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December 5th, 2013

The Icelandic Sweater

Smári in Icelandic-type sweater

It is cold outside! Even here in northern California, our neighbors were out in the moonlight, wrapping blankets around their bushes and vines to protect them from last night’s frost. This is a far cry from the flip-flop weather we enjoyed this past weekend. True story: as we were waiting for Santa to arrive (by boat) and went to cut down a Christmas tree this weekend, people in both places were saying, “Oof! It’s hot!” Hot. Not so today. Today there were unique frost patterns on the sunroof of my car.

So of course we should discuss the warmest sweater known to humankind: the Icelandic sweater.

You might wonder, as one should, “Why is the Icelandic sweater so special?”  Well, for one, the sweater’s pattern is distinct. Just like the Icelandic language, it hasn’t changed over time. The pattern is that of “rings” that radiate from the neckline to the top of the chest. Second, and most important in terms of function, it’s the wool. The wool of Icelandic sheep makes the sweaters incredibly durable, light, and also warm. The sheeps’ wool consists of two fibers. The inner fiber is soft, fine, and provides insulation from the harsh winds that blow over the fjords. The outer fiber is long, oily and water-repellant, which creates a barrier to the sideways-blowing rain. The wool naturally wicks moisture, so the warm bodies inside keep dry. It’s no surprise that Icelanders have been wearing these sweaters forever.

We Are Warm People

Icelandic sheep have been isolated from other breeds for centuries, making their wool remarkably unique. Imagine what the rough, windy, and changeable Icelandic weather has done to the wool of Icelandic sheep over time. The sheep have endured. Their wool is strong stuff!  When you see a photograph of an Icelandic sheep, you’ll see that their wool is so very thick that the layers of it appear to drip off their bodies.

Here’s my Icelandic sweater:

You can learn a bit about Icelandic sheep here.  And here is a National Geographic Traveler contest winning photo of Icelandic sheep herding — an activity full of adventure and bravery! Speaking of, do check out this brave woman from Japan who signed up to herd sheep with her new friend from Croatia. Talk about adventure. They shared part of it in this video, which includes some nice landscape shots and funny, ordinary moments, too:  Inspired by Iceland – Sheep round-up in the West of Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Remember Zack? He was one of our contest winners. He wore an authentic Icelandic sweater in his winning photo. You can get to know him better by reading about his love of Iceland, and Icelandic music, here

Some tourists think it’s funny that Icelanders actually wear the Icelandic sweater. (Maybe it’s the tourists who are funny.) Yet Icelanders do wear it, even while sheep herding and, later, eating lamb at dinner. Do they wear their own national sweater because they are proud? Or because they are stubborn? Or because they are wise and cold? (Sure, they are stubborn about their language, which has not changed a bit, ever, and is now predicted to become extinct in 100 years according to Icelandic grammarian Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson.) Perhaps it is because their sweaters are an incredibly perfect clothing, and there’s nothing more to do about it.

The Icelandic Sweater Reveling in its own Revolution?

Pam Peterson of The Huffington Post wrote a piece recently that featured The Sweater, in her post “The Iconic Icelandic Sweater: Past and Present“. Perhaps Iceland has had its way (and influence) on fashion all along? So it seems. Check out the Iceland Design center’s blog for a showcase of the wide variety of inspiration happening there.

While you can buy a traditional Icelandic sweater from The Handknitting Association of Iceland, you can also admire what local Icelandic designers are doing to push the envelope and explore new designs. The talented folk at Reykjavik-based Farmer’s Market are doing particularly eye-catching designs — here’s their site.  Then, of course, there’s always J. Crew. Their sweaters this season were “inspired by the snowy winters of Scandinavia.”

All of a sudden, I’m feeling quite warm.

– Amy




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