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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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Comparing Quilting and Needlework ...

One is growing while the other.... Some possible reasons why.

Reader Contributions (November, 2003)

(Note: CLN received an interesting reaction to a letter published last month. We're re-running the original letter, and then the response.)

I have been watching the discussion about stitching magazines disappearing and the generally downward trend of the counted thread/cross stitch industry with great interest. As many of you know, I work in needlework, but I also have a foot in the quilting industry. I have found it both interesting and illuminating to compare and contrast the two industries.

One of the most telling observations I have made concerns the business models followed by many successful quilt designers/personalities. Currently the quilt industry is a much larger, more dynamic, and varied industry than the counted thread segment of the needlework industry. However, even with the many more commercial opportunities afforded by these dynamics, few of the "name" quilt designers are focusing on design alone.

If one looks carefully, it becomes apparent that most are involved in what I call the "Four Ts of Quilting": Teaching, Technique, Tools, and Theory. Many of the quilting world's success stories are involved in at least three and sometimes even four of these areas.

This led me to question the practicality of needlework designers' expectations and their focus primarily on designing.

I do agree that counted thread is currently in a slump and general industry wisdom has it that there are cycles, but I also feel that we as designers may be putting an undue pressure on the structure of our own businesses with such a narrow focus.

I agree that it would behoove us to look for ways to expand and grow the counted thread segment, but we also need to take a good long look at our own business structures. My feeling is that a broader business base can help minimize the economic vagaries of any single area of needlework. - Tink Boord-Dill, Tink Boord-Dill Needlework (http://tinkbd.com), and Following The Thread Internet Radio ( http://fttradio.com)

Has Needlework "Lost It"?

I especially enjoyed the comparisons between needlework shows/trends and the latest Quilt Market. I started out in quilting in the early 90's, then switched to needlework for personal reasons not relating to trends. So my initial show experience was with Quilt Market.

My first TNNA show was a big disappointment. It wasn't nearly as exciting as Quilt Market. Again, for personal reasons, I haven't been able to attend the big national needlework shows lately, but instead go to the small regional markets (which are always dull), so I haven't made the big show comparison lately. But I'm not surprised that many are having the same reaction I did.

So I really clicked with Tink Boord-Dill's comments about how maybe the counted thread business has blinders on. She is right on!

For example, one of the biggest problems I hear from my customers is that they buy these great designs, but they don't know how to make them into something useful. They could hire a finisher, but that is for the idle rich. When I've looked for good books I could sell on making stuff into useful items, I've ended up at Half Price Books with needlepoint books from the 1970's. (Great instructions, but you have to get past the styles and colors, which are just nauseating!).

So a lot of these designers who come up with pretty designs (including Tink, who has a cool line of sleep masks, but no instructions on how to finish them that I could see) should package some finishing instructions with their designs. If nothing else, the stitcher can give the instructions to their favorite quilter, who might be able to do something with it, given some guidance! And no fair charging an extra $5-10 for those, like they do for the stitch guides.

Our local craft store, where my mother ran the needlework department (Arnold's, well before MJ Designs or Michaels made inroads here), would sell project sheets for 50 cents because they moved the supplies better. That applied to needlework, too (again, back when a craft store actually sold open-stock needlework yarn and painted canvas).

Somewhere along the line, the needlework business lost it. Designers are already getting bucks for the pictures, which is where the real value is - they should keep the price rock-bottom low on the tools needed to make the design SELL.

Here's another thought. Designers who believe that the art is where all the value is should try licensing, instead of squeezing it all out of the stitcher in ever higher prices. (I could buy framed art for the price of some patterns today!) If they can't get a licensing deal, perhaps their art isn't worth as much as they think it is.

Debbie Mumm is a good designer/quilter who has moved beyond quilting. And you don't see Thomas Kinkade making all his money on framed art; he's got stationary, lunch boxes, puzzles, and just about anything else that could be decorated -- plus, of course, cross stitch versions of his art. If it's really good design, it can go beyond stitching. And that adds value everywhere. -- Catherine Bracken, www.discountneedlework.com

(Note: Previous columns in Category Reports are available by clicking on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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