Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Icelandic Handknits Blog Tour

I am delighted, proud and excited to take part in the blog tour for my lovely friend, Helene Magnusson’s new book, Icelandic Handknits.

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
Helene has explored the knitted artifacts of Iceland’s textile museum in Blonduos and has created inspiring new designs from them. 

The Textile Museum, Blonduos

There are 25 projects in total ranging from home furnishings to baby wear, from slippers to the Missing Lopi Sweater (more of this below!)
But if that wasn’t enough Helene also includes information on the textile history of Iceland and traditional Icelandic recipes. The recipe for ‘Salkjot og Baunir’ (split pea soup with salt lamb) has particularly caught my eye, as salt lamb is a delicacy also sold on Shetland and I have never been sure what to do with it before. Now I know thanks to Helene. The recipes, the beautiful colour photographs, the textile history and most of all, Helene’s designs, speak of Iceland and carry you off there. It is no surprise that Helene is also an award winning tour guide. She clearly loves the country and reveals this passion on every page of this book.

There are several designs that I longed to cast on the instant I saw them including the two shawls - Margret

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
and in particular, Halldora, a rectangular shawl using Helene’s own ‘Love Story’ yarn.

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
I am very lucky to own a skein of this fabulous 100% Icelandic wool created by Helene. Again Helene explains in the book all about Icelandic wool and what makes it so unique. 

To celebrate the publication of the book, Helene has also had the honour of being invited to exhibit at the self same textile museum in Blonduos, Iceland, and I really wanted to ask Helene more about this and how it came about and I also wanted to ask her so many things about the book and her work that I decided the best thing was actually to do a Q&A. So without further ado, may I introduce to you: 

Helene Magnusson

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
S: You have been asked to exhibit at the Textile Museum in Iceland this summer. Can you tell me a little bit more about how this came about?

H: Every year, Icelandic textile artists and designers are invited to exhibit their work in the Textile Museum’s open area. The exhibitions provide a sampling of the diversity in the Icelandic textile world. In the past, have been for example exhibiting internationally acclaimed fashion designer Steinunn or the brillant textile artist Hildur Bjarnadottir. So I was thrilled when I was chosen to exhibit this year. I will be showing knitting pieces, particularly the designs from the book Icelandic Handknits. They will be put in relation with the artifacts in the Museum that inspired them.  The exhibition will be formally opened on May 26 and will continue during the opening of the Museum, from June 1 to August 31 from 10AM to 5PM each day, then the first months of winter on demand for groups.

S: You, your life, your family and your work are intrinsically linked with Iceland. What is it about Iceland that is so special?

I’ve always felt home in Iceland and it seems natural to combine all of my interests, be it  knitting, hiking or cooking under one umbrella: The Icelandic Knitter. I enjoy the harshness of nature and the freedom it gives.

S: You also have your own very distinct contemporary style with an eye on fashion. How do you manage to so successfully merge traditional Icelandic folk costume with your own look time and time again?

H: I have a training in fashion since I graduated from the Textile and Fashion section of Icelandic Academy of the Art and I’ve always liked to introduce into my wardrobe old pieces, from my great grandmothers or from thrift stores. I like to mix old and new, in my home or cooking too! I think it’s mostly a question of balance between the two, so it doesn’t become a disguise, a costume or a uniform.

S: I can see your ‘look’ in the photographs of the book. Is it important to you that the images selected for the book portrayed a theme? How much involvement did you get to have in the styling and photography for the book?

H: I absolutely wanted the pictures to be taken in Iceland and I wanted those pictures to clearly show that they were taken in Iceland. When it came to work with a photographer, it was important to me that he would be able to convey my vision. Arnaldur who I have known for a while did a fantastic job in that respect.

The look I wanted to achieve was of a strong Icelandic woman, braving the elements and standing for her convictions no matter what, at the image of the remarkable Halldora Bjarnadottir who did pioneering work in the education and culture of women in Iceland. Many artifacts in the Museum are from her collection and a special room is dedicated to her and her work.

With the elements we definitively had to be brave! The photoshoot took place in January with only 3 hours light and a snow storm followed by a terrible wind and temperatures way below zero!

S: I am very intrigued by the missing lopi jumper. Often what we perceive as tradition is actually relatively recent - the yoked jumper of the Shetland Islands is another such example - could you tell us a little more about the lopi jumper and how this particular style came about.

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
H: Nobody knows really when it came about, but probably in the 1950s or 60s. There are a few women I have interviewed who claim to have been the first. What is for sure is that it had become immensely popular in the 70’s, it was the “hippie jumper” then it has had its ups and downs. Sometimes it’s out, sometimes it’s in. At the moment it’s in!

S: You put great thought into the fit and shaping of your garments, with clever touches such as short rows in the elbows. Can you tell us a little bit about the traditional construction of an Icelandic garment and the little extras that you have introduced to them to make them fit even better. Which patterns in the book demonstrate this best?

H: Little is known about the construction of women jackets but they were knitted on very small needles in a very intricate manner, with a very close fit, knitted slightly bigger then felted, but still perfectly shaped to the body of its wearer. 

