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

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Report I: TNNA/Long Beach

The products, designs, and trends from two needlework veterans.

By Janet Perry, Napa Needlepoint (February 7, 2005)

This year's Winter TNNA was the biggest to date. I thought it would take me forever to get through everything, but I was pleasantly surprised. Because knitting has been so big, many new knitting companies were at the show, which made it much easier to home in on all the lovely needlepoint out there.

Surprisingly for so much knitting, it seemed there weren't that many new yarn companies. There were many companies with high end knitting bags (possible needlework project bags) and knitting patterns. New to knitting last year, I had an intuition that knitting had hit the top of the crest. This year I felt more certain of it, as it seemed as if many companies which have traditionally been needlework companies now had some knitting products or had repackaged some of their products for knitters. This, I think, is a good idea because it gives their traditional customers ways to buy products to expand into knitting and it gives knitters a reason to come into their shops (and possibly become interested in other needlearts as well).

A bigger concern I have is with the book market. Publishing companies are coming out with knitting books seemingly by the dozen. As a result, the opportunity for publication of books on other needlecrafts seems to have dried up. I only saw one new needlepoint book at a major needlework book distributor (last year there were three or four). Because the possibility of getting needlework books accepted by big publishers has dried up, there seems to be more emphasis on self-publishing and, as a result, on needlework companies distributing self-published books and chart packs.

I think this signals somewhat of a trend towards charted needlepoint. The cost of hand-painted canvases continues to rise, largely a result of the handwork and time involved. In order to grow the needlework business, shopowners need to bring people into the shops with products which look expensive, but are not expensive to purchase. If it costs about $10-15 for me to make a fancy scarf which looks trendy and expensive, then I am unlikely to turn to needlepoint if the cost is going to be $30 to buy a small canvas and threads. Shops need to take this into account and need to be looking for products and classes which will show people needlepoint does not have to be a "rich woman's hobby."

Looking at the needlepoint companies at TNNA, a number of things were immediately obvious to me from a business point of view. Clearly the continued economic difficulties in this market have hit home for the designers at last. Several companies who have been at every TNNA since I began attending the California market in 1998 were not there. Many other companies had smaller booths, or had reduced their exposure by not having space at the Galleria.

On the whole I think this is a good thing. Far too many needlework companies do not run their companies on good economic principles. In other words, they may do the same thing year after year and not decide where their money is used well. So a large booth, an ad, and Galleria space may only yield $10 per $100 spent, but spending less money may result in $15 per $100 spent, a better return.

Another reason why this contraction is good is that contraction in the market provides opportunities for new companies. Too many needlepoint companies I saw at TNNA had little new to show. They had few new designs (and these weren't really highlighted) and the new designs they had looked like their other designs. So little innovation.

It reminds me of car companies in the early 70's. They thought they had a lock on the market and did not innovate. But circumstances (oil crisis) caused the market to contract and opened the door for innovative new companies to bring products to market.

TNNA had some of the first glimmerings that this is happening in needlepoint. The companies which looked freshest and the most exciting have brought out designs which speak to several trends.

1. High-end decorating. One designer, Julie Pishke, had some wonderful shells and corals in colors which work well with designer palettes. Shorebird Studios had several large coordinating oriental pieces. Lani Designs had created a number of oriental pieces which were available in many sizes, often with the sort of complex borders characteristic of oriental art (and also of high-end decorator pillows).

2. Brighter color palette. These are not the neon colors of a few years ago, but saturated colors. A new exhibitor, Bongo, uses these colors to great effect in painted canvases which are designed to show off stitches. I like seeing these canvases because they attract the eye with their colors but do not look difficult to stitch.

Although these color combinations are great, they may not appeal to older stitchers. The playing cards designs from Custom House uses a simple palette of primary colors with black and white. This is a great combination of colors which is traditional enough but clear enough to attract new stitchers.

3. Customization. While having one design in one (or sometimes two) colorways has always been standard, now some companies are willing to customize. For example, The Red Thread has tool totes with initials. Last year each initial had its own color combination; this year (for a slight fee) any combination can be painted for any letter. This is good as it allows the customer to make something unique. You may say that the needlepoint is unique anyway, but being able to choose a light pink letter on a dark pink background might be enough to get that lover of pink into needlepoint.

Although in the past few years there has been lots of emphasis on smaller needlepoint projects, this seemed to be less the case at this market. While there are still lots of smaller designs, most needlepoint designers are emphasizing canvases which can be finished into something practical. This could be as simple as painting several related designs in sizes to fit the Lee leather accessories or as complex as creating a set of matching golf club covers, but the emphasis on making needlepoint useful once it's finished continues unabated.

Another growing trend is designs which need more complex finishing. While projects you can finish yourself are still an important part of the needlepoint market, I saw many companies with three-dimensional items, houses with several pieces made as stand-alone objects or as purses, and even 3-D fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The flowers are for sandals (child and adult sizes) and are made by Birds of a Feather. The fruits and vegetables are delightfully realistic and are designed by Ruth Chow and distributed by Sundance Needleworks.

Painted Canvas.

Tink Boord-Dill has added a new set of designs loosely based on Japanese family crests. These designs are lovely and come in both 14 and 18 mesh. I think there will be more designs coming out on 14 mesh in the future.

