Tobias, Gundahl, and Knud and Faroese Knitted Icelanders

One of the crewmembers sings a sailor’s song for members of the expedition on the Danmark. The sweater he is wearing is typical of the Faroese Icelander with small patterns in black and white. Photo from the book Danmark-ekspeditionen til Grønlands Nordøstkyst 1906–1908 [The Danmark Expedition to Greenland’s Northeast Coast 1906–1908] by Achton Friis (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1987) used by permission of Gyldendal.
Hendrik and Tobias preparing for the seal hunt. Tobias is wearing a Faroese Icelander sweater and sealskin trousers. You can see the stripe from the underarm to the lower edge of the sweater. Photo from the book Danmark-ekspeditionen til Grønlands Nordøstkyst 1906–1908 [The Danmark Expedition to Greenland’s Northeast Coast 1906–1908] by Achton Friis (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1987) used by permission of Gyldendal.

What do Tobias, Gundahl, and Knud have to do with a particular style of sweater? In the first decade of the 20th century, all three men, all Danish explorers, wore the distinctive “Icelander,” a warm wool sweater, on their adventures to Greenland with its harsh climate. Photographs of the three wearing their Icelanders are included in Lita Rosing-Schow’s fascinating article on the evolution of these sweaters in the recently released July/August issue of PieceWork.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 1906, during an era of many large expeditions, the Danish explorer and ethnologist Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen (1872–1907) gathered twenty-six men to explore whether Greenland was connected to Peary Land, the northeasternmost region that men could reach by foot and dogsled. They sailed from Denmark to Greenland in a ship christened Danmark (“Denmark” in Danish), and the fjord where they dropped anchor duly became Danmark Fjord.

Gundahl, the sledge builder, wearing a Faroese Icelander sweater. The neck is a collarless opening in the sweater. Photo from the book Danmark-ekspeditionen til Grønlands Nordøstkyst 1906–1908 [The Danmark Expedition to Greenland’s Northeast Coast 1906–1908] by Achton Friis (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1987) used by permission of Gyldendal

To some extent adopting the traditional dress of the Greenlanders, the explorers dressed for the harsh climate. Their summer outfit comprised an under-sweater, a sweater with an anoraq (a windproof hooded parka) over that, and leather pants. In winter, they wore pants of polar bear skin and soft boots called kamiks. Photographs show that nearly all of the men wore an “Icelander,” a patterned sweater from the Faroe Islands knitted for export.

In preparation for the Danmark expedition, the explorers picked up Greenlandic sled dogs on the Faroe Islands, which lie off the northern tip of Denmark nearly midway between it and the southern tip of Iceland, a way station on their journey to Greenland. While the men could have bought their sweaters at the Icelander shop in Iceland or back home in Denmark, I believe that they saw and purchased the sweaters in the Faroe Islands, where the price would have been about four crowns (less than one U.S. dollar).

Lita Rosing-Schow’s classic Icelander. She made the sweater using traditional techniques, including steeking. Photo by Joe Coca.

Lita shares much more about these sweaters and their construction, along with a pattern so you will be able to make your own Icelander. She updated its classic look—white background and small black motifs—with striped borders at the neck, wrists, and lower edge. Tobias, Gundahl, and Knud would be very pleased!

The Icelander is only one example of what you’ll find in the July/August issue. It’s jam-packed with family stories, articles on needlework’s fascinating history, and out-of-the-ordinary projects—the exquisite Yap Lace is just one!

Open up a world of discovery in PieceWork’s July/August issue.