This particular sweater belongs to Iceland Review’s German correspondent. Knitted 30 years ago and given to them when they moved to Iceland, it is the product of a knitting kit purchased in Germany. The pattern (18-07) is designed by Gréta Björk Jóhannesdóttir and is still available on Lopi design’s website.
This kind of woollen sweater is called a lopapeysa and is made from unspun wool of Icelandic sheep, called lopi. The Icelandic lopapeysa is knit in the round, so it doesn’t have any seams, and it has a circular patterned border around the shoulders. The yoke patterns range from simple geometric shapes to elaborate patterns such as the one pictured above but patterns around the waist and wrists are optional.
There are several theories about the origin of the patterns. One points to Auður Laxness, the wife of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Halldór Laxness, who knitted lopapeysur inspired by Inca culture. While Auður knitted her fair share of the first lopapeysur created in the 20th century, she wasn’t the only designer.
Another theory points to Greenlandic designs and that Norwegians made knitting patterns based on the Greenlandic nuilarmiut, traditional formal wear with a beaded collar that covers the shoulders and bust, and has brightly patterned geometric designs. These patterns made their way to Iceland via Norway. However, Turkish and Swedish textile designs have also been mentioned as sources and the sweaters are also inspired by knits from the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands. The consensus now is that the lopapeysa has a lot of foreign influences and that one originator cannot be pinpointed.
Even though the origin of the yoke pattern cannot be traced, Icelandic influences on what the yoke is made of are clearer. Icelandic flowers, leaves, snowflakes, horses, and traditional handicraft patterns are often used, and many of the early designs are inspired by Icelandic folklore.
Read more on Icelandic wool (subscription required):