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It is the time of year to think about entering the
International Back to Back Wool Challenge.

Promoting shepherds, the wool industry, spinners, and raising funds for Cancer Research.

For further information & entry forms, please contact:

Wendy Dennis
Warncoort Vic 3243

Phone: O3 5233 6241
Fax: 03 5233 6338
Email: backtoback@primus.com.au

If you would like the rules, pattern and more information, click here.

International Back to Back Wool Challenge History

In 1811 at Newbury in Berkshire, UK, a one thousand pound wager was made to make a coat from the sheep's back to a man's back in one day. Watched by 5000 people, the coat was completed in thirteen hours. The sheep was eaten with much quaffing of beer to celebrate.

Today's Challenge began in 1992 when Richard Snow, a keen young spinner at the Scottish Wool Centre, developed thyroid cancer. His desire to raise funds for cancer research sparked off their Back to Back Wool Challenge, a competition very similar to that run one hundred and eighty one years before. The event created enormous interest in the UK, not only because of the clever wool promotion but also because for the cancer research funds raised.

That same year, Australia held its own contest. Teams representing The Cats, Geelong, Victoria & the West Coast Eagles, Western Australia competed in a race to spin & knit a football scarf from freshly shorn wool.

When Australian Wool Showcase member, Wendy Dennis took part in the 1994 U.K. Fourth World Congress on Coloured Sheep, she visited the Scottish Wool Centre in Aberfoyle. Here, plans were made to develop an International Competition.

Teams consist of a blade shearer, a sheep and seven handspinners & knitters. Time keepers, assessors & co-ordinators monitor each competing team in venues closely linked to wool industry. All team follow an identical set of rules and pattern.

In the 1995 inaugural International Wool Challenge, nine teams from three Australian States, Scotland & the Shetland Isles competed, the winning time being 5 hours 57 mins 58 sec from Islesburgh, Shetland Isles. Over $2,700 was raised by the Scottish Wool Centre for the Cancer Research Campaign Scotland.

1996 saw twenty two teams competing, sixteen in Australia from four States. USA entered a team from Michigan & the UK had teams from Scotland, the Shetland Isles, Devon & Cambridge. Again, the Shetland Isles were unbeatable, breaking their blistering 1995 record by 39 minutes.

This world record time was broken by nine minutes the following year, again by the Shetland Isles.

The Challenge links Australian wool promotion events such as:-
  • The Merriwa Festival of Fleeces in New South Wales
  • Gippsland Wool & Fibre Awards, Bairnsdale, Victoria.
  • National Celtic Festival, Geelong, Victoria .
  • Wear Wool Wednesday in Queensland.

    In just a few short years, the International Back to Back Wool Challenge has developed at a remarkable rate. It is a simple and direct method of promoting wool from 'sheep back to spinners back', using the ancient skill of blade shearing, spinning and knitting.

    It is timed to coincide with Australia's long weekend in June and the tourist summer season in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Other benefits include:
  • Promotes the Wool Industry globally.
  • Establishes a world wide network among the participants, promoting international goodwill.
  • Publicity for wool tourist centres and museums.
  • Economic advantage for businesses in remote Australian locations.
  • Supports a local charity.
  • Creates a day of fun and enjoyment around the world.

    World record time : 5 hours 9 minutes, Shetland Isles in 1997.

    Australian record time: 6 hours 24 minutes 37 seconds Morisset, New South Wales 1999.

    International Back to Back Wool Challenge RULES:

    Objective: To complete the sweater/jumper, following the identical International Wool Challenge pattern exactly, within eight hours.

    1. A team consists of eight (8) members. One blade shearer and seven (7) handspinners & hand knitters with up to seven (7) non electric spinning wheels. One (1) sheep, any colour or breed but must not be housed or coated for two (2) months prior to shearing.

    2. With the exception of the shearer, team members shall be allowed to perform whichever function is requires within the team. eg a member may start as a spinner and become a knitter, knitters or spinners may wind wool, members of the team may exchange roles with one another.

    3. The time starts when the shearer, holding the sheep, begins shearing. Shearing can begin from any part of the sheep.

    4. An independent timekeeper and assessor are required to verify the time and that the pattern has been complied with.

    5. Spinners may start spinning as soon as the wool is available.

    6. Only the team members may touch the wool.

    7. Scissors, handcarders, flickers or combs are not permitted.

    8. A HAND ball winder tool may be used.

    9. Two wool singles are plyed for a 'double knit' of approximately 8 ply yarn.

    10. Use oversew stitch in wool to sew up the sweater.

    11. Time ends when the completed sweater is handed to the timekeeper.

    The winning team shall be the one which produces the finished sweater in the best recorded time.


