What's new in various product categories; monthly
Support Local Needlework Shops!
Or, how I survived TNNA -- and TNNA's efforts
to attract younger consumers.
by Jenny Hart (September 3, 2007)
(Note: Jenny Hart is an embroidery artist and the founder
of Sublime Stitching (www.sublimestitching.com).
She is the author of two titles on embroidery for Chronicle Books
and is an active member of the infamous Austin Craft Mafia (www.austincraftmafia.com).
The article was originally published online by Get Crafty (www.getcrafty.com)
and is reprinted with permission. Get Crafty is a fascinating site
for businesses who want to better understand the needs and interests
of the "new" generation of consumers.)
I see cottages and homespun samplers. I see bows of straw-like
raffia wrapped around the necks of wood geese. Hundreds of women in
embellished denim vests are pulling rolling suitcases behind them
while wandering among endless selections of needlepoint canvases,
hanks of yarn, button displays, and cross-stitch patterns. And more
cross-stitch patterns. I see snowmen in July. Where am I? Why am I
I’m at TNNA (The National Needlearts Association) trade show in
Columbus, Ohio along with my General Manager, Mary. I have been
attending and exhibiting at this trade show for three years,
offering my Sublime Stitching wares to a dying market of struggling
mom ‘n pop needlework shops. This is a trade show open to
retailers only, and the cost for exhibiting can easily reach into
the thousands of dollars. Which makes attending a financial stretch
My first year exhibiting, I thought I was there to help expand my
business, but now I find I’m attending more in an effort to help
support the continuation of their small businesses (although they
don’t quite know it yet). There is an enormous disconnect between
the DIY movement and these more traditional, independent retailers.
I'm trying to connect them to us/us to them, and boy, it ain't easy.
"These are hot-iron embroidery transfers. Would you like a
linesheet and free sample?" we repeat over and over to those
who pass by. Most stop in their tracks as soon as they hear
"embroidery transfers" and chuckle how they haven’t done
embroidery since they were a child and that it was embroidery just
like this that got them passionately interested in other kinds of
needleworking. ("Yes! Exactly!" we tell them).
But we’re a cute novelty. And they let us know they "only
carry yarn" or don’t have any desire to start carrying
embroidery supplies, even though "people keep asking for
it...." Then they walk off and continue bemoaning their
We stand utterly confused. Our business online and our wholesale
accounts with specialty shops (like gift and clothing boutiques,
where no other needlework product is offered) is more than we can
keep up with, but the needlework shops themselves don't seem to be
aware we exist, or that there is a flourishing market of hip DIYers
and novice needleworkers, hungry to learn and be creative; they're
just not heading to these stores. But we do notice that more and
more who are familiar with us are starting to show up at our booth,
excited to see us in person and check out the latest designs. Could
this be working...?
The first year I attended TNNA, I was invited in advance by Cathe
Ray, owner of Needle In a Haystack (www.needlestack.com
), to attend the Counted Threads and Embroidery group meeting which
she chaired. I was amazed that she knew I was attending TNNA that
first year and that she specifically asked me to be present at this
meeting to learn about the struggles with the market, and speak
about my company.
In a large conference room with over 100 shop owners was where I
first heard retailers crying out that their businesses were in dire
straits. I stood up and spoke to the group about the vibrant and
active DIY market that's booming elsewhere – to a roomful of blank
looks. And a few who didn't like the suggestion that they were,
possibly, just maybe, slipping out of touch with a very important
I realized they didn’t know where the new needleworkers and
crafters had gone. But how do you tell them? No one likes to be told
they're out of touch, but I couldn't bear to hear them talk about
closing their doors as if I didn't know where and how to find the
customers they wanted to attract.
I also learned that ‘crafting’ was a dirty word to them (they
are "needleworkers," while "crafting" suggests
projects with popsicle sticks), and they don’t spend a whole lot
of time reading Bust,
), CRAFT www.craftzine.com) or looking at the interweb for alternative resources outside of
the ones they already know.
