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  • a twist on tolt icelandic wool month

    In my last post I mentioned that I have Iceland-related knitting plans lined up for this month, although they don't exactly fit the parameters of Tolt's Icelandic Wool Month. I wrote about how Skógafjall was the result of ruminating on the historical links and similar properties of Icelandic wool and some of the Norwegian wools - and I have continued to spend a great deal of time thinking about that. Ending up with a sweater in Icelandic wool with ties to the Norwegian landscape was a lot of fun - but I've found myself thinking about the inverse, too. What about a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa pattern that's knit up in a suitable Norwegian wool?

    Since the very first time I worked with Hillesvåg's Blåne - their bulky weight pelsull yarn - I have thought it would make a good substitute for the bulky Álafoss Lopi. So I'm going to put that idea to the test! Last year I purchased a sweater's worth of undyed grey Blåne to make a pullover for Chris, but after finishing both sleeves and most of the body, I finally admitted to myself that 1) the yarn was too heavy for the pattern I'd chosen, and 2) the yarn was totally the wrong yarn for him; I bought it because*I* liked it. So I've bought replacement yarn for his sweater and I've spent months trying to find the right match for all this beautiful grey Blåne, looking for the kind of pattern that makes me think, "Yes! That's totally it!" I think something about the approach of Icelandic Wool Month finally got the gears really turning.

    A couple of years ago just before the first Icelandic Wool Month, Anna from Tolt knit a Dalur in Álafoss Lopi for a trip to Iceland she was taking that March. I've been a little bit in love with Dalur ever since, and I realized a few weeks ago that if I bought the contrasting colors, I could finally have a plan for all that grey Blåne, and I'd get to see how good a substitute it really is for Álafoss Lopi. So I bought a few skeins of the dark charcoal grey color (which is sadly discontinued, so I'm happy I could still get it locally), and since Blåne's undyed color is the medium grey, I went with a different bulky yarn base for the white - Troll, which is still a 2-ply yarn spun by Hillesvåg and still Norwegian wool, even if it's a different breed, so I'm hoping it will be a good match in the colorwork sections.

    I'm planning to at least cast on for this sweater this month, although I don't expect to finish it by the end of March (I would like to prioritize Chris's sweater!). As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, I still need to frog the pieces of last year's ill-fated first attempt to use this grey yarn, so it might be a little while before I get around to it. Nonetheless, I love working with this yarn, and I'm really looking forward to it.

    Dalur is available in the book Knitting with Icelandic Wool, which is also available in Norway under the title Islandsk StrikkWill you be doing any Iceland-related knitting this month?

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  • tolt icelandic wool month: skógafjall

    This year marks the third year in a row that Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington has celebrated Tolt Icelandic Wool Month for the month of March. Back in 2015, I released my hat pattern Moon Sprites in conjunction with Tolt's first celebration, last year Tolt released the beautiful Blaer cardigan by Beatrice Perron Dahlen of Thread & Ladle, and this year I'm pleased as punch to once again be contributing to this celebration of Icelandic wool. This year, I've designed Skógafjall, a bottom-up round yoke pullover knit up in Léttlopi (which is probably my favorite weight of Lopi).

    For the vast majority of us, choosing Icelandic wool doesn't mean choosing local wool (the two most obvious exceptions being people who live in Iceland, or people outside of Iceland who raise Icelandic sheep). But it does mean supporting the yarn industry of Iceland, a country whose population is smaller than most cities I've lived in - and that means a lot. And the wool itself is reason enough for me to choose it, since it both affordable and adaptable, suitable to many different types of winter (and sometimes summer) climates. It's definitely suitable to my current northern Norwegian climate, and that is part of how I arrived at the design that became Skógafjall. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the ties between Icelandic and Norwegian wools, and the historical genetic links between the heritage sheep breeds found in these two countries - and all of that led me to want to design a sweater that pointed at that shared heritage in some way.

