icelandic sweaters

Lopapeysa – the significance of patterns in the Icelandic sweater: introduction

So I promised a while back that I would publish my BA thesis about Icelandic sweaters for you guys – here’s the first part! I made my thesis about sweater patterns, even though I’m actually studying graphic design, so the main focus of the thesis is on the designs on the sweaters. I decided to publish them in parts, chapter by chapter, so that it wouldn’t be one big chunk to read. I’ll tag the parts with a tag lopapeysa thesis so it’s easy to follow the parts. This is the introduction part, and later on I’ll go deeper into the history and future of the sweater. If you have any questions or opinions on the way, feel free to send an ask, start a conversation in the reply box or reblog with your comments! :) 


Introduction

Like in other Nordic countries, children in Finland learn to knit in elementary school. Like many other kids, I also made my first socks when I was about 10 years old – they were horrible and I hated every moment of making them. The Finnish school system failed to inspire me to continue knitting in my free time, but since those days, I have rediscovered knitting on my own. I made my first “Icelandic sweater” in 2013 from Finnish wool (Figure 1) and got closer to my passion when I moved to Reykjavik in the fall of 2015. As an avid knitter and a graphic design student living in Reykjavík, it was only natural that I would be drawn to the graphic patterns of the Icelandic sweater, lopapeysa. Ever since I came to Iceland, I must have knitted countless of socks and mittens and a dozen sweaters from different Icelandic wool-types and gone through a variety of patterns and techniques. In my opinion as a knitter, knitting the pattern on the yoke is the best part in making the sweater – it is at the same time very repetitive and easy to follow, but at times challenging and exciting to work with. This lead me to examine the work that goes into designing the patterns and how they have formed over the years.

Figure 1: My first Icelandic sweater, “Dalur” from the book “Knitting with Icelandic wool”.

When I first got introduced to the Icelandic sweaters, I thought the graphic patterns in the yoke were the defining factor – but are there other factors that are more important? In this thesis, I will try to find out what really is the signifigance of the patterns in the Icelandic sweater and how have the patterns developed over the years. Where do the patterns draw inspiration from? How are they designed and who designs them? Have the patterns changed with the current trends and fashion?

To find answers to these questions, I will have to start from the beginning: the material of the sweaters. I will go through a brief introduction of the materials and techniques used to make the sweaters by researching pattern books and publications about yarn production. Following the history of the material, I will take a look at how the knitting traditions of the surrounding nations have influenced the patterns, and how much of Iceland’s own tradition is truly included in the pattern designs. As a graphic designer, the design process that goes into making the patterns is of particular interest to me: what restrictions does the sweater’s shape and material bring to the designer, and on the other hand, what possibilities does it offer? In a world of blogs and social media platforms, anyone can be a designer; this is why I will also see how has the internet affected the rise of Icelandic sweater’s popularity amongst knitters and how do people share their designs? Finally, I will take a look at how the patterns have morphed from traditional into more modern adaptations and how the sweater has made its way to mainstream fashion in Iceland and internationally.

There have been a number of papers and research articles written about Icelandic wool, sweaters and knitting traditions, most of them written in Icelandic. Due to language restrictions, the material I’m examining is mainly in English, although some publications like Sjónabók (a recreated collection of the traditional box patterns), Ull verður gull (the history of wool production in Iceland by Magnús Guðmundsson) and others I had to include in the research, since they provide too many good insights to ignore them. From the English material a big portion are pattern books translated from Icelandic to English, such as Knitting with Icelandic wool (introduction by Elsa E. Guðjónsson) and blog posts on the subject. Some articles published in English provide great overlook on the history and tradition of the sweaters, such as Nation in a sheep’s coat: The Icelandic sweater (by Guðrun Helgadóttir) and shed light on the politic history of the sweater as well. As I look into the current situation of the sweater, I will also use blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook, Raverly and Instagram to find out what influence they’ve had in the sweater designing.

I chose this subject because I see many things in common with knitdesign and graphic design: both diciplines are subject to technical constrain and constant pressure on marketing, and both fields have a similar working process. Due to the fact that this is a thesis focusing on the graphic side of Icelandic sweaters, I have chosen to include many pictures. The pictures in the thesis are shown relatively large, since the focus is on the patterns of the sweaters, and no details can be spared.

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Hello my fellow knitters! Wondering the long silence? Is she dead? No new projects? Just done with blogging? 

Not at all! My long silence is largely because of my current project, the biggest one I’ve had so far: writing my BA thesis. And guess what my subject is? Icelandic sweater patterns! YES, I am that lucky, that our school lets us choose our subject quite freely, so even though my major is in graphic design, I could venture off course and choose something I’ve had close to my heart ever since moving to Iceland. I’m writing about the development and design process of the Icelandic sweater’s patterns, here are some pictures from my research. I also have a LOT of new and finished projects going on (christmas presents!) and some changes in the blog in the planning, so stay tuned! Just wanted to say hi and show a glimpse of what I’m researching about! :)

If anyone has interest in reading about the development of Icelandic sweaters, I could publish parts of my thesis as short articles in the blog – sounds good?

La fois où j'avais fait 2h de vélo face aux vents du nord pour aller acheter un icelandic sweater à une ptite madame qui les faisait dans une cabane en bois (selon les directions de ma host qui disait qu'elle tricotait les plus beaux) Les meilleurs souvenirs dans les petites choses 🗻💛