Youth learn new craft, life skills


By Nancy Edwards

More than two dozen youth in Hamilton County are trading their iPads and iPhones for entertainment this summer in exchange for creating shawls from scratch.

Spending hours daily with a spinning wheel in the textile studio located on the property of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, the students, aged 10 to 18, are preparing for the annual Sheep to Shawl competition, which is Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. in the Pioneer Opry House at the Indiana State Fairgrounds during the State Fair.

Participants learn every step involved in creating a shawl, from carding the fleece, spinning it on a wheel, plying the wool by twisting it into two strands together and then weaving the scarf. The youth also create their own patterns on the computer.

“The kids have produced amazing products each year,” said Lynelle Mellady, public relations manager for Conner Prairie. “They are keeping these important historic windows alive.”

Students, who prepare for the competition months in advance, are selected to participate after a successful interview process to determine whether they are likely to have a strong commitment to the project.

As a result of their dedication, the youth learn more than just a new skill; they develop poise, confidence, teamwork abilities and time management, according to Sue Payne, textile specialist and mentor for the students. Additionally, students like Gabby Guerra, 18, have excelled in their abilities to the point of teaching new and inexperienced youth.

“The project teaches us to be mentors and how to be a good leader,” Guerra said.

The competition’s attraction is not limited to just the girls. Many males enjoy the bonding time with their friends, and afterward some go off to football practice, according to Payne.

“This is a great way to manage your time,” said Sam Edmonds, a junior in high school who has graduated to captain of his own spinning team. “You get to use leadership and organization skills.”

This is not a group that simply works with no fun, however. Each year at the competition, the teams get to choose their own costumes to wear. The boys like to dress up as pirates, complete with eye patches, while the girls choose a gypsy or Greek goddess theme.

Proceeds that go toward the winning team go back into purchasing supplies for the following year. For more information, contact Lynelle Mellady at 214-4732.