Zelenskyy Gifted Icelandic Lopapeysa from Foreign Minister

Icelandic sweater for Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was gifted an Icelandic sweater (i.e. lopapeysa) by Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs on Sunday. “I’m proud and honoured,” the designer of the sweater told Iceland Review this morning.

“A strange request”

Writing on Facebook yesterday, Icelandic singer Salka Sól described an unusual phone call that she received from the Assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs recently:

“I was asked to knit, for the President of Ukraine, an Icelandic lopapeysa, which the President would receive as a gift from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I couldn’t say no to such a request. I called my collaborator Sjöfn Kristjánsdóttir, and together we knitted two lopapeysur over the space of five days with good help from Eygló (Gísladóttir). Zelenskyy received the sweaters on Sunday … we hope that he’ll be spotted wearing them soon; most of all, however, we hope that the war will end.”

In an interview with Iceland Review this morning, designer Sjöfn Kristjánsdóttir echoed Salka’s sentiments: it was the most unusual request that she had received.

“We were very surprised, but at the same time, incredibly proud and honoured to be handed this assignment. Zelenskyy is an incredible person, whom we have watched – like the rest of the world – from the sidelines. To be able to contribute, on behalf of the Icelandic nation, is amazing; it’s something that I’ll never forget.”

As noted by Sjöfn, the Icelandic lopapeysa is a legally protected product, having received a Designation of Origin status from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority in 2020; sweaters with the traditional decorative pattern can only be labelled as “Icelandic sweaters” if they are knitted by hand in Iceland using Icelandic wool. “This sweater meets all the criteria,” Sjöfn observed, adding that producing two sweaters in the space of just five days was a lot of work.

“Of course, when two hyperactive women come together – they decide to make two sweaters. We knitted incessantly. I had a sick child at home; I made good use of sleepless nights.”

Witnessing the destruction firsthand

As noted in an article on Mbl.is, Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún, alongside other foreign ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries, met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian ministers on Sunday.

The ministers discussed the situation in Ukraine, with representatives from the latter country calling for continued support. The ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries also acquainted themselves firsthand with the damages wrought by the Russian military and laid a wreath of flowers in honour of the victims of The Holodomor (the Great Famine), which cost millions of Ukrainians their lives between 1932-1933.

“It’s important to witness the conditions of the Ukrainian capital with one’s own eyes,” Þórdís Kolbrún was quoted as saying in a press release on the government’s website, “even if our visit was brief. One is, first and foremost, faced with the terrible consequences of Russia’s incessant attacks on the country’s infrastructure. Keeping the electricity on, during the intense and tangible winter cold, is a constant battle: everything is covered in snow and the frost is biting.”

Ukraine
Salka Sól, Þórdís Kolbrún, and Sjöfn Kristjánsdóttir

What can you tell me about this Icelandic sweater seen on Iceland Review’s website?

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):

Homespun

The Colourful Oddissey of Icelandic Wool Dyeing

Men of the Cloth

Request Protected Status for Hand-Knitted Icelandic Sweaters

lopapeysa Icelandic sweater

A group of Icelandic sweater producers hopes to legally protect the product name “Icelandic sweater” (Icelandic: íslensk lopapeysa). The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has received a request from a group of traditional lopapeysa manufacturers to protect the term with a designation of origin. This means that sweaters with the traditional decorative pattern could only be labelled “Icelandic sweater” if they are knitted by hand in Iceland using Icelandic wool.

Designation of origin

In December 2014, the Icelandic parliament enacted the Product Names Protection Act, which allows for the protection of product names on the basis of origin, territory, or traditional uniqueness. Such laws, often manifested as Designation of Origin, are widespread in Europe, where they are often applied to artisanal products such as French cheese and Spanish ham. The first product name to receive such protection in Iceland was “Icelandic lamb,” which was protected last year.

The proposal suggest that an increased demand for Icelandic sweaters has led to widespread production of the traditional design with its decorative collar. “Increased foreign production of ‘lopapeysa’ sweaters made of foreign wool or synthetics also makes it urgent that buyers have the possibility to differentiate between ‘Icelandic sweaters’ and imitations,” states the proposal. Any opponents of the proposal are invited to submit comments by email via [email protected] by June 29, 2019.

Icelandic Sweater Patterns Sell Like Hotcakes

Online sales of knitting patterns for traditional Icelandic sweaters are growing by about 25% per year RÚV reports. The traditional Icelandic sweater, known as a lopapeysa, is a popular souvenir for tourists visiting Iceland. Now more and more of its fans are opting to knit their own.

Lopapeysur (the plural of lopapeysa) are made of unspun Icelandic wool and are characterised by a yoke design – a wide, decorative pattern around the neck opening. The design originated in the early or mid 20th century and has since become a symbol of Icelandic national identity. “Icelandic wool forgives everything, you don’t even have to be good at knitting, it hides all mistakes,” says lopapeysa designer Védís Jónsdóttir.

Nearly one quarter of lopapeysa patterns sold online go to the US market, though they are also popular in Germany and the Nordic countries. Ístex in Mossfellsbær, Southwest Iceland, buys 99% of all Icelandic wool, or about 1,000 tonnes per year. Sales of the product have increased by 120% over the last 10 years. “Right after the crash there was a sharp increase in wool sales,” says Sigurður Sævar Gunnarsson, Ístex’s CEO. “This increase continued until 2014, 2015, when the currency started to drop. But there is still considerable growth in certain areas like the Nordic countries, in Germany, and in the United States.”

Védís says there are many reasons for the sweaters’ continued growth in popularity. “It’s a very flattering shape and it’s very fun to knit them because they are seamless,” she states, adding that consumers’ growing desire for natural, sustainable materials is also contributing to the lopapeysa pattern sales. “This is a natural material. It isn’t plastic.”