If you are in need of self-satisfaction, a few extra dollars or some motivation, consider entering one of the many Virginia fairs, which continue until the early fall.

About five years ago I entered the Fredericksburg Fair strictly for a new experience. I had beginner's luck, winning a first prize for an original cross-stitch design and two other ribbons for a quilted pillow and a hobby collection. I was hooked, and that was even before I realized that a cash prize went with each ribbon.

Fair season has come to Virginia again with August, the most popular time for exhibiting everything from farm products to handicrafts. The Fredericksburg Fair just completed another successful run Aug. 5 and I was delighted to receive two blue and two red ribbons.

Compared with the 252 years of the venerable Fredericksburg Fair, the Prince William County Fair is a youthful but no less respected and entertaining event. The 41st annual celebration just recently ended at the fairgrounds on Route 234 south of Manassas.

Beginning, as well as finishing, a project takes a little extra motivation in these days of dual careers and sometimes crushing family obligations. But signing up to exhibit at the fair can be a blessing in disguise, for it gives a great incentive to get organized.

For a number of years I had envisioned a spectacular Christmas decoration that I wanted to do for above our mantel. The holiday season would arrive right on schedule every December, finding me even more harried than the previous year. Perusing the fair catalogue last summer, I noted the category of "Christmas Holiday Item" and got inspired and, more important, got busy. The judges apparently didn't think my wreath was that spectacular, but it did get a second prize.

I used the same pressure this year to stitch a wedding sampler for a relative who is taking the plunge in October. Having the blue ribbon attached will be a fitting symbol of good luck for the future married couple, I think.

Ribbon or no ribbon, the bottom line is that the wedding present is ready!

Men and women who enter their photographs, canned beets and handmade wooden toys can gain a lot of personal satisfaction from the fair experience.

As we all know, humans need the appreciation of others and a sense of accomplishment, that small pat on the back. Fairgrounds can be just the place to get that little pat.

A fellow exhibitor one year couldn't contain her joy when she saw a blue ribbon on her dinner rolls. "People always rave about them," she confided, "but this sort of makes it official."

Another participant uses the fair every year to "market test" a craft item or two. She is on the committee for her church bazaar, and likes to gauge interest by seeing how well a project goes over with the judges.

While you won't get rich by winning ribbons at any county fair, it is possible to make some money.

I usually earmark my profits for a special treat, such as a course in a new craft or the purchase of materials for a favorite old hobby. One year I used prize money to take a basketmaking class.

While it wasn't too good at the time for my self-esteem, since I was the slowest and the most "all thumbs" person in the class, I did get a blue ribbon at the local fair the next year in the "Handmade Basket" category.

Entering that zucchini bread or crocheted doily often can help the family entertainment budget too.

At the Fredericksburg Fair, for example, every five items exhibited will earn a pass for one free admission with a maximum of five free passes per exhibitor.

A really industrious bunch could enjoy all the fun at the annual event for free.

Does it take money to make money? Not necessarily.

To enter some categories, such as "Hobby Collection," a participant has already presumably done the spending. In the flowers/garden section, one category requires an arrangement using fresh materials from the fields and roadside. How cheap can a project get! You are making cookies anyway; you can spare the specified six for judging.

Your first step in entering a fair is obtaining the catalogue, sometimes called a premium book, for the locality you are interested in.

The booklet usually will have the official entry blank along with the necessary information about rules, categories and deadlines.

The categories hardly ever change from one year to the next, so keep the catalogue as a reference for planning entries for the 1991 season.

Your first concern is eligibility.

Some fairs stipulate that entries must come from county residents only. Others, such as the Fredericksburg Fair, allow residents from several jurisdictions to participate, including Prince William, Fairfax and Northumberland.

The Prince William County Fair opens most categories to all state residents, with an occasional exception such as their baby contest, which is limited to county residents.

After determining eligibility, you will want to check out the rules.

Some fairs insist on prior registration of entries while other organizations just let you show up on the appointed day with your afghan, plum jelly and marigolds.

Here are more opportunities for fair aficionados to check out:

Amelia County Fair runs Sept. 5-8. Write to P.O. Box 451, Amelia, Va. 23002. The South Central Fair is slated for Sept. 17-22. Get information by writing to P.O. Box 5, Chase City, Va. 23924. The State Fair of Virginia is Sept. 20-30. The address is P.O. Box 25805, Richmond, Va. 23261-6805.

Bringing the 1990 season to an end is the Halifax County Fair Oct. 2-6. You can obtain a premium catalogue by writing officials at 102 Merritt St., South Boston, Va. 24592.