Heart of Illinois Fair Recap

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been a very busy bee lately. I decided in June that I wanted to enter the Heart of Illinois Fair which took place July 16-21. Since it was a little last minute I was scrambling a bit to get my entries together.

I grew up competing in 4-H – my fondest childhood memories center around that fair. So I guess you could say you can take the girl out of 4-H but you can’t take the 4-H out of the girl. Even now as an adult I like finding contests and competitions to enter because it gives me a tangible goal with some of my hobbies. This pushes me to do/be the best that I can and it keeps the fire lit under my behind.

This is a magnet frame in my office of me with my prize winning flower container circa 1997.

This year I entered a few different categories just to see what competition was like. I have never entered this fair before so I was testing the waters. I entered Photography, Foods, Textiles, Hobbies & Floriculture in the fair this year. Below you will find a recap of each section I entered including how I did, what I learned and how I will improve for next year.


I entered 2 of my pictures in photography this year – 1 Large Color Print (11×14 inches) and 1 Small Color Print (8×10 inches). After the initial judging I was a little discouraged. I could tell that several of the other photos had been pretty heavily edited (there is a separate category for digitally altered photos…) and I don’t do much by way of photoshop because I prefer my images be seen as they are. So I didn’t place initially in either category.

BUT there was a People’s Choice award that people voted on for the duration of the fair and my photo “Mr. January” won that! I was shocked/excited when I picked up my photo on Monday and it had a giant rosette on it. I get to take the same picture back next year to be featured for the duration of the fair. It definitely renewed my passion for photography because people liked my image enough to vote for it.

For next year I am going to focus on getting even better quality photos in camera. I still refuse to heavily doctor my pictures after the fact but I can definitely hone my skills further and come out with a more competitive image. In the past I have taken photography classes and I may do that again over the winter when there is less for me to do outside.


I decided with my newfound passion for cooking/baking that I had to enter a food category. I entered the “Bee My Honey” contest with the cookie recipe that I shared last week.

My cookies were delicious but unfortunately they did not place in the contest. Next year I am going to come up with something much more original – the winner was an incredible looking honey cake. I can definitely increase the originality to make myself more of a contender. I also may enter additional foods categories as my confidence in my baking increases.


Back in my 4-H days I was extremely competitive with my cross-stitch. I have always enjoyed doing it and I find it a great way to unwind at the end of a day. I wasn’t sure what my competition would be like but last Fall I completed a bee sampler that I just love so I decided to throw that in.

I will definitely be upping my game for the level of project that I put in next year. My sampler was a little too simple against some of the competition although it still showed well. I didn’t place but I got great feedback from the judge about the even tension in my stitches although she advised me to watch my carry over threads on the letters. I kicked myself for that one because I know better!

I already have my project for next year picked out – I will be stitching a pattern on 32 count linen and I will be very particular about my carry over threads. I intend to place next year. I know I have the ability. Time to challenge myself again! Very excited about this.


There was a “Mason Jar Creation” division underneath hobbies and given my collection of mason jars and affinity for them, I had to enter. For this I created a picture frame by suspending a black and white photo of me and Nick in vegetable oil. It gives it sort of a sepia tone. I love this craft and will be displaying it in our bedroom now that I’m done showing it.

I also got second place on this! My feedback from the judge was that she loved the image and the detail I had put into the craft but that the color of the oil was not as pleasing. I’m not sure what else I can do with the oil color? My sister suggested maybe I try food coloring in it but that would seep into the image.

I decided to leave well enough alone on this one. I like it and that’s all that matters. There’s no shame in second place.

I’m not sure if I will enter this division again or not. It was kind of a whim and a chance to do a craft I had been wanting to try. I will likely focus my efforts elsewhere next year.


Flowers were what I was really excited about entering this year. I love everything I grow and I want to do what I can to cultivate beautiful show-worthy plants.

I entered several classes within the Floriculture department.

Mini-Garden Contest:

The theme for the mini garden contest was “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” which is not a theme that overly excites me but I do love Bigfoot so I created an out of this world camping scene complete with Bigfoot, Nessie and an alien named Hank hovering overhead. I even had a campfire that lit up! I got Third Place on my mini-garden.

Hanging Container, Non-Blooming Plant:

I entered my Wandering Jew into the Hanging Non-Blooming Container class. I got a second place on this! I was excited about that but wowzers – the first place entry was INCREDIBLE. Definitely something to aspire to and I will be trying even harder in the future to compete with her. She blew me out of the water this year.


In the annuals class I entered Marigolds, Gladiolus and Sunflowers. The competition for flowers was fierce! I’m still not sure why my glad did not place since I had blooms to the top and there was no feedback provided so I am going to do my best to research show-quality Gladiolus so I can do better next year.

My glad is the yellow one.

However, my Sunflower took second place! I was incredibly excited about that since all of the Sunflowers looked beautiful.

I had hoped to enter more flowers in the annuals class but unfortunately my Sunflowers choked out my Snapdragons this year and my Zinnias didn’t bloom in time. Next year since I know I will want to enter them I will time my planting a little better. I was pretty down to the wire with everything this year. I would have liked to have more blooms to choose between. I will also work on better spacing so I don’t have any flowers killing out others to survive. I had a small area to work with this year.

I will also definitely be expanding my flower collection next year so that I have more varieties to show. I’m pleased with my showing for flowers this year though.

All in all, the fair was a great experience. I am very motivated to up my game in these categories and hopefully have an even better showing next year but 3 second place ribbons, 1 third place ribbon and 1 people’s choice rosette is definitely not a disappointment!

Also, there was wine and goats!

I desperately want a goat farm. Seeing so many makes me want that even more. Dreams for a couple of years down the line I suppose. Maybe I’ll be showing livestock in the fair before too long? Who knows??

Do any of you enter any competitions for your hobbies or county fairs? Any other former 4-Hers out there?

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