    So while it uses Icelandic wool, this sweater is inspired by my local Norwegian landscape and the verdant mountains I'm surrounded by in the summer months. The geology of Norway is quite different than Iceland's - Iceland straddles two continental plates and its geothermal activity means it's made up of cooled lava fields and volcanic rock, whereas Norway's rocky landscape is largely sedimentary. The deep green body of Skógafjall gives way to lighter greenery in the yoke and finally a heathery grey at the neck, which mimicks the rocky mountaintops of my immediate surroundings - and they're easy to see when the tree line is as low as it is in Tromsø. 

    The yoke pattern is equally evocative of the local landscape around western Washington, which makes it feel like a fantastic fit for Tolt and this annual celebration. The name Skógafjall can be translated as "forest mountain," more or less - though we've dubbed it "a sweater for exploring the forest, mountain, city or sea," and I think it would be just as at home in all of those places. 

    You can find Skógafjall on Ravelry here, or on the Tolt website here. Huge thanks to the whole Tolt team for letting me be a part of Icelandic Wool Month once again, and making sure this pattern got done in time while dealing with my grad school schedule - Anna, Clare, Karen (who knit the beautiful sample!), Kim (who modeled it so beautifully in these photos), and everyone else. You're all the best. And I can't forget to mention that Narangkar Glover did a lovely illustration of Skógafjall for a new Tolt project bag, too! It's available in the Tolt shop here.

    I have Iceland-related knitting plans lined up for this month, although my yarn choice is a little unorthodox - but I'll save that for another post.

    Related posts from previous years:

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  • reading, thinking: seawomen of iceland

    The Sun Voyager, photographed in 2012 in Reykjavík

    Jess's Swatch of the Month post over on the Fringe blog today got me thinking about a book I read a few months ago. Her swatch this month is in Icelandic wool, the Lopi we all know and love, and her post includes a really fantastic short history of Iceland. Several lines caught my attention, among them the following:

    "I’m telling you this not because it’s related to knitting, but because it’s central to understanding who Icelanders are."

    I'm someone who's been interested in Iceland for awhile. I fell in love with Iceland through music first, listening to a lot of Sigur Rós and Múm when I was in high school (Múm's Finally We Are No One is still my desert island record after a decade and a half of listening to it). Later in college, when I started knitting more than just scarves, I began to get interested in Iceland's knitting as well (the 2007 Sigur Rós film Heima helped - it documents a series of free outdoor concerts they gave in Iceland and it feels like every third person in the film is wearing a lopapeysa). I'm lucky to have been to Iceland several times now and I've done a lot of reading about Iceland's history, its language (which I've studied), and its literary tradition. I completely agree with Jess that this kind of knowledge lends a much deeper understanding of why the Icelandic sheep are the way they are, why the wool is so practical and useful and holds a place of such importance, and how much more beautiful its place in society is because of all of that.

    Following that line of thought: I recently read a book that increased my depth of knowledge about Iceland in a very different way. This is not a book about knitting. But this book taught me so much more about Iceland's history and Iceland's spirit than I knew before I read it. 

    Jess's post features a quote from Árni Árnason on the lopapeysa: "It resembles the country’s rugged nature and reminds us of the history of farming and fishing when it provided its wearer with a vital shield from the disastrous weather one can encounter in the wild." Farming and fishing. Sheep, of course, are a vital part of Iceland's farming history, but I'd never spent much time thinking about Iceland's fishing industry beyond harðfiskur or fish leather, particularly given the challenges presented by the harsh climate. So I was very intrigued when I came across Seawomen of Iceland by Margaret Willson, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Washington who once worked on fishing boats herself (hat tip to Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum, which is how I found out about the book).

    I appreciate this book so much for the glimpse it provides into the history of women in Iceland's fishing industry (which it seems is often overlooked even by Icelanders themselves), but also for its recognition of how dramatically Iceland's industry and cultural landscape has changed in the previous decades. The mass migration of people from the rural countryside to the city is staggering to think about when considering the ripple effect on the towns that get left behind. So while it's not a book about knitting, those of you interested in Iceland might find something to interest you here. It's available on Amazon or directly from the UW Press.

    Even if the book isn't for you, I do hope you'll enjoy this poem by seawoman Björg Einarsdóttir which is featured in the book, translated with great care by Margaret and her friend Ágústa:

    Thanks to Jess for such a wonderful post today over on Fringe and thank you to Margaret for such an incredible work of research.

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