They need serious help. I was going to have to do double DIY
duty: educate these retailers on how to attract our market
("Don't fear tattoos and pink hair! New needleworkers might
have facial piercings – this is okay!") and appeal to our own
community on why we should cross the thresholds of the shops that
seem so, you know....squaresville to many of us.
Why Shop Your Local Needlework Retailer.
1. Staff can actually show you how to do that tricky french knot
(or anything else you want to know).
2. Offer a wider selection of specialty supplies and tools not
available at big chain stores
3. Feature designs and kits by other independent artists (also
not available at big chain stores).
4. Workshops are often offered on weekends and evenings.
5. You have more influence as a customer.
Fortunately, there are those in the industry who do see the need
for change. They are excited to see newer, innovative businesses
contributing to their community. But, is their community and
industry too set in its ways to change?
TNNA itself does little to encourage new designers to set up
booths at its shows. Companies who have decades of business behind
them enjoy seniority and accumulate "points" according to
their booth size (and spending power) that guarantee the prime
locations and high visibility on the convention floor. The result is
seeing the same giant companies front and center year after year
without new businesses in the mix alongside them. As a newbie to the
show, I’m stuck in the last row, facing a wall (along with most
other first-time exhibitors and new designers). Also stuck in
Siberia is Amy Holbrook of AMH Designs (www.amhdesignonline.com).
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for an organization that
voices loud concerns for the need to attract new designers- by
sticking them in the most obscure and invisible spots at the
Can this picture change? Are the traditional needlework shops
headed the way of the dodo if they don't let up a bit with that
folksy/barnyard aesthetic? We shall see. In the meantime, you can do
something about it: go visit your local needlework shop!
Tell them Jenny sent you.
(Note: Is Jenny right? Are some retailers too
narrow-minded about the products – and the product categories –
they carry? Should trade associations do more for new and/or small
exhibitors? How many of our customers have tattoos? Email your
thoughts to CLN at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A Note from TNNA.
(Note: While preparing Jenny's column, CLN received
the following from Sherry Mulne, Director of the Stitch to WIN
Against Breast Cancer campaign and the PiPN College
I was excited to see you highlight the future generation of
crafters, the health aspects of the needlearts, as well as a company
reaching out to the community through charitable events in your
August 20th edition. These are the very issues TNNA has been
focusing on for the last several years – and ones we plan continue
Keeping in touch with upcoming generations of consumers is of
primary importance to our members and to our industry. Because of
this TNNA supports programs reaching out to youth of all ages.
Our Pathways into Professional NeedleArts (PiPN)
internship program has recently completed a second, highly
successful year. Eleven interns were immersed in the needlearts
industry through hands on training and on-site, summer internships
with TNNA members across North America. Not only does the program
create awareness of needlearts within the college-age group, it
opens the door to professional needlearts to young people who never
even thought of the possibility before! Plans are underway to expand
the program in the coming year.
The Needle Arts Mentoring Program, a project of the
Helping Hands Foundation, reaches out to children grades K through
12. NAMP had 140 programs in 29 states, with 3,569 children
participating as of last April. The program continues to grow at an
The healing nature of the needlearts makes them the perfect
vehicle for promoting well-being, in addition to supporting
charitable causes. Several years ago, TNNA began highlighting people
who shared the needlearts to help those in need through our Unsung
Heroes column in the newsletter. In 2004, we initiated the Stitch
to WIN Against Breast Cancer campaign. Since then,
we've shared the healing aspects of the needlearts with thousands
of people, and our members have raised over $70,000 to support
services for those living with breast cancer. OnePixelataTime.org
was also launched to raise funds and awareness.
The campaign has also embraced members who have held events and
projects for other charitable causes, from ovarian cancer, leukemia
and heart disease, to organizations for people dealing with loss and
grief. Because our members do so much for so many causes, TNNA is
considering expanding the original concept of Stitch to WIN
Against Breast Cancer to Stitch to WIN for
Wellness. In this way, we can highlight the health benefits
of the needlearts, while we continue to provide assistance to all
our members who reach out to help those in need.
Thanks again for drawing attention to some very important issues
affecting our industry both now and in the future.