Well, here it is, the why and the how of entering your local county and state fairs? I am going to try to keep this as general as possible, not focusing on any craft or art in particular. Most fairs have a category for anything you can think of, so finding a place for you should be no problem.

Why you should enter?

While winning and getting recognition for your work is great, there is really one main reason why I think you should enter a local home arts competition: to get an honest appraisal of your work. If the fair is run properly and the judges are given sufficient time, each entrant should get some kind of feedback about the quality of work and any particular areas that might need improvement. These are things that your friends won’t necessarily tell you, mostly because they are afraid they might hurt your feelings, or they don’t know themselves. The judges don’t want to hurt your feelings either, but they do have a job to do, and that is to give an honest critique. Sometimes, it will be lavishing you with praise; other times, it will be letting you know what areas you need to work on.

You also will have an idea of how your work compares to others. I say this because I think a lot of people undervalue the quality of their work, thinking that it is not as good as it really is. I heard too many people say, “I could never enter my work in a contest,” when I had Mr. Penney’s sweater in the MSWF. Bogus! All of those people could. All of those people should!

Now, I understand not wanting to pay an entry fee to enter into one of these competitions, but most local fairs that I am acquainted with are free to enter. The only issue is getting your entries to the fair (which can be a chore, but is doable.)

How you enter?

Ok, here is where people slip up. Please do all of the following:

  • Read the rules of the contest. Understand what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and where your work fits in. Generally, each craft is divided into several sections. Read through the list and figure out which category best describes your entry. If you are unsure, contact the person in charge of the department. The judges may move your entry to another section if they feel it better fits that criteria and that you will do better in that category.
  • Follow the rules! The judges have to make sure that every entry follows the rules of the contest in order to be fair to all of the people that have entered the contest. If the rules say a skein has to be at least 2 ounces, make sure that you have at least 2 ounces of yarn in that skein. It is a shame to have to disqualify someone because he or she failed to do one of the basic things of the contest. It is usually an honest mistake on the entrant’s part; but it is frustrating for all involved, nonetheless.
  • Know what the judging criteria is. Some contests have published point structures that the judges are to use to evaluate the work. The points are distributed among things like design, technique, finishing, etc. Keep this in mind and do a self-evaluation of your entry beforehand. You might notice some things that may need correcting. You may also realize that your item needs a wash before going to the fair because you have been using it.
    Not all contests have a point structure; or if they do, do not offer it to the public. This happens for a variety of reasons. Still, try to look at your work with a critical eye and get it ready as if you are about to give it as a gift. (No need for the box or the wrapping paper, though.)
  • Write a clear, concise description of your work. Some contests actually request that you do a write up of your entry, describing what you did and what the intended purpose is. I would recommend that you do this write up, even if it is not specifically requested in the rules of the contest. Why? Because it means that there are less things that the judges have to assume about what you meant to do and what it is for. Leaving the judges with a guessing game may not work in your favor.
    Now, the description does not have to be of epic proportions; but a two word phrase usually does not cut it, either. List what techniques you used, why you might have chosen that technique over other possibilities, why you selected the materials you did, etc. Don’t go into sentimental stuff here. This is supposed to be a technical discussion. The story about your great grandmother is something that some judges might think is sweet and see the entry in a more favorable light, while others will become skeptical and look at the entry with a more critical eye.

What to do afterwards?

Now it is all over and you have your entry back, possibly with ribbons and prize money (WOOHOO!) Here is what you do:

  • Find out who the judges were and what their backgrounds are. This will help you evaluate the quality of the judging. All judges are not created equal. It all depends on the contacts and connections of those running the contest. If the person’s contacts and connections are limited, and the person isn’t that familiar with the craft, then the person may not have selected well qualified judges. A common mistake is to select a business owner who sells the craft supplies. The business owner may be well qualified; but the business is no guarantee of that, as the owner may know more about the business side than the craft side.
  • Read the judges’ feedback. It will give you insight into what went on during the judging. Don’t take it personally, though, if it is not what you want to hear. The judges are not out to get you. Last week, when we were doing the judging, we always made sure to start off listing what we liked about the entry first, and then, as gently as we could, say where an item needed improvement. 
  • Check out what you were competing against. This will give you some perspective on what others are doing and what you were up against. If you didn’t get the top prize and you thought you should have, seeing what entries did better than you might explain why. It could have just been a very competitive year in that particular category.

If you are not happy with the outcome

Here are some things to considered if you are not happy with the outcome of the contest:

  • Description might not have been clear enough. The judges were left to guess about some things you did and why you did them. Provided them with a better written description of your work next time.
  • Judges don’t know everything. As educated as the judges may be in the area, it is impossible to know everything. Some times it is a matter of comparing apples to oranges in a category, and the judges just happen to prefer oranges that year. Chalk it up to dumb luck and move on. Luck might be in your favor next time.
  • You might not be so objective at the moment. Take a step back and let things cool down for a little bit. Then come back, and read what the judges said about your work. You are pretty passionate about your work, as you should be; but it is not always easy seeing your work through someone else’s eyes. There is probably some validity to the judges’ comments. Try to look at them as suggestions for improvement, not personal attacks.
  • Keep trying! There is always next year. And they might have new judges!

Copyright 2008 by G. P. Donohue for textillian.com

4 thoughts on “Why

  1. Mr. Donohue – Great post! The thing I like most is the unbiased and honest appraisal of your work by someone other than your Aunt Marge. Not the Aunt Marge isn’t an authority, but how unbiased can she be? When you are finally ready to reveal your work outside your home, it’s the only way to go.

  2. I wish the fairs made it easier to retrieve the entries, I disliked waiting in line so long. I was very unhappy with how Mr. Penney’s sweater was judged. One Rowan sweater I knitted earn “Best in Show” at the Maryland State Fair but zilch at MSWF. Go figure.

Comments are closed.