The Icelandic lopi sweater on the other hand, is basically made of three tubes, a big one for the body, and smaller ones for the arms, then combined together and the yoke knitted with no difference between front and back. I introduced feminine shapes into it: princess darts and intense short row shaping to create a neckline. The Skautbubningur sweater in Icelandic Handknits also features short rows in the elbow: 

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
This was a common feature in the old days, adding fabric, reducing friction and thus preventing the formation of holes. As a matter of fact, many garments are mended in many places but the elbows are just like new!

More is known on the other hand about the construction of men’s jacket. Skúli Magnússon, first bailif of Iceland, even gave a recipe for a “perfect man’s sweater”, some time between 1760 and 1770. The Perfect Little Icelandic Sweater in Icelandic Handknits is the occasion to try this unusual construction where the body is knitter upward in the round with side and back shaping, the back knitted higher up, with raglan decreases in the yoke but the arms knitted from the top down, again with the elbow shaping.

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
S: Finally, if I get the chance to visit Iceland one day, could you suggest in your role as Iceland’s premier tour guide, where would be the best place to start!

H: Well, I’d suggest of course that you come and visit me at my design studio to begin with – the view above the Reykjavik habour alone is worth the visit! There is a rich knitting tradition in Iceland and so many places worth visiting combined with amazing nature. Each season has something different to offer and winter time is no less breathtaking and interesting for a knitter. I try to reflect this diversity in my knitting tours, all year long: each has its own theme based on particular knitting traditions and techniques - and explore a different area in Iceland.
To find out much more about Helene and to awe inspired by her amazing designs you can visit her website at

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission
You can also purchase copies of Icelandic Handknits and her Love Story yarn from the website too but Voyager Press has also very kindly offered a copy of Helene’s book as a prize on the blog, so if you would like the chance to win a copy of this fabulous book, simply leave a comment below by Thursday 16th May and I’ll pick a winner at random shortly after the deadline. Please include an email address so that I can get in touch if you win!

So thank you Helene for visiting the blog and taking the time to answer my questions and for creating such a fabulous book for us to enjoy.

And here are the linkys to the remaining blog tour venues:

May 9th, 2013: Terri Shea –
May 16th, 2013: Alana Dakos -

so, for now
Ruby xxx


Ühltje said...

I love pattern books that also tell the history and traditions of a knitting style.

torirot said...

I'd absolutely love to win that book!!!

BlueLagoon said...

Wonderful! Am now busy planning my second visit to Iceland....

Unknown said...

I would love to have a copy of this book. I have a friend who raises Icelandic sheep here in the US. I have spun their wool and it is a truly lovely wool to work with.

pistachios said...

love those socks! visited iceland 2 summers ago.. what a wondrous land..

flossieKNITS said...

Love the history included with all of this--everything looks lovely!

Sheila said...

This is such a gorgeous book!

TracyC611 said...

A super book, I 'd love to win a copy.

TracyC611 on Ravelry

Scully said...

A great blog entry Susan...I'd love a copy of the book as I am hopefully visiting Iceland in Sept on a knitting holiday hosted by Debbie Abrahams and it would be great to see some of the s energy in this book beforehand ❤

knittynurse said...

Simply stunning.

Rav name: pgknittingnurse

Anonymous said...

I'd love to win this lovely book. I really won't to knit the Icelandic soft shoes, and Skautbuningur Sweater.
Ninnilina on ravelry

SamBTW said...

Such a beautiful, interesting book. I'd love to try making some of the things pictured, so this is going on my wish list if I'm not lucky enough to win a copy

knutty knitter said...

Would absolutely love a book like that! Those shawls look amazing!

viv in nz

Unknown said...

Checked the book out on Raverly, it looks fabulous! I'm nina90 on Raverly

Penny Jenkins said...

I went on holiday to Iceland in February and loved the country and its knitting heritage. I'd love to win this book to explore further and knit one of Helene's gorgeous patterns.

Sylvía said...

I´ve had my eye on this book since before it came out, I'd love to win a copy!

LindaR said...

I'd love to win a copy of this book. The patterns and the scenery are both stunning!
lindarumsey on Ravelry

Susan said...

The baby sweater is so cute!! And I would love to make that lovely lopi ...

tracy said...

I was lucky enough to attend one of Helene's tours and I am so excited for her new book!

Teresa said...

What a beautiful book - I would love to win it and thanks for the chance.

allama said...

The cover shawl is beautiful - I'd be thrilled if I won! (Email: h j tipple AT gmail . com)

Dominique said...

I love Hélène's work, her shawls are really beautifull.

janine said...

I would love to win this book.

Freyalyn said...

This book looks so inspirational! And I now need to track down how to make and cure salt lamb, as I'm sure it's not for sale further South than Shetland (never seen it in Orkney...)

Donnaj said...

This book looks interesting with lots of info aside from just knitting. Would enjoy owning this book, thanks for the chance,

Tania AJ said...

Fascinating read - love the photos & Q&A. I went to Iceland for 2 weeks in 2000. At the time I was studying geology and we toured the whole island exploring it's raw beauty. Since taking up knitting again in 2009 I've had a longing to go back and focus on exploring the knitting & yarn landscape instead! One day I will get back there, in the meantime this blog post has given a great insight into Icelandic Knitting. Thank you.

Susie Hewer said...

I love the Margret shawl. I've often wondered what it would be like to run a marathon in Iceland! I'm Redhead on Ravelry.