Icelandic Handknits is a beautiful new book by Hélène Magnùsson. When I received my copy, I was in awe of all the beautiful scenery and the amazing photography, as well the intricate designs. I was intrigued by how the environment and culture inspired Hélène - naturally my stop on the blog tour has taken a Hattish slant - yet I hope the questions also give you some insight into the history and culture that feature so heavily within this book.


©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission

1) When you start a fresh design, is there one part of the construction or a physical point that you start with first? For instance, when I design a Hat I start with the crown, and provided the maths of that works out, I move downwards into the body and brim sections. It may not be knit in that direction, but that's where my thinking starts.

Absolutely. Because I'm mostly working from traditional Icelandic items, in the hope to preserve the knitting traditions by giving them a new life, it is very often a particular construction or motif or way of doing things that will be my starting point. It is quite clear for example with the Checkered beanie: it's all about the crown made from a succession of mitten gusset thumbs. I "just" had to determine the number of repeats according to the yarn I had chosen and the resulting gauge and then calculate my way down to the brim. The lace hood is also a good exemple: I thought I could give a hood shape to a triangular shawl by playing with the central and side decreases. The rest, choosing which shawl in the Museum, which lace motif, which colors, which yarn came later.


 ©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission

 2) What was the greatest challenge to you when writing this book?

The little time versus the number of designs, 25 in all but there were originally 30 and 5 were cut down. I usually knit all the prototypes myself making amendments and correcting as I go, especially since I'm not always sure my ideas will work out or how they will work out. But in this case I only had the time to knit myself a limited number of items. So I did knit very many swatches and wrote down all the instructions as precisely as I could from the beginning. Then my sample knitters had to knit blind from those instructions! I made a lot of sketches to help them "see" the items and often the instructions would include in neon yellow: "Here please stop and talk to me, I'm not sure if I should add one or two repeats" then we would talk on skype and I would sometimes let them try the item on to see how it fit and ask many many questions. Communication and trust were the key and I was lucky to work with marvelous knitters who kept me updated regularly of their progresses, never hesitated to ask and made suggestions on how to improve this or that. It was actually very exciting! I remember when I received the finished samples: I was seeing them for the first time!

3) In the introduction to the Lacy Skotthufa Hat, you hint at the headwear traditions of Iceland - can you expand on what it is about the skotthufa that interests you?

The skotthúfa, or tasseled cap, is part of the everyday traditional costume and a very popular item in Iceland. There are many modern versions of the skotthúfa, handknitted but also machine knitted, for men, women and children and for sale in selected stores in Iceland, Museum shops, etc... You will see one version for the great outdoors for example on the Icelandic Knitter website, knitted with very thick lopi wool and felted, and adorned with a modern stainless steel tube. I wanted to make one that would be quite different, very light and airy, and again my starting point were the triangular lace shawls, since you can create a circular shape from triangles.


©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission

4) The recipes are such a great addition to the whole collection - how did they come to be included in the book?

It was the editor's idea to include recipes in the book. I loved the idea! Food and clothing are often the first exposure to another country's culture so I found it very exciting to have recipes as well. During the knitting tour to North Iceland and the Textile Museum this summer, beside the knitting workshops, we will also prepare together a few traditional dishes from the book, so it's going to be a complete immersion in the Icelandic culture!

It' s not the first time I've mixed together food and knitting: in the book, you can see the copper cutters I have designed that allow you to make colorful cookies and food with the shape of an eight-petal rose, like the Icelandic shoe-inserts motifs. I worked as a chef in a popular Icelandic restaurant and as a mountain cook before I started as a mountain guide. And I have written a cooking book too: "The secret of good vinaigrette revealed to Icelanders" (Salka 2005, also in Icelandic, German and French)

5) The scenery in the photographs is absolutely stunning - is there a particular moment from the photoshoots that you'd like to share with us?

The photoshoot happened to be in January. At that time of the year, there is very little light in Iceland - only three hours a day - and it's the middle of the winter. There was a snow blizzard when the pictures were taken. Or it was freezing and the wind blowing like mad, meaning it was really really cold. I was never supposed to be on the pictures either, but my models couldn't last long and I had to jump in and use the time with the photographer! I like that the pictures convey a sense of the weather but also reflect a cultural trait of a tough and strong Icelandic woman.

©Arnaldur Halldorsson, reproduced with kind permission

6) Which is your favourite design in the book, and why?

That's a tough question! I don't know, I like them all ! Some I would certainly wear more than others. The Halldora scarf is special to me because I'm using my own Icelandic yarn, Love Story, a fine artisanal lace made of pure Icelandic wool. I select the wool very carefully, it is not bleached not treated and it is very soft compared to other Icelandic yarns. It really makes the difference for this design: the shawl is so light and airy, almost like the old ones!




Thank you Hélène for sharing your thoughts and asnwering my questions! The book really is stunning, and I'm sure it's going to be very popular.


You can purchase the book from Hélène’s website, and here's the linky to the Ravelry page.

And finally, here are the blog tour details, so you can follow along:

April 11th, 2013: Donna Druchunas –
April 18th, 2013: Woolly Wormhead –
April 25th, 2013: Mary Jane Mucklestone –
May 2nd, 2013: Susan Crawford -
May 9th, 2013: Terri Shea –
May 16th, 2013: Alana Dakos -




The book's publisher, Voyageur Press,  have very kindly donated a copy of the book as a giveaway to one lucky winner! To take part simply leave a comment here and I'll randomly select one in a weeks time, on 25th April. Don't forget to leave your email address in the right field when leaving your comment, so I can get in touch!
ETA: this competition is now closed & the winner has been notified. Thanks so much for your interest!
AuthorWoolly Wormhead
CategoriesBlog Tour, Hats