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caption: KUOW's Arts and Culture reporter tours the Home Arts exhibit at the Washington State Fairgrounds with daily supervisor Liz Baker 
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KUOW's Arts and Culture reporter tours the Home Arts exhibit at the Washington State Fairgrounds with daily supervisor Liz Baker
Credit: KUOW Photo/Juan Pablo Chiquiza

An arts reporter does the Puyallup ... and admires the quilts

People have been “doin’ the Puyallup”—the Washington State Fair—for more than a century.

What started as a showcase for livestock and agricultural products is now a three-week festival featuring live entertainment, carnival rides, and deep fried fast foods.

If you stop off the noisy midway, though, the fair’s homespun roots are intact in exhibits of everything from homemade jam to prize pigs.

Just inside the Fair’s Gold Gate entrance, on the second floor of the Pavilion building, visitors will find the “home arts” competitive displays, including an impressive display of fiber arts. Large glass cases display hand-knit sweaters, woven blankets and tatted lace. Dozens of colorful quilts are draped over metal rods, suspended from the ceiling.

“You’ve got traditional pieced quilts, that look like your grandmother would have made,” says Liz Baker, one of the Home Arts exhibit supervisors. “Then you’ve got the contemporary pieces that are usually brighter colors and different patterns.”

She points out a quilt featuring an almost geometric pattern, fashioned from adjacent rows of green fabric.

“That’s what we call a ‘bargello’,” Baker explains. A similarly-worked quilt, worked in different colors and fabrics, hangs close by.

“You can hand a quilt pattern to two different woman and it will make a completely different quilt,” says Baker, noting how each individual brings her personal tastes to the craft.

Some of these quilts are elevated by intricate embroidery and abstract designs; you could envision them displayed at the Seattle Art Museum. In fact, fine quilts are shown in arts galleries and museums around the country.

But, according to Baker, needle crafters of all levels of expertise are welcome to enter their work into the State Fair competition.

At the back of the exhibition room, five members of the Puyallup Valley Quilter’s Guild sit around the perimeter of a sturdy cotton quilt, tying knots along the fabric strips. This is the guild’s service work; once they finish this quilt, it will go to a hospital, or transitional housing, or another charitable organization.

Although the competition quilts don’t display price tags, Baker says if fair-goers want to buy them, they can submit their contact information. That information goes to the artisans who decide if they want to sell.

The Washington State Fair, aka the Puyallup, runs through September 22.