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.

7 Replies to “A knitter’s guide to Iceland”

  1. I love this post, thanks! I found it serendipitously while searching for ‘Newfoundland knits’ via an ancient yarnharlot post, but I am so pleased to have found the Alafoss website and its terrific mail order supplies. Have you read Michael Ridpath’s ‘Fire and Ice’ series, set in Iceland? I have just read the first of them ‘Where the shadows lie’ and, along with your blogpost, it has fuelled my desire to visit Iceland.

  2. I just got back from Iceland and my final yarn count was 33 Lettlopi, 29 Plotulopi, 18 Alafoss Lopi and 6 Einband. I also met Gudbjorg at the market! A 2 day trip didn’t leave enough time to get to the Alafoss factory, but I suspect I will be back. I recommend this trip to everyone! Do it now!

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