It's Purls Before Swine at the State Fair's Crafts Contests

Forget your butter sculptures, thrill rides and deep-fried hubcaps. For some of us, the State Fair of Texas is an annual adventure in crafts and kitsch. On display in the Creative Arts Building every year are the hundreds of winning entries in competitions for handcrafts, needlework, dolls, hobby collections, quilts, photography and other ephemera. To see what America's knickknacks and sofa throws look like, this is the place.

If you've spent the past year perfecting your purl stitch or completing your collection of vintage Kewpie dolls, this year's fair could be your time to shine. The deadline for entering the State Fair's Creative Arts contests is July 29. (Go here for the complete list of categories.) You don't have to have finished your item by that date.

If chosen from your written description on the entry form, you deliver your completed item(s) to the fairgrounds in person in mid-August. Winners are determined by judges. The only prizes are blue, red and yellow ribbons. Plus, of course, bragging rights for winning big in the biggest state fair in the good old USA.

The folks in the crafts department at the State Fair of Texas have watched the action in various categories ebb and flow through the years. According to Barbara Jones, Director of Creative Arts and Special Events, of the 1100 areas of entry, photography is still the biggest, drawing close to 1700 entries last year.

Needlework and sewing are holding steady, though there were only 150 quilts entered in 2010. Trending up are ceramics, china painting and something called "glass flaming," an offshoot of stained glass (another category). Jones says the quality of woodworking and leatherworking "just goes up and up and up each year."

Kids can enter Legos in the "scale model" category, as well as artwork by age group. There are special categories for crafts made by nursing home residents.

The only category restricted to Texans is photography. But Jones says they've seen way too many pictures of bluebonnets, windmills and horses and are ready for some new subjects. In other crafts, entries come from all over the country. "Some people have won county fair ribbons and want something bigger," says Jones.

Each category this year will award a special prize to the piece that best reflects this year's theme for the fair: 125 Years - A Timeless Tradition.

It's easy to enter and the fees per category range from $2 to $6. Each category has rules, downloadable here.

Winning entries remain on display throughout the fair and then are returned to the makers.

"We get entries from all walks of life," says Jones. "The wealthiest to the poorest - everyone has some kind of hobby. All you win is a ribbon but that ribbon means something."

This year's State Fair of Texas runs September 30-October 23. For more info about the crafts and food contests, call State Fair of Texas Creative Arts at 214-421-8744 or e-mail creativearts@bigtex.com.

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