May 28, 2023

Sheep to Shawl Contest Goes From Creature to Creature Comfort

Photo: wedmov/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival hosts a fierce competition with the goal of being warm and fuzzy. Called the "Sheep to Shawl" challenge, the teams consist of one sheep and five people. The humans have three hours to shear the sheep, card the wool, spin it into yarn, and then weave it into a shawl—all with the objective of creating an award-winning wrap.

Every team member has a job. One person shears the sheep, and then three people spin it into yarn and finally, one person creates the weaving (aka the final product). The handspun shawls are auctioned off after the competition.

The preparation for Sheep to Shawl begins months in advance and starts with finding the right sheep. Competitors don't want the animal to be too greasy because the wool is going straight from the sheep to spinning, it's not processed. It still has lanolin in it, which is akin to wax, and it makes it more difficult to spin the wool into yarn. Prepping the looms for weaving can also take as long as seven hours.

Sheep to Shawl judges look at more than just the final product. Their scoring system evaluates things including the sheep's appearance after shearing, the uniformity of the spun yarn, and if there's an even selvage (finished edge) on the wrap. The shawl is judged on the difficulty of the design, the drapabilty, and the color harmony of the warp and weft threads (vertical and horizontal threads on the loom, respectively).

The 2023 competition included a team of high schoolers from a local Quaker school who competed as part of their fiber arts class. They called themselves The Quaker Bakers and wore aprons and baked rainbow cupcakes to complement their eventual rainbow shawl. (The theme and costumes are also part of the judging.) The school team competed against two groups much older than them: The Fidget Spinners, whose theme was "I Love Ewe" with hearts woven into their shawl; and Mutton but Trouble whose theme was squirrels. Mutton but Trouble donned acorn hats and made a fall-themed wrap.

In the end, The Fidget Spinners took home the top prize followed by Mutton But Trouble and The Quaker Bakers.

Photo: ChiccoDodiFC/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Photo: Rossosiena/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Photo: Karenfoleyphotography/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Photo: Kristo74/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Photo: Nattio/Depositphotos. (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival: Website | Instagram | Facebookh/t: [NPR]

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Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival: Website | Instagram | Facebook