    International Back to Back Wool Challenge - Additional Notes

    a. Use any public venue central to team members. Access to phone, refreshments, toilet facilities etc. essential. Free entry for the public.

    b. Charity fundraising, especially for Cancer Research, is encouraged.

    c. A submission for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records is being considered.

    d. Trophies for:
    - Fastest team with the correct pattern donated by the Scottish Wool Centre.
    - Fastest Australian team with the correct pattern donated by the City of Geelong. The greatest donation to Cancer Re search donated by Haldane of Fife, spinning wheel makers, Scotland.

    Entry forms will be sent to previous participating teams annually in February.

    New teams, please contact Wendy Dennis for entry form.

    Sweater/Jumper Pattern

    Each team will follow this International Wool Challenge pattern exactly as it is written. On completion, the team assessor is responsible for counting the stitches and rows.

    Yarn - To be equivalent to Double Knit.

    BACK AND FRONT (Both the same)
    Using one pair of size US #3 (10 or 3.25mm) needles cast on 96 stitches.
    Work 16 rows in k1, p1 rib.
    Change to one pair of size US #6 (8 or 4mm) needles and knit 1 row plain and 1 row purl (Stocking stitch).
    Continue until 134 rows have been completed from 16 rows of rib. (Total from cast on edge 150 rows).
    Change to k1, p1 rib (still using the size US #6 (8 or 4mm) needles) work 12 rows.
    Cast off loosely in rib.

    SLEEVES (Make 2 alike).
    Using size US #3 (10 or 3.25mm) needles cast on 46 stitches.
    Work 16 rows k1, p1 rib.
    Change to size US #6 (8 or 4mm) needles and knit 1 row plain and 1 row purl (stocking stitch).
    Increasing 1 stitch at each end of first and every following 4th row until 96 stitches.
    Continue without further increase until 100 rows have been completed from 16 cuff rib. (Total from cast on edge 116 rows).
    Cast off loosely.

    Join Back and Front at shoulder edge (quarter of the way from the sleeve edge - leaving half of the top edge as neck opening)
    Sew in Sleeves.
    Join Sleeve and Side seams.
    Sew in any loose wool ends.

    Here are the results for 2001:

    CONGRATULATIONS: Merriwa/Morisset/Maitland competing at Merriwa in New South Wales, Australia.

    A record amount of $5,000 was raised.

    Over nine months, a handspun natural coloured friendship rug using wool from around Australia and spun & knitted by many willing hands was raffled and the $5,000 raised donated to IBIS.

    International Breast Cancer Intervention Studies (IBIS) is a research project in which Australia and New Zealand play a leading role. In 2001, the programme has been enlarged to include the UK, Scotland, USA and Canada.

    Through all the teams around the world, many hundreds of dollars were raised for Cancer Research world wide. Thank you for all the work and effort you gave.

    And I am sure you all join me in thanking Edith & John Shipway from Merriwa in Australia for making this trophy available.

    Next years Challenge will be on or before Sunday 9 June 2002.

    Entry forms will be sent in January 2002.

    Websites for information include:-




    Wendy Dennis (Coordinator IWC Back to Back 2005)

    2002 Wool Challenge Results

    The eighth International Back to Back Wool Challenge drew 25 teams from 17 different venues from New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland & Austraila wide.
    First: Merriwa, NSW Australia 5 hours 42 minutes 39 seconds NEW AUSTRALIAN RECORD

    Second: Murray Bridge, South Australia 5 hours 49 minutes 59 seconds

    Third: Inverurie, Scotland. 6 hours 36 minutes 18 seconds

    Fourth: Tanaka, Hokkaido, Japan. 6 hours 38 minutes. NEW JAPAN RECORD
    Thirty six teams competed at seventeen different venues around the world
    World record Time: 5 hours 9 minutes Shetland Isles 1997.

    New Australian Record Time: 5 hours 42 minutes 39 seconds Merriwa, NSW Australia 2002.

    New Japan Record Time: 6 hours 38 minutes Tanaka, Hokkaido, Japan 2002.

    New New Zealand Record Time: 7 hours 5 minutes 24 seconds Canterbury 2001.

    Canada Record Time: 7 hours 55 minutes 53 seconds Manitoba 1998.

    USA Record Time: 8 hours 33 minutes 31 seconds Michigan 1996.

    2002 - Some results from fundraising for Cancer Research
    Merriwa NSW Australia made AUD$4,000.00 so they are the likely winners.
    The Adelaide Group in South Australia around AUD$2,000.00
    Goulburn Australia AUD$430.60
    Poly's Wester. Canada Canadian$400.00
    Teams @ Kisarazushi, Japan 33,863 JP Yen
    Hokkaido, Japan Takachi Sheepship 13,411 JP Yen
    Common Threads, Scotland UK Pounds 350.00

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