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:

Bjorg Einarsdottir poem

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

moon sprites & icelandic wool month at tolt


After releasing my F/W13 collection, I decided I wanted to knit something special as a thank you for the folks in Carnation who had helped make the photoshoot possible – Anna from Tolt Yarn and Wool and her friends and neighbors Shelley and Janya. Moon Pulls was already a collection favorite and I thought it’d be fun to knit each of them a hat inspired by Moon Pulls – and so I did!

While I decided early on that I wanted to write the pattern for the hats, it took a little while for that plan to come to fruition. I had made two different versions of the hat when I knit the prototypes for Anna, Shelley, and Janya, and I had an idea for a third version I wanted to include as well. Deciding how best to incorporate three “views” (in the way a sewing patterns often include different views) into one knitting pattern took me some time, and actually sitting down and knitting different versions took a little bit of time, too. While the hat itself is a pretty quick knit, I had to fit in the knitting of the samples around many other projects.

I knit the first three samples while in Iceland last spring during DesignMarch. Shopping for Lopi at the Handknitting Association’s store in central Reykjavík convinced me that I shouldn’t stop at three samples – one for each view – but rather I should knit at least two per view, in order to showcase different color combinations. There’s such an immense opportunity for creativity with the wide palette of colors Ístex offers. In the end, I knit eight, all of which are featured in the pattern’s pages to give you ideas for color pairings.

Finally, a year after knitting the first pattern sample, Moon Sprites is available! Here’s an overview of the three different pattern views:


View A – three colors, colorblocked. This matches up with the sleeves on Moon Pulls.


View B – three colors, without colorblocking. This matches up with the bottom of the body on Moon Pulls.


View C – two colors only, colorblocked.

This pattern is absolutely fantastic at using up leftovers of Létt-Lopi (or any other aran-weight yarn, for that matter). It makes a great gauge swatch if you’re planning to knit Moon Pulls. And with only a little bit of colorwork (seven rounds in total), it’s also ideal for colorwork beginners. I love how much possibility is packed into one little hat pattern and I can’t wait to see what beautiful versions knitters come up with!

You can find Moon Sprites as a digital download on Ravelryon Etsy, or on Kollabora, and the printed version is going to press as I type (they should be available at Tolt starting mid-week next week; if you’re a store interested in carrying hard copies, email me at the address listed on the about page).

Special thanks to Kathy Cadigan for the beautiful pattern photos!

To bring this whole thank-you-hat thing full circle, this month is Icelandic Wool Month at Tolt Yarn and Wool! The Tolt community is celebrating Icelandic wool and its wonderful properties, and you can share your Lopi projects on social media with the hashtag #tolticelandicwoolmonth. It’s worth noting here that Tolt carries Einband, Létt-Lopi, Álafoss Lopi, and now Plötulopi, so you can get your Lopi fix in a variety of weights. Be sure to stop by Tolt if you can to check out Moon Pulls and Moon Sprites in person!

Anna and I were pretty excited when we realized the release of Moon Sprites would coincide with Icelandic Wool Month at Tolt. When she asked if I’d be willing to be one of this month’s guest bloggers, I gladly said yes – so today I’m on the Tolt blog waxing poetic about Iceland! Thanks so much to Anna for inviting me to share!


reykjavík fashion festival


The third and final post about my trip to Reykjavík: the Reykjavík Fashion Festival! Eight designers were showing this year, and according to Cirilia, the room was larger this year than last year, so I gather that this show is growing. Like many of the big events at DesignMarch, the venue was Harpa. It was my first experience with the world of fashion shows, so if you’re new to how they work like I was, here’s a little run-down:

The shows are short – ten, maybe 15 minutes at most, depending on how many pieces are being shown and how fast or slow the models walk. After each show, everyone must clear the room so they can reset the stage and prep for the next show, changing out lights, set pieces, screens, and any other scenery being put to use. After waiting around for about 45 minutes, they’re ready to reopen the doors and let the show attendees back in. The next show happens, and the whole process repeats. In, out, in, out, in, out, in out… you do a lot more waiting around (and people watching, as everyone’s totally put themselves on display – this is a fashion event, after all) than you do actually watching fashion shows.

