The International Back to Back Wool Challenge – Toronto Spiders

by Wannietta Prescod

A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals. Larry Bird

The International Back to Back Wool Challenge is an annual international competition that challenges teams of eight (a shearer and seven spinners and/or knitters) to shear the fleece of a sheep, spin it, ply it and knit it into a sweater. Where’s the challenge? you may ask.  Spinners and knitters do stuff like that all the time.  Ah yes, but can they do it in a single sitting? Therein lies the challenge!

the international back to back wool challenge

The Spiders teammates returned for another round: knitters/spinners Julia Lee (aka Cap’n), Lorraine Smith, Judy Comfort, Karen Richens, Denise Powell, Barb Aikman, me (Wannietta Prescod) and shearer John Steele.

The sheep (in theory the star of the show) continues to be slightly problematic for the Spiders. So far we haven’t been able to find a fleece on the hoof that would have the winning combination of appropriate characteristics (open, clean, easy to spin in the grease).

We Spiders were very lucky that Joan Kass returned as our independent time keeper and assessor. This job sounds simple, but what it means is we have a person—a veritable math wizardkeeping track of our time from beginning to end. She also tracks various split times to make sure that we’re not slowing downand verifies that the finished sweater complied with the official pattern rules.

Goals that are not written down are just wishes. Anonymous

Our strategy meetings consist of planning seating arrangements, transitioning the singles to the pliers & the yarn to the knitters – anything that can streamline all the processes. We would have to hone all of our techniques and make every action count. We needed to shave fractions of seconds from repeated motions, which would translate into minutes over the whole process.

Knitters examined their row turning motions as a place where movements could be streamlined. Lorraine, as the second body knitter with me, had examined how I hold my needles (I anchor my right needle in my leg crease – like I’m using a knitting belt, but I’m not—and I throw my yarn) and she had been practising this technique to try to catch up to my speedier time.

When the goal is in sight, all your physical pain disappears, and your mental determination shall carry you the rest of the way  Trey Patty

the international back to back wool challengeWe went at it with a vigor – Joan keeping us on task and taking pleasure in motioning me to go faster. I had my iPod prepped with nothing but fast beats – I called it my B2B mix – and I had it playing loud enough that the crowd noise was tuned out.

The few breaks that did happen lasted mere minutes, during which the spinners spelled off the knitters rather than letting the knitting stop. I didn’t notice much of this since I started to zone out in the middle … we’ll call it a meditative lapse. We had team supporters popping bits of food into our mouths – fruit, chocolate, and mini stuffed pitas– so that we could keep our hands on our work.

The final hour is an act of sheer will power. I lost track of exactly what a stitch is. Fortunately my training kicked in and my hands just kept doing the proper motions. Time meant nothing. I might have been sitting for two hours or two days. All I knew is that I had to do ten more rows of ribbing.

All of a sudden it was four more, then…done!  Wait … not quite … I still had to cast off.  Ugh … Casting off? Let me tell you this hurts. When I knit, my wrists are actually quite still so there is not a lot of bending or twisting, but casting off is another story. There must be a God because my hands didn’t fall off (nor did the other knitters’), I didn’t drop any stitches and I got it done.

Champions aren´t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.  Muhammad Ali

the international back to back wool challengeWhen all was said and done we had spent 5:52:48 (including our 5-minute off-site shearing penalty) creating a one-of-a-kind sweater. We bested our previous best time of 5:55:50 and were an hour faster than the 2nd place team.

Our sights are set on the World Record time of 4:51:14 set in 2004 by the Pembrooke Merriwa Jumbucks  – we’re getting there and won’t stop until we do!!

To want the impossible is self-defeating and can end only in frustration. To wish for an unattainable goal, however, may mean achieving ones that one might not otherwise.  Samuel Johnson

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1 Response

  1. April 2, 2011

    […] they have spun and knit.  Around the same time I was reading in the Ennea Collective about the International Back to Back Wool Challenge that calls for a group of seven to complete the entire process, from shearing to spinning to […]