Monday, July 9, 2007

Sheep to Shawl (again)

Yesterday was the final day of the Alameda County Fair, which means it's also the day for the annual Alameda County Sheep to Shawl competition. The competition is open to anyone who wishes to join, not just Alameda County residents/teams, and the Silverado Spinsters team I participate with always looks forward to this low-key event. This year we had a whopping 7 teams in the competition. So often we find that there are only 2-3 teams in the competition, and while this guarantees every competitor a prize-winning competition, it does take a little of the glow off of one's sense of accomplishment.

The Silverado Spinsters team has worked really hard over the 2 years plus that I've been competing with them to improve our skills at spinning to a standard. This means finding some way to accurately compare the yarns each team member is spinning to be as sure as possible that we are all spinning the same yarn. We've made great strides in achieving this skill and decided to put it to the test at Alameda.

In recent competitions we had developed a shawl design that has become an almost sure-thing winner, so rather than rest on our laurels we determined to design a shawl that would challenge our abilities to spin to a pre-determined standard. We had beautiful white and champagne coloured fleeces, and selected a block lace design using primarily the white, with accents of the champagne colour.

The lace pattern meant that the body of the shawl needed to be in a plain weave, which not only doesn't drape as well as a twill-based pattern, but also makes every flaw more visible. Especially in the very fine, tightly spun yarns needed for a lace pattern to show off well it can also look a tad on the , shall we say, cheesecloth-like side? We knew careful design and good, consistent spinning would be critical to making this shawl a winner.

As usual, we spun like crazy, and wove like fiends, and got the shawl off the loom and to the judges in time to get the bonus points for finishing in the early time frame. Then the long, tense wait for the judging began.

This competition doesn't hire an independent judge but asks each team to nominate a member (or 2, this year) to participate in the judging. Each 2-person panel judges all the shawls except its own. So the final results are more of a judging by our peers rather than from a single expert. I must admit, I really like the feedback we usually get from the independent judge, who more often than not discusses each shawl and explains why he/she made the prize decisions that were made.

By the time the final decisions were announced we were very pleased to be voted the 2nd place winners, with the Spindle and Flyers team from Berkeley taking first place. We knew we'd taken a chance with our simpler (in appearance, if not in actual production), less colourful shawl and we're very happy with the results. And we each have beautiful red ribbons to add to our collections!

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