Woolly Wanderings

Dates
June 18 - 25, 2017
or by private arrangement

8 day program

Maximum Ratio
5 wanderers per guide

Is this for you?

Booking info

Fees

Equipment list

Passing into the walled city of Briançon.

Do you love to putter around with yarn and fiber, but quickly get tired of staying indoors, especially when the weather is glorious? Do you love to travel and explore, but miss your crafting projects if you're away from home for long? On this tour you can have it all. You can work on your projects and learn new fiber art skills, while exploring the Queyras, a rustic corner of the French Alps with a unique and textile-rich history.

Up until recent times, the remote villages nestling high among these wild and rugged mountains were relatively poor and isolated for much of the year. However they have long been rich in textile and handcraft traditions, which helped them survive economically in this harsh environment.

Today these traditions are being preserved and even updated by modern craftsmen and women. Lace-makers offer classes to pass along their craft, using the same tools their ancestors did. Wood-carvers too teach their skills, featuring designs and motifs native to the area. Even the ancient practice of shepherding is undergoing a renaissance, thanks to a young generation of herdsmen and women who bring a new outlook and energy to their profession.

Woolen mills from early in the last century, having slept through a generation of dormancy, now find new life under the management of innovative entrepreneurs, passionate about keeping their vintage machines living and working. Not merely for the sake of the machines themselves, but also producing fabrics and designs adapted to modern tastes. These operations in turn sustain the local shepherds who might otherwise be forced to throw their perfectly good wool into the landfill for lack of a viable market!

Our trip will combine skills workshops with hiking and sight-seeing in a region of southeastern France where the mountains of the Maritime Alps form the border with Italy. Walled cities and fortresses dating from the middle ages, high mountain meadows strewn with flowers and flowing with clear cold streams, rugged mountain cottages and lodges provide plenty to explore and discover.

For the first few days we will base ourselves in the woolen mill of Chantemerle in the village of Saint Chaffrey (Serre Chevalier ski area), to learn or refine such skills as felting, plant-based and natural dyeing, and spindle spinning, from local experts. We will also learn a great deal about the distinct breeds of sheep native to the countries and regions of Europe, and the differing properties of the wools they produce. We will have the chance to clean, card and spin a fleece together ourselves, thus having a hands-on experience of every stage of wool preparation from fleece to yarn. And if we're not too tired at the end of a long and active day, we may even make some progress on that knitting or crochet project we brought with us.

The boutique and show room of the Filature de Chantemerle woolen mill in Saint Chaffrey.

Group size and composition

Kathy will be leading this trip for 2017, and can take a maximum of 5 wanderers.

You can join the Woolly Wanderings as either an individual, or book Kathy to lead a private trip for you and your friends.

 

Saint Véran in the Queyras Regional Natural Park, the highest year-round inhabited village in France.


Who is this trip for?

Although it is assumed that this kind of trip will appeal most to people who already have a fiber based hobby or activity such as knitting, crochet, weaving or spinning, this is certainly not required! You can be an absolute beginner at all of this, and will benefit from both the workshops and from the company, example and inspiration of the more experienced craftsmen/women in the group. All you really need to enjoy this trip is a love of exploration and discovery.

Participants need not be physically fit, though you should be able to walk at a normal comfortable pace on trails or rough dirt roads at an easy uphill grade, for an hour or two.

Aside from this, in order to enjoy a trip like this you should have a healthy sense of adventure, flexibility and an open mind! Travel always brings the unexpected. Come prepared to enjoy surprises, and the spontaneous opportunities they bring.

If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this trip for you, please contact us.


The walls of Briançon and outer ring of houses.

Woolly Wanderings Itinerary

Day 0

Rendezvous in Saint Chaffrey. We will check in to our hotel, and perhaps have a tour of the woolen mill if time permits.

Day 1

After breakfast in our hotel, we will head over to the woolen mill to join Marie-Thérèse Chaupin, coordinator of ATELIER Laines d'Europe (Wools of Europe), the European Association for Textile Study, Liaison, Innovation & Research. She will share her vast knowledge of the distinct European breeds of sheep found throughout the continent. By means of photos and samples, we’ll come to see and understand the properties that make them different from each other, and suited to different end products and uses. This gives us deeper insight into the variety of fibers and fabrics we see in yarns, in shops and in garments every day.

After lunch, we will get our hands on a fleece, and learn how to card and comb it in preparation for hand spinning and felting.

Day 2

Dyeing workshop (full day) with Magali Bontoux, a local felt maker and natural dyer.

This entire day will be devoted to a plant-based and natural dyeing workshop with Magali. Starting with an introduction to the more famous dye-plants such as madder (red), reseda (yellow) and woad (blue), as well as other local and exotic plants, we will move on to the practical application of various dyeing techniques currently being revived by modern practitioners; particularly fermentation dyeing, and techniques particular to indigo and cochineal-based colors.

Day 3

A morning workshop in felting and another in the afternoon in spindle spinning, will teach us to process our hand-prepared and hand-dyed wool.

Day 4
A couple of young French fiber artists share their skills at a sheep festival.

We've been working hard on our creative pursuits, now is our time to get out and enjoy the fresh air of the great outdoors. After breakfast we'll say good-bye to Marie-Thérèse and Magali, and drive up into the mountains to the rustic and beautifully preserved village of Saint Véran. We'll take an hour or two to explore the narrow lanes and flower-festooned cottages, the folk museum depicting the traditional life of the villagers of another era. We'll see artifacts of their hand-crafting industry—in woodcarving and lace-making particularly—and learn how they made profitable use of long winter evenings and cold days, by necessity spent indoors.

From here, we will take a short shuttle and then hike up to the high mountain hut of La Blanche for the night. Alpine mountain huts are designed and built to cater to the hordes of "Montagnards" (mountain lovers): trekkers, climbers, skiers and other outdoor folk who want to make a real expedition into the hills, but without carrying a heavy backpack. Comfortable bunks with bedding, and a full service kitchen and cooking staff allow hikers to link multiple day outings with a light daypack, and meet interesting fellow travelers along the way. We will spend the night here, in the heart of the mountains, and may even have energy and time to work on our spinning or some other project in the evening.

Day 5

We will spend this day taking in one of the many beautiful hikes from the hut, and return back down to Saint Véran in the afternoon. We will then taxi back to Briançon, where we will check into our hotel there and enjoy an evening exploring this fascinating walled city, and having a final celebratory meal in one of its many great restaurants.

Day 6

After breakfast we will check out of our hotel and part ways.

Optional add-on

Fête de la

Transhumence in Die

This trip is timed so that we can follow it up if we wish, by heading over to the town of Die for the "Fête de la Transhumance"; the big festival that town has developed surrounding the annual trekking of the sheep back up to their summer pastures. This is usually done by truck these days of course, but in Die, in late June, a bunch of shepherds show up with their flocks (hundreds of head) and walk them up the old way, over three days, camping out along the way. We can join them for part of their journey during the days, very fun, and enjoy the entertainments (street theatre, music, catered picnic) that are offered up for the occasion. They also have a local bubbly wine (the "Clairette") that is very tasty indeed, especially with lamb!

This can be done by special arrangement, let us know if you are interested and we will be delighted to make it happen!

 

Street-side dining is ever so pleasant in France!
The cathedral at Briançon in the early morning.

 

A house in Saint Véran.

 

A back alley in Die, a town famous for it's pastoral traditions.
European cities are full of hidden details that never cease to inspire.


Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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