To Iceland, With Love

I’ve always had a strange fascination with Iceland.

Baby, an Icelandic ewe. Photo by Nancy Kelley.

While most people dream of traveling to European staples such as France or Italy, or sunning on the sandy beaches of Hawaii or Australia, I’ve been captivated by the towering, otherworldly mountains and vast landscapes of this tiny northern island. It may seem like a random country to be infatuated with, but I can explain.

My love affair with Iceland began when I was about 15 years old, after discovering a beautiful Icelandic band that produced ethereal music. They sounded like angels, and their music videos—all filmed in Iceland, of course—showcased the beauty of their homeland. I even went so far as to attempt to learn their native language, though I gave up after about a whopping 20 minutes. But to this day, I still remain enchanted by this little Nordic nation.

So, you can imagine my delight after reading all about Icelandic sheep in the latest issue of Spin-Off. It turns out that these adorable creatures not only produce outstanding spinning fiber, but they’ve also been essential to the survival of my favorite little country! As one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the world, they have been providing food and clothing to the people of Iceland since it was settled in the ninth and tenth centuries.

A lock of Icelandic fleece contains both the long, coarse outercoat and the fine, fluffy undercoat. Photo by Beth Smith.

In her article about Icelandic sheep, Beth Smith describes how to spin the distinctive dual-coated wool three ways: by spinning the coats together to create the lopi-style yarn for which Icelandic sweaters are famous, but spinning just the fine undercoat known as thel for soft lacy yarn, or by spinning just the heavier outercoat known as tog for durable yarns.

As Beth says, “Luckily, we don’t have to travel to Iceland to obtain wool from these beautiful animals. Icelandic sheep now live all over North America and in England, New Zealand, Australia, and probably other countries as well.” (You can even find 26 breeders from New England to Oregon in the Winter 2015 issue of Spin-Off, complete with the annual Natural Fiber Directory pullout.) Perhaps visiting one of their farms will tide me over until I cave and jet-set off across the pond!


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