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NOTIONS: What the Heck is Happening in Our Q-niverse?
jake • July 27, 2016 • 9 Comments

So the conversation about recent closures in our q-niverse continues with the news that American Quilter’s Society will cease publishing books next year, and that the International Machine Quilters Association is folding. (IMQA produced one show held each year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was dedicated to machine quilting and functioned as a trade organization to further professional development in the quilting community. This should NOT be confused with MQX Quilt Festivals which produces two shows–New England and Illinois–and which is still happily in business.)

What’s happening here? In our humble opinion, we’re finally seeing the shrinking of a bloated industry, something that many of us expected to happen during our national recession.

We spend a lot of time identifying and analyzing trends, because it helps guide our content, which in turn serves our customers, and because we’re just nosy that way. (Several of us are journalists and put that hunger for news into GenQ.) Our small staff’s combined time served in this wonderful industry tallies our experience in decades. We’ve seen many changes over those years. What we’re seeing now is a little scary, because we’re facing the unknown, but we find ourselves far more excited at the possibilities facing our quilting and sewing world.

International Quilt Market: The opening session at SchoolHouse in Houston in October 2014. The opening focused on the new Quilting in America Survey that was released that year.

International Quilt Market: The opening session at SchoolHouse in Houston in October 2014. The opening focused on the new Quilting in America Survey that was released that year.

More than a decade ago, surveys and reports began pointing out that our main consumer was aging, and rapidly. The result of this information caused what we sincerely believe can only be described as industry-wide panic. We’d go to Quilt Market (held twice each year) and see the sweat on the brows of the shop owners, company managers, and industry leaders as they talked about the average age of today’s quilters. What’s going to happen when our devoted fans start disappearing from the results of old age? It was, and is, an important question.

The initial answer was to start recruiting younger people into our club. But no one was quite sure how to do this. We watched awkward attempts to entice children and teens into sewing, and to draw the notice of the 20-somethings, usually through special events and awards categories at major quilt shows. What we did not see was a concerted marketing effort to figure out what might attract these younger men, and women into our rotary wielding arms. What was it that they might want from quilting and sewing?

International Quilt Market: Houston 2015: Modern Solids by In The Beginning Fabrics.

International Quilt Market: Houston 2015: Modern Solids by In The Beginning Fabrics.

Flash forward to 2009, the creation of the Modern Quilt Guild, and a little shameless self-promotion here. Melissa and Jake were editors of another quilt magazine that faced a needed change. We wanted to identify a visual style for our magazine. Our research sent us to the Internet. Blogs were no longer new and those serving quilters and sewists were soundly thriving on the Web. Over and over again on our most popular quilt blogs we spied the new MQG logo. We’d never heard of the MQG, but we knew we had fallen down a hole only to land at the feet of a flourishing tribe of like-minded fabric addicts. And they were just beginning to draw the attention of some of our biggest suppliers—C&T Publishing, Moda Fabrics, Westminster/FreeSpirit Fabrics, BERNINA, and Robert Kaufman Fabrics are several that come to mind.

International Quilt Market: Houston 2015-Sara Lawson, bag maker extraordinaire, shows us her new book. Sarah very much reflects the Modern quilter--young mom, blogger, talented and driven to create a niche for herself in the industry.

International Quilt Market: Houston 2015-Sara Lawson, bag maker extraordinaire, shows us her new book. Sarah very much reflects the Modern quilter–young mom, blogger, talented and driven to create a niche for herself in the industry.

This movement and its fast growth impressed Melissa and Jake and we wrote the first magazine article featuring the Modern Quilt Guild and its members in March 2010. It was clear that this community was creating a lot of new love for quilting and we happily joined in.

It took the span of two Quilt Markets (read as fast as bad, gossipy news travels on the Internet) for the industry to see the potential that these quilters brought for the long-term survival of all things stitchy. We literally went from absolutely no acknowledgement or chatter about Modern quilters in May 2010 to everyone at Quilt Market talking about nothing else in May 2011.

