Needle natural: Rechelle Donais’ needlework and imagination are a hit at State Fair

Rechelle Donais posed at the state fair with the first-prize bald eagle hat she made for husband Jess. (Photo provided by family)
Rechelle Donais of rural Zimmerman posed at the state fair next to  the first-prize bald eagle hat she made for husband Jess. (Photo provided by family)


by Bruce Strand, Arts Editor

After her needlepoint creations earned batches of honors at the Sherburne County Fair in July, Rechelle Donais decided to go for the big time, the Minnesota State Fair.

The Zimmerman housewife was a bit apprehensive about that but needn’t have worried. Her four items had enough “wow” factor to capture a first place, second place and two fourth places in various categories.

“I was shocked to do that well my first time at the state fair,” Donais said. “It’s fun to see a great big ribbon on something you did! What was really nice was standing there and listening to what people were saying about them.”

Alligator bag
Alligator bag

Rechelle and her husband, Jess, who live halfway between Zimmerman and Princeton, attended the fair on Sunday and saw people’s reactions. She didn’t say anything, but Jess couldn’t keep quiet.

“Jess said, ‘My wife made that bald eagle hat that got first place!’ and then he showed them my other things, too.”

It was for Jess that Rechelle knitted a cap depicting an eagle that won the giant blue ribbon in the “hat, beret or cap” division, plus the Kittens Needle Arts award. Jess  had requested an eagle. But Rechelle hasn’t let him wear it yet. First she had to show it at the county fair, then the state fair.

Donais also snagged second place in “bag or purse” with an alligator bag. In two other categories, she got fourth, for an owl i-Pad holder and for a wire crocheted necklace with wire, crystals and beads.

Donais knitted the Caddyshack gopher for her son's golf clubs.
Donais knitted the Caddyshack gopher for her son’s golf clubs.

At the county fair, Donais entered 13 items that captured 22 ribbons. For the fair’s 125th anniversary Minnesota-themed competition, she depicted water, land and sky – with a bass, black bear and eagle – and got three prizes.

Marian Salzmann, a county fair official, encouraged Donais to enter at the state fair while cautioning her that they sometimes turn things away.

“That would have been awful, to drive all that way and get turned away,” Donais said. But, accustomed to success by now, she took four of her best things to St. Paul.

Last October, Donais won a contest sponsored by Red Heart Yarns. The theme was team spirit. She made a Tiger hat in honor of her children’s school, Princeton. She later made a duplicate for a silent auction at Princeton elementary school fundraiser and was pleased that the principal bought it.

Owl i-Pad holder
Owl i-Pad holder

Donais took up needlework 3 1/2 years ago “because I’ve always had a thing for yarn; I really like yarn.” She started at a community education class at Princeton, learning basic stitching and how to read abbreviations on patterns. Since then her hands have been trying to keep up with her imagination.

When her son Christian joined the golf team at Princeton, she knitted him a club cover depicting the goofy gopher that tormented Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.” For daughter Katie, she made a water bottle holder and many hats.“Katie is my hat model,” she said.

For a niece who’s “a real princess,” she made tiaras. Lately she’s been removing the paper from ketchup bottles and knitting holders for them so people can take water to ball games, where containers must be transparent.

“My specialty is hats, though,” Donais said. “I make my own patterns, too. I especially like doing animals.”

Needle natural: Rechelle Donais’ needlework and  imagination are a hit at State Fair
Donais made a big haul at the Sherburne County Fair