In my first blog of the state fair series, "Time for the Fair," posted 9/4/2013, I shared the history of state fairs and how they had grown from farmers' agricultural societies. While the early participants had been primarily men, the women soon began exhibiting their own skills. The Kansas State Fair has a building dedicated to the Domestic Arts, and it can be seen in the background of the photograph of the John Deere tractor in the blog "A Day at the Fair," posted 9/11/2013. This year a display of dolls and stuffed toys greeted visitors as they entered the Domestic Arts building.
Today most quilters are not making bed coverings from scraps because fabric is too precious to waste, although in Isaac Werner's time that was a primary motivation. Especially when women had scrapes of expensive fabrics, like satin, lace, and velvet, they wanted to save even the tiny pieces. The use of these irregularly shaped and sized pieces of luxurious fabrics resulted in what are called "Crazy Quilts." Unlike quilts where fabric is cut in specific patterns, these quilts attempted to use whatever bits of fabric could be saved, and they pieced the bits together randomly, producing a "crazy" pattern. Once pieced together, the fabrics were enhanced with rich embroidery and often trimmed with bits of lace or beads. Generally, these quilts were not subjected to everyday use, and many have been passed down through the generations, admired for their luxurious fabrics and trims, as well as for the hours of piecing together the oddly shaped fabrics and stitching the elaborate embroidery designs. These lovely quilts are still being made today, although the price of fabric is not so dear.
There were many types of textile exhibits entered for judging besides dolls and quilts--clothing, wall hangings, rugs, pillows, tatting, bobbin lace, beading, samplers, needlepoint, knitting, and crochet among the many exhibits. According to the entry book, the total prizes offered by the Fair and Sponsors for the "Clothing and Textiles" entries was $7,045, a nice recognition of quality work but only a few dollars for any individual piece when divided among the many exhibits. Obviously, these women (and some men) did not spend the countless hours creating their entries for the prize money!
The Domestic Arts Building contains cooking entries as well as textiles, and as I reached that section of the building they were judging apricot jam. As a regular maker of sand hill plum jelly (See "Sandhill Plums," posted 3/1/2012, and "Plum Harvest," posted 6/14/2012), I enjoyed watching the judging and seeing the jewel-like sparkle of jars of jams, jellies, and preserves lining the shelves of the exhibit.
At a time when Smucker's jellies and jams can be bought for less than the jars, lids, sugar and fruits to make your own, when dress patterns sell for several dollars and few towns have fabric shops, and when busy career mothers and busy at-home mothers assume more volunteering responsibilities--in such times, are many of the skills celebrated in the Domestic Arts Building at the state fair disappearing?
I hope that there are still young people learning how to make jellies and jams, although I did see many empty shelves in that exhibit area. I hope grandmothers are passing the skills of tatting, knitting, and crochet to their grandchildren. And, I hope children are still arriving home from school to the smell of cookies fresh from the oven, although the smell of freshly baked bread is more likely to come from a handy bread machine than from hours of mixing, rising, kneading, forming into loaves, and baking in the oven! For now, at least, there are still those who exhibit their "domestic arts" at the fair, and with Halloween so near, I could not resist sharing this wonderful, prize-winning Halloween quilt with you!