The Minnesota State Fair had a solid Faribault presence this year when two local young women earned Grand Champion purple ribbons.

Courtney Schleis, a senior at Faribault Area Learning Center, has a knack for string arts. She’s especially experienced in crocheting, which she learned as a 6-year-old from her grandmother.

Schleis has crocheted hats, mittens, scarves and washcloths throughout the years, but she never submitted any of her products to county or state fair competitions until this past summer. Her afghan, which she crocheted using her own pattern, won a first-place ribbon and Grand Champion ribbon at the Rice County Fair as well as first place and Grand Champion in her division at the Minnesota State Fair.

“It was kind of bittersweet because the person I wanted to show the most — my grandma — passed away a year ago February,” said Schleis, “but it was cool seeing [my afghan] up there.”

Time and repetition has made Schleis a more rapid crocheter; she completed her afghan, which is the size of a full-size bed, in one month. She’s already in the process of crocheting two more blankets. The process is one Schleis especially enjoys because it allows her to be productive while winding down and watching TV.

Branching out of the crocheting craft, Schleis said her mom is teaching her to embroider and sew as well.

Rather than keeping her many crocheted products for herself, Schleis donates her hats and other winter apparel to charities like the Cancer Center and usually gives away her blankets as gifts.

Jessica Gehrke, a 12-year member of the Warsaw Willing Workers 4-H Club and a senior at Faribault High School, submitted two projects to the shop category at the Rice County Fair this summer. Her cabinet, which she completed last year as part of a shop class at FHS, won Grand Champion at the county level and a purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair.

“It was fun, especially since it was my second year doing woodworking,” said Jessica. “I didn’t realize [my cabinet] would be that high up.”

Jessica constructed her 48-inch-tall cabinet over the course of 50 hours in Josh Almen’s shop class at FHS. Almen gave his class general instructions and patterns to follow, but otherwise Jessica said the class was a self-teaching opportunity.

She first made the face frame, then cut the pieces to size, cut dados — grooves cut from wood that serve as joints — for the shelves, and assembled all the pieces together. Jessica also crafted two doors and two drawers, the most complex part of the project as it involved a lot of adjusting to make sure they opened and closed properly. To protect the wood from water damage, she applied a clear finish of polyurethane and sanded the surface with 40 grit sandpaper after waxing it.

Now that her cabinet is back at home, Jessica thinks she might modify it to use as a bookshelf or a storage place for pillows.

Apart from woodwork projects, Jessica shows rabbits and beef annually, and previously showed poultry. In general exhibits, she’s submitted projects in categories including photography, veterinary science, cat, flower gardening, crafts, fine arts and performing arts.

This past summer marked the first time Jessica and her sister JoHannah, a sophomore at FHS, earned trips to the State Fair in both the livestock and general exhibit divisions. JoHannah also completed a project, a face clock, in an FHS shop class. Her clock won Grand Champion at the county level and a red ribbon at the state level.

In the rabbits category, Jessica placed third of three at the state level while JoHannah placed third out of 12, and both received callbacks in showmanship. JoHannah considers animal exhibits her main focus at the fair, while arts are for “extra time,” but Jessica considers shop one of her favorite categories.

“I like the hands-on [projects] and figuring out problems,” said Jessica. “… Making something on paper come to life.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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