Iceland and bad weather – they are quite an inseparable couple. But don’t worry, you can quite easily handle it. Just throw on appropriate clothing. Hmm… but what should it be? If you ask any Icelander, everyone would answer without hesitation:
During your stay in Iceland (no matter if it’s summer or winter) you can notice that Icelanders wear very distinctive sweaters. Thick, slightly puffy with an interesting geometrical pattern, which goes around the neck. These are so-called lopapeysur (plural of lopapeysa). Lopi means wool, and peysa – sweater. Characteristic patterns derive from the Icelandic Sagas and they ward off evil spirits. Since the beginning of the 20th century, every Icelander wears (or at least owns) a lopapeysa, even babies. If you go for example to some local concert, you’ll see a sea of lopapeysur.
Lopapeysa is something phenomenal, a kind of an Iceland’s icon. Without any doubt, it’s both stylish and really practical. When you put it on, you start feeling so pleasant and warm that awful weather becomes just unimportant. It is just a fantastic, reliable weapon against cold, in addition to some degree waterproof.
Knitting is like a national sport in Iceland. Icelanders have been passionately knitting for centuries and it’s something very natural for them, as natural as breathing, especially for the older generation. This relaxing activity is eagerly echoed by foreigners who stay on the island for a longer time. During our stay in Iceland, we’ve got to know quite a large group of knitting enthusiasts and trust us that they do not leave their yarn and needles even for a second. We’ve even been to parties, where the main attraction besides small talk, was knitting. Believe it or not – in Iceland, it’s common to see someone knitting even on a plane.
Trial by fire
Icelanders make lopapeysur using wool called lopi. Lopi is so unique because of the crazy circumstances in which it came to graze Icelandic sheep. Wild downpours, storms and violent weather changes developed the ability to produce two types of hair. The outer coat in Icelandic is called tog, inner – thel. Tog is long, stiff and naturally saturated with fat, its task is to protect against unfavourable, Icelandic aura. Thel is short, extremely soft and sensuous due to the fact that it serves as a kind of insulator.
For centuries people have separated the individual fleece, making almost indestructible threads, cords and ropes from tog and producing underwear and clothing from thel. At the beginning of the 20th-century, textile experiments began in Iceland. As a result, Icelanders combined these two types of fibers. Clothing made from the new invention had amazing properties; what’s more, it was warmer than usual.
If you take your lopapeysa to a bonfire party, you don’t have to worry about staying too close to the fire. Lopi wool doesn’t burn, it only broils lightly, so there will be no holes, no worn out clothes.
Have a look at our original Icelandic fine art prints!
Having a lopapeysa is a dream of many people who had an opportunity to see them. It is also the best souvenir you can bring home. Unfortunately, these sweaters are terribly expensive, their prices revolve around 22 000 – 26 000 kronor (150-200 EUR). However, there is a way to get the coveted lopapeysa and not to undermine significantly the budget.
You can get 5-6 times cheaper lopapeysa in Icelandic second hands, which belong to Red Cross (Rauði krossinn). Many of them look really like brand new, thanks to their excellent quality. If you can’t find Rauði krossinn during your trip just ask the Icelanders. We’re sure that they will be able to help you because they really like to shop there. These shops are based on the form of voluntary work, so in many places, they don’t work full-time.
One hint – search in smaller towns, as Red Cross in Reykjavík is more expensive and really popular even among tourists. We found some fantastic lopapeysur in Akureyri and Egilsstaðir. And if you notice that on display there are only a few sweaters, don’t hesitate to ask if they have any more. Typically, the rest is waiting for their turn in the stockroom. Once, when we couldn’t find anything for ourselves, a nice lady from Egilsstaðir’s Red Cross invited us to the stockroom. Oh, those were the bee’s knees, totally fantastic hunt!
Another way to get your longed-for lopapeysa is to become an avid knitter and create a beautiful sweater with your own hands. This requires a lot of patience and practice, but just think – to have a lopapeysa which you made yourself, doesn’t it sound fantastic? You’ll find the hanks of lopi in fabulous colours in almost every Icelandic supermarket (we recommend Netto). We aren’t the best at needlework, as we don’t have enough patience to learn it, but we regularly look for bargains in Red Cross. This way, our modest collection gets bigger.
Extraordinary lopapeysur are waiting for you, so remember – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let the hunt begin!