If you’re a fan of colonial times, and you live on Long Island, don’t miss this year’s annual Sheep to Shawl Festival, brought to you by the Huntington Historical Society. This one-day event, held at the historic Kissam House Museum & Barn, 434 Park Avenue in Huntington, NY gets more popular every year.
This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, May 2, 2010, from 12 noon to 4 pm.
Sheep to Shawl is a Popular Annual Event
Ginny West, a long-term volunteer at the Huntington Historical Society, has been working the Sheep to Shawl for over ten years. “The festival is really popular,” she says. “We’re not sure how many actually attend. Admission is free, so some people just jump over the fence, and don’t get counted. But I’d say we get at least 800 visitors. They don’t all come at once, though!”
When it’s raining, they set up in the barn. “We have significantly fewer people when it rains.”
Sheep-Shearing is the Main Attraction at the Sheep to Shawl Festival
The main attraction, of course, is the sheep-shearing. “We usually shear three sheep,” says Ginny. “Now, if you’re shearing a sheep the colonial way, this takes a long time. But we do it a more modern way.” In any case, the job takes energy. “You have to move the sheep around. You have to keep them on their sides with their hooves in the air, so they can’t run away.
“We only shear one sheep at a time; one an hour. The others just wait their turn. Sometimes they they try to wander off, but if they have the sheepdog there, he (or she) keeps them in line.” The attendance of the sheepdog at any particular Festival is unfortunately not guaranteed.
Wool Carding and Spinning Demonstrations
After the wool is off the sheep, it will need some special attention. “You take the wool and the first thing you do is tease it to pick out the dirt and debris. Sheep get very dirty. They roll around in the yard. You have to pick that stuff out.”
Then comes the carding. This is done with hand-carders, which are a pair of wooden paddles with wire faces. “You put the wool on the metal pieces, then you comb it the way you would an animal’s fur.” The wool is combed five or six times, until it’s very light and fluffy.
After the wool is carded, it’s formed into a long, soft roll called a rolag. “The rolag is what you spin. You use a drop spindle, and spin the wool from the rolag into a piece of yarn.”
All festival attendees will have the chance to try their hands at both wool carding and drop-spinning. There is no charge for these activities.
Other Textile-Themed Demonstrations are Planned
Special artisans will be present at the Festival to demonstrate rug hooking, embroidery, tatting, lace-making, and quilting. But according to Ginny, the biggest hit is always the weaving. “Anyone who wants will get a free chance to try weaving on a table loom. You wouldn’t believe how popular this is with the children. Even the boys! They love it.They really love it! It’s hard to tear them away from the looms.”
Games and Stories, Domestic Animals, and Colonial Music
In spite of its name, the Sheep to Shawl Festival is not all about sheep, wool and fabrics. To liven things up and get everyone into the colonial mood, the Long Island Traditional Music Association will also perform for your enjoyment. “They play old music. Colonial-type music. It’s jolly and lilting. Makes you want to dance.”
In addition, for a small fee, your children can try various creative crafts, play old-fashioned games, and listen to the tales of a story-teller. And no festival would be complete without a petting zoo! Among the various domestic animals on display you’ll find llamas, angora goats, a Cotswold heritage sheep, and of course the ever-popular Pansy, the Pot-Bellied Pig.
Tour the Historic Kissam House and Museum
While you’re at the Festival, don’t forget to tour the historic Kissam House, and have a taste of the freshly-baked bread from the authentic bee-hive oven. And fans of old-fashioned clothing will enjoy the exhibit of beautiful children’s party clothes dating back to the late 1800s.
“There’ll be plenty to do at the Sheep to Shawl Festival,” says Ginny. “There’s food, always. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s FREE admission. Everyone should come!”
The Kissam House is located at 434 Park Avenue, Huntington, NY, one block south of Route 25A.