Have Ewe Any Wool?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Maryland Sheep and Wool - Sheep to Shawl Competition!

The Sheep to Shawl contest was wonderful to watch. This year, there were 6 groups that entered into the competition. My friends were on the "Stargazers" team and I was one of their cheering fans. The shearing of the sheep was to begin promptly at 8 am...and the finished shawl...complete with fringe...has to be delivered to the judges by 11 am. Talk about tight time constraints!!!

Each group had a theme or inspiration. The Star Gazers was the team I was cheering on throughout the competition.

And here are the other competitors. As you can see, there were a number of wonderful shawls produced - it would have been very difficult to be one of the judges!

I managed to get a team shot - including a closeup of Andy's face - prior to the competition. Our Star Gazer's had so many folks taking their pictures that they weren't sure which camera to look at!

The team had beautiful aprons as well as a hand crafted team necklace. How cool is that?

The Stargazer's fleece came from Andy, a Shetland Cheviot. He wasn't very happy with the whole shearing process. At times, he was pretty "wiggly" and uncooperative. However, in spite of an uncooperative sheep, Anne, the shearer did a fabulous job! If I recall correctly, she received all possible points!

This video will give you an idea of what it takes to shear a live animal...they wiggle around and tend to be "dead weight" - you almost need 6 hands to do the job - four to hold the sheep to make sure they don't move any limbs into harms way and two for the actual shearing!

Andy is definitely not thrilled with the entire process! "What have they done with my wool? I feel so naked!"

Ah....the shearing is finally over. Anne gathers the lovely fleece and Andy begins to relax - thankful that this whole ordeal is over.

The shearer on one of the other teams had some awesome shoes - specifically for shearing. I'd never seen shearing shoes before. They were quite intriguing...and looked very comfortable.

Once the fleece is sheared, the team begins prepping the wool for spinning.

My friend, Liz, was the weaver. She seemed so calm and poised the entire time. I would have been a nervous wreck - and my stomach would probably be tied up in knots! That's just because I like to spin and weave to relax....not in a timed and competitive race!

The wool was very soft and opened nicely for spinning. The spinners, Ginny, Diane, and Esther, kept pace nicely. Liz was never without a bobbin to weave. They were a living example of perfectly timed teamwork. Of course, the fact that they'd been practicing together for a couple of months helped. A competition like this definitely requires skill, practice, and an immense amount of time commitment - for the competition itself as well as all of the preparation and practice.

Align CenterBefore the actual weaving starts, Liz has to set the beginning edge of the shawl. Once that's set, she'll begin weaving...constantly checking that she maintains the proper width and monitoring the length. Part of the judging is on the length of the finished shawl.

Liz made it look easy! Check out "Liz in Action" in the video. In the background, you can see Esther loading her spun yarn onto a bobbin. All three spinners kept up the rhythm and never let Liz sit idle without at least a bobbin's worth in reserve for her to weave!

The shawl is done with plenty of time to spare! Liz has finished the edge and is cutting the shawl loose from the loom. There are still a few step left in the process....

Next, the shawl is brought to the flat table and the fringe is finished. Check out the gorgeous fringe! It's so nice and even! Once the fringe is done, the shawl is washed and "squeezed dry" before being presented to the judges for the analysis and critique. The team breathed a big sigh of relief as they relinquished control of the shawl to the judges.

The Stargazers placed 5th. The competition was extremely tight. Each shawl could receive a possible total of 100 points. The winners had a score of 94...and the Stargazers, a score of 89. Pretty close if you ask me! I'm so proud of them! I can't wait till next year - I plan to be there cheering them on once again!

Each of the shawls in the competition is then put up for bids. Esther modeled the Star Gazer's shawl during the bidding. It's a lovely shawl and went to a worthy home.

All of the shawls were fabulous and definitely unique - it was hard to decide which one to bid on and came down to personal preferences on color and style. They were all beautiful! I was thrilled to have the winning bid on the shawl that placed 1st. I'm planning to wear it at my daughter's wedding later this year.

The shawl is a "white on white" design that is just lovely. The warp is Corriedale and the weft is from a very sweet Hog Island ewe named Kate. She resides at Mt. Vernon...the home of George Washington. How cool is that? Oh...and as an added bonus, I received two tickets to Mt. Vernon in addition to the shawl...awesome, eh?

I had to go visit Kate so I could "meet her in person". She's adorable! I was a bit surprised when I found her in the barns - she had horns! And she's a girl! I momentarily worried that I may have "found" the wrong sheep. But, it turns out that the Hog Island ewes may have horns. The rams and ewes may or may not have horns - interesting, eh? And here I thought that only rams had horns!

I thought Kate had a very sweet face - she also LOVED attention. Both she and her pen mates kept coming up to the gate for nose snuggles and chin scratches. They were so cute and cuddly!!!

Hog Island sheep are a rare breed from Hog Island, Virginia. You can read more about them on the Hog Island Sheep Breeders Association website. These sheep came from the feral sheep that roamed the island. The Hog Island sheep descended from the British breeds that were available here back in the 17th century. According to Wikepedia, there are less than 200 of these sheep today - they're an extremely rare breed.

I'm honored to own a shawl that's made from such a historic and rare breed. Many thanks to the wonderful "Tidewater Treadlers" team for producing such a beautiful shawl from very awesome wool! I just love it!


  • At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anne Campbell said…

    That really sounds like a fun thing to watch, especially when you know some of the competitors. And the shawl you bought looks lovely - and it will be so special to you when you think about where you got it. And you're on speaking terms with the ewe that donated the wool - what could be more fun!

  • At 11:25 AM, Blogger Henry said…

    This was an education. Thanks for sharing fotos and videos of the event. I liked how you delivered the information. Cheers! Go Diane and colleagues!!

  • At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Evening Shawls said…

    That's a terrible pun :-) but the event looks like it was a blast!

  • At 4:51 PM, Blogger Esther said…

    I loved the blog!!! Thank you for sharing! I really appreciated having you there as a supporter.


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