“The Midwest,” proclaims Garrison Keillor, storyteller and host of Minnesota Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, “is State Fair Central, and it thrives here because we are the breadbasket of America, Hog Butcher, Machinemaker, Stacker of Particleboard, Player With Chain Saws, Land of the Big Haunches.” Keillor, who visited six state fairs in 2008—mostly in the Midwest, probably speaks with some authority. The attractions he cites include eating highly caloric food with your hands, enjoying the barkers and hustlers who try to sell you anything you never dreamed you might need, experiencing centrifugal forces (on the Ferris wheel and other rotating devices), mingling with jostling and swarming crowds, gawking at dare devil, foolhardy stunts, and admiring the heaviest, largest farm animals.
As one of those Midwesterners whose state fair (established in 1854) is one of the oldest and largest in the U.S., I’ll admit here and now that I’ve never missed the Iowa State Fair since we moved here in 1991, despite the fact that it takes place in August, the most tropical month of the year. In short, no matter what you wear, clothing will stick to you because the thermometer seldom dips below 90 degrees and can easily edge past 100. Despite the daunting heat, more than a million visitors pass through the gates at the Iowa State Fair each year. Our family can be counted among them. You see, I have the Iowa State Fair to thank (at least indirectly) for giving me the confidence to sell my goods on Etsy, or anywhere at all.
While my husband will tell you he comes for the food—especially anything you can imagine eating on a stick—I am completely swept away by all of the arts and crafts, the needle work, and the fine arts. During the early years, when an air-conditioned building was just a dream, I spent hours beneath the Grandstand in the Fabric & Threads Department, admiring the quilts and knitted afghans, tatted doilies, crocheted sweaters, cross stitched table cloths, tailored garments and more. Meanwhile, my husband herded my son through the livestock barns, the horse arena, and the reptile exhibits. While waiting for me, they bought taffy and Sno Cones, leather goods, knives and other sharp treasures. They even chomped corn dogs while watching time trials for the drag races. I knew their patience had grown thin, however, when my then grade school age son asked, “Is Mom done yet? All they’re doing is driving in circles.”
After repeating this annual ritual for more than 15 years, my husband finally suggested I become part of the action in the Fabric & Threads Department by entering my own items. Several years and ribbons later, I grew enough confidence to open a shop on Etsy. I suspect my story, however, is not unique. Each summer fair goers throughout the U.S. (and likely elsewhere) put the finishing touches on their one-of-a-kind handmade items that will be entered in state fair competitions. This month, in fact, I am aiming for an August 1st deadline. Although the Iowa State Fair only allows state residents to participate in its contests, it occurs to me that BBEST members produce Blue Ribbon items that I would be proud to see at my state fair—or any of the fairs around the country. Here, then, are a few.
Personalized Greek Name Baby Blanket, by blazingneedles
Blues and Purple Temari, by luckygirltrading
Blue Sundress/Jumper for American Girl Size Doll, by ByTheBy
© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://sparklines.blogspot.com.