Jessica Armstrong’s Back to Back 2008

Back to Back 2008Five thirty am Sunday morning I’m up and dressed, next, some breakfast. I glance out the window, it’s dark of course and cold, ooh! bed seems like a better idea … but I must go, I’ve committed to the day with the team.
What day, what team you may well ask, it’s just Sunday… no, not just any Sunday. It’s June 1, 2008, the Back to Back Day and our team, the Rhodes Runners, are driving to Kurrajong Heights to spend the day. It’s eight hours minimum, shearing, spinning, knitting and (knowing my team mates) lots of chatting.
I arrive at Turpentine Tree ready for the eight am. start. It was still cold and overcast with wind blowing into the marquee, but I have my Uggs and a small quilt just for such an occasion.


I see Linda Coffil, Marianne Haylan, Pam Mulholland, Sue Griffith, Vicki Lowery, Kris Supierz and James Cavanagh, our blade shearer, as I lug in my borrowed Traditional Ashford wheel. We had information from the experts, (The Kurrajong team… who finished in six hours, thirty mins last year and came third in the world in 2007) that this wheel was the faster option. I hoped so, as nine hours spinning last year nearly did me in. (We didn’t finish and had at least one to two hours of knitting and spinning to go). I swore then that I would not do this again.
“Ready everyone” calls Kris,” It’s eight am.” Nooo…!” from most of us. Jamie begins clipping, Sue grabs the first few cuts and passes it around, we are spinning, absolutely flat out. “First single to Linda,” Kris calls. Linda is doing the plying for the whole day. Ten minutes in and Pam has the front started.
Rhonda Baldwin has arrived, she has had a long drive from Coogee. Our team of eight are all spinning and knitting or shearing, with Kris acting as our observer and taking notes against last year’s effort.
Linda comments that our yarn is overspun and too thick, she suggests the spinners each take a deep breath and let our yarn feed in faster to catch up with our feet. We are still treadling flat out… Deep breaths all round, as we laugh and begin to relax into smoother spinning.
I’m knitting a sleeve… The first twenty rows have a thick, textured twelve ply appearance, my next bobbin of yarn is knitting up as a lightly textured ten ply. Pam and Sue are well into the front and back. Rhonda is knitting the other sleeve. My third bobbin of yarn is knitting up as a smooth eight ply. Tony mentions that Marian (from Kurrajong) has dropped in pumpkin soup for the teams… yum… the best pumpkin soup ever. Standing, I groan, stamp and walk on the spot. Pam’s groans join mine as she stands up to stretch, we decide that now that we are up it’s a good time for loo visits.
Rosemary Esposito arrives with home baked spinach tart and snacks. She gives neck and shoulder massages all round and then shops for our raffle tickets which we all need as there are two spinning wheels as prizes. (As we all know you can never have enough wheels.) We buy five great baskets from a stall, actually Rosemary does, as some of our team never have enough of these either. We all become a little distracted admiring the wonderful baskets, Kris says, “Keep spinning, don’t stop”. Kris tells us we are in fact making great progress and are minutes in front of our 07 time. Yays… all round.
I notice a distraction in the crowd and Akira Isogawa (A-list fashion designer) walks up to watch the teams at work. He picks up our ’07 jumper to admire. I mention that it was in fact finished just two weeks ago. We chat to Akira about each stage and the progress of our inaugural garment. He admires it even more now and expresses an interest in acquiring it. I, as usual, do a lot of the chatting. Kris says “Jess you have just lost that few minutes you had made up on your ’07 time”… Oops!
Sue’s hand is sore and swelling up, in fact it’s looking quite inflamed. Vicki takes over the knitting.
The Kurrajong Team have finished their garment in six hours and fifty mins. The crowd cheers, Caroline Collerson (Kurrajong’s blade shearer and owner of the two sheep) has the jumper on. This is a fantastic effort again for Kurrajong. The champagne is opened and passed around. We keep on going flat out. Sue is unable to continue as her hand is extremely swollen now. I’ve finished a sleeve and Rhonda will finish the other one really soon. We all have blisters on our fingers and aching hands. Rosemary decides to serve us champagne. If we wait till we finish, the champagne will be well and truly finished. We treadle, spin and knit on.
Eight hours are up and we take a look at our progress. Kris compares our time with last year, to find we have completed the same amount of spinning and knitting in eight hours that in ’07 had taken us nine and one half hours. A unanimous vote was made to down needles and wheels and have another champagne. As the sun set slowly in the west, we decided that in ’09 we may well be able to complete the challenge. The Kurrajong team has passed on another tip or two and we will definitely have a better chance next year if we… Oh no…! we have committed ourselves to another Back to Back challenge.
Jessica Armstrong

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