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Monday, August 25, 2014

How To Do Well at the County or State Fair!

 I am a competitive person. I'm not gonna lie. Don't get me wrong though -- I am peacefully competitive. I won't push the next guy over or get catty if I don't win.  But I do like a good contest and if I'm going to participate I want to give it 100%, nothing less. I mostly like competing because it pushes me to do better than I would have done otherwise. I like to improve. Oh, and it's also really fun to win. 

"Best Exhibitor" Clothing and Handwork, County Fair 

So what this has to do with you is that I'm here to give you some tips on how to do well in sewing competitions, specifically County and State Fairs. Luckily I live in an area where we have a great County Fair and they even have a Clothing Division!  I know not everyone has that opportunity but I think a lot of these tips are going to come in handy for sewing high quality boutique items as well, and also for participating in other clothing contests. (Hint: We have an exciting announcement coming up later this week!) Here are some tips that I came up with from my past experiences:

Tip 1: Go slowly and be precise. Judges look at stitches and seams before they look at the cute fabric. They have seen cute fabric.  They are here to judge your sewing skills. It's okay to sew quickly and get-'er-done when it's for your kids. But for the judges we need to be picky! Cut carefully, pin carefully, sew carefully, breathe carefully. (Just kidding.)  

(I re-made the sash on this Joy's because it was unevenly top stitched the first time.)

Tip 2: Choose a pattern with techniques that you can do well. Maybe you're really good at shirring but not so great at rolled hems.  Practice those rolled hems for next time, but for now stick with what you are great at!  (I personally do best at reversible items where the seams can be hidden and the topstitching has to be precise.) What are your strengths? Show them off!

Tip 3: Iron your pieces before you begin. Appearance is important and it is much easier to iron an outfit while it is a bunch of flat pieces than when it is fully constructed. (Oops, did I just give away one of my secrets?) Also, be sure to iron after construction as well! 

(To iron my Poppy's I pulled the casing way down the ties and spent forever on it.  I still wasn't happy with the ironing on my layering peasant dress though so I made a completely new one!  My daughter wears them under all her strappy dresses so I know it will get used.) 

Tip 3: Serge all seams as you go. Even if you don't have a serger, you can zigzag the raw edges and that is great too. On knits I don't always serge my seams because my kids like the softness of leaving them open -- but for competitions everything should be serged, even knits. Some older patterns tell you to press seams open. My advice is that you serge them anyway if a judge will be seeing them.

Tip 4: Press all seams the same direction. Ask me how I know this.  Okay, it was written on every single tag I entered this year. I have always pressed horizontal ruffle seams upward to topstitch but I never considered that the direction of my vertical seams would matter.  It does to the judges.  Vertical seams should always point to the back of the garment.  (Picky, picky!) 

(Notice the top seam is sewn in to the right and the bottom seam is sewn in to the left. Oops.) 

Tip 5: Clip any loose threads.  Double check, triple check. I swear the judges have little thread metal detectors or something. As you sew, be sure that you backstitch or overlap stitches where necessary so you don't end up with threads poking out awkwardly. When you're done sewing, turn the garment inside out and check for strays on all the seams. I use my little snippy thread scissors to clip them really close. 

(It can be tempting to ignore all those ruffles when trimming threads. You must check all of them!) 

Tip 6: Remove all markings. If you have to mark buttonholes or strap placements, but sure to remove them completely when you're done! If your iron or your kids made a smudge on the fabric (augh!) be sure to get it fully cleaned before entering it.

(This shirt had to be soaked overnight because of a stain from my son! But it came clean and it was worth it.) 

Tip 7: Make good construction decisions.  This can apply to a lot of things. For example, be sure that your waistband elastic is the right width for the casing (I made that mistake).  Use techniques that are appropriate for the fabric you're using. (They didn't like that I used "bulky" faux shirring on delicate satin, grrr.) Make sure that everything you attach to your outfit is adding to it instead of taking away from it. (One judge thought my dress would have been better without the burlap flower. Who asked them!?!  JK.)  

(It reads, "Elastic in back is too bulky for the nice fabric. Trim corner bulk out on ties." I will continue doing this on my daughter's dresses (I love the look!) but I won't enter it in the fair. Next time I will shirr.)

Tip 8:  Even after everything I said above, be true to yourself.  Don't be so careful that you lose what makes you love sewing! Take some risks and love what you make, even if it doesn't win a prize! Because when it comes down to it in the long run, your opinion matters more than the judge's.  But don't tell them I said that. 

(This was the entry I was most proud of even though it didn't get a blue. Everyone was impressed with my fully lined swimsuit, with pockets and a drawstring. I love boy patterns! They're not ruffly but they're fun!) 

Tip 9: Presentation is everything.  Make sure your items are ironed and clean. (Yes this is the third time I mentioned that.) Find out the guidelines for your fair and follow them precisely.  My fair requires that all outfits be on a hanger and covered with plastic, with the tag attached directly to the item.  I use my very best hangers and made sure every outfit was hung in a way that made it look nice.  For example on my Poppy's I used a double hanger to hold up the back so it wouldn't sag.

(It also took me a long time to figure out how to display this 3-piece set nicely. They loved it.) 

If you need to hand-write on your tags, do so very neatly. My handwriting is horrible so it takes me an hour to fill out my tags nicely, but it's worth it. This year they switched over to electronic tags, woohoo!  

If you are required to cover outfits with plastic, try to find nice plastic such as online shops or at the dry cleaner. My first year I used clear garbage sacks upside down and it worked, but now my entries look so much nicer with real garment bag plastic.

(They don't photograph as well though. I'm jealous of the fairs that let you display dresses on a dress form!) 

Also, be picky about how your bows and straps are tied! We have a tutorial here for tying a great bow. 

(The judges retied my bow on the wrong side after judging, with a crooked bow. It was painful for me to see it like this on display, haha.) 

Tip 10: Submit your entries on the time.  That sounds obvious right?  Well, apparently not because somebody always gets left behind. So sad. Also, some county and state fairs require you to register months in advanced. If you keep missing the deadline, maybe you can find out the date right now and go write it on a calender for next year so you get in on time. 

Tip 11: Keep learning and keep trying!  Getting the tags back from the judges with their critiques scribbled on them can be brutal. Try to take their notes as advice for what you can work on as a stepping stone for next year. Don't give up! I have done better at the fair every year and I have come to appreciate all the little details I have learned along the way from their critiques. (As much as I hate to admit that.) 

(I completely disagree with the critique on this skirt. But *maybe* I will try out their advice someday, haha.) 

Tip 12:  Involve the kids! You may have a 4-H program in your area but even if you don't, there are usually "Open Class" categories for kids. It can be so fun for them to participate and a good motivator for spending quality time working on projects together.

(One blue rosette for my daughter beats ten for me! She was 5y at the time and so proud. That year she used her prize money to go on the bounce house three times. This year she used her prize money to buy bright pink high heels. Sigh.) 

That's all I have for you today. A lot of the guidelines may depend on your area, your criteria, and even your judges.  But hopefully together we can all become better and have fun competing!  Stay tuned for our big fair announcement later this week. 

Let's Create! ~ Kristen 

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