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.
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?
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.
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.
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, email@example.com and/or Melissa Kanovsky, Ad Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.