In 1811 at Newbury in Berkshire, UK, a £1,000 wager was made to make a coat from the sheep’s back to a man’s back in one day. Watched by 5,000 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 at Aberfoyle in Scotland, developed thyroid cancer. His desire to raise funds for cancer research sparked off their Back to Back Challenge, a competition very similar to that run almost two hundred years before. The event created enormous interest in the UK, not only because of the clever wool promotion but because of the funds raised for cancer research.

That same year, Australia held a similar contest. Teams representing the Cats, Geelong and the West Coast Eagles football clubs competed in a race to spin and knit a football scarf from freshly shorn wool.
When Australian Wool Showcase member, Wendy Dennis took part in the 1994 4th World Congress on Coloured Sheep at York University, UK, she also visited the Scottish Wool Centre. With similar annual competitions held in Scotland and Australia, combined with fundraising for cancer research, the seed was sown for a combined International competition and the rules were developed to suit.
Teams consist of a blade shearer, a sheep and seven handspinners and knitters. Teams nominate time keepers, assessors and coordinators to monitor each team competing at their own wool-related venue. All teams follow the challenge rules and pattern exactly as they are written.
The 1995 inaugural Challenge with nine teams competing from three Australian states, Scotland and the Shetland Isles, was won by the Shetland Isles in 5 hours 57 mins 58 sec. Over £1,350 was raised by the Scottish Wool Centre for the cancer research campaign. In 1996, 22 teams competed, 16 in Australia from four states. USA entered a team from Michigan and the UK had teams from Scotland, the Shetland Isles, Devon and Cambridge. Again, the Shetlands were unbeatable, breaking their blistering 1995 record by 39 minutes. They clipped another nine minutes off the next year.
In 2004, Merriwa, NSW broke the 5 hour barrier. Their time of 4 hours 51 minutes 14 seconds is now in the Guinness World Records book. Merriwa also raised a record $15,000 for cancer research.
Ireland, Wales, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Czech Republic and the Republic of South Africa have since joined the Challenge. The Challenge has developed at a remarkable rate. It is a simple and direct method of promoting wool from sheep’s back to spinners back using the ancient skills of blade shearing, spinning and knitting.
And it is timed to coincide with Australia’s long weekend in June and the northern hemisphere’s summer tourist season.
Challenge Date: on or before Sunday, 8 June 2014
Info and entry forms: Wendy Dennis, Tarndwarncoort, Warncoort 3243 VIC or Tarndie