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All’s Fair in State Fairs

exhibiting for those surly judges at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair

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by Brenda Brant

Every year I enter exhibits at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. It costs $11 to enter as many as you choose. In return, you can earn as much as $2.75 if your exhibit places first. Bonus! Plus you receive two free fair entrance tickets just for exhibiting. If your exhibits place in a few categories, you can get into the fair free!

Among the exhibit categories is Antiques, which seems spurious to me. How do you judge an antique? “You did a fabulous job finding this vase!” All the other categories require some skill on the part of the person entering. My category is Home Furnishings, mostly Counted Cross Stitch. I usually work on linen with specialty stitches.

Since there aren’t many people doing cross stitch, and working it on linen, and entering it in the fair, I can usually expect to get a ribbon for every entry. A few years ago I started receiving critical notes returned on the entry tags, always in the same handwriting. For example, I entered a pillow. It took a year to stitch. It was the only entry in its category. It got a Red Ribbon – second place. The note said, “would look better as a framed picture.”

This year I resolved to do my very best at framing and entered one picture in each of three different linen categories – a 9-by-14 Spring Angel, an 8-by-12 Graduation Sampler (in beautiful specialty stitches), and a 4-by-5 Hollie Hobby picture. I also attended the judging. I was the only exhibiter there.

This is how I had pictured the judging: two or three needlework experts (genteel older ladies). They would discuss each piece’s assets and shortcomings, peering over bifocal glasses. Magnifying glasses might be employed! Polite disagreements might develop! In reality, there was exactly one judge, who spent more time chatting with the fair workers about her cabin than she did judging the pieces.

In the three linen categories there were my three pieces and one entry by someone else. My first piece came up. The Angel. I had attached a small bow tie to it. A cute embellishment. The judge starts pulling it out! She mutters about “this thing that’s stuck to the piece.” I didn’t say anything at first. There was a sign sternly stating “Do Not Ask the Judges Questions!” After a few awkward moments, I stepped up and said it was supposed to be there, to which she says she doesn’t like things stuck to the pieces like that. She gives it a red ribbon.

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