For the Love of Lopi (and Iceland)
I walked into the shop, shaking the raindrops off my shoulders on a cold September day. The weather felt more like November, and I was wearing a wool sweater under my rain coat, along with a colorwork cowl and hat. As I removed my hat, the shopkeeper glanced up from her counter, smiled, and greeted me with a "Góðan daginn." I shyly responded with "hello," and she immediately switched to English, but I was grinning. My knitwear looked serious enough for her to greet me in her native language - pretty high praise when you're visiting Iceland!
Phil and I at Iceland's Perlan Museum.
When we traveled to Iceland in 2019, we were prepared for slightly cooler-than-normal (for us) weather. For adventures. For Wool with a capital "W." But everything about the people, the place, and yes, the wool, was beyond what we could have imagined.
We soaked up every day of our visit and immediately talked about when we could return. We haven't been able to do that yet, but I still believe we will see Iceland again!
Hiking into a lava cave. Iceland has no native wildlife, other than arctic foxes, birds and marine life, so there are no bats in this cave! As our tour guide told us, in Iceland, if you are lost in the outdoors, nothing can harm you but the weather.
Our friend in an open section of the lava caves.
And I also vowed that someday, I would bring Iceland's wonderful lopi yarn to my someday-shop ... and I'm so happy to announce that this month, that plan came true!
Welcome Léttlopi to the shop, and join me on some armchair traveling around Iceland for some fun lopi facts!
One of the most striking things about Iceland is its rapidly changing landscape. We would drive past black and gray moon rock-style landscapes, then flat fields that looked like American prairies. Five minutes later, we would see rocky pastures with mountains that resembled the Scottish highlands. Iceland is constantly changing all around you, and it took our breath away every time!
Swimming in the Blue Lagoon, a man-made hot spring colored by blue silica. The Lagoon is an experience unto itself, but we loved the naturally occurring hot springs all over the island the best; ask a friendly local for their favorite recommendation, and you can enjoy a naturally hot, outdoor swimming pool and a beer after a busy day exploring!
Iceland's short growing season is why they have so few native plants and animals. Much of the island's produce is imported, or grown in greenhouses, which are heated geothermally. Actually, a lot of the island's energy utilizes geothermal heat - not just for turning hot springs into swimming pools or growing tomatoes in greenhouses, but for heating homes, businesses, you name it. You'll see signs of Iceland's forward-thinking environmentalism everywhere you go. And sheep - brought by the Vikings in the 9th century - are a huge part of their way of life.
Friðheimar, a restaurant inside a tomato greenhouse on the Golden Circle! The tomatoes grow from and around thin tubing which are a network of hot and cold water systems to hydrate and heat the greenhouses, using natural springs. You'll also see "bee boxes"; bees are not native to Iceland, and so the farm imports them in cardboard hives set up around the plants.
Icelandic sheep grazing
So what makes an Icelandic sheep - and its fleece and yarn - unique?
Before visiting Iceland, I had heard a lot about how big, sturdy and independent Icelandic sheep are. They have a double-coated fleece, too: a long outer coat (tog) that protects them from the elements, and a finer inner coat (þel) that gives them insulation.
But actually seeing the landscapes that these sheep have thrived on for hundreds of years made it click for me. Icelandic sheep don't spend the year in a pen next to the barn. Shepherds turn them out into the hillsides and mountains to free-range in the summer months, then collect them again in the fall with a community sorting event called réttir (on our last day in Iceland, we stumbled upon the start of one as we were searching for a lighthouse; the organizers invited us to join in - even though we were definitely clueless tourists they'd never bet before - and I'm still sad our flight schedule kept us from participating). Once the sheep are gathered and sorted, they winter at home, where they are sheared in fall and spring.
It's pretty wild to think about, but the world's supply of lopi as we know it is made by small family farms. Ístex, the only yarn-producing mill on the island, is largely farmer-owned and buys directly from shepherds, whose flock sizes averages 2-300 sheep. When we think about making with materials that are traceable and sustainable, it doesn't get any better than lopi! Watch a short video about Ístex's sustainability, and its process for collecting and processing wool, here.
Icelandic lopi is sold in several forms. Plötulopi is unspun and untwisted (like a fine pin roving); it's often knit with two strands held together. Léttlopi is worsted/aran weight, and it is basically strands of plötulopi lightly twisted together. Both forms make very lightweight, warm garments.
We are so happy to bring Léttlopi to the shop and hope you'll enjoy making with it!
Our Airbnb in Hafnarfjörður. We spent many hours chatting with our host Antony and getting advice from him and his partner Yr about our adventure itineraries!
The harbor of Hafnarfjörður at night
Until next time, Iceland!
Léttlopi colors 0054, 056, 0057 and 0058