Woolly Tour • June 18-25, 2017

Deb Lee, Robin Halliday and Pamela Lee came over to France to launch Kathy's first Woolly Tour!

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Arriving in Briançon: from left to right are Deb, Robin, and Pamela.


The beauty of Briançon at sunset. This ancient town has a long and storied history dating from Roman times to the more recent wars of the 19th century. Fortified within walls since the 1700s, many of its buildings and features are UNESCO listed sites.


On our first morning we dug into the first of our three days of woolly workshops. A short drive up toward the Col d'Izouard of Tour de France bike racing fame, we settled in to our venue in the village of Cervières. The hostess Bernadette keeps a flock of sheep with her husband, and they have built a beautiful work space perfectly suited to small groups. So, our day 1 entailed lots of information from THE expert on European sheep and their wool, Marie-Thérèse Chaupin of "l'Atelier Laines d'Europe". She gave us not only tons of information from pictures and her own store of knowledge, but also hands-on exploration of wools both rustic and highly cultivated; we gained an understanding of their varying characteristics, as well as the products those variations best suit them for. We learned more than we ever suspected there was to learn about wool! The following three images are examples Marie-Thérèse had brought to show us some of the finest examples she had of the uses of some of these wools.


A felted wall hanging of varicolored Merino.


A gorgeous rug made from the hard wearing wool of Italian Pecora Sarda sheep.


Blending knitting and felting in beautiful and creative ways.


After a pause for lunch, we tackled some hands-on skills, beginning with carding wool. Not as easy as Marie-Thérèse makes it look!


And then spinning with hand spindles... sheesh! Deb's a quick study with the spindle.


Unwinding (no pun intended) after a long day of learning, back in Briançon.


Day two, we turned to plant and natural dyes with Magali Bontoux.


This fermented Indigo ball doesn't look so appetizing, but is the source of the most vibrant blues.


And this bath of dyers Chamomile is the beginning of a bright and beautiful yellow.


The finished product (a loose wool gauze we dyed various colors).


Drying out our product at the end of the afternoon.


Different materials dyed with Cochineal.


Back to Briançon for dinner, late and tired, satisified with our efforts, but hungry?!


Day three, it's FELTING TIME! Deb gets her hands soapy.


One of many charming examples of felting work that Magali brought to inspire us.


Another long day ends with some finished products! Two vases, a belt purse, and a puppet!


On day 4 it's time to move on. We did a bit of shopping in Briançon in the morning...


... before moving on to Saint Véran, the highest year-round inhabited village in France. Rustic and quaint, we spent an hour or so exploring it's one main street.


A detail of the church entry steps.


After a short picnic lunch, we drove and hiked an hour or two to a mountain hut. As we walked, storm clouds built over the nearby border with Italy.


We reached our shelter, the Refuge de la Blanche, before the storm hit.


Cozy comfort, not luxury, in the sleeping department.


As the thunderstorm raged outside, we practiced new-found skills in the warmth and safety of the hut.


The storm was brief however, and we enjoyed a short walk around the lake at sunset.


The following morning also dawned sunny and warm for our hike back out.


Among the sight-seeing stops of this day was another fortified village, also a UNESCO site and also built by the same architect that enclosed Briançon, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633–1707), a military engineer of King Louis XIV.


We were immediately drawn to a beautifully appointed and elegant shop of wood and ceramic art, Le Petit Bois; and were welcomed by the artist, Marlene Tardy. After ringing up our purchases she invited us to watch her train with her fencing coach in the street! We were utterly charmed.


Then it was on to Die, a charming city in the department of Drome, that hosts an annual celebration of the "Transhumance", or the moving of the sheep from their winter lowland pastures back up the high alps for the summer.


Between the Hautes Alpes mountains, and the lowlands of Provence, this town is a treasure trove of little secret beauties around every cobblestoned corner.


We explored a bit in the evening before finding another exceptional dinner.


And again a bit the next morning.





Our sweet little room in the Hotel des Alpes in the morning.


This and the following images are just a sampler of the wonderful goings-on of the Fête de la Transhumance in Die:














On our final morning, we drove up to the Col de Rousset to see the sheep newly arrived and happy as clams in the cool mountain air, after having marched through the night from Die to the Col. Hungry, and enjoying the abundance of fodder.


The old man of the mountain, dressed for the festival, resting in the cool shade.


But wait! The adventure's not over yet! A flat tire stranded us for a couple of hours in an obscure burgh, awaiting a taxi to get us the rest of the way home to Chamonix. A not wholly unpleasant interlude...


But all's well that ends well. We met up with the various male counterparts of our group, who were having adventures of their own in the mountains with Mark (except for Robin's husband, who was home sailing, taking care of the cats, and having his own kind of fun!). We enjoyed a fantastic final meal all together in Chamonix, catching each other up on the high points of our week. From left to right: Kathy, Mark, Pamela, Matthew, Russ, Deb, and Robin. Thanks to all of you for making this such a fun-filled and wonderful week.

, and Pamela

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