Sheep to Shawl
A story based on the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival’s Sheep to Shawl competition
It was a perfect May day at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. Bright sunlight filled the areas between the tents, the air thick with anticipation as the Sheep to Shawl contest prepared to commence. A group of contestants huddled nervously around the sheep pens, each casting a wary eye at the fluffy white creatures that would soon become their raw material.
One of the competitors was a young woman named Anna, who had harbored a desire to participate in the Sheep to Shawl contest for years. Raised on a farm, she deeply loved working with animals and wool. Anna had convinced four friends to join her in the competition, and the group had devoted months to preparing for this moment.
The foremost priority was selecting a healthy sheep with not too-greasy wool from lanolin, a natural wax on the thread. Lanolin is removed during wool processing to make yarn easier to spin. Anna believed she had found the perfect candidate from her uncle’s farm. The team also had to decide on a pattern, prepare the loom for the upcoming spinning, and choose their best weaver. And, they all had to practice—at their designated roles and at being a team.
As the contest began, Anna and her teammates sprang into action. One member restrained the sheep and sheared its wool off with electric clippers. The group quickly sorted the fleece, separating the long, soft fibers from the shorter, coarser ones.
"Make certain you remove all the burrs," Anna reminded her teammates.
“We don't want any scratchy bits in our shawl."
Each person worked swiftly and efficiently, focusing on their designated task. Anna carded the wool using hand-held paddles to separate and straighten the fibers. Three teammates spun the wool into yarn, carefully twisting it between their fingers. Another member was the weaver, whose job was to weave the thread into a shawl.
The tension mounted as the teams worked. Anna knew that any mistake could cost them the competition, and the other teams were working just as quickly. She tried to remain calm, but her heart was racing.
"We're doing fantastic," she encouraged her teammates.
"Just keep up the pace."
After three hours of intense labor, the teams finished their shawls and presented them to the judges. Anna’s team's shawl was soft and fluffy, with a subtle gradient of blues and greens that evoked memories of the fields back home. The judges scrutinized it, running their hands over the fibers and checking for any flaws.
After an interminable wait, the judges announced the winners. Anna’s team had secured second place, just behind a group of seasoned veterans who had previously won the contest several times. Anna felt proud and relieved, knowing their hard work had paid off.
As they packed their equipment and returned to their cars, Anna’s teammates congratulated each other.
"We were incredible!” one of them said.
“We were awesome!” another said, pointing to each one on the team.
"I can hardly believe we came in second place."
"We could not have done it without everyone working together. That is what this contest is all about,” Anna replied.
As she drove home, Anna could not shake the memory of the contest from her mind. She resolved to participate again next year, ready to take on the competition with renewed vigor. For her, the Sheep to Shawl contest was not merely a competition but a celebration of the determination and hard work required to create something beautiful from raw materials.
For more information on next year’s competition, including rules, scoring, prizes, and entry form, visit the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.
Watch a video from the 2017 "Sheep to Shawl" competition at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.
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