A Special Shawl
Boy, is it easy to get out of the habit of blogging. One little thing falls out of place, and poof, six, seven, or eight months go by without a post. Which doesn't mean that nothing is happening. It just isn't getting written about. Whoops. Excuses abound, of course, but I won't bore you with them.
Instead, I want to share this shawl. It is handspun from Icelandic thel received as a perk for supporting the Uppspuni project on Indiegogo.
Icelandic wool is interesting in that the breed is quite old. Viking settlers first brought sheep to Iceland in 874 CE, and several other breeds were introduced over the next hundred years or so. It became illegal to import new breeds of sheep into Iceland, so the Icelandic sheep were able to evolve and be bred for specific purposes on the island. Icelandic sheep are credited with making the rugged Icelandic climate habitable for its earliest settlers, as the sheep provided meat, milk and wool. Icelandic sheep continue to provide 25% of the island's national agricultural revenue.
The most well-known characteristic of Icelandic sheep is that it is a dual-coated breed. There is an outercoat called tog, and an undercoat called þel (or thel). The tog is long, coarse, and strong, and repels water. The thel is shorter, softer, and fluffier, making it perfect for insulation. Though Icelandic sheep naturally shed their wool, they are usually sheared, and the two coats are easily separated from each other. These two types of wool from one sheep mean that Icelandic wool has a broad range of possibilities - from strong rugs made of only tog, to warm but lightweight sweaters made from both tog and thel, to soft and light next-to-skin garments made from the thel.
Icelandic sheep also come in many colors, making a range of natural colors possible without dyes. While my shawl is from white wool, the availability of natural colors in Icelandic wool creates many exciting design possibilities.
The Uppsuni project aimed to build an independent mini mill in Iceland. Prior to this, there was only one mill in Iceland, Ístex, which specializes in lopi (unspun) yarns, that mix the tog and thel of Icelandic wool. Wool producers who wanted to make small-batch yarns, or something other than lopi yarns had to send their wool out of the country for processing, adding to the expense and environmental impact of those yarns. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist who loves to support yarnies wherever they are, I just had to support the project.
As my perk, I received two batts totaling 80 grams. Each batt contained a creamy white thel. I was surprised at just how airy they were after traveling all the way to me from Iceland. I could smell that sheepy smell, so I knew the wool was raw when I was spinning it. I chose not to wash or scour since it had already been prepared into lofty batts.
As I started spinning, I realized I'd need to spin the wool quite fine to make the sort of project I usually enjoy - a medium sized shawl. And an earlier spinning project told me I'd want a fair amount of twist to get the kind of stitch definition I was after.
I Z spun the singles to about 40 wraps per inch with about 65 degrees of twist. I spun each batt onto its own bobbin, then made a two-ply yarn, which is my preferred style for lace yarn. The plied yarn averaged about 22 wraps per inch and a 45 degree S-twist after washing.
The spinning went quite quickly, and I was pleased with the yarn in skeins. After removing a handful of noils, sampling, swatching, etc., I had about 75 grams of yarn, which I estimated to be around 550 yards.
I knew I wanted this to be a truly "Icelandic" shawl, in honor of the Uppspuni project. After searching on Ravelry, I decided I needed a copy of Þríhyrnur og langsjöl / Three-cornered and long shawls by Sigridur Halldorsdottir. Only available in print, I twiddled my thumbs waiting for it to come from Schoolhouse Press, and then searched through the book to choose my pattern. The book reproduces some historic shawls, but the pattern I chose, Hyrna Herborgar, was an original design by the author and inspired by old tablecloths.
At first, it was a little daunting to parse through the pattern. I wish I could say I was a smart knitter who checked the project page on Ravelry before knitting the pattern. In all honesty, I didn't do that until today when I sat down to write this post. Had I checked Ravelry, I would have found this enormously helpful post that explains the pattern in detail and with great clarity. I figured it all out, but with quite a bit of fumbling and a couple of false starts.
The chart in the pattern only prints one half of the shawl, which made my brain hurt until I decided to go ahead and chart out the other side. Once I got to row 62, though, I had the pattern down and no longer felt the need to chart the other side and motored right along.
Somewhere around row 100 (out of 126), I started to seriously wonder if I had enough yarn. There was a test swatch I'd knitted, and a few yards left over from the swatch, and some singles left over from plying, but I didn't have a whole lot to work with, and finding a substitute yarn would have been tricky, at best. Luckily, I had yarn to spare without diving into the reserves - all that is left is that tiny little ball shown in the picture.
The Final Product
After weaving in ends and blocking (and re-blocking to get it symmetrical), I now had my "ultimate" Icelandic shawl. Of course, there are some imperfections - the yarn in the middle is just a little bit finer than the rest of the shawl, leading to a light striping effect. And the biggest imperfection is that I took so long to get a proper photograph of it!
Ravelry Handspun Page
Ravelry Project Page
Overall, I'm quite pleased with this shawl and am excited to add it to the fall/winter rotation! Many thanks to Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir for the chance to work with this wool and learn more about Icelandic sheep!
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