Lopapeysa – The Icelandic Wool Sweater


Most of us know Iceland as the land of Vikings, a country with nothing but a white blanket of snow and cold Icey oceans. But, there is far more than just snow in Iceland. This beautiful country is the land of exotic animals, beautiful lagoons, and rich culture. The most common image of Icelandic people in most people’s heads is someone with layers and layers of clothing with a heavy jacket on top. A person without an inch of skin visible. But, this is partially true.

In this blog, we are going to talk about a special Icelandic wool sweater called Lopapeysa. The name Lopapeysa is a compound word made from two words; Lopi and Peysa. Lopi is a certain kind of yarn and the word Peysa means a jumper or sweater. So Lopapeysa means a sweater that is made from the Lopi yarn.

The Icelandic Horse and a man in an Icelandic wool sweater

The Icelandic Token

Traditionally, Lopapeysa is majorly made in natural colors. These natural colors are black, white, brown, beige, and grey. If you are planning to visit Iceland, then the chances are high that you will spot locals wearing Lopapeysa of these colors on an everyday basis. The zig-zag is the most popular of all the patterns this sweater is made in, but over the years, these can be found in modern patterns to match up with the ever-changing world of fashion. You can easily spot children wearing modern patterns like incredible animal ribbons, and adults wearing a variety of threads that go in contrast with the natural colors of the wool. Some unique patterns like landscape or artsy illustrations are also getting very popular in these Icelandic sweaters. Apart from this, these gorgeous sweaters are now also available in popular and trending designs like the zipper, hoodie, buttons, and both the long and short lengths.

If you’re in Iceland, it won’t be very difficult to find these sweaters as they are available everywhere. You can easily grab one for yourself from the farmers’ market, second-hand stores, different tourist locations, and from the hand-knitters Association shops as well. It is highly recommended to buy one of these if you are traveling in Iceland, not just for the sake of bringing a souvenir, but also because these will keep you warm and cozy in the bone-chilling winter.

History of the Icelandic Sweater

Knitting is an art that is mastered by people living in almost every part of the world. In the case of Iceland, the first practice of knitting can be traced back to the 16th century but Lopapeysa came almost four centuries late. According to historians, the first designs of Lopapeysa came in the mid-20th century. This was a time when technology was slowly spreading its wings over traditional methods of almost everything. During mid 20th century, local and traditional Icelandic clothing was getting displaced by new and modern imported clothing.  The centuries-old craft of hand-knitting was getting replaced by modern machines. This change made people look for new ways to utilize local wool and human resources.

There is no verified owner of the original design of Lopapeysa, as there are many claims behind it. Some say that it has its roots in Greenlandic women’s costumes, some other claims are stating its origin in South American, Turkish, Swedish, Aztec, and Navajo cultures, and the most famous and important that suggests it was designed by Auður Laxness, an Icelandic writer. But according to researchers, it is almost impossible to put on a single entity. Most agree that this design has many foreign influences and no specific origin.

Why is it so Unique?

One very important fact about these beautiful sweaters is that they are solely made from the wool of Icelandic sheep. This breed of sheep is very special because it has been in complete isolation for over 1100 years and this made it naturally adapt to harsh and extremely cold Icelandic climatic conditions. Imagine the coat of a breed that has adapted so wonderfully in such extreme climatic conditions. The wool of Icelandic sheep has something very special about it. It is highly compatible with different kinds of wool and is made from a mixture of inner and outer fibers of the coat. The inner fibers, as you may already know are soft to keep the animal comfortable and the outer ones are harder and tougher in nature. The outer fiber is also longer in comparison to the inner one and comes with natural waterproofing capabilities. The combination of these two distinct kinds of fibers creates the perfect piece of clothing that Icelandic people proudly call Lopapeysa. And as we have already mentioned, these come in a variety of colors to allow you to choose the color that suits you the best and make the perfect souvenir back home for yourself, as well as for your family from this beautiful country we call Iceland.

The Evergreen Design

Have you heard about the famous Yoke design? If you haven’t, then Yoke design features a wide circle, that is decorated, surrounding the neck opening. An interesting thing about this design is that the sweater is knitted in a non-varying style. It means that it is knitted the same from both sides, and you can wear it from any side. The Lopapeysa sweater is knitted by hands and this beautiful piece of clothing cannot be made using a machine. Some of the most popular patterns of Icelandic sweaters are round contrast design on the neck, stripes, and pictures of reindeers knitted on the front. The unique design and hand knitting come together to make this sweater one of the most special pieces of clothing in Iceland.

