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Best of Show at Indiana State Fair

A happy Karen Word stands in front of the counted cross stitch display at the Indiana State Fair Friday morning. Her piece, Save the Stitches, won Best of Show, and is pictured in the upper right of this photo.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Karen Word has been trying for 20 years to win Best of Show for her counted cross stitch at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.

She walked over to her exhibit Friday and found the Best of Show ribbon hanging on her work.

“I squealed and yelled,” Word said Friday evening as she talked with other members of the Serendipity Extension Homemakers club at Expo Hall.

The piece she won with is called Save the Stitches. Other pieces of her work took third place and honorable mention at the State Fair. 

Counted cross stitch is a needlework craft that involves making designs out of thread on special cloth, called Aida cloth, that has geometrically spaced holes in it. Stitching is done with “a little bitty needle,” making Xs that connect the holes. Word’s winning piece has a lot of what is called black work, done with one line of thread instead of two. Word made it unique by substituting a lot of colored silk thread in place of the black.

The judges liked the lacy look of the piece and said they looked at it with a magnifying lens, looking for imperfections that weren’t there, said Karen’s daughter Martha Word. She lives in Colorado but was spending fair week with her mom.

Karen says she wants her work to be perfect and goes over it herself, fixing mistakes. “I don’t like the word ‘anal’ but ...” and as she searched for the right word, another club member said, “meticulous.”

Word, 61, has been doing needlework since her teen years, when she started with crewel embroidery.

She has made counted cross stitch important to her family. After she first met her husband, Joe, she used cross stitch to make a heart on a shirt for him. At one point, he got angry and ripped it off. After they later made up, he asked her to sew it back on. “So I mended his broken heart,” Word says, chuckling. They’ve been married 38 years now.

She also paints in acrylics and does more varieties of needlework, listing, among others, rug hooking, latch hook, locker hooking, needle punch and wool prodding. 

She’s become very creative. She showed a painted box holding a garland that she made using small squares of counted cross stitched Christmas designs strung together with a black cord and decorated with miniature clothespins.

She does a lot of canning, especially enjoying unusual items like peony jelly. Made from the Indiana state flower, it has a light floral taste, she said. She’s also canned dandelion jelly, cinnamon cucumbers and cowboy candy, a sweet-and-sour jalapeno spread.

She’s been active in the Fayette County Extension Homemakers for many years, having served twice as county president. She takes a painting class at the Art House in Connersville. She has been the pianist at Everton Community Church for 11 years.

Her four daughters also took up home hobbies and craft work. Martha Word enjoys painting and photography, especially nature; Tabitha Word draws; Priscilla Lawhead is a music writer and pianist; and Mary Jean Wilhelm did crochet before passing away.

Karen admits to being surprisingly competitive. Her first year showing needlework at the Fayette County Free Fair, she won a grand champion ribbon. She’ll keep entering the Indiana State Fair competition and keep hoping for more wins.

“You just get driven, kind of like the Indiana lottery,” she said. “I’ve gotta keep trying till I win and now that I’ve done it, I know I could do it again.