Tour of British Fleece

(C) Melanie Pepper
(C) Melanie Pepper

They pedalled, We treadled.

I have been aware (through the magic of Twitter) for a while that a group of spinners around the world closely follow the progress of the Tour de France each year, spinning along as the cyclists complete the race. However, being relatively new to the world of spinning I have not yet managed to join in. It was with great excitement a few weeks ago therefore that I began to hear on the grapevine that a similar spin-along was being organised to accompany the Tour of Britain cycle race. Luckily I was in a position to join in this time, my memory being jogged by the fabulous Louise Scollay in her Knit British Podcast.

The Tour of British Fleece’s idea is simple; as the cyclists complete each stage of the tour the spinners try and spend a little time each day to spin ‘along’, where possible matching the fibre they are spinning to the breeds of sheep local (either natively or living there at the present) to the geographical area the race was travelling through. The main objectives of the tour were:

  • To raise awareness of British sheep and their wool to a wider audience
  • To promote the craft of handspinning
  • To encourage hand spinners and other crafters to use British Wool
  • To promote breeds and types of sheep local to handspinners
  • To promote lesser known British breeds and types of sheep and their uses
  • To promote dialogue and understanding between users and producers of British Wool
  • To share our love of British sheep and their fleece with others
  • To encourage and support each other in sourcing and using the fleece of British sheep
  • To have a lot of fun

(Taken from http://tourofbritishfleece.weebly.com)

It seemed ideal for me to join in and kickstart my next batch of sheepy explorations. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have been accumulating a fibre ‘stash’ and was pleased to find in there breeds that would match five stages of the race. My aim was to spin the following

Day 1: Beaumaris to Wrexham – Black Welsh Mountain

Day 2: Clitheroe to Colne

Day 3: Cockermouth to Kelso – Herdwick

Day 4: Edinburgh to Blyth – Cheviot

Day 5: Prudhoe to Penrith – Blue-faced Leicester

Day 6: Stoke on Trent to Nottingham

Day 7: Fakenham to Ipswich – Suffolk

Day 8: London

I joined the fabulous and very supportive Ravelry Group and on Sunday 6th September 2015 I set to spinning my black Welsh Mountain tops.

Black Welsh Mountain
Black Welsh Mountain

As with many things, this did not go exactly to plan, I did spin every day but it was day 3 by the time I had managed to produce a reasonable yarn (more about my Black Welsh traumas can be read in the Ravelry group thread!)

IMG_0402 IMG_0403

I managed to spin up my Cheviot as planned on day 4…

Cheviot
Cheviot

…and then on day 5 I went in search of the actual Tour of Britain!

I discovered through the Ravelry group that the group of spinners behind the Tour of British Fleece were actually ladies from my local area.  They were planning a meet up in the beautiful village of Gilsland on the Northumberland/Cumbria border where the tour would be passing through and, which as it happens, is just up the road from me! Well, I jumped at the chance to join in and spend the morning with such an inspirational bunch of spinners. We had a brilliant time spinning, chatting and getting fully caught up in the atmosphere of the cycle race. I even managed to get some Blue-faced Leicester spun (I was a bit giddy and excited and did spend quite a lot of the time whooping and waving at all the police bikes/support cars). It was fantastic!

(C) Joan Thirlaway
(C) Joan Thirlaway

Moving on to day 6 I managed to get caught up on my delayed Herdwick and day 7 I spent spinning Suffolk.

Herdwick (L) and Suffolk (R)
Herdwick (L) and Suffolk (R)

Finally, as the riders reached the end of the journey, I spent day 8 plying, skeining and generally ‘winding down’ from all the action.

From Left: BWM, Herdwick, Cheviot, B-FL, Suffolk
From Left: BWM, Herdwick, Cheviot, B-FL, Suffolk

It was a fabulous learning experience spinning such a variety of fibres in such a short space of time and a great illustration of just how different the fleece of different breeds can be. I was very impressed how soft and bouncy the Black Welsh Mountain ended up, but my absolute favourite was the lustrous luxury of the Blue-faced Leicester. I also discovered that although I love the character of the Lakeland Herdwick sheep, I am not so much a fan of spinning its fleece! A full write up of the tour (the fleece, not the cycling) will be appearing soon in Yarn Maker Magazine.

I’m not going to say any more about the character of the breeds here and am instead going to end where I started, with Louise Scollay and Knit British. Starting early next month, Knit British are hosting a British Breed Knit-along to explore in depth the great bounty that is available from British sheep. I plan to join in using these yarns I have just produced and many more besides, and I promise to tell you all about it.

(C) Knit British
(C) Knit British

R x

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