Ask A Textile Historian: What Is The Story Of The Icelandic Sweater? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ask A Textile Historian: What Is The Story Of The Icelandic Sweater?

Ask A Textile Historian: What Is The Story Of The Icelandic Sweater?

Published March 5, 2019

Aliya Uteuova

Wearing this sweater is the proof you need for the world to know that you were in Iceland. An Icelandic lopi sweater is an indicator of quality, style, and survival in colder climates. Given its relatively short history, the sweater has gained impressive popularity, so we asked Ásdís Jóelsdóttir, an assistant professor in textiles at the University of Iceland: “What is the history of the Icelandic sweater?”

By the end of the 16th century, knitting skills were widespread in Iceland. During the Danish trade monopoly, wool goods were important for export and Icelandic women used their knitting skills to support their families.

Wool factories in Iceland were established at the end of the 19th century. The mechanisation of the wool industry created lopi — unspun strands. Knitting from strands of unspun wool was unknown in other countries. In the early 1910s, the rise of the fishing industry brought an urgent need for warm clothing for fishermen. During the war years, when imports, including yarn, were restricted, lopi became popular thanks to its affordability, the simplicity of the sweater and the speed at which it can be produced.

The iconic patterns of the sweater have their roots in Icelandic heritage, representing clouds, mountain peaks and lava. In 1940’s, the use of natural wool and traditional designs made the sweaters popular among visitors to Iceland.

The financial crisis of 2008 gave Icelanders a newfound reason to knit. Around that time, tourism to Iceland saw an exponential boost, and the Icelandic lopi sweater became a valuable sales article. These factors make the sweater a special part of Iceland’s history and economy.

To learn more about the Icelandic lopi sweater, check out this book by Ásdís Jóelsdóttir.

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