Two Common Ground Country Fair volunteers wear matching purple shirts with pig illustrations

Meet MOFGA Volunteer Patti Dowse

Spring 2022
By Danielle Walczak

On the eve of the Common Ground Country Fair, Patti Dowse, of Cambridge, Maine, gathers T-shirts. That night, before the Fair begins, she alters the T-shirts with her surger — adding fabric to widen or lengthen them at the waist — to make the shirts more comfortable for volunteers who want them.

Dowse describes the upcycled technique she created as taking thrift store finds and redesigning them “in a kind of funky way, so that they’re more flattering for us old farts.” It’s also a way to “feed her thrift store addiction,” she said. Dowse’s shirts are much like her role at the Fair: stitching together different pieces from different places to make a cohesive experience.

As co-coordinator of Maine Marketplace, she seeks out and brings together disparate people making products in Maine to sell their goods and services at the Common Ground Country Fair, helping them with their marketing, displays or whatever needs doing.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Dowse said. “Seeing someone who’s just starting out and seeing them take off. Because really [the Fair] can be a real launchpad for a small business. You have a very targeted clientele at Common Ground. People that don’t have a lot of things in common that would be hard to access, but they come to Common Ground. So it’s a great place for people with a really good product or service to get started.”

Dowse can’t remember how she heard about the first Common Ground Country Fair in 1977, but she was there and has attended ever since.

In 1999, after her first year of selling deerskin handbags at the fair, she was tapped by Ellis Percy to be a co-coordinator of Maine Marketplace. Since then she’s also served on the steering committee. Dowse sold her bag business in 2013.

Dowse thinks the diversity of Maine Marketplace is what makes it special. “Basically we take all the people that don’t fit anywhere else. The island of misfit vendors, it’s pretty funny it’s quite a mix,” she said. “It's a complete potpourri of everything.”

Over the years Dowse has learned where to slip in and help, whether it’s bringing lights to a new vendor who has a dark booth or taking videos of vendors like Tirdy Works’ Mary Winchenbach who sells crafts made of moose poop. Dowse is credited with creating the viral video of Winchenbach’s vendor spiel, which landed her a reality television show.

Dowse, too, has been inspired by other vendors, which helped her start her upcycled clothing business Rags2Riches in 2020.

“I really missed it, people who make stuff really can’t help themselves, we have to keep making stuff,” she said. Dowse now sells her altered clothes on consignment at three shops in Maine.

Dowse’s energy enlivens the work she does and those she does it with. When she’s not making clothes for her new business she can still be found promoting others at the Fair.

“I think [the goal of the Fair] is to involve as many people as possible in agricultural pursuits and help people understand what agriculture is and what the advantages of doing it in an organic manner are. Lot of education happens but it’s lots of fun and there’s lots of great eating.”

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