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

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…


…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

Hail to the sheep…Jacob


Having been busy over the last couple of weeks working on a knitting pattern commission I must confess that I haven’t made any progress on the spinning of the wool for my ‘Sheep Heid’ hat that I had mentioned in my last post. Oops.

I’m pleased to report that I haven’t been idle in my woolly explorations though. On the 13th June I had a lovely day at an event that two of my close friends and I had organised in the guise of the West Northumberland branch of the Knitting and Crochet Guild to ‘celelebrate’ Worldwide Knit in Public Day. While I was really there to demonstrate stranded colour knitting I also took along my spinning wheel in case any of the ladies wanted to have a go. I chose some Jacob tops that I had bought from Wingham Wool Work at Yarndale as a ‘sacrificial’ fibre as it was relatively inexpensive and a nice fibre to spin. So, of course having started spinning it up I had to finish and over the course of the next week or so I spun the rest of it up and plied it into a 2 ply yarn. The WWKIP day was so busy I didn’t manage to take any photos of the spinning but here is a picture of the finished yarn.

Jacob wool yarn.
Jacob wool yarn.


I’m very pleased with how the yarn has turned out considering it was fairly quick work. It has worked out as 9 wpi, so is on the fence between an aran and chunky weight, Next I need to knit up a swatch to get a feel for its guage and handle so I can decide what to knit it into. So far it feels like a nice soft springy yarn and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better.

Hail to the sheep…part 1

Last summer my lovely husband bought me a spinning wheel for my birthday. I threw myself into learning the art of spinning and, although very much still a novice, I began to produce some usable yarn. The more I used the wheel the greater my desire to try spinning new fibres became, and by the time Yarndale came around in September I was ready to go on a major ‘fluff’ stash-building mission.

I had developed a clear plan, to try spinning the wool of as many different breeds as possible, how else would I truly learn the characteristics of each different type of wool? Distracted at times by dazzling blends in rainbow colours, sparkles and shimmer, I did manage to come away with a good array of wool to spin. I rushed home to display them all in my new special basket (because choosing storage solutions is all part of the fun, no?)…where they have remained since.

The pile looks bigger in real life!


So, I have decided that NOW is the time for me to get back to it and have decided to blog my progress here as an incentive to keep going. I am going to start with the British Breed sampler pack I bought from the wonderful Hilltop Cloud. I am a huge fan of Kate Davies Designs and this pack will allow me to spin up all the yarn I will need to knit up her fantastic ‘Sheep Heid’ hat.

Sheep crop

My aim is to have the hat finished by October when I am heading up to Shetland for a bit of Wool Week fun. I’ll let you know how I get on!