We just finished competing in the Estes Park Wool Market Sheep to Shawl Competition! It was so fun and even though we didn't win, we loved every minute of it.
Sheep to Shawl is a competition where you take a raw sheep fleece and card, spin, and weave it into a finished shawl in 5 hours. It is extreme fiber arts. The basic rules are you have to use an un-dyed, local sheep fleece and can add in up to 10% of another local un-dyed animal fiber. You can wash your fiber ahead of time and spin enough to warp your loom, but that's it - the rest of the work is done the day of the competition in 5 hours. There are 5 team members and 1 alternate. You must present the judge with a blocked shawl (it can be damp). Shawls are judged on all aspects of the event: fiber prep, spinning, design, weaving, and public interaction and education.
It is probably no surprise to blog readers that we choose to use a Shetland fleece for our shawl. Shetland wool is fine and soft, yet strong, making it ideal for handspinners, weavers and knitters. They have great personalities and we fell in love with them as soon as we first met the lambs of Pinon Wood Ranch. Peg and Woody of Pinon Wood Fibers have been breeding and showing Shetland sheep in Norwood, Colorado for over 5 years. Butch Cassidy, the Shetland ram that provided our fleece, is a grey Grand Prize ram of the Pinon Wood herd. The fleece is an exceptionally fine example of Shetland wool. Peg and Woody also raise alpacas so we used black alpaca from their farm as the contrast fiber in our shawl.
We chose to weave our shawl on a triangle pin loom, using the technique known as continuous strand weaving. Continuous strand weaving can be done on a pin loom of various shapes and sizes to include rectangle, square and triangle. We love the look and wear of triangle shawls so the triangle loom was a natural choice for us. Since there is no warp on a pin loom, we were literally starting with just the fleece, and spinning the entirety of our yarn in the 5 hour time limit.
We chose this type of weaving to demonstrate one of the many possibilities for weaving. Pin looms are a very accessible form of weaving—they are easy and affordable to construct with basic materials found at your local hardware store. They are compact, making them easy to store and use in smaller spaces. You can make them in any size desired, as well as graft finished pieces together to create interesting designs. We love the efficient use of yarn. There is no waste allowing a weaver to indulge in precious yarns. The warp and weft of the cloth are created via one continuous strand of yarn, making it a less daunting endeavor for new weavers. It also allows one to see their work as they weave, allowing color transitions on the go.
Once the competition began, it was card, card, card! As soon as we had a Shetland and alpaca batt ready, team members started right away on spinning. We needed to get our weaver her yarn to get started as soon as possible!
While 3 team members were spinning away (and plying!), the weaver and 1 other team member continued to card wool. We had two fine cloth drum carders to use, one for alpaca and one for Shetland, so we didn't have to bother with cleaning between batts.
Part of the competition judging category is on public interaction and education. We believe strongly in educating the public on heritage breeds of sheep and why we love using their wool. To assist us, we had the help of Nessie, a 3 month old Shetland lamb from Pinon Woods Ranch. Nessie is a great breed ambassador, greeting kids and adults alike for 3 hours!
We also wanted to educate the public on the pin loom. We love this simple little loom that is so affordable and easy to use. We had a mini version on hand and our team alternate, Rose, taught people of all ages how to weave on this magical little tool.
We spun a worsted weight 2-ply out of both our Shetland and alpaca for this shawl. We did a pretty tightly twisted ply. The end result is a beautiful springy yarn. We spun enough for the shawl as well as fringe, which was a nice way to finish the shawl.
Towards the end of the competition, our spinners had enough yardage plied up to finish the shawl. From there on out it was up to our weaver, Alsn, to weave as fast as she could! The spinners helped by adding fringe as she went to make sure the shawl was finished the same time she was done weaving.
Sadly, we didn't finish on time. We were 10 minutes late with our shawl. The good news is that teams are given a half hour grace period so as long as you get your shawl turned in by the end of the grace period, you are still eligible for all awards except for 1st prize. We quickly and aggressively blocked our shawl (the Shetland blooms so nice!) and dried it as much as possible before turning it in.
In the end, we made a stunning shawl. The Shetland is surprisingly soft and the yarn bloomed beautifully. The triangle shape is so flattering to wear and the black alpaca created an interesting and beautiful windowpane plaid.
We got last place. The judge admitted that the EPWM Sheep to Shawl judging criteria favors shawls woven on harness looms, which are the more common looms used to weave fabric. Because of this, we lost a lot of points in the weaving category. We tried to break down barriers and introduce a unique and accessible form of weaving to the Estes competition, but you can't win 'em all. Unfortunately, the Estes Park Wool Market Sheep to Shawl competition may not accept tri-looms in the future, but we are so glad we were able to compete this once and bring more awareness to this type of weaving. It was an awesome experience and one we'd gladly do again.
The winning team, the Noddy Ladies made a beautiful shawl and were super sweet as we competed next to each other all day. Congrats, Noddy Ladies!