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The cozy tale of Icelandic sweaters: The Lopapeysa sweater

Try to picture an Icelander right now. Do you think of someone with pale skin and blonde hair? Maybe they have a spattering of freckles on their nose and beautiful blue eyes?

That’s the kind of Nordic image that appears for most people.

Now think about what they’re wearing.

Depending on how dated your vision of Iceland is, you might think of various woolen layers and knitted items. Perhaps the most iconic item of Icelandic clothing of all is the Icelandic sweater.

The Lopapeysa is a token of Nordic life in Iceland, and it’s one of the many traditional items that Iceland still holds close today.

Made with incredible Icelandic wool, the Lopapeysa is a garment that any true fan of Iceland can do with learning about.

Here’s your introduction to the history and continued heritage of the Icelandic sweater.

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The history of the traditional Icelandic sweater

Traditional Icelandic sweaters are known as Lopapeysas by the locals. These comfy sweaters have a unique rounded pattern around the neck, and often come featuring well-known Icelandic sweater pattern options, like stripes and images of reindeer.

The Lopapeysa, like the Icelandic cardigan and Icelandic pullover, is a popular garment in the region because it helps to keep locals warm in the harsh winters. Since knitting arrived in Iceland around the 16th century, virtually everyone has pursued it as a hobby or pattern.

Many Icelandic children learn how to knit at school or at home.

Lopapeysa sweaters feature native Icelandic wool from local sheep. The name stands for “sweater made from unspun yarn”. The most important part of the Lopapeysa sweater is its circular neck, which looks the same on the back as it does on the front.

You can get this Icelandic sweater in a pullover, full zip, or half-zip design.

Some people credit a woman named Audur Laxness with the original design of the Icelandic sweater, but historians say that many influences contribute to the garment. The Lopapeysa features elements of Turkish, Aztec, and Swedish textiles.

Notably, ever since Iceland became independent from Denmark in the 1940s, the Lopapeysa has earned a patriotic meaning symbol of Icelandic identity. It’s an essential cultural item and a practical choice for winter wear too.

What makes the Lopapeysa so special?

There are a lot of things that contribute to the power of sweaters from Iceland. As mentioned above, Icelandic cardigan, pullover, and sweater designs all have a deep connection with the patriotic pride of the country.

The special design of the yoke means that nowhere else in the world creates garments quite like an Icelandic wool sweater.

However, one of the other significant things that set this garment apart is the use of Icelandic wool. The Icelandic Lopapeysa features true Icelandic wool from local sheep.

These sheep differ from the ones you’ll find elsewhere in the world, because they’ve evolved over hundreds of years in a relentless Nordic environment.

The incredibly dense yarn that comes from Icelandic sheep mean that the traditional Lopapeysa is much warmer than many sweaters elsewhere in the world.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about the extra density making your sweater heavy. Icelandic sheep wool is also very lightweight.

To create the Lopapeysa, Icelandic designers use both the outer fiber of the wool and the inner fibers that are shorter and softer. The unspun wool, called Lopi, produces a yarn that’s durable and lightweight, with amazing insulating qualities.

Using Icelandic wool in knitting also supports better airflow between fibers for enhanced insulation.

That takes us to another question: Are Icelandic sweaters itchy?

Most people avoid using Lopapeysa without a layer underneath, as the Lopi wool can be a little itchy. However, how uncomfortable the sweater depends on how much your designer stuck to tradition.

On the positive side, one of the benefits of this kind of wool is that it virtually never needs washing.

The composition of the fibers means that bacteria doesn’t attach to the wool in the same way as other materials. You might be able to get away with just airing your jumper out at times.

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Where can you get a traditional Icelandic sweater?

If you want to feel what a Lopapeysa is like for yourself, then the best thing you can do is take an Iceland trip. Although there are various designers online that claim to make true Icelandic wool sweaters, it’s difficult to know for certain that you’re getting what you pay for.

Just because someone calls their product an Icelandic jumper doesn’t mean it features real Icelandic wool.

A trip to Iceland where you can see the Northern Lights and check out some of the amazing Scandinavian sights is the best way to ensure that you get a true Icelandic sweater. Plus, you can test the material and see how it feels before you spend a fortune.

Of course, it only makes sense to travel all the way to Iceland if you were hoping for an amazing vacation there anyway. Few people will actually journey across the world just for a warm jumper.

If you’re willing to take the risk, you can try ordering a Lopapeysa online instead.

Companies like ICEWEAR promise a 100% authentic Icelandic wool experience. The traditional garments are fully Icelandic, with the same incredible wool you’ll get from the region itself.

However, to get your hands on this quality, you might need to spend a little more. For instance, this popular zipper-free Icelandic sweater from ICEWEAR is around $135.

When you’re shopping on the web, try to avoid accidentally paying for Sherpa wool or cashmere instead. Although both of these materials are great, the only way you can enjoy a true Lopapeysa experience is with Icelandic wool.

The best way to wear Icelandic wool sweaters

If you manage to get your hands on an Icelandic wool sweater from true Icelandic wool, it’s worth knowing how to wear and use it properly to get the best experience.

Whether you decide on an Icelandic cardigan or pullover, remember that the unique wool in this garment will behave differently to the garments you’re used to.

When you receive your Icelandic sweater:

  • Give it some time to air out before wearing it: Many Icelandic wool sweaters are now available in a range of colors thanks to newer dyes. However, yours might smell a little if it’s been sitting in storage after a designer applied the dye. Letting the garment air out will get rid of any unwanted scents.
  • Don’t wear your Lopapeysa with nothing else: As warm and wonderful as the Icelandic sweater is, it’s not intended for solo wear. This material can be quite itchy, so you’ll need to wear layers underneath. Keep the layers thin to avoid excess heat and sweating. The Lopapeysa can quickly get hot.
  • Wash carefully: If you need to wash your Lopapeysa for any reason, hand-wash it in look warm water to get the best results. Do not over-heat the material, and don’t put it in your standard washing machine, as it may fall apart. Ideally, you can avoid washing the Lopapeysa frequently by leaving it to air between wearing sessions.
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Snuggle up with your Icelandic Lopapeysa

An Icelandic Lopapeysa is an icon of Iceland culture, and a great way to bring some of the comfort and culture of the country home with you after a visit.

The history of Icelandic sweaters and the huge part they continue to play in the country now make them a true staple for any lover of the Scandinavia lifestyle.

Just remember that Lopapeysa sweaters aren’t great for every occasion.

You’ll still need to avoid wearing these with nothing underneath, and make sure that you know how to care for your sweater properly.

The last thing you want is for your wool to fall apart in the washing machine — even if it does give you a great excuse to take yet another trip to Iceland.

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