From socks to hats to traditional lopapeysur (Icelandic sweater), Icelandic wool is revered as top-quality. What makes it unique? Why do people love it so much?
What are Icelandic sheep?
Icelandic sheep are one of the oldest sheep breeds. They were originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings who came from Norway in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Icelandic sheep genetics have been kept pure because of their 1,000+ year isolation on the island.
These sheep could survive the harsh conditions of Iceland and also helped the Vikings to survive by providing tender meat, nutritious milk, and warm wool. In fact, some believe life would have been impossible on the island for the vikings if not for their sheep!
They were the ideal breed for the Icelandic conditions. A dual-layer coat kept them warm and dry in the harsh winters. Grazing on grass and browsing on shrubs is all they needed to thrive.
Today, over 500,000 Icelandic sheep still live in Iceland (800,000 in the summers). That’s more sheep than humans on the island!
What are the features of Icelandic wool?
The wool of Icelandic sheep is ideal for all types of conditions whether it’s on the sheep or on you! Let’s dive into some of the characteristics that make it loved by spinners and sweater-wearers alike.
Great in Cold and Wet Conditions
An Icelandic fleece has two layers of hair, which you may notice if you purchase raw wool.
Tog is the outer layer. It is long and usually coarse (if from adults and softer if from lambs), making it water-resistant. The inner layer is Thel which is soft and fluffy to keep the sheep warm and comfortable in cold temperatures even if moisture breaks through the outer water-resistant layer.
The traditional processing of Icelandic wool separated the two types of fibers to make two different yarns. The modern process doesn’t include a machine to separate these fibers so they are spun together into a wool called lopi. Lopi has both the water-resistance of the tog layer and the warmth of the Thel layer.
Clothing made from Icelandic wool is wonderful in cold and wet conditions, as the hardy breed developed those qualities to thrive in the harsh conditions of the island on which they resided.
Good in Every Season
Although you may not wear a sweater in summer, Icelandic wool will also keep you cool in warm weather. You may be wondering, “Warm in the winter and cool in the summer? How does that make sense?”
We’ve talked about how Icelandic sheep had to survive (and stay warm) in cold winters, but Iceland also has warm summers. Although sheep are often shorn in spring, they still have some wool in the summers and must stay cool.
Since Icelandic wool is water-resistant, it wicks away moisture. This means any perspiration is wicked away from the body. The moisture is pulled out and evaporates, releasing heat, and therefore cooling the air between your skin and the wool.
This feature makes Icelandic wool socks great for summer activities like hiking! We had one customer tell us about their trip to Machu Picchu where they wore socks made from a mixture of Icelandic wool and alpaca. While everyone’s feet were too hot during the hike during the day and too cold during the frigid mountain nights, this customer’s feet were comfortable around the clock!
One of the beloved features of Icelandic wool is the variation of colors. Icelandic sheep are diverse with many different patterns and fleece colors, including white, cream, black, brown, red, and gray. (Check out our flock and all the unique fleeces they have.)
Icelandic wool doesn’t need to be dyed to be beautiful!
Low Maintenance and Odor Resistant
Clothing made from Icelandic wool is praised for being water-resistant, breathable, and lightweight. Rain is repelled by the tog fibers and moisture is wicked away from the skin so you are kept dry. Icelandic wool is also lightweight because of the þel fibers so it is lighter than many other wools which makes it even more comfortable.
Clothing made from lopi rarely, and possibly never, needs to be washed! The structure of the fibers keeps bacteria from sticking to the wool.
If you do wash lopi clothing, it must be hand-washed. Fortunately, the only real need for washing is if it gets stained, but even that is rare as the fiber wicks away the stain-causing moisture.
Many of the clothes and blankets manufactured today are made with water-intensive cotton or some variation of plastic which breaks down over time and releases micro-plastics into our water sources. This isn’t the case with Icelandic sheep and their wool!
Icelandic sheep graze on grasses and browse on the lower branches of trees. This has little to no impact on the native environment (given the farm is using sustainable practices). In fact, they often benefit their area!
The forage that they eat has deep roots that hold ground, preventing erosion and providing a healthy, untilled habitat for essential microorganisms. The sheep also drop fertilizer as they go, thus feeding those very plants and the organisms living in the soil.
Are you looking for raw wool?
Icelandic wool is a wonderful thing! Clothing-wearers love it. Spinners rave about it. But it can be difficult to get your hands on some raw wool.
We are a small family-farm in Wisconsin that raises Icelandic sheep.
Our small flock is pastured and organically-fed. Every spring after lambing, we shear our girls. Part of the raw wool is given to mills and artisans who craft beautiful creations, but we also sell raw Icelandic fleece!
The fleece for sale is raw and naturally-colored. We shake out the vegetative matter, but otherwise it is unwashed and ready for you to create something wonderful!
You also get more per pound. Icelandic fleeces have less lanolin (a wax secreted by the sheep). Less lanolin means more fiber yield. Only 20-29% of the weight of raw wool is lanolin in Icelandics, compared to newer breeds which average 50%. The percentage of lanolin ranges throughout the year, with more in spring and less in fall. Icelandic fleeces can have just 10%! Some spinners spin fall fleeces in the raw (e.g., prior to washing) of the low lanolin and only wash the yarn after spinning.
Our wool is valued by hand spinners and has won several awards in the fleece judging competition at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.
If you’re interested in purchasing our high quality and valued Icelandic fleeces, please check out our online store!