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Sheep to Shawl festival brings Huntington’s past to life

Educator Lauri Beckerman, of Islip, shears wool from

Educator Lauri Beckerman, of Islip, shears wool from a sheep using a scissors during the 32nd annual Sheep to Shawl Festival in Huntington on Sunday, May 15, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

More than 400 people attended the 32nd annual Sheep to Shawl festival Sunday in the Town of Huntington, getting a firsthand glimpse at Colonial-style shearing, women spinning wool into yarn and a dance around the maypole.

“It’s just our way to bring the past and share it with the community,” said Wendy Andersen , assistant director of the Huntington Historical Society, which hosts the free event at the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum on Park Avenue.

The educational festival was put on with the assistance of a $1,500 grant from the town. Children and adults were invited to learn about the traditional methods of spinning and weaving, and even try their hands weaving on looms.

“It’s back to basics,” said Gretchen Jahnke, program chairwoman for the Smithtown-based Long Island Spinning Study Group. “When the covered wagons came through [frontier-era America], they brought wheels and they brought flaxseed.”

The flaxseed could be grown, spun and woven, and that tradition is entwined in the fabric of our nation’s history, said Jahnke, 66, of Fort Salonga, as she spun wool into yarn on an antique wheel.

Jahnke said she and other members of the club often still use the traditional methods of dyeing the wool or spun yarn, using beet juice for vivid pink and red shades, or dandelion for a greenish-yellow hue.

“It’s like a grown-up playing with crayons,” Jahnke said, laughing.

Onlookers gathered around a pen with two sheep as Lauri Beckerman, 22, of Islip, used scissors to clip the wool from the sheep — the technique used before electric shears became the method of choice for large-scale wool and fabric production.

Sheep, which can weigh between 150 and 300 pounds, had to be wrestled to the ground to be shorn during Colonial times.

Beckerman didn’t struggle; she knelt and held the sheep tightly against her body as she hand-cut the animal’s long locks.

“It’s fun,” said Beckerman, decked out in Colonial attire, including a bonnet. “Sheep are very nice animals. Kind of cuddly.”

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