Ready to get on your bike?

It’s time to start thinking about that crazy spinnathon called The Tour De Fleece.  Every year in July spinners from all over the world enjoy a mirror event to the famous Tour de France.

DINAN/LISIEUXHistory of the Tour De France

A little history, cause I always like to know where stuff starts:  The Tour de France is one of the three Grand Tours of bicycle racing.  The oldest of the the three, it started in 1903 and has been held every year, except during the two world wars.  It is traditionally run in July.  It used to be a competition between French riders and raced over only French soil – a country that has always been a bit cycle crazy.

Today twenty or more teams of nine riders compete over three weeks of grueling racing.  The 21 segments include time trials, mountain stages through the Pryenees and the Alps, flat, and hilly stages.  The route althernates between clockwise and counterclockwise routes through France but often dips into other countries like England, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries.

In 2015 the race will Start in the Netherlands, and finish as always on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.  The race will include 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 individual time trial, 1 team time trial, and 2 rest days.  The end of one day’s ride and the beginning of the next days ride are often miles apart, so at the end of the day the riders often have to jump in vans to be driven to the next stage, and sometimes they have to actually fly because the next leg of the race is so far away.

Riders’ times are added up as they go along and the rider with the lowest total score gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey.  There are also other contests held within the Tour.  Recognition is given to the rider who wins each stage, A green jersey is worn by the winner of the sprints, the polka dot jersey for the best climber, and the white jersey is worn by the best rider of the 25 or under age group.

2015010637_960x440History of The Tour de Fleece

The Tour de Fleece was started on a blog by Star Athena in 2006.  It came about because Star, who had been spinning for about a year, wanted to connect with other spinners.  In this pre-Ravelry era it was often hard to find the larger community of spinners.  Star calls herself a “cycling nerd” and found the synergy of biking and spinning yarn to be a no-brainer – “We spin, they spin” she said in a 2012 interview with BlogTalkRadio.

The basic concept behind the Tour de Fleece is that spinners set themselves a goal and spend the 21 days of the Tour de France completing that goal.  The goal can be as complicated as spinning all the fiber necessary to complete a huge project or as simple as committing to spin every day of the Tour.  Then during the Tour when the bike riders take a rest day, the spinners take a rest, and when the bike riders are in the mountain stages the spinners try to take on something they consider a challenge.

In 2006 when Star created the Tour de Fleece there were about 30 spinners.  When Ravelry was invented she moved it over there, where it is run by volunteers.  Many people sign up for formal teams and chat with each other through Ravelry, and they also have wild card teams. Last year over 6,000 were involved at some level.

Spinfoolish Tour de Fleece

Picture2Last year we had a team and this year we plan to have one, too!  The Spinfoolish Tour de Fleece Team will be open to anyone who wants to take part in this extraordinary adventure.  For those of you who aren’t quite sure how the Tour de Fleece is different from the other big spinning event Spinzilla (held in October) here is a breakdown of the differences between them.


Spinzilla is a week, which is mostly manageable for most people.  The Tour is 21 days of spinning – think of it as three weeks of spinning almost every day (there are two rest days) which makes it more of a commitment as far as time goes.


Spinzilla is all about the length of the yarn you spin.  You have to formally sign up, measure what you spin, upload your total with appropriate photos to the governing body.  The Tour is totally informal – you sign up with us so you can get the emails and be on the Face Book page, after that it’s all about staying with it for the full 21 days.  It’s fun, but that might be more fun that some people are willing to endure!


For the groups that I have been a part of there is almost no pressure at all.  For Spinzilla there is pressure to formally sign up and to get your measurements in on time – but mostly the pressure comes from ourselves cause what is the point of joining the group and then not doing anything?

For the Tour I think the only real pressure is to stick with it.  If you sign up and then give up after the third day it seems to me that you aren’t really trying all that hard.  You don’t have to spin for 6 hours a day for EITHER event!!  The way I look at it if you genuinely can’t find 15 minutes a day then just don’t sign up.  I think most people know what they are capable of, and for many people being a part of a “formal” spinning event is just not their idea of a good time, so they know not to sign up to begin with!


