Your Finished Object: “Sheep to Shawl” Sontag

Learn about an inspirational sheep-to-shawl project that this dedicated spinner can now check off of her bucket list.

Kaye Miller Nov 3, 2023 - 6 min read

Your Finished Object: “Sheep to Shawl” Sontag Primary Image

Kaye wearing her handspun sontag with period attire. Sontag shawls wrap around the front and tie at the back. Photos courtesy of Kaye Miller

Pattern and designer Loosely based on Kay’s Tess D’Urberville Shawl by Kay Meadors and historical examples.
Fiber Suffolk and black alpaca.
Fiber/preparation Handwashed and carded into rolags.
Wheel Ashford Traditional.
Ratio 6.5:1.
Drafting method Worsted draw.
Singles direction Z-twist.
Singles wraps per inch 10.
Ply wraps per inch 12.
Yards per pound 900.
Yardage used About 700 yards.
Yarn classification/weight Worsted.
Needles Size 10 (6 mm) circular knitting needles, 40".
Gauge Garter stitch, 15 stitches and 32 rows = 4".
Finished size 26" tall (back of neck to triangle tip), 76" long side to side.

I was introduced to spinning in 2002 when I was invited to a local fabric guild’s spinning retreat. I was six months pregnant at the time, and a girlfriend who was a fiber artist thought that learning to spin would be a nice way to help me spend the rest of the winter months as I continued to “grow.” I have been spinning on and off for 21 years, and I dabble in knitting, crochet, and needlefelting. Completing a sheep-to-shawl project has been on my bucket list of items to do for a long time now. It took me two years to complete, and I was very happy to be able to check this one off the list!

Working on this project was also very healing and therapeutic; it helped me cope with my grief during some very dark days. Sadly, we lost our daughter (age 13) in October of 2018. In May of 2021, a dear friend of mine donated the wool from her sheep farm, a place my daughter and I loved to visit each spring to see and hold the baby lambs. This raw fleece donation helped inspire me to start the project.

Fleece drying before the carding step

The most challenging part of this project was choosing the shawl pattern. I initially had a prayer shawl design in mind, but quickly changed it to fit the theme of an award program that I wanted to enter. My “Sheep to Shawl” Sontag project was submitted to the DAR American Heritage Contest for Fiber Arts 2022–2023. The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) is a nonprofit volunteer women’s service organization and genealogical society. The contest theme is “Educating the Next Generation on Our Historic American Trails.” I chose the period of the Oregon Trail because it matches the 1860s timeframe in which the sontag pattern would have been used for women’s shawls. This is the first year I have tried to enter this contest, and I’m hopeful that I place at some level!

Carding into rolags

For this project, I used Suffolk wool and alpaca. To process the Suffolk fleece, I first sorted out the bulk of the vegetable matter (VM) while wearing nitrile gloves and then handwashed it with warm water and detergent. I like keeping some of the grease in to keep my skin soft as I work. After the wool was air-dried, I prepped it by flicking or lightly combing the wool to reduce the amount of VM and then handcarded it into rolags using my Ashford handcards. This was the longest part of the whole process; I think I carded wool for at least three months before I had enough to really make the spinning phase feel worth it. When I finished this project, I treated myself to a new drumcarder, and I have put my handcards out to pasture for a while.

Kaye used a special Suffolk fleece for her shawl.

I found the Suffolk handspun, which was used for the bulk of the body of the shawl, a much more compliant yarn to knit with than the alpaca. The softness of the alpaca, though, makes the shawl stripes feel quite cozy! Both fibers were easy to spin, and I was pleased with how well they worked together in the knitting. My favorite part of this project was for sure the spinning! It was so satisfying to see the soft, clean yarn spun up after having prepped, washed, and handcarded the fiber. I look forward to cozying up for winters to come in my sontag shawl and pretending I am a character from one of my favorite historical drama TV series.

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Kaye Miller lives in Muscatine County, Iowa, where she is a happily married, former homeschool mom of two. Kaye is a creative and artistic soul who gardens, bakes, spins, paints, travels the world, and runs a small fitness business on the side just to keep herself out of trouble (and the ice cream).