Sheep-to-Shawl at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

The Dream Weavers participated in a Sheep-to-Shawl competition yesterday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. For those who may be new to this blog or who have been checking in since the last post about this activity … a Sheep-to-Shawl competition is one in which teams compete to be the first to shear a sheep, and to card and spin enough wool to weave a shawl with finished dimensions of at least 78 x 22″ (198 x 56 cm). In addition to these final dimensions, team performances are also judged on the quality and efficiency of shearing, the quality and appropriateness of the fleece, the quality and uniformity of the hand-spinning, the precision of the weaving, the overall design of the shawl, and of course the speed with which all of this may be accomplished. You will notice that nearly all of the shawls shown here have lots of color (and fleeces only grow in a natural palette of white to gray to black). This is because the loom is warped before the competition. That is, all of the threads which run along the length of the shawl are already in place before the day’s event gets underway. And teams are free to do all sorts of things with the warp threads, including dying them. The only threads which are produced during the competition are those that comprise the weft. These run from side-to-side in the shawl and will be the color of the fleece that is harvested from the animal at the start of the competition. Joanna’s team produced a beautiful shawl which earned fourth place in the competition. Its theme was Honey, and was dedicated to team member and bee keeper, Wayne, who we lost last summer. I have posted images from this yearly competition in 2014, 2013, and in 2012. As I look over this year’s contribution I believe it looks very much the same except, of course, for the team picture. Many thanks to team carder David Weaver for his willingness to take on the responsibility of filling some pretty big shoes, he did an exceptional job. [Clicking any of the images below will take you to a carousel view. From there you may view image titles and migrate back and forth through the collection. Clicking the x in the upper left will bring you back to the current view.]

20 thoughts on “Sheep-to-Shawl at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

  1. I always love this post. I just shared it with a friend that got to watch the Sheep-to-Shawl competition this year in PA – I indicated to her which was Joanna! What a great team, 4th is nothing to sneeze at and I particularly love the theme of “Honey”, and in memory of Wayne.

    • Hey there Farmer … so very glad to see your name in my comments section. I haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you and all the animals have been well. Yup … fourth place was just fine. Joanna is simply pleased to be able to participate, the competition is lots of fun (for me too). My job search continues and I’m beginning to become disheartened. I’m more and more convinced that opportunities for ‘old professors’ simply don’t exist. We look to sell the farm … but don’t know much about ‘what comes next.’ Let’s hope for some dramatic turn of events and that opportunities abound in 2015. D

      • We’re Super Busy, as always, and the farm continues to grow – got another ram today, a Cotswold. He’d been here for the ladies in December and when I returned him I told the farmers that I’d be happy to buy him if they ever sold him. Last week they contacted me and said he was for sale! Or else he was going to be sausage. They just didn’t need him. So I picked him up this afternoon – he’s a registered Cotswold and so hopefully I’ll have 4 registered Cotswold mamas in May. And by the way, my friend said she was aware of Joanna’s shawl – she said it fetched $1100? That’s terrific! Hmmm, I’ll think on the old professors-position around here – you should look at Bennington College here in Bennington -“Environmental Studies” – a prof (Valerie) and her husband visited me when they were considering getting some sheep … I think they got too busy to put the fencing in, etc … here’s her bio: Meanwhile I’ll keep my ear to the ground – heading to the Vermont Farm Show in Essex (northern VT) at the end of the month. I’m a lousy follower of late – my apologies – but consider myself a die-hard Pairodox fan. Oh, one more thing, perhaps you should be looking for a position in photography – oh my goodness, you’re knocking the socks off! And farming journals are getting to be ‘the thing’- perhaps a new career?

          • I’ve always gotten Organic Gardening, the new “Vogue” of farm magazines is Modern Farmer, I like “Taproot”, (, Mother Earth News, Backyard Poultry and Hobby Farms. I know there are more, but those were a few that came to mind that I have either purchased in the past or subscribe to.

  2. Great photos and story, yet again. I love seeing how the process comes together. The weaving is beautiful. I imagine it takes some experience to best understand the right colours to choose for the warp strands; this is lovely. What is also amazing to me is not only is there an event like this, but so many people are attending. That is to say, I haven’t lived around large populations of people, and special events like this usually don’t turn up a crowd of people sharing the same interest.

    • Thanks M for all of the positive observations. I too am amazed at the number of people (young and old) that turn out to watch this event. And with enthusiasm. The crowd is full of knitters and fiber artists who are really interested to see how the process plays out, start to finish. For Joanna and the rest of the team … it all comes easily … but only after years of experience. Like most things … right?

  3. Like Purplesnitch above, it seems a rather chilly time of year for shearing to a layman. Do they get a trip to Sanibel after their donation to the cause? It is great to see so many people partaking in this very old craft and creating beautiful woven art. I imagine a very large percentage of the population has no idea where scarves, sweaters and mittens come from and how much effort and care goes into the artisan-made products. Congratulations to Joanna and the rest of her Dream Weaver team.

    • Your reaction is similar to that of most folks … ‘But, won’t she be cold when you get her home?’ There are a few responses. First, the ewe does get a canvas coverup to keep the chill off. Second, she gets to spend a few days in the barn so that she can be kept out of the wind. Third, sheep require just a 1/4″ or so of fleece to be minimally insulated, and the blades used to shear are just shy of that thickness so a thin coat of nearly that dimension remains when shearing is complete. And finally, these highly domesticated animals are in such good condition (meaning that the have a good layer of fat on them) that many folks actually shear in winter, and in anticipation of lambing which is not all that far off. The general rule with ruminants is … that as long as the animal is in good condition, as long as the animal has a good belly-full of hay, and as long as the animal is kept from cold/wet/windy conditions (such as freezing rain), they’re OK, even after having been sheared. These animals are OK when it’s very cold (as long as they aren’t wet) and they’re OK when they’re wet (as long as they aren’t cold). The bad combination and very cold and very wet … and we do try to keep them from that combination for at least a few weeks after winter shearing. Don’t worry about Linda … she’s in the barn at this very moment eating, and eating, and sleeping, and eating. Rest assured that she’s quite warm and comfortable.

      • I would expect the coverup at the least for the poor ewe Linda’s modesty. Yep, as a bleeding-heart layperson I expected that there was much more to this and no good animal husbandry/wifery practitioner would allow their sheep to be endangered.

        • Yup … Linda is, at this very moment, warm and snug and eating up a storm. The temperatures are dropping and the wind is howling outside. Many would ask … aren’t your sheep cold, and shouldn’t you bring them in? I tell them that bringing them in runs the very real risk of pneumonia. Our sheep are best on pasture, with shelter to allow them to get out of the wind, lots of good dry hay and liquid water at their disposal. No worries.

  4. Congratulations to the Dream Weavers! Great to see that the art/skill of spinning/weaving is still alive and well. Wayne would have been proud! Was Linda one of your shetlands? Won’t she be cold without her coat at this time of year??

    • Linda is one of the ewes we sold to Quilt Farm a year or so ago … she is registered as Pairodox Linda so, in that respect, she is one of ours. She provided a nice fleece but wasn’t all that well behaved when she was being sheared (but neither am I when J trims my hair). It was a busy day and J and I were happy to be home at the end of it.

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