Elena Solier of Xolla Wool

Teresa Cabellos returns with her second interview with Spanish wool producers. The interviews were originally conducted in Spanish and translated for our benefit by Cabellos.

For some people Wovember can be something small, for other people it can be something big. For me it is both things. It is something small that, with the participation of many people, can transform into something big.

In this interview Elena, creator of Xolla Wool will tell us about her yarn and the Ripollesa breed.

1. Can you tell me a little about your project? What’s it called? How did the idea of ​​working with wool come about?

My love for wool was born in a very spontaneous way, and so did Xolla, my brand.

I started knitting a few years ago and quickly became hooked. At the same time, I started spinning and dyeing with natural dyes. I liked to experiment with different types of wool, but I realized that when buying wool to spin, I couldn’t find local wool.

I have spent many years of my life working in the countryside, in France, where I learned the value of wool from local breeds. During this time, my partner studied at the Escola de Pastors de Catalunya. After establishing contact with local flocks, I became aware of all the problems that small livestock farmers had regarding wool. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but at some point, I decided that when I returned to settle in Catalonia, I would start a project to revalue Catalan wool.

Ripollesa sheep are native to Catalonia.

2. What breed of sheep do you work with? Why did you choose this breed to create your wool?

I currently work with wool from Ripollesa (for white and black wool) and from other Catalan breeds (for black wool). I chose to work with Ripollesa because it is the local breed in the area where I live and because, despite being a breed destined for meat production, its wool is very suitable for creating yarn and textiles. It is an ancient cross between an ancient Tarasconese sheep (Pyrenean sheep) and the Merino sheep that developed in the Catalan Pyrenees.

Elena Solier with a Ripollesa lamb.

The Ripollesa sheep is, along with the Aranesa sheep and the Xisqueta sheep, one of the only three Catalan sheep breeds. Despite being officially classified as endangered, the Ripollesa is the least threatened.

3. Can you describe the characteristics of your yarn?

It is a fine wool of 24-26 microns, with a staple length of 5-6 cm on average. It is a rustic wool, with a dry touch, reflecting the rugged relief characteristic of Catalonia, however, most people find comfortable to wear in all types of garments.

Currently Xolla has two bases: Pastoreta and Bauma, fingering and dk respectively. Because it is woolen spun with low twist, they are perfect for colorwork knitting. The wool is very warm and pleasant to wear. We have 25 colors, 6 of them natural colors mixed in different proportions.

4. What process do you follow in the production of your wool?

We select wool from local flocks on shearing day. Once selected, we send it to be washed in Palencia, since there are not any scouring mills left in Catalonia.

When the wool returns washed, the process of spinning, folding, dyeing, balling, and labeling are done in different Catalan family factories.

5. What challenges have you faced in the development of your project?

Working with small quantities is undoubtedly the most complicated. However, I am lucky to live in Catalonia, one of the strongest regions of Spain in terms of textiles. Catalonia has a very powerful textile history, centered in the Vallès Occidental region, which was precisely where I was born. Terrassa and Sabadell were called the Catalan Manchester for a reason. 

Additionally, production times are long, so you must be very patient and always think in the long-term.

6. How do you see the present of the world of wool in Spain? And the future?

Currently, Spain seems to be witnessing a rebirth at the sheep level. Many new projects are starting with great enthusiasm. However, I feel that for now, we are still testimonial, and we cannot solve the problem of the undervaluation of wool as a raw material. Most livestock farmers in Spain see every year how their wool is stored in a barn without anyone coming for it and without receiving any type of remuneration for that product.

For this reason, it is necessary to encourage and promote the use and value of wool and without a doubt Wovember contributes to that regard. These initiatives may or may not be significant, but it is more than evident that their mere existence reveals the desire to initiate change.

7. How would you like your project to evolve in the long term?

I dream of being able to value more wool and work with more livestock farmers, perhaps adding value to the wool of other local breeds. But the truth is that I imagine Xolla being what it is: a yarn brand that gives value to local wool and that works and produces locally.

Thank you to Elena for sharing her life project with us, and thank you to Anne for creating a space where these voices can be heard.

The photos in the article were provided by Elena Solier. 

To learn more about Elena’s work to promote the use of locally raised wool, follow @xollawool on Instagram and visit their website to try their yarn.

The interview was conducted by Teresa Cabellos, a wool advocate and artist in multiple fiber crafts. She can be found on instagram as @TeresalaLaLana and @Spanishwool_by_teresalalana. Or, visit her website, teresalalana.com.