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Interview with talented Hélène Magnússon

Posted: 13 April, 2021
Writer: Madelene Linderstam

Hélène Magnússon is the latest in a series of design collaborations with us. She has designed the wonderful cardigan Maja in Léttlopi! The pattern is free and can be found here on the website and on Ravelry. Get to know Hélène below in an interview we did with her.

This is how she describes Maja cardigan:

The Icelandic lopi sweater is now a protected appellation and must have all sorts of characteristics to deserve it. I wanted my design to categorise as such, yet not be your typical sweater. So it is knitted in Iceland with lopi to begin with, using the traditional way, that is from the bottom up and steeked, it has a limited number of colors and motifs from the yoke are repeating themselves in the cuffs and at the bottom of the sweater. Those motifs are however unusually long which was a bit challenging when it came to the grading and I´m happy it worked out! Traditional lopi sweaters have no front or back and I always incorporate a better neckline fit in my sweaters but chose the simplest one for this one, that is knitting the back of the neck slightly higher. The sweater has no waist shaping, which is unusual for me, but it is cropped.

Who are you? 

My name is Hélène Magnússon, I´m a French/Icelandic designer. I live in Reykjavík and have 3 daughters. In a past life, I was (in that order) a lawyer, a cook, a mountain guide, a textile designer and I have now been working full time as an independent knit designer for the past 10 years. Those various experiences have been put to good use however and I have for example been organising and guiding Hiking and knitting tours in Iceland (except this year...) since 2010. I have also created my own artisan range of soft and fine Icelandic lambswool yarns in the hope that it would help revive some of the older traditions in Iceland.

What inspires you?

I´m passionate about the Icelandic knitting heritage. I believe that the best way to preserve traditions is to continue them and give them a new life. Icelandic nature and colors play also obviously a great part in my designs. 


What are your favorite colors?

I love colors so much it would be hard to choose a favorite! However some colors like me better than others: give me red and turquoise and I will glow, give me pale green or pastel yellow and I will look like I´m sick...


How did you start creating knitting patterns?


I wrote my very first pattern in 2005 when I published my first knitting book, Icelandic color knitting. This started as an academic research on Icelandic intarsia as seen in old Icelandic knitted shoe inserts, and it's curious that I wrote a knitting book many years before I actually started to work as a knit designer! 

I have published many patterns since then, in books and magazines but mostly on my website and on Ravelry. 

I have also written more books, notably Icelandic Handknits that is available in four languages, Icelandic, English, French and Danish, I wish it was in Sweedish too! It is based on artefacts in the Textile Museum in Blönduós and reflects the depth of the country´s knitting traditions in the 19th and 20th century. It is infused with bits of Icelandic folklore and culture, vintage photographs and Icelandic cooking recipes.


When did you start knitting yourself? Why?

 My mum taught me when I was 7 but it was very frustrating: everything was so tight I could barely move the needles, and I never had the same number of stitches. Then I saw this book of crafts for little girls, I saved money to buy it and relearned to knit from there. I was nine, casted on 10 sts and kept counting them. I knitted many many meters, gradually inserting more stitches, texture, colorwork. It´s a shame that I didn´t keep this piece! It just feels awkward not to have something to do with my hands, I feel I'm losing my time. Knitting is the perfect craft because you can carry it in your pocket, do it anywhere and you don´t need a lot of light either! With my grandmother, I´d rather do white embroidery.


What would you say is your specialty or what distinguishes you as a designer?


I´m clearly very specialised in Icelandic knitting and because of this, I´m lucky to be able to touch all the techniques and types. My designs often have an old fashioned flair mixed with very modern features. I love to mix colors and create sophisticated color combinations.


What do you prefer to knit?

I don´t really have preferences, some knitting are just more relaxing than others! At the moment, I´m all about socks because I´m publishing a new book "Socks of Iceland".


What do you want to convey with your design (generally, not just the Järbo pattern)?


A sense of Iceland.


Tell us about your design for Järbo and the process, how did the garments come about? 


I loved working with Maja who is a designer I admired a lot. I knew she was hoping for a lopi sweater design from me. I spent a long time staring at the moodboard she had set up, daydreaming about it, procrastinating (that is knitting) in front of it. There was a lot of Scandinavian vibes about it and I picked up what appealed to me as more specifically Icelandic. No trees, the right shade of blue. I went for leaves and crowns and started to draw motifs directly on the computer, then knitted yoke swatches trying to match the available colors with my vision and making changes to the motifs as I did. The rest happens in my head and in excel files...!


Do you have any favorite knitting needles / crochet hooks or accessories that you would like to recommend?

I dislike interchangeable needles very much. I usually use metal circular needles, more or less pointy depending on what I´m knitting, with a very flexible cable and I just get whatever is available close to my house (often Addi), because I tend to lose them or forget them here and there... I have many in the same sizes occupied sometimes all at once in various projects...

I couldn't do without my flexible blocking wires from Lazadas: they were given to me by one of the knitters in my Hiking and knitting between Fire and Ice tour many years ago and I can´t thank her enough for them!

Otherwise I´m still blocking on my bed/sofa but I will invest in a Cocoknits blocking kit one day!


How does it feel to launch design for Järbo?

It's so exciting to be exposed to a new community of knitters! And to work with other people, especially in those unusual times where you can feel so alone.