Knitting is hugely popular in Iceland and for experienced knitters or beginners who are interested in learning more about the techniques, history and culture and to embark on a project of their own, there’s time to make this a part (or all) of a holiday.
More information about knitting is at the bottom of this page, for other crafts in Iceland, please email us.
- Tour code CR1
- 4 days residential knitting course West Iceland
- Tour code CR2
- 4 days of daily workshops near Reykjavik
Half a day or more
- 3 hour knitting workshop: please contact us for dates
- NEW! 3 hour Icelandic embroidery workshop: please contact us for dates
- Full day ‘Jumper Wednesdays’ Tour code CR3
- Wool and knitting culture walking tour: please contact us for dates
- Bespoke knitting and craft holidays for small groups: Tour code CR4
Knitting is thought to have been introduced to Iceland by British, German or Dutch merchants in the late 15th or early 16th centuries. A single-thumbed, stocking-stitch mitten, probably dating from the early 16th century, was unearthed at an archaeological dig in 1981 and is the oldest-known example of knitting in the country. The earliest written account is found in the letters of a bishop who, in 1582 and 1583, was paid rent for his land in knitted goods. After its introduction, knitting seems to have spread rapidly throughout Iceland, probably because it was a faster method of producing woollen goods than by means of the weaving looms then in use. Weaving was women’s work but men knitted too.
All able-bodied people, including children from the age of eight, were expected to produce a certain number of garments within an agreed period of time. Two women, working in tandem, needed to finish either six sweater bodies or four complete sweaters each week while children had to make a pair of two-fingered mittens. Nearly all early Icelandic garments were knitted in the round, using five needles, with stockinette the most commonly-used stitch.
Initially, garments were produced only for domestic use but, by the early 17th century, socks and mittens had become an important source of revenue from overseas and, from the mid-18th century, sweaters too were exported. The oldest written record of decorative knitting is found in a church document dated 1695. A piece of two-coloured patterned knitting, dating to the late 17th or early 18th century, was unearthed at an excavation in 1988.
Until the establishment of woollen mills in the late 19th century, nearly all knitting was produced from homespun yarn in natural colours. Dyed yarn was rare but existed in black and shades of navy, red and green.
From the middle of the 20th century, two-coloured hand-knitted jumpers, made from unspun lopi wool and modelled firstly on Norwegian drop-shouldered ski sweaters and then featuring the Fair Isle round yoke, became popular. Lopi, which is warm, hard-wearing and water-resistant, dates from the early 19th century when women began to experiment by knitting without spinning the wool into yarn first. It is surprising, therefore, that the famous Icelandic sweater (lopapeysa), with its characteristic circular yoke and patterned borders, is little more than half a century old.
Today, Icelanders knit less out of necessity and more for enjoyment and to maintain the tradition. Sales of wool and knitting products are increasing and the subject is still part of the primary school curriculum.
What began as the product of a simple cottage industry has turned into one of the country’s main exports and the durable lopapeysa, workwear for farmers and fishermen since the 1950s, is now being seen on fashion runways and worn, in various guises, by trendsetting Icelanders.
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