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Sheep to Shawl: Reduced number of teams help each other through annual Farm Show competition

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Sheep to Shawl 1

Dale Mylin shears the Fidget Spinners' sheep for the first time as the Lancaster-area team begins the Sheep to Shawl competition at the Farm Show on Wednesday.

HARRISBURG — Weaver Michelle Lushbaugh got a lighter cast on her fractured right wrist then came to the 106th Pennsylvania Farm Show a day later for the sheep to shawl contest on Wednesday.

Tracy Beck of the Fidget Spinners team needed repairs when a center pin in her spinning wheel needed tightened. The Twisted Sisters and a Dude team offered her a spare wheel while the Butler County Pedalers loaned the team shearer a wrench to fix it.

Another team spinner had to make a hasty repair when her spinning wheel tension band snapped.

When challenges occurred Wednesday night at the 42nd Sheep to Shawl contest on the fifth Farm Show day, competing teams helped each other. In the end, all cheered when the Friends Thru Fiber of Franklin County won first prize.

The 42nd Sheep to Shawl contest took place Wednesday night on the the fifth Farm Show day, with the Friends Thru Fiber of Franklin County won first prize.

A sheep to shawl contest involves a team shearing a sheep, spinning the wool into yarn and using it to make a 22 by 78-inch shawl with five inches of fringe on each end, all in 2½ hours.

The competition usually packs the Small Arena. This year, when Farm Show attendance is the lowest in years, the sheep to shawl contest had only about a quarter of the usual spectators.

A sheep to shawl contest involves a team shearing a sheep, spinning the wool into yarn and using it to make a 22 by 78-inch shawl with five inches of fringe on each end, all in 2½ hours.

The competition usually packs the Small Arena. This year, when Farm Show attendance is the lowest in years, the sheep to shawl contest had only about a quarter of the usual spectators.

“Some of our teams said they didn’t want to take any chances at being in crowds because of COVID,” said Tom Knisley, contact coordinator. “I’m disappointed that we don’t have more teams but glad we’re here this year.”

For the Love of Ewe, the Cumberland County team, did not compete this year. Two members of the Fidget Spinners dropped out due to concerns about COVID-19, so that team found substitutes.

Caring for cows at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

The competition began when the sheep were brought into the arena. Shearers, armed with muscle, electric shearers and know-how, got to work. Dale Mylin, shearer for the Fidget Spinners of Lancaster County, sheared a Leister Longwool sheep owned by Amy and Rod Jackson of Lower Franklin Township.

“This is an heirloom sheep, the same kind that George Washington owned,” said Amy Jackson looking at the sheep with a long, brown fleece.

Mylin, a teacher at Lancaster County Day School, a sheep owner and a shearer for 35 years, put his 75-pound sheep on her rump and began shearing.

He was the first shearer to finish, ending up with a huge fluffy pile of brown fleece and a rather naked-looking sheep. Soon, all the shearers were finished and the teams began their chores.

Carders brushed the fluffy piles of wool between two wire brushes to remove foreign matter and make the fibers go in one direction. Friends Thru Fiber “flicked” rather than carded because their fleece was so long. Carders and flickers then gave the soft fiber to the three spinners on each team.

Spinners, using foot-operated spinning wheels, spun the fibers into long strands of yarn and wound that yarn on wooden bobbins. Finally, the bobbins went to the team weaver who ran a wooden shuttle back and forth in the loom, creating the shawl pattern.

The teams displayed different themes and completely different shawls.

Twisted Sisters and A Dude from Westmoreland, Dauphin and Lebanon counties used a Pittsburgh sports theme. Members wore shirts representing the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Penguins and even used Iron City beer to dye their yellow yarn.

Butler County Pedalers members showed their hunting theme by wearing camouflage clothing, orange hats, deer aprons and masks. They covered their fleece with a mylar blanket to keep it warm because when it cools, the lanolin gets stiff making the fleece difficult to work with.

Fidget Spinners displayed a birthday party theme, wearing pointed party hats and decorating their area with balloons

Friends Thru Fiber used chocolate browns and a woolen scarf shaped like a cake area for a dignified look. Weaver Lushbaugh, who is left-handed, broke her left wrist a couple weeks ago and had a hard cast on it. On Tuesday, she went to her doctor and got a softer cast that allowed her to weave. “It’s a little uncomfortable but I’m doing OK,” she said.

In the audience, Laura Koebnick of Jacobus said she enjoys the camaraderie among the teams.

The teams worked for 2½ hours, carding, spinning and weaving. The weavers ran wooden shuttles across their looms as the colorful shawls grew.

As the clock ticked down, members seemed nervous and worked harder and faster to get the shawls off the looms, tie on the fringes and hand the completed shawls to the judges. After deliberating, the judges awarded points for shearing, spinning, weaving, shawl, design, speed and team identification.

Friends Thru Fiber lost points because their shawl was too short while the Butler County Pedalers and the Fidget Spinners missed the deadline.

Special awards went to Friends Thru Fiber, fleece award; Butler County Pedalers, spinners award; Friends Thru Fiber, weaver’s award; Fidget Spinners, team’s choice award; and Fidget Spinners, shearer’s award.

Second place shawl award went to Twisted Sisters and a Dude. Third and fourth prizes were not awarded due to the other two teams missing the deadline.

Only one shawl, a colorful one made by Twisted Sisters and a Dude, was sold by Auctioneer Harry Bachman since the others didn’t qualify for the sale. That shawl went for $1,500.

Bachman then auctioned off the “Fleece to Shawl” winners from the youth contest earlier in the day. Winning shawls and their auction prices were Fiber Frenzy of Dauphin County, first prize and $900; Sapphire Spinners of Clinton County, third prize and $500; and Roaring Rubies of Clinton County, $500.

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