I’ve always liked the planning stage of a project – maybe too much. As a teenager I wanted to write a novel, something James Michener-ish but with dragons. First, however, I figured out the names and backgrounds of my characters…and their descendants 5 generations along, along with their ages over a period of about 90 years. This resulted in a poster made from sheets of taped together graph paper that was almost nine feet long and about three feet wide.

Thankfully, shortly thereafter I remembered the existence of Excel.

I made a spreadsheet for this project for two reasons: 1) There are 47 different categories for hand knitting in the Needlework division* to keep track of and plan for and 2) I needed a reference for figuring out what fits where and what might be blue ribbon-worthy.

The Minnesota State Fair lays out pretty clearly, in specific language, what qualifies and what doesn’t, and what goes where. For example, Lot 349 – Lap robe, min. size 1444-2699 sq. in. This is the division my blanket was entered in. I measured it before registration, but I noticed that it was also measured after I submitted it to the fair for judging. The judges aren’t heartless – for example, I mistakenly submitted one of shawls to the wrong category (the fair and I disagree as to whether a square is a kind of rectangle), but the officials were going to move it to the correct category on their own recognizance. Unfortunately, I had already submitted something in the correct category and only one item may be submitted to each category. Alas. I suppose it keeps people like me from submitting 2010’s special project, however:

The rules also lay out their definitions of light, medium, and heavy weight yarn, as well as what they men by “texture” and “color pattern”. Since only one project may be submitted by a competitor in each category, the more popular items have several categories, so that someone’s steeked Norwegian ski sweater isn’t competing with someone else’s cabled, fingering weight masterpiece. Some categories are based on the weight (or thickness) of the yarn used (scarves), some on the embellishing technique used (socks, mittens).

That covers the spreadsheet’s first purpose – if I’m going to make something for as many categories as possible, I need to keep track of which item goes where. So it includes the lot number, the category description, my planned project, its current status (some are already complete!), required yarn, and other required materials like zippers, buttons, etc.

Now for the second purpose. I had a fairly good grasp of what a first prize winning sweater or cardigan or shawl looked like – I’ve already done a fair bit of delving into the more complex side of those categories. However, Lot 364, “Cap or hat, plain” stumped me. Plain? No cables? No stranded color work or intarsia? Plain plain? What on earth does a “plain” blue ribbon hat look like?

I needed to study the competition anyway, so the spreadsheet also includes the name of the 2015 winner in each category and, where I could find them, a link to pictures of the winner’s project, along with the number of competitors in each category. This is why I won’t just show you the spreadsheet here – the winner’s names are publicly available online and all of the projects were found by carefully combing Ravelry, but even though many of these women freely link their full names with their online Ravelry personas, I balk at outright linking THIS person’s full name with THAT Ravelry username. I grew up on a part of the internet where that was very rude and damaging. You may do the detective work yourself, if you like.

Go figure, not a single winner of the so-called “plain” categories was to be found on Ravelry. Knitting ninja, apparently.

Anyway, I’ll conclude with a few interesting statistics I found while making the spreadsheet.

There are 47 categories in which a hand knitter can enter their work in the Needlecraft Division. In 2015, 45 blue ribbons were awarded (not including sweepstakes and special prizes); one category had no entries, and one only had one entry. In the case of there only being a few entries for a category, the judges may decide not to award a blue ribbon.

Of the 45 blue ribbons, 21 (46.7%) were awarded to women who won multiple blue ribbons in the hand knitting categories. Wow! One woman one 4, and another won 3. Something to aspire to eventually, I’m sure. Of the remaining 24 blue ribbons, 12 (26.7% of the total) were awarded to women who received other ribbons in the hand knitting categories (second place on down). So only 12 women won a blue ribbon and nothing else (I can’t tell if they submitted other projects that didn’t place, or if they just submitted this one, perfect, blue ribbon project). The competition is stiff indeed!

Next time…reasonable and highly unreasonable.

*There are other places to submit your knitting in the Creative Activities Department – Garment Making, for example. I didn’t include them because 1) I didn’t know they existed when I was planning this year 2) I didn’t know they existed until yesterday, actually (some detective!) and 3) I don’t want to. Maybe next year.


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