The women who gathered for counted-cross-stitching demonstrations at the Jackson County Fair on Wednesday have turned their hobby into a fierce discipline.

The women who gathered for counted-cross-stitching demonstrations at the Jackson County Fair on Wednesday have turned their hobby into a fierce discipline.

They meet every Monday for nearly four hours to work on their craft. They gather for a week every year to frame their finished pieces. One woman even scans and posts pictures of her progress every month as part of an Internet group.

"It's about the friendship, the creativity, the inspiration and the support," said Carol Modaffare, 48, of Medford, who won a second-place ribbon at the fair this year. "It's our passion."

Helen Bayne, 81, of Medford, who belongs to Modaffare's group, won three awards in three counted-cross-stitching categories this week.

"It takes me about two to three months to complete a piece," Bayne said.

This is the first year the fair separated counted-cross-stitching from other needlework categories, encouraging more entries. The response reflects the growing number of open-class exhibition submissions in this year's fair, said Sandi Thompson, superintendent of open-class still exhibits in Padgham Pavilion.

"We've got a lot of hobbies and crafts," she said.

Fair managers received so many submissions from the public they expanded the exhibits by placing some outside with the open-class land products, Thompson said.

She said the flailing economy may be inspiring people to get back to basics.

"I see the focus on the home trend, going back to the homemade," she said. "People are wanting to learn to can, to preserve food and to recycle."

She noted entries have increased in each category except the technology section. Photography had more than 600 submissions.

"To me it was a very full competition," Thompson said.

Even the number of spectators increased compared with other years. Thompson said about 500 people came through the doors of Padgham Pavilion within the first few hours on Tuesday, the opening day of the fair. About 200 people visited every hour throughout the day, when normally about 50 to 100 people pass through the doors hourly.

"This year more people are here, more people are laughing and more people are having fun," she said.

The 4-H exhibition section that shares Padgham Pavilion also reported an increase in photography submissions, as well as Lego robotics and dogs. 4-H exhibitions are exclusive to club members and offer a greater number of exposition categories.

Anne Manlove, an extension agent with Oregon State University who directs the 4-H part of the fair, said she noticed food submissions were down as well as livestock. She added that horticulture, arts and woodworking were holding their own along with many of the other categories.

"They are not increasing, but they're not dropping," she said.

Manlove said animal entries have decreased because of the economy. Buying and feeding livestock for the fair costs about $2,600 per steer, she said.

Some 4-H categories are down because "finding leaders who are willing to teach food or any subject area is difficult," she said. "You're limited by the volunteers who step up to teach these kids."

Vera Westbrook is a reporting intern for the Mail Tribune and can be reached at intern1@mailtribune.com.