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For Manchester resident McKenna Hoover, an 11th grader at The Webb School in Bell Buckle, her Junior Performance seemed like the perfect time to combine two things that she really enjoys – animals and crocheting – into a video demonstration.
The result was Goat to Goat, her take on the sheep-to-shawl” project.
“The sheep-to-shawl project is the process of shearing a sheep, spinning the fleece into yarn, and then weaving it into a shawl. I have always loved interacting with animals, and recently I have really gotten into crocheting,” said Hoover. “For my take on this I sheared my goats, cleaned and carded their wool, spun it into yarn, and crocheted a small goat.”
At Webb, the Junior Performance focuses on a subject based on a student’s interest. Along with a member of the Webb community, each student plans and executes a performance-based public presentation in front of the student body, faculty and staff. As part of the project, students also write a personal reaction paper about the subject matter and the experience of planning and carrying out the performance.
Hoover’s project, which had its challenges, began with shearing.
“When you are shearing you want to make sure to shear in long strips so that the fibers are long enough to be spun into yarn,” she said. And while Hoover admits that shearing should have been an easy process, it was complicated by the fact that the first goat she sheared had insects in the fleece. It delayed her timetable several weeks because she had to treat the other goats to remove the insects in order to use their wool.
The project became even more of a learning experience as she tried to follow instructions about precise temperatures and soap quantities for cleaning the wool. “If either of these factors is off, then the wool will felt,” said Hoover. “Felted wool is very matted wool that is hard to pull apart. It is useful, but for my project it just meant another problem. Since my wool felted, I decided to skip that step and move on to carding.”
As part of her presentation, Hoover described using an antique metal drum carder because it was faster than hand carding. To card, Hoover said she would turn the crank, and the small drum with teeth would pick up wool from a metal plate and transfer it onto a larger drum. The process untangles the wool, and she would repeat the carding two or three times to remove dirt, grass and short fibers.
“The next step was spinning, which was the most important part of my project,” said Hoover. “There are two ways to spin – using a spinning wheel or a drop spindle. Using a drop spindle, you give the spindle a twist and then catch it between your knees holding the top of the twist with one hand and drafting the wool with the other. Then you let go of the twist and it will travel up the wool. You repeat this until you need more twist, and then you spin it again,” she explained.
Hoover said she had to pause occasionally because pieces would spin too thick or too thin. At that point, she’d take the yarn off of the hook, wrap it around the handle, hook it again and start all over.
Her final step was crocheting. She combined components of several patterns that achieved the desired design with only the accent pieces made of a material other than goat wool. “I would make something and then pull it all out and start all over again. I did this two or three times before I actually came up with this pattern,” she said. “I crocheted all of the pieces of the goat so that I could line them up and see what it would look like. Next I sewed all of the pieces to the body and head and then finally sewed the body and head together.
“I’m very proud of it. I think it’s really cute,” she said. “The coolest thing about it, though, is that all three parts of the process are included. The tail is a lock of wool right off the animal, the beard is a section of carded wool, and the yarn, of course, makes up the whole goat.”
Completing the project, Hoover said she learned that problems happen, and you just have to get past them.
“I ran into at least one problem at every step of the way. It was really disheartening, but I just had to keep going.”
She added, “You can’t do everything by yourself. I really wanted to do this whole project by myself, but I quickly realized that that wasn’t an option. Sometimes you have to manipulate something and use some creativity to get to the desired final product. Finally, I learned a new skill that I will definitely pursue further.”