Rosa Pomar is the woman behind our current favorite Portuguese yarn, Beiroa, which you may know as the yarn used in our current Vivarium KAL! Rosa owns the beautiful Lisbon shop, Retrosaria Rosa Pomar. She is a big supporter of Portuguese wool and wool traditions. For several years Rosa has created many amazing Portuguese yarns from breeds specific to the region. When Jaime and Amber visited Portugal last summer, Rosa introduced them to some of her favorite wooly places, including the São João’s Day Sheep Blessing. Since our visit she has become even more involved in overseeing every step in the process of creating Beiroa.
Created from the wool of the Portuguese heritage sheep breed, Bordaleira Serra da Estrela, Beiroa yarn is rustic and beautiful. And the process of creating it is fascinating. We are super excited to have Rosa Pomar, the maker behind the Retrosaria Brand, to discuss the culture and history of Portuguese wool and the process behind creating Beiroa Yarn.
You've made Beiroa for a while now, but with the newest batch you were able to oversee more of the process. What were the benefits and/or challenges of being more involved in the process?
So many challenges! This time (and from now on), Beiroa was not made of wool bought from intermediaries but directly from the sheep breeders. In Portugal we don’t use the term sheep farm as many flocks graze on land that doesn’t belong to the breeder, moving from place to place according to pasture availability and other factors. This production process involved visiting flocks and convincing some hardy men to change their ways. We oversaw shearing, which allowed us to see how the sheep are treated and to make sure the fleeces are handled correctly (this looks a lot simpler than it is. This is something we already did with yarns such as Brusca and João, but not with Beiroa.
Tell us a little about the Bordaleira Serra da Estrela sheep which provide the wool for Beiroa.
They are fantastic and they smell different from every other breed, probably because of all the mountain vegetation they eat all year round. The females have long twisted horns, and they come in a range of amazing natural colors.
Are these sheep the same breed that make the famous Serra da Estrela cheese?
Yes. Serra cheese can only be made with the milk of the two Serra da Estrela breeds: Bordaleira and Mondegueira. Mondegueira sheep are also beautiful but they have very coarse long wool.
Can you tell us about the transhumance shepherding of the region?
In Serra da Estrela, a small group of shepherds persist in the habit of moving their flocks up the mountain for the summer. This happens at the end of June, after a beautiful celebration that takes place on Saint John’s day (June 24th). They are the very last ones carrying on this tradition in Portugal. Read more about this amazing ceremony on the blog.
You create quite a few yarns from Portuguese wool. What was the first yarn you created from Portuguese wool and what led you to create it?
As I was doing research for my book Malhas Portuguesas (the English translation coming out in November), about the history and traditions of Portuguese knitting, I started wondering why there were no commercial yarns made of Portuguese wool. I decided I would try to do something to change this and started visiting spinning mills and talking to sheep farmers. The first Portuguese yarn we sold was Mé-mé, but this yarn was not entirely designed by me, only adapted from something that already existed. Beiroa was our real first yarn.
Do you work with a local mill to spin your yarns?
We work with several different local mills, as they each specialize in (or are just better at) making different qualities. Worsted spun and wooden spun yarns, for example, are different technologies and most mills make one or the other, not both.
We love your packaging! Can you tell us the story behind the labels and illustrations of Retrosaria?
Right before becoming a mother, I was considering working as an illustrator. Working closely with my favorite illustrators is one of the best parts of designing yarns. I usually have a very precise idea of what I want to communicate and choose the person I believe will be the best at translating that into an image. I create mood boards with all the ideas behind the creation of that specific yarn, and sketches go back and forth quite a few times before we arrive to the final image.
And anything else you want to tell us about in regards to regional wool and keeping wool traditions alive!
There is still so much to do!