If you can keep warm in Iceland, you can keep warm anywhere. And all you need do to find out how is to look at the weird, long-haired hippie sheep that wander freely all over that chilly land, their variegated wool in motley coats of russet, gray, black, chocolate, white and fawn. They seem warm enough. Way back in the Viking age, the canny Icelanders had the wit to adopt the same garb as the sheep, wool sweaters that are a sort of Unisex national dress, thus ensuring the survival of their rugged race.
Luckily for the knitters, there were—and are—plenty of sheep in Iceland. Today the number is three quarter of a million, or four sheep for every inhabitant. Icelanders are proud of their multicolored flocks, and claim that their wool, which grows from 12 to 19 inches, is the longest of any breed. The best of the wool is used for sweaters. It is called "Lopi," which means unspun; it is merely combed and carded, then hand-twisted into skeins. Wool buffs contend that it combines the hard-wearing qualities of merino with the softness of mohair.
In less exotic parts of the world, the wool used for clothing has to be dyed, and in preparation for dyeing much of the natural oil is extracted But in Iceland the color grows right on the sheep and the wool is left un-dyed, retaining all its original lanolin. As a result, garments made from Lopi are not only wonderfully warm, but also snow-and water-repellent, which is ideal for the skier, the angler or the yachtsman. Elegant and eye-catching, they do very nicely, too, for the girl who prefers to concentrate on the apr√®s-ski and the apr√®s-sail.
All over Iceland, Viking women of all ages knit away through the Arctic winter making these handsome, shaggy casuals. Knitted in a fairly large stitch (on No. 10 needles), they come in a high-necked, round-yoked raglan style, and are worn long and loose like a Sloppy Joe. There are also snugly hooded cardigans, finished with attractive, embossed metal buttons.
If you are in Iceland, one of the best places to buy hand-knits is the Icelandic Handcrafts' Centre, Hafnarstraeti 3, Reykjavik. But you don't have to take the next plane to Reykjavik. Icelandic sweaters (priced from $43) can now be bought by mail-order from International Creations—a subsidiary of Reynolds Yarns Inc.—at 160 Cabot Street, West Babylon, N.Y. 11704. The company also supplies do-it-yourself Icelandic knitting kits (from $16 to $20). The sweaters are not hard to knit, and the high lanolin content of the natural yarn produces a marvelous effect on the knitter's skin—"as good as a manicure any day," says one smooth-handed devotee.