Keri Designs (from Hawaii) has some great Hawaiian shirts, also available on 14 and 18 mesh canvas. The 14 mesh is a great place to show off stitches and threads (I saw it done with River Silk ribbons and it was fantastic), while the 18 mesh has more realistic shading.

Continuing in the tropical theme, several companies, including Associated Talents, had ornament sized flip-flops, often finished with ribbon straps and embellishments. Jane Nichols had some great golf pillows, rugs, and coasters as well as a whole flock of flamingoes and flip-flop coasters.

Julia's Needleworks had a lovely, delicate gazebo which is finished in 3-D (with a roof). Ruth Schmuff had an novel approach to purses with several designs based on bustiers. Changing Woman Designs has many designs based on great art, including Monet's Water Lilies and Vermeer's Girl with a Peal Earring. Barrani Designs has a great series of mosaic vegetables. These can be done beautifully in long stitch.

Kathy Schenkel has a great series of Round the World Santas, each with a separate flap to needlepoint. They were finished as bags and would be a great decoration. Beau Geste has another limited edition series of canvases based on Christopher Radko ornaments this year all nutcrackers. Unlike pervious years, they will all be made available at the same time.

Although there continues to be great Christmas and Halloween designs, I saw many new Easter designs. These included Chocolate Bunnies from The Point of It All and designs based on Muni's chalkware bunnies from Whimsy & Grace.

Three designers stood out with clever ideas for small needlepoint. Shelly Trubbey has Tiny Travelers, small designs which come with mini stitch guides, a color picture, and materials list. The Princess and Me has an advent calendar of 25 2" ornaments; they are charming. Lund Enterprises has a series of purse and pump ornaments, available in 12 colors each. These small canvases are great for trying out stitches and threads. Lund also has great circular ornaments with geometric patterns as well as belts in rarely seen geometrics.

River Silks has an entire range of Kits to Go which include painted canvases from designers such as Keri Designs, Jean Smith, and Peace on Earth. They come packaged with silk ribbons, instructions, and the canvas.

Many companies seem to be doing canvases of street scenes and buildings. TS Designs has several single and multiple buildings, realistically painted. Renaissance Designs has an interesting Christmas village as well a different city street scenes. I was particularly struck by the Paris scenes which included Montmatre and the Moulin Rouge.

Finishing Ideas.

The wonderful Foot Petal sandals from Birds of a Feather are a fantastic idea. The painted canvas comes with the petals and centers for two flowers, a button form for the center, backing fabric, and velcro. The finished flowers are backed with velcro so they can be removed from the shoes. Because the sandals are made in the U.S., they come in regular show sizes.

My favorite finishing idea was the self-finishing Dupioni silk jewelry cases from Chameleon Designs. The colors are bright, the silk is lovely, and they are so easy to finish that I'm entranced. In fact, I need to go through my stash to look for pieces to put in them.

With the popularity of needlepoint sandals, there is a wider variety of shapes available. One finisher I saw has three shapes of sandals and 11 colors of leather. And better yet, the cost is low enough to make these sandals a possibility for many customers. In fact, one of the shoe shapes uses belts, making these popular canvases useful in other ways, too.

Voila C'est Fini has added a complete shoe canvas to its line. The same canvas (they showed them made up in plaids) can be finished with a kitten heel or as flats, and with a rounded or pointed toe. I hope I'll see more shoes in the next year; they are a great idea.

Lee has added a new tote to their leather line, the City Tote, which has a shape like popular "Shopper" bags. They have also added new colors for ID tags and a great daytime clutch.

New Threads.

There were lots of cool new threads at TNNA and I have been having a wonderful time trying them out.

YLI will be introducing heathered colors of ribbon floss this spring. The heathered colors are soft matte colors, but not as fuzzy as wool. Matte threads are something we need more of in needlepoint. They also have a cool thin metallic thread which is new to me called Candlelight. I'll let you know more about it once I've tried it out.

Rainbow Gallery introduced two new threads. Mandarin Floss is made from 100% bamboo and has six strands. This is the first bamboo thread for needlepoint and it stitches beautifully. It is more matte than floss but still has a gentle sheen. There are 33 colors. Sparkle! Braid is a thin, very bright metallic which is designed to be combined with another thread. One feature is that it's easier to use for blending than filament, which is nice. There are 30 colors. There are six new colors of Water N'Ice, including two "wet look" colors which are quite dark. A yummy bubble gum pink is now available in Very Velvet (both sizes) as well as new colors in Splendor, Petite Sparkle Rays, Flair, Frosty Rays, and lots more.

Needle Necessities has seven new colors of overdyed floss. These colors include some great blues, a bright yellow/orange combination, a bright light blue, and a good green. They also have six additional colors of #8 braid and five of #12 braid in the overdyed metallics. These are not new colors, but only new to the metallics.

Kreinik has six new metallic colors available in Fine, Tapestry, and Medium (8, 12, 16) braid. Called "natural colors," these are great soft shades. They will also debut Red Ember, a wonderful combination of red and gold. These will be available in March.

Anchor has introduced a pearl/metallic combination in #5. These are solid or multi-colored threads with a gold or silver metallic wrap. There are three multi-colors and six solid colors, including red, three dark blues and green.

In April DMC will be introducing their six-strand linen floss, which is already available in Europe. There are 12 natural and pastel shades. