Want to knit a Lopapeysa?
These tips may come in useful for knitting sweaters or other garments from the Icelandic Lopi. Some come from my own experience of Lopi knitting but many of them I have collected by speaking with master knitters around Iceland so my thanks go out to them. Here you can find some good advice on how to choose the right Lopi for your Lopapeysa.
The Lopapeysa (Icelandic for the traditional knitted yoke sweater) only dates back to around 1950. But even so it has become a well known symbol for the Icelandic knitting tradition.
Today the Lopapeysa is intensely popular among Icelanders, so if you travel around Iceland you will see a great variety of them all over. You’ll see babies wearing them, hipsters in their skinny jeans and old men by the harbor. We all love our Lopapeysas!
The Icelandic wool
The Icelandic wool is really kind of special. The breed of sheep is very old, got isolated at the time of the settlement, around the year 874. So these furry creatures have remained the same ever since. The wool has two different types of fibers, þel (pronounced thel, with the “th”sound as in thorough), which is the warm, soft, isolating stuff closest to the body and tog, the long water repellent fibers on the surface. So the wool has unique qualities being warm, soft, very light and water repellent at the same time.
Icelandic yoke sweaters are knit in the round, using circular needles. For the sleeves it’s most common to use double pointed needles, but any method of knitting smaller diameters will do.
I usually recommend a strong but elastic cast on like the one called German twisted cast on. If you are not familiar with it, try looking for it on youtube. You could also use long tail cast on – just be careful not to cast on too tightly.
Connecting in the round
Make sure that your stitches are not twisted when you connect in the round. If you are knitting a cardigan it can be a good idea to connect in the round after the ribbing. If you knit a sweater and connect in the round right at the start it’s a good idea to knit the first few stitches with both strands of the yarn – one less end to weave in!
Classic Icelandic yoke sweaters are knit in the round. Also the cardigans. The hem and the sleeve edges usually have a k1p1 ribbing, but that’s also a good place for some creativity. Many knitters like to use smaller needles for the ribbing, about 1 size below the needles you will use for the rest of the sweater. All stitches for the body, sleeves and yoke are otherwise knit. Except for 1-2 steek stitches in the middle front that are purled if you plan to make a cardigan. The body is knit up to the underarms and set aside and the sleeves knit separately. The three pieces are then joined together on a circular needle except for a few stitches for grafting under the arms. Then it’s time to knit the yoke and work on the distinctive yoke pattern. When casting off, use a loose cast off method so that the neckline remains loose and comfortable.
The last thing you need to do, if you are knitting a sweater, is to graft the underarm stitches together using the Kitchener stitch. All the techniques both the traditional ones and some more novel ones are covered on my instructional DVD Knit your own Lopapeysa (Knitting Iceland 2010).
If it’s a cardigan
Now for the steeking. If you are going to put a zipper in the cardi it’s best to use 2 purled stitches in the middle front, but one is enough if you are going to crochet an edge and use buttons. With a sewing machine, sew two double seams in the front, on each side of the purled stitch(es). Keep the seam straight and short. Don’t ever use zig-zag for this… disaster could happen! When the seams are in place, find a sharp pair of scissors and cut between the purled stitches or in the middle of the purled stitch, if you have only one, right between the seams. Be brave… this is Lopi so it’s ok. Voila! You have a cardigan. You can crochet an edge on both sides and sew a zipper into the cardi (by hand or machine) or crochet a couple of more rounds, make some buttonholes and use buttons instead.
Knitting the yoke
When using two or more colors at the same time in the pattern, remember to carry the strands loosely along the backside of your work. Hold the color you want to be most prominent in the pattern closest to your work and the main colour farthest away. Usually all decreases in the yoke are made by simply knitting 2 together. Note that the yoke patterns are usually made up from 5-8 stitches repetitions. The number of rows in the yoke varies with sizes, so take notice of the rows you may need to skip for the size you are knitting. When you have knitted an Icelandic sweater or two you will acquire a feel for the pattern construction and maybe you’ll start experimenting with pattern changes or design.
Because the yoke patterns are usually made up of 5-8 stitches repetitions it’s easy to add that same number of stitches to enlarge the sweater.
Wash and care
After knitting and finishing your sweater you should hand wash it in mild wool soap or shampoo. Rinse it well and use hair conditioner for the last rinsing water. That softens the wool a lot. Lay the sweater flat to dry, inside out, and shape it when wet. After this you can pretty much leave it to nature… Lopi sweaters are magically self rinsing and only need a little airing once in a while. They will pill for a certain period of time, but have patience and just enjoy picking it off during awkward, silent moments you may experience when associating with non knitters (!). If you spill ice cream or something more horrible on your Lopi sweater – don’t panic, just wipe it off with a damp cloth (no rubbing) or let it dry and scratch it off.