Iceland: Knit Inspiration #2

I love Iceland! As I was saying in Iceland: Knit Inspiration Part 1, it’s an amazing country full of amazing vistas, creative people, and of course, lots of knitting. While I was there last summer I was thumbing through a tourist guide our lovely hosts Angela & Starki left in our room, and had a little gasp of squee when I saw an ad for “Icelandic Design” that featured this image:

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Lopi 30 pattern book picturing the ‘Reatur’ sweater on the cover.

So I went on a mission to find the pattern book (Lopi 30) that contained this design called Reatur. Turns out the mission wasn’t too hard as there’s a knitting shop every 50 yards or so in Reykjavik and they carry books in both Icelandic and English. I must admit I cheated a bit on the Icelandic factor for my version; I didn’t use Icelandic Lopi yarn but instead bought some heavily discounted 100% cashmere yarn during the annual July sale at Romni Wools in Toronto. I used Romni’s own brand of cashmere — Romni Wools Cashmere Aran — which I got for $12 per 50g ball, and used just over 9 balls. That still adds up to an expensive sweater but I prefer to look at it as a ‘relatively inexpensive luxury’. The yarn doesn’t seem so lovely in the ball — it’s 4 plies very loosely twisted together, and it appears that it would give a textured or almost slubby look to the finished piece. Which may explain why it was in the bargain basement (and there’s still lots of it there, one year later — I just checked). But when knitted up it produces a perfectly smooth and very soft fabric.

Here’s my completed Reatur:

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My Reatur sweater

I was really pleased as punch about this one, although there were a few pitfalls and a couple of things I would do differently in retrospect. Firstly, the pattern sizing starts at a 37″ bust, which is really freaking big (I usually knit a 32″). But I was getting 21 stitches instead of 18 stitches on my gauge swatch so I figured if I followed the directions for the smallest size, it would come out smaller than 37″. It seemed to work, although I do find this sweater overall too big.

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I made the mistake of using a knitted cast-on instead of a long-tail cast on. I normally use a long-tail cast on but I figured since I had to cast on a LOT of stitches, it would be easier to use a knitted cast-on…no underestimating how much yarn you’ll need and then having to start over again with more yarn and all that. I had no idea that a knitted cast-on comes out really unstructured! You can see what I mean in the picture above. It’s very loose and little messy looking, and I really wish I had used the more stable long-tail cast-on. I suppose I could tighten the hem up with a crocheted chain stitch edging, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and not sure if I will bother.

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I was terrified of steeking this. Steeking, if you’re not familiar with the term, is when you knit the whole thing in the round, doing a couple of purl stitches along the middle of the front, and cutting it open along that purl line to create a cardigan. Before you cut, you have to either machine-stitch or do a crochet edge along either side of the purl stitches so that you don’t wind up with a huge pile of useless scraps of yarn at your feet. The idea of cutting your knitting is truly terrifying, but it worked out ok.

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Obligatory cat picture

I used Noro Silk Garden for the yoke pattern, which gives the same striped effect but without having to buy one whole ball of each different colour as called for in the pattern, which adds up in price and leaves you with lots of leftover yarn from each ball. Noro really solves that problem, as well as eliminating the need to weave in a lot of ends as you change from one colour yarn to another.

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As a reward for sitting through all those pics of my Reatur sweater, here are some more pics of my trip to Iceland last year for your viewing pleasure!

stykisholmur

The groovy looking church in the town of Stykkishólmur, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

bluelagoon

The famous Blue Lagoon, where bathing in the effluent of a geothermal power plant seems like a good idea.

horses

Some Icelandic horses, much smaller than ‘normal’ horses. They don’t gallop, but just trot really fast, which is kinda ridiculously cute.

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The Solfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason on Reykjavik Bay.

thingvellir

Waterfall in Thingvellir National Park. Like something right out of Game of Thrones.

gulfoss

The amazing Gulfoss waterfall.

Harpa

The Harpa concert hall at the edge of Reykjavik bay.

sunset_Reykjavik

Late-night sunset in Reykjavik

puffin

A puffin! On Reykjavik bay.

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And if you go to Iceland, don’t order the fucking whale, ok?