I think goal setting is a personal choice.  For many people a goal provides one with a yard stick to determine if they did better or worse than they hoped to, or better or worse than last year.  Spinzilla of course has real numbers to play with so there is a formal ranking of the teams, but to me being on a team is kind of like being nominated for a Oscar – there is a lot of pride in being nominated even if you don’t ever win.

I have done the Tour twice now, once all by my lonesome, and once with a small last-minute team, and my goal has always been just to GET THROUGH it. To spin everyday, come hell or high water, is an accomplishment that I am excited to take on and proud to accomplish.  You can set the bar of your goal as high or as low as you want during the Tour.  I missed two days last year – one day I made up during a rest day and the other just stayed missed.  We had a lot of fun last year – we posted what we had spun and complained and moaned about our “challenges” during the mountain stages days.  I can guarantee that cotton will NOT be on my challenge agenda for this year…although last year proved that is certainly is a CHALLENGE for me!


Because there are actual numbers for the Spinzilla event we always have a prize for the person who spun the most length, and we always try to get other prizes donated for a drawing that every team member takes part in.  There are no measurements taken during the Tour but I am happy to accept donations to be used in a random prize drawing.  Spinfoolish Designs will be donating a little sumpinsumpin for the drawing. Contact me if you have anything to donate or can get one from a spinning source who loves you!

Sign up!

So if you are interested in throwing down the gauntlet and joining our team you can do that by visiting the Tour de Fleece page.  You sign up for the team mailing list, and will be sent a link to join our private Face Book group.  There is no cost to enter, and you can withdraw from the team up to the day before we start (July 4th this year) – but once July 4th dawns you are one of us and it’s spin or die – in a very non-pressure, fun-oriented, totally-supportive way.

Fiber Pack

Over the years it has been shown that some people have trouble with the “challenge days” in terms of having some fiber that is new or challenging.  It is unlikely that you will purposefully and in cold blood buy a fiber that you don’t think you will like – of course!  But sometimes you find that your preconceptions about fiber are just that preconceptions!  The reality is a lot more fun (or even less fun!!) than you though it might be.

As a result, every year I try to find new, unusual, or less ubiquitous types of fiber.  I then create a pre-collected, pre-organized, pre-vetted pack of fiber from a number of different types of sheep.  These are the Tour de Fiber Packs!  Generally 5-10 breeds per pack and 2 oz of each.  This is a great amount to have enough to spin and really get a feel for the fiber, but not so much that you can’t get it done in one day. Perfect for challenge days!

Tour de Fiber Packs are only available to team members, and have sold out so quickly my head spins…every year!  Learning about new fibers is just one of the ways you can challenge yourself during the tour, but the Fiber Pack provides a simple way to experiment without having to buy a 4 oz braid in a color you love, only to find you don’t love the fiber!  And it is also a cool “gateway drug” into different breeds.  Never spun Criolla before? I have and LOVED it!  Never spun corn silk? I have, and hated it! But now I know!!  We have a lot of fun learning during the tour and the Spinfoolish Tour de Fiber pack just adds to that fun!



Tour De Fleece Part 5

Tour De Fleece 2013

Last Stages

So what was I working on in the Tour de Fleece 2013 Part 5? The first was a fun piece of fiber I have been looking forward to spinning since the fall.  My mother is an avid knitter.  She taught me to knit.

Actually, I am not absolutely convinced that she did.  She doesn’t specifically remember teaching me.  I don’t have any recollection of being taught.  I have a strong suspicion, which I will defend to the bitter end, that I was born already knowing how to knit.  I believe that I learned to knit, in fact, in vivo.  There are those who doubt.  It deters me not.

Mummy, as I said, is a knitter.  Not a spinner.  She would never admit it out loud (she was brought up far too well to be rude) but I think she basically, deep down in her soul, thinks that her eldest child is absolutely “balmy” for wasting good money and knitting time creating yarn when it’s sitting there, lovely, and soft, and in a million colors on the shelves of any self-respecting yarn store in the country.

She could be right.