13610916603_beee87e8c9_zThe Ziska show at RFF14

And speaking of putting oneself on display, while I didn’t put quite as much effort into my RFF ensemble as Cirilia and Stephen did, I can’t deny that I wanted to look good and I put some thought into my clothing choices! Cirilia knit herself a truly amazing dress with some Big Loop yarn from Loopy Mango and some Schoppel Wolle XL (distributed by Skacel). The fashion bloggers were all over it. Stephen wore a pair of his infamous swants with a pimped lopapeysa and a shoulder piece by Cakes and Troubles, and the fashion bloggers were all over that, too. I went a little simpler, with a few pieces from Velouria and a knitted collar. You can see Cirilia’s dress here, Stephen’s outfit here, and my ensemble here (all Instagram links). For the record, the people watching was great.

But on to the shows! I won’t write about all of them here, but here’s a list of the designers/labels that were showing, with links to photo slideshows:

Farmer’s Market
Sigga Maija

As far as the actual clothes, my favorites were probably Farmer’s Market and Ella. And for the shows, Farmer’s Market and Ziska (Ella’s show had a girl-power theme going on, but as far as I’m concerned there were some mixed messages about war and peace, both in the video portion and the models’ walk portion).

The Farmer’s Market Collection I could probably live in. It was the first show of the day, around 11am, and they kept a mellow pace throughout the show. I think some folks were hoping for something to wake them up first thing in the morning (for many residents of Reykjavik, 11:00 isn’t that far from “first thing in the morning”), but I really enjoyed the quiet mood. Atmospheric music played, and the screen at the back of the runway displayed a rural Icelandic church as the models lazily sauntered down the runway. It was the slowest-moving runway show I think I’ve ever seen. The nice thing about it was that you had plenty of time to take in every detail of the clothes. Farmer’s Market was creating a mood.

I’d call the Farmer’s Market style a little bit rustic; they’re definitely nodding at traditional garb and acknowledging a connection to Iceland’s history. Their knitwear is always gorgeous, and the styling for this show was fantastic as well. It was quite romantic, and as much as I start to roll my eyes when I hear someone bring up Kinfolk, it wouldn’t be out of place there. The palette is muted and often natural. None of these clothes would be out of place in Seattle.

d4b5424417934e62-RFF14_farmers_market_by_birta_ranFarmer’s Market at RFF14. Photos by Birta Rán, used with permission. View the whole slideshow here.

Mixed messages aside, I did really like the clothes in Ella’s collection, which was full of simple, wearable pieces. My favorites were the super sixties numbers with miniskirts/minidresses under coats – made to feel even more sixties by the Twiggy-esque hair. There was also a long dress (or skirt and top; I think it might be separates) that I loved. If I ever have reason to wear something floor length like that, I would absolutely wear that piece. The palette here still wasn’t bold, but there was more variation in color, paired with neutrals.

05c80436aa592145-RFF14_ella_by_birta_ranElla at RFF14. Photos by Birta Rán, used with permission. View the whole slideshow here.

Other thoughts: the palette of the Ziska show was gorgeous (black, white, grey, lavender, and mint), Cintamani pleasantly surprised us with a bright and colorful show we enjoyed (they’re an outdoor and activewear line, so we weren’t sure how much to expect, but it was the most bright color we saw all day), and the Jör show was totally weird, but weirdly enjoyable (it was clear that generally it was the most highly anticipated show, and consequently the best-attended one). It felt like we’d fallen into some kind of steampunk manga. All that said, I probably don’t need to attend any fashion shows for awhile, but I’m glad for the experience!

rvk pt 2

Barbara borrowed my hat when it started snowing on us.

