What would you think if you saw this star on a road sign? As a quilter, my first thought was, “Hey, that’s a LeMoyne Star.” And then my quilt-shop antenna shot up so fast, it made my head hurt! However, when you are in Iceland and see that sign, it means there is a Wool (or Handicraft) Center coming up. (The other two signs indicate an information center and a place of interest.)
Icelandic wool is unique. That’s because Icelandic sheep are unique. You can see by the photo, they are big and fluffy. Their outside hair is long, and the fluffy warm stuff is under that. It’s a little jarring to see a sheep’s hair flowing in the wind when you’re used to the short wooly hairs you see on our American sheep. Icelandic sheep need the extra insulation against the harsh Iceland winters.
In the past, Icelanders separated the two hairs and used them for different purposes. Early in the last century, they mechanized a way to keep the hairs together and created lopi. The Icelanders use this lopi to make their famous Icelandic sweaters, or lopapeysa. Besides being beautiful, they are warm and water-repellent. You can learn more about Icelandic wool by clicking here.
The wool centers sell the lopi as well as many other yarns of different weights. They also carry lots of other goods made from Icelandic wool. And like quilt shops, each wool center has it’s own personality. I’ve been to three wool centers in the 15 days I’ve been here.
The Alafoss Wool Shop is named after the waterfall that flows behind the store and has been around for over a century. Of the three shops, they had the largest supply of different kinds of yarn; but they also carried some beautiful woolen blankets, shawls, sweaters, and hats. They seemed to cater to tourists, but also to the local knitters. The store is large with lots of space to wander around and admire the products. You can see their website here.
In Rekjavik, you will find a wool shop called The Handknitting Association of Iceland. They are known for their Icelandic sweaters and other goods that are knitted by hand. It is a small shop that is filled to the brim with all kinds of knitted goods, mostly sweaters. They also have a good selection of yarn for sale. I would call this a tourist stop, but the energy in this shop is frenetic and fun! Have a peek at their website.
My favorite wool shop is just a few kilometers from the house at which we are staying, just outside of Hella. It’s my favorite because you can tell the owner’s priority is the crafter over the tourist. She has mostly yarn, lots of kits for sweaters, hats, mittens, and socks, and other knitting paraphernalia. On her wall are skeins and skeins of different yarns that are hand dyed using plant-based dyes. She pointed out that the yarns on the top row are “chemically” hand-dyed, by which I think she means Procion type dyes. Those colors were a little brighter. She carries some sweaters and other knitted goods. They have labels on them that are signed by the hand knitter that made them, and they are beautiful. Being in that shop felt like being in a great quilt shop. There was something new to admire at every turn. It was in this shop that I wished I was a seasoned knitter rather than the beginner that I am. More knowledge would have made the visit better I think. I will share the link to the shop, but the language is Icelandic, and the English translation link doesn’t seem to work. You can check it out here.
We were in a craft gallery yesterday afternoon, and I asked the artisan about quilting in Iceland. She told me it doesn’t seem to be popular. There was a quilt shop in Rekjavik, but she was pretty sure it had closed. I wasn’t surprised by that. But having come to appreciate Iceland’s beautiful wool, I wasn’t disappointed either. I can enjoy quilting at home.
Do you enjoy knitting and/or crochet? Have you been to Iceland? What did you think of the country? You can leave a comment below.