There is hardly anyone who wouldn’t like to learn how to knit after visiting Iceland, as it’s a real paradise for wearing cozy sweaters, woolen scarves and gloves. Knitting is a part of local culture and that’s why this industry is still successfully functioning after having passed through the heavy financial crisis that hit all the world and Iceland particularly hard, in 2008.
We had a wonderful occasion to visit the Iceland’s wool factory Istex. It overcame the crisis, and even before in 1991, when the factory was facing the bankruptcy, it was bought out by four factory employees as well as 1800 farmers. Only with their moral and physical investments, the factory managed to survive despite the increasing concurrence of low-cost products of South-Eastern Asia. Now the factory counts more than 50 employees!
The previous name of the factory before it was bought by the employees had been Alafoss, named after the waterfall whose energy was used to turn the mills. It means, by the way, exactly that: “ala” – mill and “foss” (as you have already probably guessed) – waterfall. The factory is located not far from Reykjavik, in the town Mosfellsbær, and on the contrary to what might be thought, is not related to the wool and gift shop Alafoss, though it used to be. By the way, the gift shop is situated on the very place of the waterfall, whereas the modern factory moved a bit further. We went there directly and found out that it offered the guided tours on demand, mainly for groups.
We got inside and watched how the wool is processed. Transforming the sheep fur into a suitable material is the first step to these amazing sweaters after all! It was a very interesting experience, as if we witnessed something very ancient closely connected to the Iceland’s heart.
The wool is bought from the farmers (let’s not forget that in Iceland there are twice as many sheep as people), who are financially encouraged to sell the wool of the best quality. The wool gets washed and dried, then packed. Only then, it arrives to Istex where it is selected and dyed. Guess, where go the spoiled wastes? The rests serve to s tuff the furniture!
Then the wool is passed through the mixing machines that brush it and separate into the fibers to obtain the unified structure and to get rid of the rests of dirt.
After that, it goes to another type of machines – to the carders, that turn the wool to these fine sheets, which move down and get united into the threads.
We also assisted to the setting of the carder – the procedure that happens once in 15 years! However, it still requires a lot of patience – putting 10-12 of the line takes 1 hour! On the photo, we see Viktor in process, he is one of the employees who bought out the factory and saved it from the collapse and now is approaching his retirement.
Then, all that remains is packing and selling! We were explained that to obtain a certain colour it is necessary to mix several shades, just like in painting.
The yarns of wool of various colours arrive to the stores, both real and on-line, sent all over the world, as in our century of synthetics the natural materials are highly appreciated, and after this all, the wool is transformed into sweaters for people…