Pity the poor Treadlers Thru Time at the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show Wednesday night. Their time ran out.
The team representing Lancaster, Berks and York counties in the 34th sheep to shawl contest in the show had a run of bad luck.
One spinner got the flu and the team had to use a substitute spinner.
The team’s sheep had greasy fleece which slowed them down in preparing it for the shawl making.
One spinner broke her spinning wheel and had to use the spare brought along just for that purpose.
At the end of the contest, the team shawl was still on the loom, 13 inches too short, and they couldn’t put a fringe on it. They didn’t qualify for judging.
This year’s sheep to shawl contest featured large drama in the Small Arena.
A sheep to shawl contest requires a five-member team – a shearer, three spinners and a weaver – to shear a sheep, spin the wool into yarn and use it to make a 22 by 78 inch shawl with five inches of fringe on each end. Each team has 2 1/2 hours to complete the task. The shawls were auctioned after prizes were awarded.
The competition, now in its 34th year, is a Farm Show staple.
“This is such a popular contest with the teams and the public,” said Tom Knisely, a spokesman for the competition sponsored by the Pennsylvania Sheep & Wool Growers Association. “The seats in this arena are filled with people watching it. Thousands more throughout the state watch it on PCN.”
The competition began with the unsung heroes of the night – the sheep! Eight sheep were brought to the shearers, some sheep looking bored, some looking apprehensive and most appearing unconcerned about losing their wool coats in the middle of January.
Malina, a Shetland sheep of the Butler Cutler Pedalers, seemed a little puzzled as Don Hunter of Slippery Rock approached her with shears. At first, she slumped over and didn’t move. She then began to wiggle. Finally, she became downright rambunctious. Hunter appeared to wrestle with her as he worked.
“We didn’t have a good rapport,” he said, catching his breath after the shearing. “We weren’t in sync. But we got the job done.”
Jack Smith of Milton, shearer for the Dream Weavers of Northumberland County, sheared a nine-month old lamb who wiggled more than a little boy on his first visit to the barber shop.
“It’s hard to shear when the lamb is wiggling,” said Smith, who for years taught shearing at the University of Wyoming. “I’d rather shear a mature sheep.”
As the shearers completed their tasks, the rather naked-looking sheep were led to their pens. Teams got to work with assembly-line efficiency at their repetitive tasks.
Carders, who combed the fleece to remove debris and make the fibers go in one direction, worked tirelessly, then passed the fleece to spinners.
Spinners spun the fibers into long strands of yarn on their foot-operated spinning wheels.They wound the yard onto bobbins, which they passed to the weavers.
Weavers ran wooden shuttles back and forth across their looms as they created colorful shawls.
Nerves hummed as the clock clicked toward the finish. A few teams turned in their completed shawls to cheers from the crowd with minutes to spare.
But members of Just A Little Twisted from Dauphin County were still working on their fringe with one minute left. They worked frantically as Scott Schmittel of Middletown, husband of carder Deb Schmittel, bellowed out “just take the whole loom and run!”
With 20 seconds remaining, the women yanked the shawl off the loom. Spinner Deb Winslow ran the shawl half the distance to the judges. Like a relay runner completing the task, Deb Schmittel took it from her and ran the remaining two steps with about three seconds left. The crowd erupted in cheers.
“I was terrified we wouldn’t make it,” Winslow gasped. Scott Schmittel leaned with relief and fatigue against the fence around the arena.
“I can’t take this,” he said. “It’s the second time today. Our daughter, Lia, was the weaver for the Cupcakes for Ewe team in the Fleect to Shawl contest this morning and they went down to the wire too. I’m exhausted.” The Fleece to Shawl contest, for younger teams, featured four groups. The Bountiful Bobbins of Adams County took first place and sold their shawl for $1,000 at auction.
As the Sheep to Shawl contest ended last night, Treadlers Thru Time members sat back sadly. They said they will complete their shawl, based on a painting of Lancaster County’s grain elevators by American modernist painter Charles DeMuth, and sell it on their own.
Teams took a quick break then gathered for awards. Time Warp of Montour County received first place for the second consecutive year. Friends Thru Fiber of Franklin County took second place and the Fort Freeland Flickers of Lycoming, Montour and Northumberland counties came in third. Special awards went Friends Thru Fiber, spinners award; Butler County Pedalars, weaver’s award and team’s choice award; and Treadlers Thru Time, shearer’s award.
Auctioneer Harry Bachman sold the shawls, with the Time Warp shawl selling for $1,375; Friends Thru Fiber shawl for $2,100 and the Fort Freeland Flickers for $900.