Friday was spent at the National Museum and ended with a fashion show, a precursor to Saturday’s events. I didn’t take any photos at the museum (though Cirilia did take a handful of them), but if you’re interested in Iceland’s history even a little bit, I feel like the National Museum is a must-see in Reykjavik. I spent two hours there but I could have lingered longer. I definitely spent some time nerding out over medieval manuscripts, and as a drop spindle spinner, I really enjoyed seeing the Viking-era stone spindle whorls and woven (or nalbinded) fabric remnants. There was also a really great photography exhibit on the the ground floor while we were there, and all the work being featured was shot by female photographers. The works spanned over a century of photography.

The fashion show we went to was over at the art museum by the harbor, Hafnarhúsið. It was a very different vibe than the shows the next day. I think that the fashion world tends to take itself a little too seriously and the folks in attendance at the Hildur Yeoman show seemed to fall into that category. Still, it was an interesting experience and I’m glad we attended. The show was for Hildur’s new collection, called Yulia. I believe it’s named after (and partially inspired by) her great aunt. Or grandmother? Either way, it was a badass lady in her family, and I’m all for being inspired by that.

The clothes weren’t for me, but I managed to grab a photo or two anyway. Black, white, and red were the thematic colors for the collection. The girls you see at the back were doing a choreographed dance piece, which also kicked off the show.

reykjavík so far

Hello from Reykjavík, where we’re halfway through DesignMarch 2014 and the Reykjavík Fashion Festival!


I’ve been posting on Instagram since arriving, as have Cirilia and Stephen, and I put a bunch of our photos into the montage above. If you want to follow along, you can follow us at @cakeandvikings@cirilia, and @westknits.

First of all, Iceland is beautiful. I may be here for the design and fashion events (and to galavant around with buddies) but it wouldn’t be that hard to skive off and stare at the landscape or out over the rooftops all day instead. Truly.

I arrived early in the morning on Tuesday. I had the Flybus drop me off at Reykjavík Downtown Hostel, near my friend Peter’s place, which worked out well for me because I could have a coffee (I didn’t sleep on the overnight flight) and some breakfast while I waited for Peter. We got to spend the day together, but I also got to get some work done and take a nap (very necessary).

Stephen and his friend Barbara (of Chillimint) arrived from Amsterdam later that day, and Cirilia arrived the next morning. Our days thus far have consisted of a lot of coffee, snacks, and knitting. And outfit changes. Reykjavík is known for its street style but I’m not sure this city’s residents can hold a candle to these guys.

Cirilia, Stephen, and Barbara headed down the hill to Harpa for Thursday’s opening day Design Talks. I love how Harajuku Cirilia’s pimped-lopapeysa look feels.

post-coffee on Wednesday

I feel positively tame standing next to them, swathed in black, white, and grey (right down to the lopapeysa I bought at the Handknitting Association today, seen in the Instagram montage above). But I feel like me, so it works.

Opening day’s talks on Thursday were really excellent (you can read about the programming on the DesignMarch website here). “Design” is such a diverse, broad term, and the wide range of speakers really drove that point home. The morning started off with two speakers who work in urban planning & design situations, and one of them, Kathryn Firth, might have been my favorite speaker of the day. She’s working on the ongoing redesign of Olympic Park in London in the wake of the 2012 Olympics, and I have to admit I hadn’t given much thought before to what happens to all the giant Olympics complexes after the games.

After lunch the talks switched gears: we had some tech talk first (with Robert Wong from Google) and then moved on to fashion, with Mikael Schiller from Acne Studios and finally Calvin Klein. The Google talk was good, and about what you’d expect: Robert was charming in a humble, not-smooth-talking kind of way, with funny quips and emotional hooks and appropriately placed “instructional videos” that are totally ads, no matter what Google claims. I got caught up in the moment during his talk, and found my feelings toward Google (which are mostly good, but I do have some grievances) shifting in a more positive direction. After his talk, however, I came down from this magic Cloud (I guess Glass isn’t a great thing to stand on) and realized I’d just been expertly emotionally manipulated. High five, Google. You’re winning whatever game you’re playing and it still makes me uncomfortable.

I really enjoyed Mikael from Acne’s talk. He was funny and genuine and seems generally bemused that people like what his company is doing (though of course he works very hard to make it so that people do). I probably won’t buy their jeans or other clothes, but Acne’s really on the up right now.

Calvin Klein… well, he’s undeniably a legend. Instead of giving a presentation like the other speakers did, his talk was in the form of an interview, and his interviewer was Icelandic designer Steinunn (a former employee of his). It was clear that CK and Steinunn have somewhat of a special relationship and the utmost respect for each other, which is lovely, but it made for a pretty vanilla interview, I must admit. I’m very glad to have heard Calvin Klein speak at all, and he gave some great advice for aspiring designers, but it would’ve been a much richer and more interesting interview if his interlocutor had been willing to bring up critique or controversy, or anything other than glowing praise. Perhaps if you’re Calvin Klein, you have the authority (or maybe the ego) to pretend critical analysis doesn’t apply to you and choose your interviewers accordingly. He was so casual when he mentioned hanging out in the Hamptons and deciding to send his personal plane to Boston to fly Marky Mark down to talk about underwear… and it was at that moment that I realized how far Calvin Klein’s reality was from mine, or most of the other people in this world. Nonetheless, it was interesting to hear his story and I’m grateful I had the opportunity.

The weather the morning of Design Talks was gorgeous, and we took advantage of the gorgeous light outside Harpa (reflected off the geometric, multi-colored windows) and snapped a few goofy photos:

I have more to write about what we’ve done so far (especially the National Museum!), but I think I’ll save that for the next post. Until then!

a hat for iceland: two hats in one


On a recent visit to Tolt, I picked up a ball of handpainted ombré yarn from Freia in the colorway “Cloud.” I think I knew pretty immediately that I wanted to make a hat with it, and if possible, a reversible, two-layer hat. I was almost able to eke the whole thing out of one ball of yarn, but I had to supplement with a little bit of extra yarn to finish it off (I used some leftover Kenzie for now, but I might try to find a better color match to complete the ombré effect and redo the crown on that side).


The timing is perfect, as it’s been windy and rainy in Iceland so far. This two-layer wool hat has already seen a lot of use. The color and the gradient effect both remind me of Iceland as well, bringing to mind volcanic ash, glaciers, snow, and clouds. In honor of that, I have named this hat Reykholt. Reykholt is a village in western Iceland that was once the home of Snorri Sturluson, the thirteenth-century Icelandic poet and historian who wrote the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, an anthology of Norwegian kings (it should surprise no one that I’ve been working my way through Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings lately). Reykholt roughly translates as “smoke wood,” where reyk or “smoke” refers to the steam caused by Iceland’s geothermal activity (likewise with the Icelandic capital Reykjavík, which didn’t exist yet in Snorri’s time). It also feels fitting that the yarn comes from Freia Fibers; while the company may be named after the owner’s dog, it also shares a name with Freyja, the Norse goddess.

In any case, if you’d like to make your own, I’m including instructions below. It’s not exactly a pattern; it’s probably more of a recipe. But it’s simple and relatively easy to adapt.



1 ball Freia Fibers Ombré Sport Wool (pictured in “Cloud”)
extra sport weight yarn in a matching or contrasting shade
16″ circular needle in size needed to obtain gauge (suggested size: US Size 4 / 3.5mm)
1 set DPNs in size needed to obtain gauge (suggested size: US Size 4 / 3.5mm)

22 stitches & 36 rounds per 4 inches / 10 cm

Finished dimensions
approx. 15″ / 38 cm from end to end with a 21.75″ / 32.5 cm circumference.


A note on the construction, before casting on: because this hat is two layers and reversible, you are in effect knitting two hats that happen to be seamlessly attached. This means that you will begin as if you’re knitting a hat using the top-down method, and instead of switching to a border and binding off at the brim, you’ll continue knitting as if working a hat from the bottom-up. The finished hat will look like sort of an oblong sack (pictured above) until you fold it in on itself so that the two crowns line up (this also means that once you’ve finished knitting it, you won’t be able to reach the purl side of the fabric).

Beginning with DPNs and ombré yarn, cast on 4 stitches. Divide stitches so that each needle holds one stitch.

