Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thoughts on the Current State of the Quilting Industry

I’ve been reading a few articles recently about the current state of quilting industry.  A national quilting magazine (Quilters Newletter) is going under. Quilt shops are closing. So what does this mean? Is the industry failing? And why is this happening? Why? Why?

I hear theories:
-Quilters (as a whole) are getting old!
-Too much on-line shopping for fabric instead of brick and mortar stores
-The industry is bloated

While many of us quilters are older, there are always young ones coming into the fold. So I don’t agree with the first theory. Quilting is alive and well!

Yes, many of us do shop for fabric on-line. But most of us also shop in brick and mortar stores, too. To stay in business, brick and mortar stores must carry fabric that quilters want,  teach classes that are challenging, and have an encouraging attitude to attract customers. They must keep the fabric fresh and new to keep us coming in often. And maybe they should think about expanding to on-line shopping, too, if feasible.

It seems every time a quilt store closes, it is blamed on on-line shopping. But we tend to forget one key factor. A quilt store is a small business, usually run by a quilter. That quilter may or may not be an astute business person. It take a lot of business savvy to run any small business.  And not all quilters are business savvy. Many quilt shops probably close because they are simply not run well.  

Sites such as Craftsy and Massdrop often have phenomenal sales – who can resist? Who can say, “Don’t by on-line at all! Buy the more expensive products at local shops!” Remember, many quilters live on tight budgets. You can’t expect quilters to never buy on-line. There’s a happy mix. I do try to buy locally if I can, but sometimes what I want is only available on-line.

Is the quilting industry bloated? Yes, I think so. I do tire of seeing someone share a technique that is touted as “new” when I’ve seen it over and over. It seems that many quilters fancy themselves to be national teachers – but they don’t bring anything new to the table.  They teach things we’ve seen before.

I’m offended by ‘national teachers’ who literally beg for followers on Facebook or Instagram. It’s as if they think they’ll get hired for more jobs if they have more followers. I often find that such teachers don’t have the quality of work to back up their touted abilities. 

That being said, there are LOTS of great quilting teachers out there! But it’s expensive for quilt guilds to hire them, paying their teaching fees, airline tickets, hotel, food, baggage fees, airport shuttles, snacks…  Some guilds are small and simply can’t afford to hire the big names.

I’ve been on all sides of this issue – as a guild member, as a guild officer in charge of hiring national speakers, and as a national quilt teacher.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

As a guild member it’s so important to TAKE THE CLASSES offered by your guild’s hired national teacher(s)! Support your guild! Even if you think it’s not something you’ll find interesting…take it anyway! I’ve never taken a class where I didn’t learn something new that I would use from time to time. And if the classes don’t fill, your guild may not come close to breaking even on money.

As a guild officer bringing in teachers it’s so important to know the pulse of your guild. You must see past what you would personally want and bring in a teacher that most of your guild would like. Talk to members. Ask them who they would love to learn from or which skills they’d like to learn.

As a former national teacher I’ve had guilds try to negotiate my prices. I really hate when they’ve done that. Why should I give your guild a better deal than another? I know it seems expensive to hire national teachers. But you need to remember the time the teacher spends at home getting ready to teach at your guild. I know I have spent weeks on lecture presentations. I have spent years making the quilts that I have brought to share with your guild. I spend lots of time on kits for classes and instructions to hand out. Not to mention, think of the teachers’ travel time and the inconveniences of having to leave at 3 AM to catch a flight or having to board her pets while she is gone from her home.  I think national teachers are worth their weight in gold. The busy ones essentially give up their home life to be on the road all the time.

For many national teachers, this income is necessary. For me it was not. And that’s one reason I stepped away. I did love to teach at guilds, but I love being home more.

So why are quilt magazines failing? And why is a major quilt publisher (American Quilters Society) no longer publishing books?

Some of this, I believe, is for the some of the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Same old, same old. Why buy a magazine when it has patterns we’ve seen before? How many nine-patch patterns do we really need? Give us something new! And I feel the same about books – I can tell the publishing houses that really put thought and planning into their book lines. And I can tell the ones who do not do this – and I think AQS failed in this arena. They have continually published books by their own employees, and hired these employees to teach at their shows, leaving out other AQS authors who might be more popular.

I also think the Internet has so much to do with the changes in the quilting industry.  And I’m a part of this, too. There are so many blogs that offer free patterns constantly. You can find dozens of free BOM’s every year. Piecing, applique, whatever – you can find a free pattern through a blog or on Pinterest.

And many of us more experienced quilters can look at a quilt we admire and figure out how to make it without a pattern.  And as long as we only make it for our own use, we’re not doing anything wrong.

And so…that’s my take on the current state of the quilting industry. It’s definitely NOT a failing industry! It’s just changing with the times. And it will continue to change with the times. And so it goes...


  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this. Its the 2nd article I've read on the issue today

  2. About 7 years ago a local quilt shop owner had the same theory. Of course we were going through a recession. They are still open and going to markets to sell. The older quilters usually have a large stash and want to use the stuff up before they quit quilting. I stopped buying magazines and quilt books. I don't use the ones I have. I offered them to a quilting guild and they didn't want them. I stay busy with the quilting I do and I am still looking at fabric, but not purchasing a whole lot. I think this is a phase and the old ways need a fresh look and approach to stay alive. Chris

  3. I think you are very accurate about the challenges of a small business and those who choose to enter that arena. I sense that many quilt shops (and yarn shops, too) are opened by people who love the creativity and want to be surrounded by it. But they aren't necessarily great business people and so they fail or weaken. It is like the host who says, "I love throwing dinner parties, I think I'll open a restaurant." Those are two very different things requiring different skill sets, although some overlap.

  4. I agree with much of what you are saying! As a guild officer, we have been trying to tap more into local speakers & teachers & even using the talents of our guild members to save money.

  5. Very well said.

    I agree with what you said.

  6. Thank you for sharing these thoughts on this matter. As a quilt shop owner getting ready to close my shop on October 1, I have found them interesting. I'd started to comment here but as it was turning into a novel decided it might be better to do a posting on my own blog as a follow up. I had already sent out a newsletter trying to encourage my ladies to support their local shops, be they quilt shops, book stores, or restaurants. Suffice it to say, the internet and use thereof has done a lot of damage to independent quilt shops. Moreso,I think, than the inability of the owner(s) to run their business profitably.


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