I've just joined Ravelry at last and started this blog, all last night, I blame it on the snow. Through Ravelry, I found the wonderful account of spinning and knitting on Jane's blog http://knitting-a-life.blogspot.com/ 'Sheep to Sweater a Beginner's Version'. Her account brought back memories! I am in the Kent Guild of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers, we give public demonstrations at events. Last year Romney Shears, a Kent sheep shearing competition, decided to spice things up by challenging us to a Fleece to Garment competition. No more sitting in the sun spinning, chatting and admiring the very fit shearers! This was serious.
The shearing competition starts at 8.30am, I think, I can't quite remember, it may have been 8.00am, the agreement was, the first fleece shorn would be delivered to us in our tent and we would have to produce a wearable garment before Romney Shears packed up for the day. Fleece to Garment, Sheep to Shawl, whatever you want to call it, sounds simple enough, you get a fleece, you spin it, you knit it, done. But what about the dirt? Sheep change their clothes once a year, imagine the state of a raw fleece. Then, once a yarn has been spun, the usual practice is to 'set the twist' by washing the yarn, this helps to stabilize the yarn and slightly felts the fibres together. No chance when you only have one day. As for dyeing, totally out of the question.
Since the Guild has a health and safety policy and a risk assessment, or dozen, we had to insist on a prewashed fleece. As a Guild,we are not supposed to use raw fleece for public demonstration. So I ended up whizzing down to Romney Marsh the week before to collect a fleece from the same flock due to be shorn at the competition. A Guild member washed the fleece in preparation for the challenge.
On the day, the first fleece shorn was brought to us and laid out for the public to see (not that there were any public at that time of the morning) then we got going. Carding an entire fleece by hand, we didn't even have a drum carder, is arm aching work. Fortunately, we had plenty of volunteers, even some husbands were roped in, despite never having carded anything before. As soon as we had enough carded fleece to make a start, some people started spinning. As the first two bobbins were semi filled, a volunteer began plying. The knitters knitted straight off the bobbin. Amongst the madness, someone, I don't know who, managed to find time to knit the wonderful commentator, Steve Meredith, a thong! Don't ask. Steve gave us loads of encouragement and provided regular updates to the audience. After 8 hours 40 minutes, most of which I spent at my wheel, we had produced a sleeveless waistcoat. The waistcoat was auctioned for charity and was bought by a young shearer who was either very generous or too worn out to realise what he was bidding for.
This year, at Romney Shears, I saw that waistcoat walking around. It had been on the shearing circuit, traveled to Australia and become something of a legend amongst the shearers!