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story.lead_photo.caption Photo submitted Roberta Hamilton and her husband enjoyed twin lambs that were born this year on their farm.

Roberta Hamilton will be thanking her sheep this winter. The experienced weaver is determined to complete her first sheep-to-shawl project by year's end.

Hamilton has been weaving for 14 years but this will be her first-ever, all-encompassing project, from feeding the sheep to weaving the wool.

It's a challenge Hamilton embraces.

She knows the kind of work she faces. It started quite a while ago, making sure the sheep were shown a great deal of care. After the wool was collected, it was cleaned, then spun.

Now, she is intertwining a special blend of natural white sheep wool, black angora rabbit, and tan llama wool, to create a piece that will ultimately make a warm ruana.

At first, it all seemed a bit overwhelming.

But a fellow skilled weaver, who had lived on a Navajo reservation at one point, encouraged Hamilton to simply weave 15 minutes a day.

That was great advice. It motivated her to spend her minutes with focus and concentration. Chipping away every day encouraged her to tackle the large project that was so important to her.

Hamilton first felt the urge to weave a ruana -- a shawl-like item -- six years ago, when she and her husband added sheep to their McDonald County farm.

She thought it important to learn how to spin and prepare wool.

"If I can make one article from beginning to end, and to see it through," she said.

The process is painstakingly slow.

"There is expertise in every step," she explains. A farmer has to properly feed the sheep and take care of the animals. "Wool can be damaged because of basic nutrition," she said.

Vegetable matter can become ensnared in the wool. A good shear is important, dirty wool has to be eliminated, and washing with lots of water takes place.

The wool is then dried, carded and combed through, before being spun.

Hamilton relied on several friends to help her with the project. Then, she discovered a shawl style that she thought seemed perfect.

"It kind of fell together after I saw a pattern."

A ruana, which is a poncho-style garment, is typically described as thick, soft and warm.

That's exactly what Hamilton has in mind.

She's been working on two long pieces, which will be handstitched together to form the ruana. The two panels are each 25 inches wide and 70 inches long.

The farmer usually fills her day with all kinds of gardening and farming chores. But weaving is great for bad weather.

She and her husband have large windows in their home with great light, so she can still weave if the weather is gloomy.

If they lose electricity, she can still enj0y her hobby, she says, laughing.

Encouraging her grandchildren to pick up the skill is important to her. Her daughter is an excellent knitter, and Hamilton has encouraged her grandchildren to learn more about weaving.

"It's pretty much a lost art," she said. "It's a great pastime, once you get started with it. You can make clothes to rugs to dishtowels."

A small loom, on which she demonstrates at the Powell Farmers Market, made its way to her grandchildren for a time this summer. She hopes her 10-year-old granddaughter, in particular, will take up the torch.

"Hand-woven items make wonderful gifts," she said. "That's a good feeling."

Her time spent demonstrating in Powell has attracted a younger generation who enjoy learning something new that doesn't involve a cellphone or iPad.

"It's very rewarding," she said. "The children are very curious and are absolutely fascinated and stop and take the time to throw the shuttle back and forth a few times.

"It has developed a lot of children's interests. They know they can do it."

Hamilton is a member of the Northwest Arkansas Handweavers Guild, which meets to encourage fellow weavers and share tips.

Group members have helped her with her craft over the years. Now, she hopes to pique others' interest when showing the loom.

"I enjoy sharing the craft," she said.

During her weaving experiences, Hamilton has created all kinds of items. This one, however, will comfort her with a special kind of warmth.

"We all rely on manufactured fabric for just about everything we have," she said. "It's great to make it from scratch."

General News on 08/08/2019

Print Headline: Shawl Will Lend Special Kind of Warmth This Winter

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