the word ‘sampler’ is a bit strong; I used quarters and nails to get these tie-dyed effects. Shibori is a Japanese resist dyeing technique that uses tying or stitching. It looks like the fabric from Togo was stitched to get the striping and tied for the oval pattern.

I dyed some merino rovings as well and used my drop spindle to spin and ply it. This was also a Spring-cleaning discovery. My spindle was buried beneath balls of yarn, with the plied merino waiting patiently to be wound off.

HAND/EYE magazine (a new discovery) has some great articles on West African indigo dyeing traditions; namely Benin and Mali. They also have an indigo vat recipe provided by Michele Wipplinger, founder of the Earthues natural dye shop in Seattle. More generally, Jenny Dean (author of the sadly out of print Wild Colour), has a blog devoted to the art of natural dyeing. Plenty of inspiration and tips here! You too could have a living, breathing indigo vat in your studio, or in my case, bedroom.

Spun: BFL, Merino & Panda

Until I sat down to spin these skeins, I hadn’t spun since December. December! The workshop I went to at Gemini Fibres made me feel more confident but as it turns out, that feeling was temporary. The more I read about spinning, the more complicated I convinced myself it was. In an effort to get myself back on the wheel I joined SweetGeorgia’s Fibre Club. Felicia Lo’s hand-dyed fibre and yarns are amazing – it has been fun to play around with all that colour.

The Foundation

Bluefaced Leicester in The Foundation colourway was May’s installment. As you can see, there’s a lot of, ahem, variation, in my 2-ply yarn. I can accept that. Slubby yarn is a-okay. In fact, more experienced spinners even make it intentionally.

Banana Pancakes

Superwash Merino in the Banana Pancakes colourway came in June. I hit some bumps here as well but there are fewer slubs (thick and thin bits) than in The Foundation, which I found encouraging.

Summer Twilight
Summer Twilight

Panda is a silky blend of Superwash Merino, bamboo and nylon, and came in July in the Summer Twilight colourway. This was really fun to spin – I tried a 3-ply spun from three separate singles. The slightly slippery fibre took some getting used to but I loved spinning it once I got the hang of it.

If you’d like to see what other spinners/knitters have done with SweetGeorgia fibre there’s a Flickr group, a ravelry group, and some really great spinning over on Knitty Gritty Thoughts and daisyfaye.

I signed up for the August to October club as well. I’m looking forward to more lovely fibre to practise on!

Linen for a Paper Crane

Two skeins of Habu Linen XS-21 just waiting for me to start on Kirsten Johnstone’s Paper Crane cardigan pattern. The perfect summer cardigan, or autumn or spring . . . I’m hoping to start swatching sooner rather than later. This grey is the fibre’s natural colour – so lovely and weathered. Linda of Rose Haven Farm Store ordered it for me. This could be the beginning of a dangerous Habu habit.

This yarn bowl was a gift from Katherine – an Etsy find from the Deep South. I love it! The perfect thing to keep this linen in check. You just feed the yarn through the guide and away you go.

And a very happy 33rd birthday to my knitting partner for life! I only wish I could be in Boise to help celebrate!

Road Trip: Picton, ON

It turned out Saturday made a fine day for a road trip to Picton, ON. Prince Edward County is beautiful and farm-filled, and snowy this time of year.

We paid a visit to Rose Haven Farm Store – a really great shop with an interesting selection of yarn and fleece. The owner, Linda Swaine, gave us a tour of the local fibre she carries, including Sabin’s Farm llama yarn (unbelievably soft – pictured below) and Paula Lishman’s beaver yarn (not for me).

As the beaver might lead you to believe, Linda has a huge selection of fibre types. Qiviut, nettle, pineapple, silk stainless steel…

I couldn’t resist picking up a kit from Habu Textiles. Rose Haven is one of the three shops in Canada that carries Habu, and that was all the excuse I needed! I was torn between kntting with stainless steel for the first time and a beautiful angora and cotton felt pullover. I’ll just have to go back for the stainless steel!