Like everything new in our q-niverse, there’s never a shortage of strong opinion available. (Case in point: A quilter in 1983 would have been spray-basted and wrapped in batting if he/she submitted a machine-quilted quilt to a major show.) We won’t rehash these debates. We will point out that our industry made an immediate turn toward Modern quilters, hoping to welcome them into our club. Suddenly solids were cool (again—think Amish quilts); quilts were graphic and arguably more sophisticated in many ways; hip colors were being used in our sewing machines and rotary cutters, and quilt shops were now being called sewing studios and labs. We launched websites, blogs, and social media pages galore to reach out to our newest sewists. Modern was buzzing everywhere.

Robert Kaufman Fabrics celebrated 30 years of Kona Solids at International Quilt Market in Houston 2015.

Robert Kaufman Fabrics celebrated 30 years of Kona Solids at International Quilt Market in Houston 2015.

In our opinion, Modern quilters are an amazing addition to our community and it is their evolution that we believe helped to stall our industry’s shrinkage. It is possible, though, that our industry will now need to shrink more than would have been needed a decade ago because of its response to the Modern quilter, which was to flood our shops and shows with so much product that we can’t possibly buy everything that is offered.

And that is what we’re seeing today. In every corner of our q-niverse there is an overabundance of stuff—magazines included.

The following statements are very generalized observations and are offered completely without judgment, so please, no fussing. There are, of course, exceptions and variations, but we need a starting place from which to understand our changing community.

First, our legacy quilters are not buying as much because they already have enough. (Anyone want to challenge this premise? “Working from Our Stash” has become its own mini-movement at quilt guilds throughout the country.) Our newer quilters are not in the same life-place as most of our legacies, and they conserve their resources (AKA quilt budgets) so they can still feed their young children.

Second, there’s a dividing line between viewing quilting as a hobby and seeing it as a vocation with the potential of earning a living. Our newer quilters tend to invest carefully in their craft because they nurture dreams of designing, writing or otherwise working in the industry. Our legacy quilters are fueling a hobby, and they buy in a much different manner: for the fun of it. We believe that, in general, our hobby quilter is a much more impulsive consumer. They are collectors and connoisseurs, and their numbers are shrinking, for the moment.

What does all of this mean? Well, this is where our excitement comes in. With industry constriction comes less stuff and less choice. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. As our consumer gets more selective, we must work harder to provide the best products possible. Our quilt utopia has better-curated designs, fabrics, books, tools and, yes, magazines. Those of us who work hard to listen to our community’s needs and wants will likely survive this constriction, and come out better for it.

Until we’re at the other side of this, it’s going to be a bloody road. Chaos is change’s natural partner. Survival means continuing to create products and experiences that are out of the box for our community. We have to treat them like the intelligent, discerning consumers they are and make ourselves better in the process. And our consumers need to support those businesses that speak to their hearts. It’s the Creative Circle of Life and we all have a part in it.

-Jake Finch is the co-founder and publisher of Generation Q Magazine. Along with her partner in crime, Melissa Thompson Maher, and their dedicated small staff of talent extraordinaire, and an amazing community of Q-bies, they seek to take over the world with stitching fun! 

POST SCRIPT: It was suggested that we should have a link to our own advertising information here. While this article was written with a global concern for our industry, it was probably silly of us to not offer this information here. If you’re looking for information about advertising in our print, online or eNewsletter, please contact myself, jake@generationqmagazine.com and/or Melissa Kanovsky, Ad Manager, at melissa.k@generationqmagazine.com. Thank you.

9 Comments

  • Linda P • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #1

    Spot on..have seen it coming..not only for quilting but for everything..too much stuff..guilty..but it’s all so cute/pretty..we want it all..too many thoughts for this short comment..

  • kitblue • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #2

    What an uplifting article! I am an aging quilter/sewer with an enormous stash. I recently donated a lot of fabric, notions, etc to a new Canadian, a volunteer theatre company (working with disadvantaged youth) and a local charity. I still have more than enough to meet my own needs.
    I read voraciously and eclectically but gave up magazines – not just because of advertising but because I am in Canada and most advertisers are in the US; cross border shipping can be costly, if even available. I liked to borrow them from the library but they closed my local branch and I am boycotting them until they replace it (supposed to take 2 years but now …?). I do subscribe to on-line newsletters, like yours, and enjoy them. I especially like those with free patterns. If I make and like that pattern, I am willing to buy others.
    I highly recommend you check out Geta Grama, if you have not already. She lives in Europe where there are not many quilters so her outlet is on-line. Her machine quilting is stunning.
    I look forward to your newsletter and more about the state of the craft/art/industry.

