The Icelandic sweater, lopapeysa, is dear to Icelanders and visitors alike. They can be seen all over, both in the city and the countryside as they are worn by an eclectic bunch.
They provide warmth to young children at play, hip teenagers trying to look cool and old fishermen battling the cold. The lopapeysa is both beautiful and practical, the unique wool used to make it, called lopi, has insulation abilities and repels water as well. This is thanks mainly to the sheep who provide it, having been isolated in Iceland since the first Vikings arrived to the island.
The pattern used to adorn the Lopi sweater is traditionally most prominent around the neck and shoulder area, with details at the bottom around the hips and around the cuffs. The pattern has developed through time and today there are several versions and the colors used vary as well.
The history of the lopapeysa is surprisingly not a long one, with the first sweaters appearing in the 50’s. The original designer is not known, and generally people believe it must have been a group if women knitting together rather than just one person. The original colors of the lopapeysa were not the typical ones used today, which consist mainly of earthy colors like white, brown, black and grey. Back in the 50’s and 60’s when these sweaters first appeared it was considered more stylish to dress in vibrant colors that did not resemble the colors of sheep. It wasn’t until a bit later when tourists began to show interest in the lopapeysa that the natural toned colors became popular.
In recent years a controversy arose over the legitimacy of some of the lopapeysas being sold. It was discovered that some producers were outsourcing work to China, without clearly marking their product as being produced outside of Iceland. Many claimed that the sweaters produced on foreign territory were fakes and should be avoided when purchasing aiming at authentic lopapeysa. This begs the question, what makes a lopapeysa the real deal? Is it the lopi, the color, the pattern, or perhaps even the nationality of the person who made it? The answer to this is unclear, though one thing is for sure, the lopi and the pattern on the round at the shoulders must be present.
In recent years the lopapeysa has gained popularity on the home front, due most likely to the financial crash. The crash prompted a surge of national pride. People felt nostalgic for a simpler time in Icelandic history, a time when we were farmers, fishermen and peasants. Post 2007 the lopi sweater was everywhere, being worn downtown by people of all creeds and by frequently visible on Dorrit Moussaief, Iceland’s first lady.
Before this shift in fashion the lopapeysa was generally not seen on a day to day basis. Their use was reserved for national festivals like independence day and cultural night and during gatherings in the country side and camping trips.
Nowadays, thanks to the popularity of this beautiful sweater, they are widely available for purchase all over the city of Reykjavík, and all other towns of Iceland.
If you enjoy knitting and want to create your own lopapeysa the first step is to buy the lopi wool. It can be purchased at all knitting stores and in some tourist shops. You could even make a day of it and take a trip to the historical Álafoss store. It is located in the town of Mosfellsbær, a twenty minute drive from Reykjavík. Álafoss began producing wool in 1896, there is even a type of wool named after it, the Álafoss lopi, which is often used when knitting a lopapeysa.
So, wether you want to stay warm, look good or perhaps try your hand at knitting the lopapeysa is a must have for all.
Iceland24, October 2013