Tour De Fleece 2013But in an effort to “Keep calm, and get along” she is unfailingly supportive of my spinning endeavors.   She will listen to my fiber woes and triumphs as if they actually meant something to her.  She oohs and aahs over newly spun yarn as if it were the most amazing and unexpected thing she has ever seen.  My goodness, how I love her.  And so in a, perhaps misguided, attempt to make her happy I told her at the last fiber festival that I dragged her too (to be honest, she didn’t put up too much of a fight, there was yarn there, too!) that if she saw some fiber that she loved I would spin it for her.  Win/win!  This is what she chose. The colorway is called Primrose, and it’s 100% Merino, so no socks!!  I got 8 ounces, so if I can get enough yardage out of it, together with a small hank of bright red merino I got her last year, which as luck would have it matches the red in the Primrose, she is hoping to make a vest, with red trim.  Exciting!


Challenge Stage

In the last week of the Tour De Fleece 2013 they have one day where they spend the whole day climbing mountains. Steep mountains.  Large steep mountains  in the Alps.  So for us spinners (those of us who are not planning to climb mountains while we spin, anyway) we have one day of “challenge” in our Tour.  A day to do something new, or something we haven’t tried before. Something…challenging!

I have had a project that started on a whim and has been hanging fire in my spinning wardrobe for almost a year.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try to spin my milkweed.

TDeF Day 5b

Yes, that milkweed. The kind that monarch butterflies love and most people think of as weeds.

It started last fall when I went up to Maine with my Mum to visit family and friends.  I stayed about a week with my brother and his family.  His family has many children.  Many small children.  As we drove in his driveway I spotted a stand of milkweeds, all going to seed, and joked with Mummy “I wonder if I could spin that!”  The tassels of the seeds looked so bright and soft in the sunlight, they were really pretty.

I had pretty much forgotten about the comment until I came back (after a visit to a friend) and the children had collected lots of the milkweed fiber for me.  Bags of it.  I had no idea if I could really spin with it, but I had them de-seed the fiber and I stored it carefully in vented ziplock bags.  I told them I would try it when I got home, and thanks so much for saving it for me.

I would like to point out that my inability to spin the milkweed up on the spot was not because I didn’t have a spinning wheel. I did.  I had my wheel, and lots of other tools and implements; but I had loaned out my hand carders just before I left on this trip, so I did not have them with me.  I also (quite wisely) left my drum carder at home so I had no way to really integrate the milkweed into the fiber. (Trust me, I had LOTS of fiber!!)

As a result a fair amount of milkweed fiber came home with me.  I thought about it a lot during the trip and when I got home I went out in our back yard and pulled some more.  The pods are so attractive when they shed their seeds, but I found that stuff is REALLY messy – it’s so fine it flies all over the place. I still wasn’t sure how to handle it so it got stuffed into the fiber wardrobe and there it sat.  I let it just stew in my mind until challenge day.  I reorganized my Tour schedule so that my challenge day fell on a Sunday Spinners Day.

Sunday Spinners is a group of local spinners who enjoy meeting once a month to spin together, talk about what we are working on, ask advice, share our creations, moan about our less-than-lovelies, and generally enjoy each other’s company.  I think we inspire each other, I know they inspire me!

I love to hand card, when I am not doing HUGE amounts.  Hand carding is not hard really, but it is a special skill, and once you get the hang of it you can do it faster and better than you thought you would be able to.  It’s also much better for special stuff, I think. Milkweed fiber is special, so I used the carders.

Milkweed01Rambouillet is a pretty soft fiber.  The breed comes from France where the king put a herd of sheep on a farm, in Ramouillet, and bred up a dual purpose sheep (used for meat and fiber).  Nice fiber.  Great name, hate to spell it.

To really meld the two fibers, and not lose too much fluff to the wind, I carded the fiber in layers.

Milkweed02I put some brown rambouillet on one of my carders, and then layered the milkweed on top, then a bit more rambouillet.  A milkweed sandwich! Then I carded them back and forth, just a few times.  I had to do it outside as I left a little cloud of milkweed fluff around my chair!  While outside, the wind, although it was very mild, took it away and all the spider webs in the bushes around the front door had a coating of white fluff by the time I finished.