  • Lisa E • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #3

    Very insightful! Something to think about…

  • Joan • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #4

    I agree with much of what you have said. May I humbly suggest that there is a third group, of which I am a part–those who are a long way from being 20, but who find styles/colors such as civil war unappealing, and gravitate to Tula Pink, Allison Glass, Amy Gibson, Katie Blakesley, Amanda Jean Nyberg, Lee Heinrich, Faith Jones, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Jackie Gering, the fabulous Canadian and Australian quilters, and sooooo many more. We don’t purchase complete lines, as much as four or five pieces of a line, and find inspiration on the internet, however, still prefer to buy a paper pattern! We do buy books and magazines, but they have to have new material/ideas!

    • Jackie • 1 day ago
      COMMENT #

      I Agree whole heartedly with your post. My 20’s are long past but I eat up stuff from the modern designers like candy. I still consider myself a quilter but my true passion is bags/purses. However, pdf patterns are about the only thing I buy anymore – if it’s not available in .pdf format I usually pass. (Maybe it’s my need for instant gratification) I refuse to join my local quilt guild because of view points that are dated and the drama involved. I love hanging with newbies in the craft and feel I can learn from their new ideas. Blogs, eBay and etsy have had a huge impact on my purchasing habits. I support my local quilt shop as much as I can, while realizing they can only keep so much product on the shelf. Unfortunately, my local dedicated quilt shop rarely carries lines from modern designers.

  • suzanne guthrie • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #5

    Thank you for the really interesting article. As an older “hobby” sewer I am presently making more quilts than ever before, but with the goal of using up that big stash. But I really LOVE the ability to design, and make “art” quilts, wonderful and fulfiling, but also do not take extensive new resources. SO I certainly agree with the buy less observation. I enjoy the print and blog world to learn more about people and how they design and create, as well as history………not very excited about the contemporary 1-2 page limit on magazine articles. One more observation, the quilting edges are also fraying and blurring as textiles are used in quilty sort of ways by the rest of the fibre world, several pieces in the recent Embroider’s Guild national show would have looked right at home in an “art” quilt show. It will be an interesting new world.

  • Abby Glassenberg • 2 days ago
    COMMENT #6

    This is so fascinating. Thank you for sharing your broad experience of watching the industry overtime.

    I do see a contraction, but it seems to me to be concentrated on how information is distributed and how commerce happens rather than on the fabric, notions, machines, patterns that make up so much of the industry. A popular magazine folded, the publishing arm of an organization folded, a trade organization and show folded, a percentage of independent quilt shops are struggling – that’s certainly a contraction. I don’t see a slow down in new fabric lines being released, though, or new patterns entering the market. I don’t hear indie designers saying they’re selling less. Is it possible that this is a shake-up driven by the internet more than anything else?

    • jake • 2 days ago
      COMMENT #

      Hi Abby: Jake here. I DO see a slowdown in fabric coming out. Remember that like some other industries, fabric has a 6-12 month lagtime before it’s on the shelves of retailers. I saw it at the last Market and heard from several large fabric companies that they were culling their bolts. The consumer will likely notice this around the first of the year. There is also a move BACK to more traditional fabrics. Not everyone, but some of the big ones were hearing this from their buyers. I also know there’s been a slow down in books coming out. The only things I don’t see cutting back right now are sewing machines, of any type. But the newest ones seem to cater to a lower price point for sale, which can also be seen as an answer to who is buying. BTW, the closures are happening fast in retail stores. We’ve lost a dozen shops this year alone, almost ALL to retirements and closings, not cancelled shipments. That tells us a lot.

  • Sally Signore • 1 day ago
    COMMENT #7

    Thanks, Jake, for your inciteful and positive thoughts. Quilting magazines are certainly not the only print publications to be going out of business, never mind book stores closing! But I’m glad for your take that it may be temporary until things settle down. Growth doesn’t go on forever and there is a cycle to every business. The fittest will survive. We just don’t know what that will entail yet. I’m sure there are wonderful things to come.

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