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Best in Show—Competition Knitting at the State Fair

What’s it like to enter a project into a state fair? One prize-winning knitter shares her experiences.

Susan Rainey May 9, 2024 - 9 min read

Best in Show—Competition Knitting at the State Fair Primary Image

A one-day-old lamb in the CHS Miracle of Birth Center at the Minnesota State Fair (2019). Photo by Lorie Shaull, Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the state fair, barns are filled with animals large and small, and many a 4H child leads their lamb into the ring, hoping to win a blue ribbon. For urban visitors, a state fair is where knitters can experience a tangible link to the origins of our craft and appreciate the labor and resources that go into fiber production. For rural crafters, fairs revive a sense of pride, highlight the value of local resources, and can provide connections for future revenue. And, competition entrants from city and countryside can share the same sense of accomplishment and commitment that bonds us together as knitters. —Pat Olski, Editor, PieceWork

On the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair, you will find me in the Creative Activities Building waiting with dozens of other anxious crafters to see if the judges have been good to us this year. Woodworking, painting, sewing, baking, and all manner of handmade articles are on display. As I wait, I always run into other obsessed knitters, and we enjoy looking at the displays together—we know that they represent the culmination of a year’s worth of knitting.

I started knitting when I was around twelve. I don’t remember learning, but I do remember asking my mother the most basic questions ever, “Is this the right side or the wrong side?” I sometimes wonder how people keep knitting when our first efforts are often awful!

But as many of us do, I persisted. Fast forward twenty years, and I was hooked. I had become really passionate about crafting: sewing, tatting, and knitting. But knitting is what stuck the most. It was somewhere in that time frame that I discovered the Creative Activities Building at the Minnesota State Fair (also known as The Great Minnesota Get-Together). Up until then, my focus had always been on the rides and any food on a stick. But when I entered that building, my jaw dropped. The first thing I saw were tall glass cases, with knitting taking center stage. My craft! My people! This was something I knew I wanted to do.

So it was around then, or forty-odd years ago, that I started entering my knitted pieces in the Minnesota State Fair. We take knitting very seriously in Minnesota, and our state fair is extremely competitive. In 2023, there were almost 600 entries in the main knitting categories alone.

What Does the Competition Entail?

Most states have state fairs with knitting competitions. Texas has four fairs! Other options to consider are regional and county fairs, and sheep and wool festivals. Both the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival (aka Rhinebeck) and the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival include competitions for handknitting.

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