By Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah
The famed Back to Back International Wool Challenge will shift to Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah, for the first time on Sunday, June 1.
The challenge showcases the life of wool from the back of a sheep through to its role as clothing on the back of a person and includes shearing a sheep at 8am, spinning the wool and knitting a jumper by 4pm – within eight hours.
Kurrajong Handspun Crafts has entered the international challenge for the past 10 years and have raised more than $50,000 for cancer research in that time.
The day will include the Great Apple Pie Bake-Off, fun activities with wool for kids plus local produce and crafts. Entry by gold coin donation. All money raised will be donated to the Cancer Council NSW for prostate cancer research.
Story of the Back to Back
The Back to Back International Wool Challenge began with a bet made in 1811.
When well known cloth manufacturer John Coxeter from Newbury in England remarked to Sir John Throckmorton that he could “take the coat from the back of Sir John’s sheep and turn it back into a coat for Sir John in a day’’, Sir John bet him 1000 guineas and the challenge was on.
Two of Sir John’s finest Southdown sheep were delivered to Coxeter’s Greenham Mill at 5am on June, 25, 1811
They were shorn, the wool spun, the loom “dressed’’, the cloth woven, dyed, dried, cut and pressed before handing the cloth to tailor James White.
The coat was finished in 13 hours and 20 minutes and worn by Sir John at the dinner he hosted for the 5000 onlookers. The party celebrated with 120 gallons of strong beer (a gift from John Coxeter, winner of the 1000 thousand guineas) and the roasted sheep.
At the Newbury Agricultural Show 180 years later the challenge was laid again, sponsored by Newbury Department Store, Camp Hopson. This time the coat was completed in 12 hours 36 minutes.
The following year, Scottish spinner at the Scottish Wool Centre in Aberfoyle Richard Snow, developed thyroid cancer and decided to raise money for Cancer Research.
He initiated the Back to Back Challenge, a competition based on the 200-year-old bet. There was enormous interest in the UK, not only for the clever promotion of wool but also for raising funds for Cancer Research.
Meanwhile, similar contests were being held in Australia with teams representing football clubs racing to spin and knit football team scarves from freshly shorn wool.
But when Australian Wool Showcase member Wendy Dennis took part in the 1994 Fourth World Congress on Coloured Sheep at York University, UK, she visited the Scottish Wool Centre. Here the seed was sown for a combined international competition to knit a jumper rather than the coat woven in 1811. However, on the bicentenary of the original bet a team of 150 shearers, spinners, carders, weavers, dyers, cutters and tailors re-created the original coat made in 1811 in 14 hours 44 minutes – one hour and 24 minutes slower than in 1811.
Kurrajong Handspun Crafts Inc first took part in the Back to Back in 2000 when they completed their jumper in seven hours 51 minutes (nine minutes short of the Challenge time limit of eight hours).
The team’s best time was six hours 34 mins in 2007 and its best position was third in 2009. It also held the Brigadoon Trophy for the most money raised worldwide for six years running (2007-2012).
Contact Dawne on (02) 4567 1215 or Annette on (02) 4567 2222 to sponsor the team.