Lopi and I go way back. Growing up, I was always clothed in thick, rugged Icelandic sweaters knit by my maternal grandma. The sweaters (in the Lopapeysa style) were bulky yet surprisingly light, and they always kept me warm. They were all knit from Iceland’s distinct “Lopi” yarn, made from loosely twisted fibers of the Icelandic sheep.
How fitting that the country with the oldest Parliament, established in 930, should also have some of the oldest sheep. Only a few times did people attempt to “improve” them, and the results were so catastrophic that all the crossbred sheep had to be killed. Today, it is illegal to import any sheep onto the island.
As a result, Icelandic wool is a sort of genetic time-capsule back to the 8th and 9th century, when early Norse settlers first brought them to the island. Back then, we needed our sheep to do everything for us: provide milk, meat, skin, and fiber.
The Icelandic sheep met our fiber needs by growing a dual-coated fleece. Long, rugged outer-fibers (“tog”) grow among far finer, warmer undercoat fibers (“thel”). Handspinners separate the two fibers, using each for more suitable purposes. But modern mechanized fiber processing now keeps the two fibers together, producing an intriguing and highly effective structural ecosystem for knitted garments.
Lopi yarn comes in several weights, from bulky (called Alafoss Lopi) to a lighter (Lett Lopi) to laceweight (Einband). This review focuses on the classic bulky Alafoss, referred to as “Lopi” here just for simplicity sake.
If you haven’t yet knit with Lopi, do yourself a favor and choose needles with relatively blunt tips. Once you’ve minimized the risk of snags, you’ll find knitting swift and easy.
Lopi looks like a singles, but it’s actually composed of two delicate strands of barely twisted fibers< that have been twisted together to appear as one.
There are no ply shadows, yet the yarn benefits from the added strength, structure, and evenness that comes from being plied.
My stockinette stitches had a little wobble here and there but were otherwise smooth.
Blocking / Washing
The first thing to know about Icelandic wool is that it felts. Fairly easily, in fact. I’m not saying you should avoid washing your Lopi garments by hand. In fact, to do otherwise could make the fibers more brittle and result in chemicals near your skin. No, I’m just suggesting that when you do wash your Lopi garments, do so gently.
That said, marvelous things happen when you wash Lopi. (Washed swatch shown at left.) During spinning, all the fibers have been twisted and tamed into submission. But once you dunk the finished product into lukewarm soapy water, the unique dual-fiber composition springs into action. The fine undercoat fibers relax, stretch out, and fill all the nooks and crannies between the longer outercoat fibers. The result is the yarn equivalent of spraying insulation between the joists of a house. No cold drafts, just excellent warmth all winter.
Visually, that slosh in water evened out most of my wobbly stitches and gave me a smooth, cohesive fabric. It almost looked like it’d been lightly felted, but there was no change in row or stitch gauge.
Remember those coarse outer hairs I mentioned earlier, the ones that grow among the short fine ones? In terms of wearability, those fibers are our friends. Long and strong, they act as I-beams to protect the shorter undercoat fibers and create a cohesive, remarkably durable fabric.
Based on a lifetime of experience I already knew what would happen to my swatches, but I still wanted to make sure nothing had been changed in the Lopi formula. Nope. During a vigorous amount of abrasion, a few short fibers fell from my swatch but the swatch itself did not pill. More abrasion resulted in a few more fibers flying loose and a more distinct halo emerging from the long, lustrous guard hairs. Finally, after undue thrashing, my swatch released a few faint pill-like clusters that were easily plucked.
That’s the durability side. In terms of touch, Icelandic wool has a reputation for being scratchy. If you know how to spin yarn by hand, you can buy an Icelandic fleece, pluck out the tog and just spin the finer thel. You’ll get an ethereal yarn. Otherwise, you’ll have something extremely warm, lightweight, and durable—with a bit of a crunch to it.
Ãlafoss scours all the lanolin out of its fleece, producing a clean yarn with no hint of sheep in it. But I sometimes wonder if this vigorous scouring goes too far and renders the fibers unnecessarily dry and occasionally brittle. The number of blunt, broken fibers that flew out of my swatch while I was rubbing it may well be testament to this.
When my first niece was born, I knit her a traditional Lopi sweater. She wore it for years, and when she outgrew it, she gave it to her sister—who, in turn, wore it for many more years. The sweater is still beautiful. For me, that is the magic of Lopi.
A medium-sized women’s pullover with colorful patterning will require about 13 skeins of yarn, costing $117. If you’re lucky, you’ll have enough yarn left over for a pair of fingerless mitts.
And unlike those flashy, fluffy instant gratification projects that only last a season, whatever you get will last a lifetime. Or longer.
Pingback:What's Knitting with Lettlopi Yarn Like? (Spoiler: It's Amazing!) | February 6, 2017
Jackie | November 21, 2018
I am curious about how blunt the needles need to be stop snagging. I recently bought a ball of Lett-Lopi (only one because I was worried about scratchiness, to be honest). I did my tension square, and sure enough there was some splitting of the fibres – I used KP Symphonies, and to be honest my circulars/interchangeables veer to the finger stabbing variety, so I will need to buy some, and multiple lengths, with possibly dpns for the sleeves/neckline. Unfortunately, in the UK where I am based (and I suspect in the US too), finger stabbers predominate. I have tried Addi Olive Wood clicks before and the join isn’t great (where the wood meets the metal cylinder bit). I have a variety of Addis and for some peculiar reason most if not all of them are slightly bent (and it’s not just smallish ones either) – and I am a loose knitter too. Not sure if it makes any difference to the snagging issue but I am your typical British/US picker/thrower, although I might attempt continental for the colourwork section. I had narrowed it down to Addi Turbos, Hiya Hiya bamboos and Lykke (although I am not convinced they are much blunter than the Symphonies).
36berkeley | February 23, 2019
If anyone else is unfamiliar with the term “ply shadows”, it is explained on pp 34–35 of The Knitter’s Book of Socks.
Ruthann Piepenburg | February 25, 2019
Thank you so much for your review. I’m using Alafoss Lopi to crochet a rug that I want to full. I’m very happy to hear that this process is so easy. Now if only I can figure a way to dry the rug during these waning weeks of winter. It’s too big for my dryer.
Carmel Hughes | October 22, 2019
Do garments knitted with lopi shrink when washed?
Julia | August 25, 2021
I have knitted a cardigan using Alafoss Lopi. I found it seem to malt hairy bits all over my lounge and now that I’m wearing it my clothes are covered in the hairy pieces. It’s like dog hair I’m constantly picking bit off. Is this normal with this type of yarn
Kathie Kinnaman | February 3, 2023
It tears so easily, and once I got used to that, I found that several of my skeins had rips in them. Very frustrating, given the price.