Sarah Morin - Guest blogger: Youth Experience Manager
How do you fit four looms, 20 spinning wheels and 24 kids into cars and get them all down to the state fairgrounds? As youth experience manager, this is the puzzle I face every August as our Conner Prairie youth volunteers represent us at the Sheep to Shawl Contest. Under a heart-pounding four hour time limit, teams of five to six people must card, spin, ply and weave wool into a finished scarf. At the end of the contest, the scarves are auctioned off to buy more supplies for next year. This year’s Sheep to Shawl Contest was held on August 15, and featured four youth teams (ages 10-19) from Conner Prairie’s Youth Volunteer Program
At Conner Prairie we take pride in researching and recreating our period arts. But in passing down this heirloom art to a younger generation, we add new flavor. While the material (wool) and basic process are the same, the attire is not what you might expect – no pioneer outfits here today. The Ewe Crew wears aprons with a stunning sheep design. The Princesses of the Treadle (a treadle is a foot pedal on a spinning wheel) compare their own tiaras with Miss Indiana State Fair’s as she drops by.
The Traveling Gypsies don colorful skirts and scarves and hoop earrings. The Pirates of the Treadle, our all boys team, are decked out in skulls, eye patches and plastic swords. Yes, you heard right, in an era where girls play sports, boys can now spin wool.
What’s also changed since the early 1800s is that what was once a necessary chore is now a fun hobby, and at the fair, an adrenaline-pumping sport. What I love most about the contest is it brings people together. Experienced spinners mentor novices. After months of preparation and a stressful final week, each team pulls together to accomplish a common goal. What is passed along is not only the survival – no, the joyful rediscovery and at times reinvention – of a historic art form, but the intangible of community, confidence, and leadership. I’m proud of our Conner Prairie youth spinners, and invite you to learn from them and our many fine adult spinners and weavers in the loom house. Interested in learning some period arts and trades for yourself? Check out our 21st Annual Arts & Arms Making Workshop
, October 9-15. You can also try your hand at make-and-take baskets every day at 2 p.m.