Biella, The “Wool City”

July 28, 2018
Biella, Italy

In my search through the long Sweden after spinning mills that could spin my wool into a thin yarn, I unfortunately found that we do not have any worsted wool spinning left in Sweden. When I looked within a slightly larger radius I found a spinning mills in Germany and some options in just Biella in Italy.

When you drive into the city of Biella in northern Italy, a sign says "BIELLA -La città de la lana". It means "BIELLA -The wool city." In Biella there has been wool production for hundreds of years and it is one of the few places in Europe where there is still an existing wool industry. Biella is close to the mountains and has a lot of water , there are rice fields and a river that goes down from the mountains. Water was the main reason why so many wool plants opened up in just Biella. 

In my search through the long Sweden after spinning mills that could spin my wool into a thin yarn, I unfortunately found that we do not have any worsted wool spinning left in Sweden. When I looked within a slightly larger radius I found a spinning mills in Germany and some options in just Biella in Italy. In Biella there is also the production of tops, which it the production step before yarn spinning, so I chose Bella to avoid more transportation. 

Three men are gathered at a sorting table in a light, airy factory with their hands sorting through wool
 Nigel Thompson and his colleagues show me how they sort out the wool. 

It's a little foggy and moist outside when I find Biella the wool company, run by Nigel Thompson. Nigel is an Englishman who came to Bella with a wool transport from England when he was 20 years old. Over 35 years later he is still there and now he is working to help sheep farmers to process their wool. Not only in Sweden is there a problem that farmers do not know what to do with the wool and that it is difficult to find plants that can spin it. 

Wool is classified as a "waste product" throughout the EU. Today, it's the meat that's important. Europe still has many different sheep breeds with wonderful wool. 

A man, Nigel Thompson, stands in the middle of a room with wooden crates full of different type of sheep's wool behind him
Nigel Thompson with some sheep breeds and their wool quality. 

Unfortunately, nowadays most of the wool is imported from Australia and South America, and the European wool is not used. Spinning mills shut down and move to low-wage countries, and the knowledge disappears. 

Nigel who has been in the wool industry almost all his life is looking at this development with horror. He has taken over a old textile factory, where he now receives wool from all over Europe, sorts it out and sends it for scouring, tops and spinning in Biella. 

Nigel also works to inform about the wool's all wonderful qualities, and his knowledge is huge. I immediately decide to come back to spend more time in Biella to learn all about wool from a true expert. As I drive down the narrow road the sun comes out and I notice several large factory buildings that are abandoned and are falling apart next to the beautiful river.

Nigel and Lisa stand in the middle of a sorting shed amongst piles of unsorted wool
Nigel Thompson shows me how they take care of the wool when I visit them for the second time.