When conjuring up images of Iceland, what do you see? Some immediately draw up dreamy landscapes against a backdrop of glaciers or volcanoes, while others imagine the Northern Lights flickering above mountains blanketed in snow. Others see sprawling fields dotted with Icelandic horses and fat, happy sheep, and some still immediately think of the iconic Icelandic sweater.
The Icelandic sweater, or lopapeysur (which translates to “yarn sweater”), is a staple for anyone living in or paying a visit to the nation of Iceland. While you might imagine that these beautiful sweaters date back hundreds or even thousands of years, you’d be mistaken. The origin story of these sweaters is a little hazy, but it can be agreed that the lopapeysur first appeared in the mid 20th century out of a desire to return to traditional knitting methods, as well as putting to use the abundance of wool produced in Iceland. The sweaters have gained popularity again in the past decade as the nation has worked to reinforce the national identity.
Icelandic sweaters are made from yarn, or lopi, that is created with both the inner and outer layers of sheep’s wool, the latter of which has water-repellent properties, perfect for the rainy climate of the island.
Lopapeysur comes in many different designs, like the traditional yoke which is often woven with earthy hues of yarn, like browns, greys and black. But thanks to the resurgence of the Icelandic sweater, many designers are now creating new patterns in bright, cheerful colours, and even adding hoods, zips, or fur.
What’s wonderful about the Icelandic sweater is the fact that it’s not simply a gimmick for making money off of tourists. The sweaters are staple wardrobe items for most locals, who can be spotted sporting their favourite lopapeysur as a badge of honour. However, it’s very popular for tourists to purchase their own Icelandic sweater when visiting the country. You can buy one just about anywhere, but some places are definitely better than others, with some shops focusing on more traditional patterns and others offering modern designs. Prices vary, and while you can definitely find bargains, a good lopapeysur can be quite expensive. Be wary of any that are too cheap, as it is likely these will not be authentic items hand-made in Iceland.
One of the best places in all of Iceland to purchase a traditional lopapeysur is the Handknitting Association of Iceland, or Handprjónasambandið, in Reykjavik. You’ll have plenty of variety to choose from, as this shop stocks stacks and stacks of sweaters in just about any design and colour. From the traditional yoke design to wacky and modern patterns, you’ll be able to find the perfect sweater for you. You can also visit the flea market near the old harbour, as you’re likely to find some excellent second-hand bargains.
In the north of Iceland, there are plenty of opportunities in Akureyri to buy your very own lopapeysur. Rammagerðin is a charming gift store and one of the oldest in Iceland, carrying a number of beautiful handcrafted Icelandic items. Their Icelandic sweater selection is classic and extremely well-made. Icewear is another excellent shop in Akureyri with a varied selection of sweaters, including those with zips and hoods.