Iceland: Knit Inspiration

Around this time last year I was on vacation in Iceland. It’s one of the few places I’ve been where I decided I had to come back, and soon, as soon as I returned home. What an amazing country! It’s remote, sparsely populated, has incredible landscapes and seascapes, good food, and it’s easy to get around. Everywhere you go, there is yet another unusual vista, or a steaming volcanic vent, or a glacier, or fjord, or black lava field, or rolling field, or waterfall, or geothermal pool, or geyser…

The bay at Djupavik

The bay at Djupavik, Iceland

A black lava beach in Iceland

A black lava beach in Iceland, not far from Grindavik

Fields full of purple lupines in Iceland

Fields full of purple lupines in Iceland

There’s a huge knitting culture in Iceland (however I’m told that the ‘traditional’ Icelandic sweater was really only popularized around the 1950’s). I think there are probably more knitting & yarn shops per capita in the capital city Reykjavik than anywhere else in the world. You can buy lovely wool cardigans, sweaters, shawls and dresses just about anywhere you go, mostly made from the traditional Icelandic yarn Lopi. As Knitting Iceland, which is “a place to knit” and runs knitting-themed tours of Iceland, puts it on their website, “On every corner you’ll find people wearing Lopi sweaters and sheep are never too far away and you’ll even get yarn and knitting needles in most grocery stores around the island.” True dat. I even saw yarn-bombed objects such as telephone poles in tiny little hamlets just about everywhere I went. I’m pretty sure that on the third day of being in Iceland I declared to my husband that I had found my spiritual homeland!

I have a friend who used to knit a lot with Lopi because it has good water-repellent properties. Secretly I thought she was nuts because Lopi is — let’s face it — the scratchiest wool in the universe. But I was inspired to try knitting with it during my visit in Iceland. So I went to the Alafoss outlet just outside of Reykjavik in Mosfellsbaer and bought some balls of Lopi for a very good price, that I would knit into this cardigan. It’s from the Brynja pattern by Helene Magnusson.

Brynja cardigan in Lopi

The Brynja Cardigan in Lopi

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To my surprise, this is one of my most-wearable, favourite garments I’ve knit! Despite being fairly itchy, the Lopi yarn has great structure and has retained its shape without sagging or pilling over numerous wears. This is my number one issue with most of the sweaters I knit — they look like a hobo’s been living in them after only a few wears. Not so this cardigan. And the itch-factor isn’t really an issue, since I’m always wearing it over something else. Some knitters who use Lopi swear by soaking the sweater in water and hair conditioner to soften the fibers; I haven’t tried this myself.

The four-petal rose is a traditional Icelandic motif found in the 'sjonabok', a collection of charted patterns from the 17th, 18th, & 19th centuries.

The four-petal rose is a traditional Icelandic motif found in the ‘sjonabok’, a collection of charted patterns from the 17th, 18th, & 19th centuries, according to pattern designer Magnusson.

Brynja sweater - ribbon detail

Close-up of the ribbon detail. The ribbon helps to stabilize the button band so the snaps don’t pull the yarn out of shape when opened.

That pink ring in the last picture, BTW, is also from Iceland. I bought it at a jewellery shop called Gullkunst Helgu on the main shopping street in Reykjavik. Their designs are absolutely stunning, and, I’m told, are inspired by the landscape and geography of Iceland itself. The uneven, ‘extruded’ look of the silver on this ring is meant to be reminiscent of the rugged lava field landscape. I just love it. But I had a hard time settling on one piece to buy as I thought all their designs were amazing. Here’s a closer look at this ring design from a photograph on Gullkunst Helgu’s website:

Ring designs by Gullkunst Helgu

Ring designs by Gullkunst Helgu. Photo from their website at http://www.gullkunst.is

Iceland inspired a few knitting projects which I hope to share with you, along with more pics of this amazing country, in future posts. Here are a couple more pics in the meantime.

Below is Freyja, the happiest dog in the world. She lives at the Hotel Djupavik, and spends her days chasing birds, eating sheep shit, and taking visitors on walking tours of the area. I have never met a more energetic and all around groovy dog. I adore the name Freyja, which is the name of an Old Norse goddess.

The happiest dog in the world

The happiest dog in the world at what they call “the loneliest hotel in the world”

A view up one of Reykjavik's downtown streets, looking at the Hallgrimskirkja reflected in the near-midnight sun.

A view up one of Reykjavik’s downtown streets, looking at the Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Hallgrimur) reflected in the near-midnight sun.

Have you been to Iceland? Have you tried knitting with Lopi?