• /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide1.jpg
  • /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide2.jpg
  • /wp-content/uploads/2012/11/slide3.jpg

Spinning in Scandinavia with Silja Devine: Selbu Spinneri.

by SiljaD on March 1, 2015

oversiktspinneriI first got to know about Selbu Spinneri, a small Norwegian mill located in Troenderlag, Norway a few years ago when I did a google search for small mills where I could get a couple of fleeces processed. A friend of mine and I drove the 9 hours to get there to deliver her fiber a couple of years after that and I got to see the mill and talk to Ingvild in person. Selbu spinneri focuses on tradition in the breeding of the original Norwegian sheepbreeds and the importance of them in the Norwegian history as well as conservation projects. Ingvild Espelien who is one of the main promoters of this in the mill was kind enough to agree to be interviewed here at Spin Artiste.

grattgarnSilja: Please tell me how you first got the idea to start a fiber mill and about your first steps to getting there.

Ingvild: Many of the traditional Norwegian sheep breeds have wool in beautiful, natural colors. The large mills in the world are not interested in spinning that kind of wool, and the price of it is therefore very low. Because of that there are many who stop to keep the old sheep breeds and they are in danger of dying out. And with them disappears tradition and cultural history that stretches back to the early Iron Age, before the Viking Age. We who run Selbu spinning mill has always been keen to preserve the traditional sheep breeds, and we have always been particularly concerned about the unique qualities of wool from these. We established the mill in order to contribute so that the wool was valued and the farmer could get more for having these sheep. And people would get to use wool from these breeds for knitting, weaving, spinning and felting.

fjosgtSilja: From what I understand, one of the main goals of the mill is to safeguard Norwegian endangered breeds and emphasize their qualities in fiber and yarn so that the breeds receive focus and become “looked after”. How have you made connections with the local sheep farmers to get them to deliver fiber with you and what kind of breeds are you working with?

Ingvild: We have been sheep farmers ourselves, and have had several sheep breeds such as Old Norwegian spælsau, Old Norwegian sheep (wild sheep) and Norwegian White Sheep. I was responsible for the preservation crew of Grey Trønder that was established on a natural resource school outside Trondheim. We have cooperated with the Norwegian Genetic Resource’s before, during and after the establishment of the mill. Through the close relationship to agriculture we already had before we established the mill, we have a large network of contacts amongst owners of the endangered sheep breeds. We have since received help from Norwegian Genetic Resource center to increase this contact network. Meanwhile, there has been quite a lot of interest for our work from the media, and spread on TV, radio and in various journals that have helped to make us known. We spin wool from all the Norwegian sheep breeds, and also make many other products. We also offer wool for hand spinning from these breeds. Wool for hand spinning is sold washed and unwashed within Norway, and washed ashore where there is a requirement. We also sell wool that is cleaned and ready for spinning in the wool cloud form. The breeds we work most with are Grey Trønder, Old Norwegian spælsau and Old Norwegian sheep. We also spin part Blaes sheep, Fugelstadbroket sheep, Dalasau, Norwegian Pelssau, and during the year we will also get into Steiger og Ryggja who are white sheep breeds with great  wool. The farmers are happy to supply wool to us. We pay them a little better than the big mills because this encourages them to continue to keep the old breeds. For many of them, it also means very much to them to know that the wool they deliver is valued and used in beautiful garments. Farmers can also hire us to spin their wool, and many farmers sell yarn and other products we have created for them for their own farm shops.

marenoveriktsponnerietSilja: Another thing I know you have a focus on the diversity mix of employees.  How many employees do you have and what kind of background do they have in relation to both work and experience with spinning?

Ingvild: We have three people working at the mill, and the three of us are aged 26-66. I am a biologist.  Maren began just one year after she graduated at high school and has specialized in spinning while she has been with us. Frida Tove Meland who is the general manager, is originally an architect, but has lived on a farm all her life and knows agriculture well. The three of us have been working with wool, knitting and hand spinning all our lives. We have also taken courses after the mill was established to increase our expertise in wool processing and product development. In addition five to six people work here part time as interns and trainees. They have different ages and backgrounds.

DSC_1277Silja: You have also expressed a desire to engage in environmentally friendly and high ethical standards in all aspects. What do you do to achieve this?