Round 1: Kfb into each stitch. (8 stitches total)

You may find it helpful at this point to place stitch markers between each stitch (this will mark the location of your increases).

Round 1: Kfb into each stitch. (16 stitches total)
Round 2: [Kfb, k1] around. (24 stitches total)
Round 3: [Kfb, k2] around. (32 stitches total)
Round 4: [Kfb, k3] around. (40 stitches total)
Round 5: K all stitches.
Round 6: [Kfb, k4] around. (48 stitches total)
Round 7: K all stitches.
Round 8: [Kfb, k5] around. (56 stitches total)
Round 9: K all stitches.
Round 10: [Kfb, k6] around. (64 stitches total)
Round 11: K all stitches.

Switching to circular needle when necessary, continue working an increase round and a knit round until you have 120 stitches on the needles (you will have worked a total of 25 rounds). Once you have completed the increases, you can remove the stitch markers.

Next, work in stockinette, knitting all stitches, until the hat measures approximately 12″ / 30 cm from cast on point. (You can also eyeball it by folding the hat so that the crown from the cast-on side sits inside out and lining up the end of the increase section with your needles. Looking at the fabric below your needles, does it look like it’s time to begin the decreases? i.e. is it long enough? If yes, move on to the decreases below. If not, work a little bit more stockinette. You may want a shorter or longer hat than mine.) Keep in mind you may need to switch to your extra yarn at some point during (or before) the decrease section.

Decrease set-up round: *K13, k2tog, place marker. Rep from * to end of round. (112 stitces total)
Next round: K all stitches.

Decrease Round 1: [K to last 2 stitches before marker, k2tog, sm] around.
Decrease Round 2: K all stitches.

Repeat these two decrease rounds until 40 stitches remain, then continue working Decrease Round 1 only until 16 stitches remain. Removing stitch markers, K2tog around for 2 rounds. Break yarn and pull the tail through the remaining 4 stitches. Use a tapestry needle to thread the tail through to the inside.

I don’t plan to work this up into a fully sized pattern, but if you want to make a smaller or larger hat, it’s fairly easy to adapt! You’ll need to know your gauge – stitch gauge is more important than row gauge for the following instructions.

As written, the hat knits up at a gauge of 22 stitches per 4″, and at 120 stitches has a circumference of around 21.75″. If you want a smaller hat, for a child, for example, you can use your gauge to decide how many stitches to increase to. When you reach that point in the increase section, simply stop increasing and switch to stockinette! Likewise for the decreases.

You’ll also need to know the circumference you’re aiming for. If you have another hat of the recipient’s you can measure that, or use the measurement of a favorite child’s hat pattern (same goes for if you want to make a larger hat). Here’s what you’ll do:

1. Divide your stitch gauge over 4″ by 4 to get your main stitch gauge, or stitch gauge over 1″. We’ll call this number SG. (Counting stitches over a larger area will help you get a closer number for your stitch gauge than just counting the stitches in 1 inch.)
2. Note the circumference you’re aiming for. Will call this measurment circ.
3. Now multiply those two numbers:

SG circ = stitch count

where stitch count represents the number of stitches you want to have at the widest point.

Because the increases are worked in multiples of 8, you may have to round up or down to the nearest multiple of eight, but this won’t make a huge difference.

travels &c.

Well, I’m all packed…

…and ready to go to Iceland! I’m headed to Reykjavík next week for Design March and the Reykjavík Fashion Festival, where I’ll be hanging out with Cirilia RoseStephen West, and my dear friend Peter (Peter and I are old friends from high school, and we used to get together to bake brownies and cake and watch Björk videos, so we’re pretty excited to hang out in Iceland). I always love a trip to Iceland, but it’s my first time going to Design March, so I’m looking forward to it even more than usual. I’m hoping to share some updates while I’m there (I’ve brought my laptop along for the ride).

On that note, after Iceland I’ll be visiting family for a week, so I won’t be back at Paper Tiger HQ until the second week of April. I’ve taken down listings for physical items from the shop (digital items are obviously still available), and any wholesale orders won’t go out until I get back.