How to Wear the Lopapeysa?

You may be thinking about why we are trying to answer this question? How complicated can it be to wear a sweater? Trust us it is not complicated, but at the same time, there are certain things that you need to keep in mind before wearing the Lopapeysa because it is indeed a unique piece of clothing. Below are some things that you need to keep in mind before putting on a Lopapeysa.

• Airing Out

As we have already told you, nowadays, many retailers are selling the Lopapeysa with artificial dyes to make it look more modern and comply with ongoing fashion trends. But, if a sweater with such a dye is kept in storage for a long period, then it develops a smell. To avoid this, it is advised to give the sweater some time to air out before you put it on.

• Never wear ONLY Lopapeysa

As beautiful and warm a Lopapeysa looks and feels, it is very important to know that wearing it solo is never a good decision. The thing about Lopi is that it is indeed warm and rich, but when worn without anything underneath, it triggers itching and makes it very difficult to be worn. It is advised to always pair it with another piece of clothing like a turtleneck sweater to avoid any direct contact of the fabric with your skin. This way, you’ll feel the warmth of the sweater, without feeling the itchy part of it.

• Wash very Carefully

Washing is an activity that you need to do very carefully when it comes to this beautiful Icelandic sweater. It is advised to hand wash this unique sweater with lukewarm water if you are looking for the best results. It is strictly advised not to wash it in overheated water as it ruins the fabric and also never use a washing machine of any kind to wash it. Theirs is a hack that can save a major chunk of effort that goes into washing this sweater, it is by keeping it under the sunlight, or just giving it some air after every couple of weeks of wearing it.

How Much Does a Lopapeysa cost?

This is probably one of the most important questions when it comes to any special piece of clothing, and that too a garment that is completely hand knitted. When it comes to Lopapeysa, the cost depends on two major factors. The first factor is obviously the place where you are willing to buy the sweater from, and the second is whether you are comfortable with wearing a second-hand sweater. The starting price of a used sweater is somewhere around 8,000 ISK, that is around $64, and then it goes all the way up to 20,000 ISK, i.e., somewhere around $165 if you want to buy a new one. But, the prices can vary.

Local farmers market in small towns of Iceland sell these beautiful sweaters for a cheaper price without hampering the quality of the product. The reason behind this change in price is that in local markets, most sellers are also the manufacturers and run a family-owned business that saves them a huge chunk of logistics and other expenditures. So, if you are a tourist who’s willing to explore both the nature as well as the culture of the beautiful country, then it is advised to visit and explore local markets and choose the perfect sweater for yourself without making a big hole in your pocket. Many online stores sell these sweaters in different parts of the world as well. Just make sure that you are buying original Icelandic wool sweaters. Some of these sellers sell other fabrics with the same design by labeling them as Lopapeysa and it proves to be nothing but a major disappointment for the buyer.

How to clean a Lopapeysa?

Since Lopapeysa is a unique kind of clothing, therefore you have to pay special attention while cleaning it. As we have already mentioned, this hand-knitted piece of clothing should always be washed by hand in lukewarm water. The first thing that you need to do is soak it in the water with a few drops of laundry detergent. Make sure that you are not being too harsh while washing it and just gently pushing it instead. After doing it for some time, wind the garment for some time and leave it to dry. You can also put it in the dryer and spin it for a couple of minutes to dry it faster. When you are done, leave it on top of a towel to dry, do not hang it on a rope.

Some Interesting Facts About Lopapeysa

  • To make them completely resistant to itching, many Icelandic parents dress their children in wool from the day they are born.
  • These sweaters are completely hand knitted and it is impossible to make them using machines.
  • Álafoss is the oldest and most reputed wool store in Iceland. It has been in the business since 1896.
  • Most of the countries in Scandinavia have their own versions of wool sweaters that look like Lopapeysa, but one can easily tell that those are not Lopapeysa.
  • These are worn by Icelanders on every occasion. You can spot people wearing Lopapeysa at festivals, as well as kids on their way to school.

Iceland is indeed one of the most beautiful countries when it comes to natural beauty. And just like the natural beauty of the country, its cultural heritage is also very rich and ancient. From its markets to its authentic cuisine, Iceland has a lot to offer to those who want to explore and experience what it’s like to be in the lap of mother nature. If you are planning a trip to the ancient colony of Vikings, then make sure that you come back to your homeland with a souvenir. And what can be a better souvenir than a garment that is so unique that it is best found only in its native country? So go and explore and make sure that you come back with a bag full of Lopapeysa for yourself, as well as for your loved ones.

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