Summer 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT2

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Learning from State Fair Exhibits


Ardis W. Koester
Extension Textiles and Clothing Specialist
Oregon State University-Corvallis

State and county fairs may be viewed from different perspectives by Extension professionals. Some persons may enjoy fairs, while others may dread them. We say that fairs are a learning experience for 4-H members. Also, fairs may be a learning experience for Extension professionals. Fair exhibits offer an often-overlooked source of data for observing changes and documenting information needs.

In the late 1970s, the Oregon 4-H Clothing Project was revised. The project was divided into nine skill levels with five learning areas that included planning and evaluation; individual development and outreach; consumership, management, and wardrobe building; textiles; and construction. Resource leaders and fair judges were introduced to the revision in regional meetings around the state.

A casual question on how many ideas we presented at the regional meetings would be seen at the next state fair inspired us to do a longitudinal study using fair exhibits. We developed an instrument to tally the types of garments, fabrics used, and construction techniques used on constructed garments sent to the state fair over a five-year period. (Clothing construction is only one of the five learning areas, but the one most visible during the state fair.)

The tallies were taken by the textiles and clothing specialist on the same day the garments were judged for ribbons. While only a limited number of garments from each county are exhibited at the fair, it was believed that these garments would represent those constructed statewide. The tally wasn't designed to evaluate quality, but the judges' observations on construction techniques needing improvement were recorded.

The tally of garments indicated that the largest effects of the resource leader trainings could be seen during the first three years after the workshops. The results indicated that resource leaders needed time to share the information. Supporting this conclusion were the observations and notes from the fair judges.

The influence of changing fashion (including selection of pattern styles, fabrics, and techniques) was evident over the five-year period. The changing fashion made the tally of garment and fabric types difficult because the categories changed each year. At the same time, it was pleasing to see that members were responding to fashion changes.

While the tally of types of garments, types of fabrics, and types of construction techniques used was less successful than expected because of the fashion changes, the yearly observation of garments and the notes from the judges were very useful. These notes were used to suggest topics for newsletters, workshops, and other training opportunities for members, leaders, agents, and judges. Trends observed during the tallying process have also helped determine the frequency and timing of training. The state fair has been a useful source of data for monitoring information needs.