Every year, from early May through late October, states, counties, and agricultural districts hold their annual fairs. The County Fair has been a time-honored summer tradition in America for more than 200 years: in 1811, Elkanah Watson of Pittsfield, Massachusetts organized the Berkshire County Fair, "...featuring a procession of 'three or four thousand animals,' a band, displays of local industries, and artisans. Watson also took careful steps to attract women by offering premiums on domestic products and by holding an annual ball." (from the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies American Agricultural History Primer) Two hundred years later, millions of Americans flock to their county and state fairs to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, bet on horse races, eat foods they never would consider consuming at home (deep-fried Oreos? Really?), and see performing acts from racing piglets and demolition derbies to major rock and country-western stars. It's summer, it's hot, and it's time for the Fair.
Fair time is "Awards Season" for those of us who compete at local, county, and state levels. I've always been mildly obsessed by the competitions in the Domestic Arts arena (Preserved Foods; Baked Goods; Clothing & Textiles). There are people who will give me ribbons, rosettes, and cash for what I enjoy doing anyway? Sign me up! I've competed in a number of Fairs in the past 25 years, and I have a lot of awards to show for my efforts. In the kitchen is a big wrought-iron hook for hanging bills--there are more than a hundred ribbons (mostly blue) hanging off that hook. Ribbons from Los Angeles, Ventura, Solano, and Yolo county fairs; ribbons from the Dixon May Fair, a local ag district fair; and ribbons from the California State Fair. Along with the ribbons are shadow boxes full of the coveted Best of Show and Sweepstakes awards, given for the best jam, or the best jelly, or winning the most Blue Ribbons in a single fair.
I stopped entering in the Preserved Foods and Baked Goods competitions about seven years ago, primarily because I wanted to spend my summers doing something other than making fifteen kinds of jams and jellies, or baking six different kinds of bread in one day. I decided to start focusing on the Clothing and Textiles competitions, specifically those for handspun yarns, needlework (especially crocheting and knitting), and handweaving. I had entered a little bit in the 1990s, and done "OK," but now it was time to get serious. I began entering skeins, afghans, socks, scarves, shawls, and some of my handwovens, and slowly the ribbons hook in the studio began to fill up with ribbons (mostly blue).
|Ribbons from the Dixon May Fair|
|A mess of winners from the Marin County Fair|
Now I'm getting ready for the next competition: the Solano County Fair. It's a smaller fair than Marin, but is my local county fair, and the fairgrounds are minutes from home. I enter the Solano County Fair because I will go to this fair to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, eat foods I never would consider consuming at home (Corndogs! Funnel cakes!), and see how my entries fared.