Milkweed03This is what the final fiber I spun with looked like.  It didn’t take long to card, but I didn’t card up much cause I still wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time.  I tried to use my drum carder for a little bit, but it made the milkweed wad up into little balls, you can see a few in the image.  In the end the hand carders did a much better job.

Then I spun it, but that turned out to be just as much of a challenge as the rest of it!  I wanted the yarn to be fluffy, so that the fiber would really stand out and be fun to look at.  I chose to to spin it long draw woolen.  I rarely spin this way.  It was great practice, and after I had spun only 50 yards I could really feel an improvement!


Here is a ply on the bobbin, and the final yarn after I washed it.



Spinning with Milkweed Fiber Tour De Fleece 2013

I am really happy with the yarn, but there isn’t quite enough to really do anything with.  First order of business will be to create something for the little milkweed pickers in Maine!!

And so ends my first: Tour De Fleece 2013.  I spun up over a thousand yards of finished yarn, used 8 different breeds, and had a lot of fun.  I will definitely do it again next year.  Right now? I definitely need to find my knitting, I think I am going into withdrawal!!

Tour De Fleece Part 4


Part Four

The next bit of spinning excitement comes from three bags of wool I purchased at least two years ago, and have never spun up.  I got the blue (aqueous) the purple (lilac) and then a bag that combined both to great effect (aquarius).  Those colors just sucked me in! The fiber is Corriedale from the Falklands

Faulkland SweaterI have a lovely cable sweater I knit years ago from yarn from the Falklands.  It was supposed to be in support of the Falkland sheep farmers who were hard it during the Falkland War.  I have no idea if it was a scam or not, but I was in London on vacation and it was lovely yarn.  I really love to knit cables and this was one of my favorite sweaters to knit, and remains a favorite to wear.  Corriedale fiber is not supposed to be as soft as Merino, but it seems as soft to me.  It has certainly worn well!!

three fibersOne of the reasons I have had this fiber for so long but never started to spin it is  because I have always thought, and always taught that you should be an intentional spinner (Lovely book by the way, The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin) so I needed to know what I wanted the yarn to be.  Would it be for a shawl, or socks, or a hat…all of which requires different configurations.

For example, I think sock yarn should be round, rather over-spun, and have some man-made fiber in it so it lasts a bit longer through the harsh treatment that our feet dish out to socks.   Shawl yarn should be light and rather under spun and more woolen-like to create a lovely halo…you see what I mean. There should be an end result in mind before you start to spin, because the end result informs many of the choices you make along the way – style of spinning, size of ply, number of plies, etc.

However, when I spin to sell the yarn I obviously can’t know what the knitter or weaver will chose to do with the yarn I create, so you would think I would have learned to just let that part go.  You would be mistaken.  I think it’s part of my ongoing subconscious desire for world domination. Well, domination of all the wooly parts of the world anyway!

Because I had no specific plan for it, I did not spin it.  I decided however, finally, that this was foolish, short sighted, and just NOT fun.

So I have spun this a two ply, fairly small.  I almost always try to spin my two plies smaller than worsted weight yarn.  I figure if you want to knit with handspun yarn that you have paid money for (rather than made on your own) then it’s unlikely that you are buying it to knit a sweater. First of all I don’t spin quantities like that, and secondly it would be pretty expensive.  This means that it will be used for something small and lovely and special, so it should be finer, in every sense of the word.

Actually, now that I think about it, that is an intention isn’t it? So maybe my spinning is less random that I was afraid of.

The end result is quite attrractive, I think.  I plan to ply the colors to themselves, so I will end up with a skein of  pure Lilac,  a skein of pure Aqueous, and a skein of pure Aquarius (which is the Lilac and the Aqueous mixed together).  Unfortunately, all I got finished was the Aquarius.  Well,not really unfortunate, as I will definitely have the rest of it HIGH up on my “To Spin” list.   Soon I will have all three colors finished and ready for someone to take home and create some exciting project… but during the Tour all I got done was the one color.

The reason I didn’t get to the other two hanks of fiber goodness will become apparent.  And here is a hint: MUMMY and MILKWEED! 🙂

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