Iceland is a major producer of sheep wool in Northern Europe and is known for its wide range of quality woolen products. The history of Icelandic wool is as old as the very first settlements on the island back in the 9th century. Considering the climate and geography of the island, it is no surprise that many people depend on woolen garments for comfort. The woolen textile industry in Iceland is quite sizeable and offers employment to many.
Today, the wool and woolen products from the country have become quite famous globally. If you are traveling to Iceland anytime soon, grabbing a few woolen garments can be a great way of beating the chill. You can also find some interesting lopapeysa sweaters to take back as gifts for your loved ones. Read on to gain some valuable insight on the subject of wool in Iceland.
Origin of Icelandic Wool
Icelandic wool is exclusively obtained from the sheep breeds of the country, brought to the island by the Vikings in 874. It was one of the only animals brought to Iceland in the form of livestock by the Norse settlers, other than the Icelandic horse. Early Icelanders depended on sheep for meat, milk, and wool. Sheep shearing, wool carding, and spinning were some of the oldest traditions of the island since the age of the Sagas. Wool from the Icelandic sheep has been woven into fabrics that have kept many generations of Icelanders warm. Life on the island would have been difficult without the Icelandic sheep and its wool.
Icelandic Wool Characteristics
The Icelandic sheep breeds are completely pure as the country has always been against the introduction of external breeds. There has been no crossbreeding and hence, the characteristics of the wool have also remained the same. Experiencing over 11 centuries of evolution, the Icelandic sheep have developed a distinct combination of inner and outer fiber layers. The outer fiber layer of an Icelandic sheep is glossy, strong, water-resistant and long in length. The inner layer of the fibers is soft, has a fine texture, and capable of providing a large amount of insulation. Icelandic wool comes in white, grey, black and brown colors, lending to the attractive patterns of its woolen wear.
Why Icelandic Wool is Unique
Icelandic wool is unique and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Due to the country’s isolated location in the sub-Arctic region, the sheep of Iceland have retained their features for more than a millennium. To adapt to the weather extremes of Iceland, its sheep breeds naturally produce two different layers of fibers called tog and þel. The unique double-layered wool of Icelandic sheep offers both sufficient warmth and protection from the elements. This is why woolen garments such as sweaters, gloves, and hats woven from this substance are in great demand within and outside the country. Despite having two different layers, garments produced from Icelandic wool offer a great degree of breathability.
Lopapeysa - The famous woolen sweater
Lopapeysa is a type of woolen sweater native to Iceland and one of the most widely-used winter clothing items. Ir originated towards the early to mid 20th century in Iceland, reducing the demand for imported woolen sweater varieties. A lopapeysa is spun from lopi wool, which is made by combining the outer and inner layers of indigenous sheep wool. They come in a wide variety of colors and contain distinctive woven patterns below the neck and in the arms. This pattern of design is known as a ‘yoke’, characterized by the circular decorative weaving. Distinguishing a lopapeysa pattern is quite easy as compared to any other sweater design. Some of these sweaters come with a front neck zipper.
The lopapeysa sweater has now become a national icon of the country and is also exported in significant numbers. Since lopi is not a spun yarn, sweaters made from it have exceptionally good insulation properties. Lopapeysa is also quite lightweight considering the level of warmth they provide. Even the harshest of Icelandic winters can be overcome in them. One can stay sufficiently warm and dry in rainy weather conditions by wearing a lopapeysa. When Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944, the Lopapeysa was adopted as a key symbol of national identity.
Woolen Textiles Production
The production techniques and tools used for making woolen textiles have evolved considerably over the centuries. The change has been massive since the time of the Vikings in terms of technology, but the quality of products has been consistent. Icelandic producers prioritize maintaining the traditions to meet expected quality standards. In the past, the two layers of Icelandic sheep wool were separated by hand and collected as different yarns by workers. But since the invention of lopi wool, there were considerable changes to the yarn making process.
Woolen products in Iceland are now created by using environmentally friendly and largely natural processes. Hydroelectric power and geothermal energy are used as power sources during the production of woolens. The sheep on the island are allowed to graze freely during the summer months in Iceland, and this plays a role in the quality of wool they can produce. Authentic products come with a quality symbol.
Wool is first collected from farmers and then graded on the basis of quality and color by grading professionals. This activity takes place at wool grading stations across the country. Wool is then washed in eco-friendly processes using very little chemicals. Washing is done carefully to ensure the preservation of natural fats, and to give it water-resistant and light qualities. This is followed by a sorting process to collect the highest quality wool. Icelandic wool products designers then work their magic, creating beautiful patterns and color combinations. They create durable woolen products capable of providing ample warmth and protection.
Icelandic wool is unique in its properties and used for creating a great variety of winter wear products in various shapes, size and color variations. The attractive design patterns of lopapeysa sweaters and other woolen garments appeal to many tourists visiting the country. If you intend to visit Reykjavik or any other urban center in Iceland, finding authentic Icelandic wool clothing items should be a priority.
AB ICELAND TIPS:
How much does Lopapeysa cost?
Wool in Iceland: 5000 ISK minimum required, 8 Hours of labor work=8,000 ISK. Please note that Lopapeysa costs easily 15-20 Thousand ISK. It's an expensive but great souvenir from Iceland.
How I wash my lopapeysa?
Gently with my hands, in lukewarm water. I use either shampoo (wool is hair); or mild soap. Rinse it well, and wring it gently. Then lay it flat on towels on the floor, stretch it to its former shape, and let it dry (could take a day or two). But most people never wash their woolen sweater, unless it got specially dirty.