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Harmony event keeps weaving tradition alive

Ed Rowe sets up a Saxony Spinning Wheel to spin wool outside Weaver's Cabin in Harmony Saturday morning.

HARMONY — Enthusiasts plied their craft at a sheep-to-shawl event Saturday at Weaver's Cabin of Historic Harmony, sharing the art of spinning and weaving with the community and indulging in a little friendly competition.

“There is something so incredible about having a hand in what you eat, wear, and what surrounds you,” said Judy Mackenroth, a member of the Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild.

The sheep-to-shawl event consisted of a demonstration of what is required to turn a sheep's fleece into a weavable item. Three five-member teams participated in the event, with part of the proceeds benefiting Historic Harmony.

Weaver's Cabin had a team present, as well as the Depreciation Lands Museum and the Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild. All teams created a theme around their shawl as part of the scoring for the competition. Respectively, the themes were centered on the movement of the Harmonists, the patterns of the depreciation lands and the Allegheny Mountains and Starry Night over Pennsylvania.

“Weaver's Cabin's theme is 'They Went That A Way,' because the Harmonists lasted nine years in Harmony, moved to New Harmony, Ind., for nine years and came back to Old Economy where they died out,” said Ann Smalick, a volunteer at the cabin.As teams took the wool, processed it, spun it and weaved it, onlookers and other volunteers watched the weavers in their element.“I love history,” said Jess Weller, a member of the Depreciation Lands Museum team. “I like participating in things done at that time in history.”After a three-hour time limit, teams were scored on a variety of categories, ranging from creativity to preparation and design. A perfect score would equal 100 points.The Historic Harmony Museum staff started demonstrations about 50 years ago, when it realized the public didn't have an opportunity to see what happened during the weaving process.“I was a city kid, and moved out to farm,” Mackenroth said. “I eventually found a weaving shop and bought a box of parts. My mom held down the ram and held the book with the other hand of 'How to Shear a Sheep,' and that was the beginning.”She learned that spinning isn't solely based on sheep. Other animals, such as Angora rabbits, shed their fur every three or four months for weavers to collect.

Mackenroth, who has been with the Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild for more than 40 years, now raises Angora rabbits to weave their soft fur instead of sheep.“We did everything from scratch, so even the simplest things can be rewarding,” she said. “When you make your own food from your garden, there is a sense of completion and continuity from it that you don't get if you go to the grocery store or the department store to pick out something.”Mackenroth said that when she met the group at the guild it was like coming home.“It isn't just a thing,” Mackenroth said. “It is memories, time, love and care, and (that) makes it special.”While Mackenroth has spent decades with the guild, Weller has been with the Depreciation Lands Museum team for a month.“We live in a crazy modern world, this carries on the tradition (of weaving).” Weller said.As teams braced the heat in Historic Harmony during the three hours of allotted time for the competition, a silent auction was available as well as tables set up with woven hats, shawls, scarfs, rugs and more from the volunteers.Smalick said two years ago she and others approached Historic Harmony about renting the cabin to turn it into a showplace for fabric artisans to demonstrate their crafts and sell their wares.Open on Friday and Saturdays, Weaver's Cabin, 245 Mercer St., offers make and take programs, where those interested in weaving can make a rug or scarf using the cabin's materials or their own. To make an appointment, email weaversofharmony@gmail.com.

Marilyn Merbach, of Saxonburg, works on flicking the fleece, a process that cleans and opens the fibers prior to spinning them.

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