Ingvild: The mill is small and we process wool as little as possible and as gently as possible. Wool fibers are therefore not “tired”. We use almost no chemicals, with the exception of a mild wool detergent in the wash and some vegetable oil for the spinning. We do not dye the wool, but allow the natural sheep colors to come into their own. We have an open dialogue with sheep farmers animal husbandry and animal welfare. Fortunately sheep in Norway have a good life. Sheep farmers are generally skilled to groom their animals, and the animals live freely and well with grazing on uncultivated land and shore islands all large parts of the year. The wool is often extremely pure and retains its natural shine and strength because of this. We consider our work as a craft, and all processes are characterized by this. Our employees are active in the development of the mill and have a great influence on what goes on in the company.

koningSilja: Something that characterizes Selbu spinneri well is that you just work with the natural sheep colors.  You have no additives of chemically dyed wool. It is no secret that for many years that it is the white wool that has been most sought after of the larger mills.  What was it that made you want to just focus on the natural colors?

Ingvild: We are fascinated by sheep natural colors. These are colors that harmonize well together, and it’s great to work with colors that do not require chemical processing. Most of the endangered, Norwegian sheep breeds have pigmented wool. The pigmented wools are command lower prices because it is not sought after by the major industrial mills. The economy of holding colored sheep has therefor become less attractive. This has meant that many have given up, and several of the old sheep breeds are close to extinction. We wanted to ensure that this trend will be reversed. One of our mottos is “knit a cardigan -save a sheep” – then we think that by buying natural colored wool from the old sheep breeds that we spin at Selbu spinning is also helping to save the endangered sheep breeds.

garnog skySilja: In addition to the normal operation of the mill, you participate in different projects. Can you tell us about what you have previously been engaged in and what is the present and future projects and Selbu spinning?

Ingvild: We work constantly with different projects  as part of running the mill. We want to share our expertise with others who have an interest in wool. Therefore, we participate in local and national projects. This past year we have been involved in a reconstruction of a tunic from the early Iron Age called ”Lendbrekjortelen” We are also a partner in a project where we are part of creating the fabric used in ”Lendbrekjortelen” to produce a woven fabric that today’s designers to work with. The project is called ”Viking Gold”. We have also partnered with a textile artist who writes a textbook about Selbu mittens. In the project we have developed three new yarn types to suit Selbu knitting. Such projects are important to us and it is a goal for us to work with such projects in the future. We have had some contact with people who work with wool internationally, and it is also important for us to participate in collaborative projects where people from other countries contribute.

3garnSilja: You also offer courses both in relation to wool classification, wool processing, felting, spinning and knitting and more. How do you feel that the interest for these courses are and have you noticed a greater demand as the mill is becoming more and more well known?

Ingvild: We offer courses every year, especially in hand spinning and wool classification/wool processing as well as lectures and shorter practical presentations. There are increasing interest in courses and our talks. This is perhaps what we become better known for, but it is certainly also that there is a rapidly growing interest in wool from endangered sheep and local traditions related to wool and needlework.

rowingsSilja: The mill also has an online store.  Tell a about the products you have and some of the plans you have for the further development of products.

Ingvild: We sell yarn and wool hand spinning, and some wool for felting in our webshop, www.selbuspinneri.com We will eventually sell finished felted and knitted garments, and we want to make kits for projects. We have created an English-language online store where both the mills product and some other related product will be sold. The english store http://www.thesecretsheep.com was launched 01.01.2015.

sky for handspinningSilja: Thank you for taking the time for this interview! I wish all good luck with all your projects and further operation of the mill! Before I let you go I wonder where your favorite place to spin is and what is your favorite wool to work with when you spin by hand.

Ingvild: I spin at home in the living room, the kitchen, on the porch in good weather and at the cabin. At home I use a spinning wheel and a small electric tabletop spinner. At the cottage,  I spin with a spindle. Favorite wool: it is difficult, it depends on my mood. I love to spin thin yarn of fine wool from Grey Trønder and Blaes sheep, and like to experiment with several animal species such as dog and musk-ox. But when I’m in a more impatient mood, I spin thick yarn of Norwegian spælsau breeds. Both wild sheep and Old Norwegian spælsau is great, and the modern colored or white Spælsau has an absolutely incredible shine in wool. When I hand spin, I’m picky about the sort of wool. Life is too short to hand spin not so good wool! Therefore I also work a lot with selecting the best wool for sale to hand spinning through the mill. The yarn I hand spin, is destined to be used, so I’m keen to have a plan with my hand spinning ending with a finished garment. I both knit and weave the hand spun yarn I make.

Previous post:

Next post: