Sheep-to-Shawl: A Cat’s Perspective
Hi, my name is Ginger. In cat language, Ginger means Empress of All That is Seen. My palace is at Philipsburg Manor and two legged cats (I think you call yourselves “people”) come from all over to see me. Every spring I open the doors to my palace for an event called Sheep-to-Shawl. The event celebrates me, of course, and all things related to textiles (clothing, that is). In colonial America there were many steps between shearing sheep (officially known as fluffy cats) to wearing that wool as a shawl.
Historic Hudson Valley, the people who tend to my palace, has hosted Sheep-to-Shawl since 1965. In 1968, the event was attended by First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson who visited as part of her “Discover America” tour. If I were around back then, I never would have allowed a Lady Bird to tour my palace!
Each spring we shear a handful of these fluffy cats. They don’t always cooperate and are not as well-trained as horses (tall cats) or oxen (moo cats). Shepherds train their stupid cats (I mean dogs) to round up the sheep and keep them from wandering off. Historic Hudson Valley uses the wool for educational programs at Philipsburg Manor and Van Cortlandt Manor.
Shearing the sheep is the first step, and for the sheep it is their annual haircut. Shearing is performed by hand using shears, which look like very large scissors. I stay far away from this part. Those fluffy cats look ridiculous after they get their haircut! Shearing in early spring allows for wool to grow back by the time that cooler temperatures arrive in the fall.
The shorn wool has lots of flecks of dirt and straw that need to be picked and cleaned by hand and then carded, or combed, into a rollag. The wool spinner takes the rollag and applies it to the spinning wheel to spin the wool into thread. The thread can be dyed into just about any color. Can we stop right here? All that colored yarn is so tempting! The weaver takes the yarns and weaves them on a loom to make cloth or a blanket. The fleece from one sheep might produce enough wool for two adult-size sweaters.
Expert weavers and knitters at Historic Hudson Valley (the two legged cats that I have trained to do my bidding) have turned wool from sheep into hats, mittens, scarves, and, yes, shawls.
Although we can’t have Sheep-to-Shawl this year, I hope that I was able to share with you some of the fun that we have at the event.
I hope to see you soon at my palace. Now it’s time for a nap.
Your Empress, Ginger.
P.S. Forget about the sheep. While all of our human visitors watch the sheep shearing and herding demonstrations, I am stealing delicious licks of ice cream – my favorite part of the event!