Knitted fairisle mittens from Iceland

Made in Iceland, c.1976.

These mittens were hand knitted to a fairisle pattern in a finely spun two-ply wool by Matthildur Herborg Benediksdottir in Iceland in about 1976. The pattern is a variation of the ‘eight petalled rose’ design which appears in many Icelandic textiles both woven and knitted. The western part of Iceland is well known for patterned knitting.

Matthildur was born in 1896 on a farm named Reykjafirth situated on a fjord in northwest Iceland very close to the Arctic Circle. She and her husband Finnbog...


Fairisle mittens, pair, knitted wool, made by Matthildur Hesborg Benediksdottir, Iceland, c. 1976

A pair of woollen mittens, handknitted in natural grey, white, brown and black wool. The pattern is a relatively simple fairisle with a large eight pointed star on the back of the hand in black wool on a grey ground. The deep wrist pattern features a black and white leaf meander between small geometrically patterned bands in brown, white and grey, and edged with a row of triangles. At the fingertips there is a band of geometric patterns in black, white and brown. The ribbed cuffs in grey wool are edged with brown.


100 mm


The mittens were hand knitted to a fairisle pattern by Matthildur Herborg Benediksdottir in Iceland in about 1976. Wool was brought to Iceland by the Vikings who first settled the island and brought sheep and other animals with them. The fleece of Icelandic sheep consists of a long outer layer called tog and a short, fine underhair called pel. Tog was combed and spun into strong cord for sewing and weaving; the finest tog is similar to mohair and was used for fine lacy shawls and embroidery. Pel was used to make garments, the softest pel of all being produced by brown and grey sheep.

Knitting appeared in Iceland near the beginning of the 1500s, probably brought to the island from northern Europe, and quickly became the country's principal export. The craft requires no investment in equipment beyond a set of needles, and the materials, so was available as a source of income to the poorest inhabitants. Most Icelandic knitting was strictly utilitarian, though also an avenue for creative expression, and Icelandic woollens were traded all over the Atlantic region, arriving in America during the early years of settlement.

A note from the donor states:
"The practice of knitting has been known in Iceland for several centuries. The western part of the Iceland is well known for knitting patterns. The wool used in this type of mitten is a very finely spun two-ply. These mittens are knitted in a variation of the pattern called 'eight petalled rose' which appears in many Icelandic textiles both woven and knitted. These mittens were of course meant to be used.

The making of a beautiful article for practical use, the painstaking application of a learned skill and the ability to adapt to the materials available are part of the Icelandic culture."


Gift of Judith Gunnarsson, 2006
18 January, 2006

Cite this Object

Knitted fairisle mittens from Iceland 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 22 August 2017, <>
{{cite web |url= |title=Knitted fairisle mittens from Iceland |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=22 August 2017 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
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