Two Lebanon County students have taken top honors in the junior division of the Pennsylvania Make It With Wool contest – despite changes to the competition to accommodate social-distancing precautions.

Olivia Morrissey of Russell Street, South Annville Township, placed first and Autumn Martin of Colebrook Road, Lebanon, placed second in the annual contest, which annually asks participants to demonstrate the fashionable versatility of wool. This was the first year for both 14-year-old participants.

Participants made at least one wool or wool-blend garment, using knitting, crocheting and/or sewing skills.

The contest, according to a press release, is intended to “promote the beauty and versatility of wool fabrics and yarns … (and) encourage personal creativity in sewing, knitting, and crocheting with wool fabrics and yarns.” It also recognizes creative skills and helps participants to “develop life skills, including being responsible for one’s self, being a good sport, accepting judge’s decisions, and learning about and appreciating diversity.”

Judging, which this year was handled remotely, is based on the entrant’s poise, construction of the garment, fit and wearability, and promotion of the versatility of wool.

Because of precautions made necessary by COVID-19, contestants shipped or hand-delivered their ensembles and provided photos and a video that showed them modeling their garments and answering a few questions typical of in-person judging.

Olivia is the daughter of Jim and Amy Morrissey. She attends eighth grade at Annville-Cleona Middle School.

“My 4-H sewing instructor had encouraged me to try a project using wool that would also allow me to enter in the wool contest in addition to the other contests I usually am able to enter with my 4-H sewing project,” Olivia said.

This is her sixth sewing project since joining 4-H when she was 8, and Olivia said she’s entered outfits previously in 4-H and other competitions. However, this is her first project with wool.

“My outlook in entering any competition is to never expect ever winning, but just to do my very best,” she said. “I am always very pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful when I do win.”

Her project this year is a two-piece ensemble, with a knee-length skirt made of plaid Pendleton wool with a diagonal ruffle.

“The inspiration for the skirt came from something similar I tried on in a retail store that didn’t fit me and was poorly constructed so I decided to try to make my own version,” she explained. “The shirt is also made of wool and I used a simple shirt pattern but added my own flare by designing bell sleeves.”

She started making the outfit in October 2019 and worked on it “a few days a week” until things shut down in March because of the pandemic. She resumed work in late August and finished it in September.

“Other projects I have made include a simple elastic waistband shirt, a tunic with leggings, a dress with leggings, a romper and kimono,” Olivia said. “Each year my projects have become more involved and challenging as I learn new skills and techniques.”

Autumn is the daughter of Andrew and Jamie Martin and attends eighth grade at Cedar Crest Middle School.

“I entered because my 4-H sewing leader introduced me to the contest and encouraged me to sew with wool this year,” she said. “I did not expect to do so well since it was my first time working with wool.”

She has been sewing with 4-H for five years. “I started to sew because I wanted to try something new and be creative,” she said.

She described her entry as a navy blue wool dress with a butter yellow lining. The fabric she used is 90 percent wool and 10 percent cashmere.

“It took me approximately 75 hours to complete my project,” Autumn said. This was the third dress she’s made, Autumn said, “but by far the most difficult one.”

Virtual contest had pros, cons

Judges this year were Debby Spence, a dressmaker from Lancaster, and Pat Hetrick, a retired Family and Consumer Sciences educator from Ephrata.

State contest director Linda Siegel, also of Lebanon, said Make It With Wool this year was held virtually to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Even though much was different with the virtual contest, we maintained the framework of the in-person contest. It required additional administrative and technical work behind the scenes,” she explained.

“The contestants submitted videos and photos rather than attending in person,” she added. “In the cell-phone video, the contestants modeled and they also answered three questions that are often asked during in-person judging.”

Changes started from the very beginning of the 2020 competition, Siegel said, noting that contestants usually select a 1 1/2-yard piece of wool from a table displaying the donated wares. This year, the raw wool was chosen via a video prepared by Siegel in advance – which, she quickly noted, “is not quite the same as handling the wool itself.”

Each contestant was responsible to ship or deliver the finished ensemble to Siegel’s home by Oct. 20, and they were asked to enclose payment for return shipping.

“We had a virtual Fashion Show and Awards program” on Oct. 31, Siegel said. “I edited their videos to include only modeling and then read a commentary about the ensemble and contestant. We presented the awards at that time, too, much like we would have at an in-person event. An advantage of the virtual program was that many more people attended than usual. Grandparents, donors, and all the contestants could watch from their homes. The editors of Threads magazine attended from their homes in Connecticut, the owner of Fabric Mart in Sinking Spring enjoyed the fashion show, and grandparents from other states were able to watch.”

Prizes, including larger pieces of quality wool, sewing equipment and educational videos, were also chosen via video, she said.

“The thing that everyone missed the most was getting to interact with each other, look at construction details, and enjoy the camaraderie of an in-person contest,” she added.

Fortunately, she said, judges did have the garments in hand so they could evaluate each piece’s construction exactly as they would have in any other year. They judged poise and the ability to showcase the garment by watching videos of the contestants.

“It was not as easy to judge how well the garment fit using videos, in contrast to seeing the garments on the contestants in the judging room,” Siegel said, but the judges “were able to take more time to judge this year, because there was no deadline of a fashion show at a particular time. They gave a lot more comments to the contestants.”

Participation didn’t suffer because of the restrictions, she noted. In 2019, she said, the state contest received 12 entries; this year, there were 11 “despite the fact that many youth across the state were unable to sew with their 4-H or family mentors this year.”

Siegel noted that she assumed the role of state director in June, after the previous director moved out of state, “which meant I was already behind on the work that should have been done in the winter and spring. From the outset, I planned a virtual event.”

Despite the hardships of running a virtual contest, she said, “the quality of sewing, crocheting, weaving, and spinning that is shown in the contest is amazing. Some of the entries are standouts.”

First-place winners at each level – pre-teen, junior, senior and adult – will send their garments, with photos and a video, for national judging in January.

“My entry will be mailed to Colorado in the beginning of January to compete in the national contest,” Olivia said. “It was disappointing that my family and I couldn’t travel to be there in person as normally would be the case, but this is still an exciting opportunity!”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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