Looking to hone your sewing and quilting skills while benefiting the Carbon County Fair? Consider entering this year's quilt block contest.

Carefully pieced together, the entries in each Carbon County Fair quilt block contest are enjoyed by fairgoers for not just one year, but two.

Each entry into the contest is quilted into a wall hanging or quilt, and returns to the fairgrounds the next year to be auctioned off during the livestock auction. Proceeds benefit the fair's agricultural department and are used to pay for contest prizes and ribbons in many of the agricultural contests.

Quilting the wall hangings has become somewhat of a family tradition for one family. Kathy Long of Lehighton has quilted the fair's wall hangings each year since 2009. She inherited the position from her mother, the late Grace Rhoads.

In 2008, Rhoads encouraged her friends to enter blocks into the contest. The fair received enough blocks to complete a full-sized quilt, which Rhoads quilted for the fair. The quilt was auctioned off in 2009 during the livestock auction.

That year, Rhoads entered yet another block into the contest and won first place. She passed away before completing the quilt with her winning block. Instead, her daughter Long stepped in to complete the project. She was new to quilting, but enjoyed sewing and embroidering.

"After that, I started making the wall hangings. I've been doing it ever since," said Long. "At the end of this year's fair, I will get all of the patches. It's up to me to put them together."

Each year after receiving the quilt blocks, she looks for common colors and themes, choosing background colors that bind the blocks together in a pleasing way. She also embroiders the year, "Carbon County Fair," and that year's theme into the fabric before quilting it.

Last year's theme, "Blue Jeans and Country Dreams," led to a fun mix of denim- and farmer-themed blocks, with a touch of handkerchief print thrown in for good measure. The blocks have been quilted into a wall hanging with a light blue background.

Carbon residents could also enter quilt patches under the Pennsylvania Farm Show theme, "Starstruck." Three entries were received in the "Starstruck" category, each featuring a traditional 8-point pieced star or star-themed prints. They have been joined together by Long with a neutral gray background.

"This is my quiet way of volunteering," she said. "The money these wall hangings raise helps to pay out the winning premiums. We hope that people are generous when they bid. That money goes to good use, to help promote the fair and keep the fair alive."

Long was first introduced to quilting at the 2008 Pennsylvania Farm Show. The show features a quilt barn each year, home to a visitor's quilt that allows guests to learn how to quilt and speak with experienced quilters. While Long had embroidering experience, she was hesitant when a volunteer approached her and invited her to work on the quilt.

"She said, 'You know how to sew, right? I can teach you how to quilt.'"

Long proved to be a fast learner, applying her sewing and embroidering skills to the new task. She quickly completed one block in the visitor's quilt, then moved to a second block. She knew then that she would need to learn how to quilt.

"I find a gratification in sewing," she said, noting that her newfound hobby is a bit ironic she never thought she would follow in her mother's footsteps.

"My grandmother was a seamstress. My mother was a seamstress. I thought there was no way I would ever be a seamstress, working with all of those threads and pieces of fabric."

While many quilters today use a sewing machine to complete their entire project, from piecing the blocks to machine quilting the final product, Long has remained dedicated to sewing and quilting by hand. She also hand-quilts the fair wall hangings each year.

"The things that my grandmother and mother did have gone by the wayside, especially with the popularity of machine quilting, but we're still keeping it alive," she said.

"When I started embroidering, I never thought I could do anything as fine as my grandmother or mother," she said, noting that both women were known for their delicate needlework.

"I am very happy, just to follow in their footsteps," she added.

It is Long's hope that by promoting this year's wall hangings, the fair will receive more quilt block entries and attract new sewers and quilters to the contest.

"If we can find more quilters who can do squares, then we can do a larger wall hanging, or more hangings, to raise more money for the fair," she added.

The theme for this year's quilt block contest at the Carbon fair and Pennsylvania Farm Show is "Sew It, Grow It, Show it." Entries should use new fabric in brown or beige earth tones.

To enter this year's contest, sewers and quilters should pick up a fair premium book at select area businesses. You can find a list of these businesses or download a fair premium book at www.carboncountyfair.com [1]. Exhibitors must live in Carbon County or West Penn Township, Schuylkill County.

While entry forms are due by July 19, quilters will have a bit more time to complete their projects. Quilt blocks must be brought to the fair grounds on the day before the fair opening and will be judged the first morning of the fair. This year's fair will take place Aug. 6-10.