the wind-up sheep in iceland

It’s been a shameful length of time since I last posted anything new, for which I offer my most grovelling apologies. Anyone who came looking for lovely pictures of what I’ve been up to of late, and witty entertainment in general, must have left again feeling sorely disappointed. But I’m back, and I intend to make amends.

At least a teeny part of the reason for my long absence was due to the fact that I sidled off to Iceland for ten days in August, to admire the landscape and the sheep. It was quite a trip, both in terms of landscape and sheepy goodness. I was terribly impressed that for once, the country’s so-called traditional clothing that is pressed upon tourists in every place they visit, in this case genuinely did appear to be worn by Icelanders as well as tourists. On my first night in Reykjavik, I was pleasantly surprised to see hordes of Icelanders out and about in huge chunky traditional knitwear: lopi jumpers, hats and mittens. In fact, while perusing the knitting patterns for sale in a wool shop, I even came across this:

I’m sad to say that in all my adventures around Iceland during that trip, I failed to see a single horse in one of these. But maybe I just went out of season; it was August, after all. I’m sure each and every Icelandic horse deserves a lopi jumper of its own, as even at the height of summer I was pretty frozen, sleeping in a tent (though that’s probably where I went wrong – I should have napped in geothermally-heated pools instead).

However, I’m sure I saw enough wool on my travels to knit thousands of horse outfits with. Every place we stopped, no matter how small or remote, had a plentiful supply of the stuff. Every single supermarket had a dedicated wool section, with yarn of all weights and colours, needles of all sizes, and patterns galore. It was quite an experience when coming from a country where a wool shop is a fairly rare and glorious sight. Somehow or other, I managed to come away from the one below with only a very modest quantity of wool.

The most exciting thing I bought was a little stack of discs of Plötulopi (the yarn on the bottom shelves on the left) with which to knit myself a woolly winter dress, in the style of the traditional lopapeysa. I was fascinated by this yarn, as it is not spun, and I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with it when I first set eyes on it. Fortunately, though, on my last day in Iceland I was treated to a detailed explanation by a very helpful American lady – thank you whoever you are! – who encouraged me to try it out, and told me that she finds it a pleasure to knit with. I haven’t tried it yet, so let’s hope it really is…

Aside from the endless knitting opportunities afforded by every inch of Iceland (there really are a lot of sheep; all shaggy and curly-horned), I also enjoyed my visit to the open-air museum in Reykjavik, Árbæjarsafn (my Icelandic pronunciation is almost certainly laughable). It is actually IN Reykjavik, as well – it’s surrounded on three sides by the only motorway in Iceland, which feels quite odd when you’re in the midst of lots of old wooden buildings with turf roofs and people in traditional costume. I suppose the city must have grown up around and beyond the museum over time. There were all kinds of interesting textiles, and particularly woven ones.

My favourite building of all was the original Árbær farm, which was the starting point for the museum when it opened in 1957. This was a farm, and a house and an inn, all in one long building. The sheep’s quarters were attached to one side of the house, so you could go directly from the hall into a small barn full of spinning and fleece-processing equipment, then through a tiny corridor into a room full of sheep pens. I bet it would have been the snuggest place for sheep to live in all of Iceland.

Then above the rest of the house there were two lovely bedrooms like the one above. All the beds had beautiful woven bedspreads on, and were enough to make me want to move in straightaway. Though I have no doubt that if I tried to last the winter there, I would probably be a very sad girl indeed. In spite of it being a house of sheep-heaven, complete with its very own buttery… So yes, Iceland = wool paradise, just a little chilly for my liking.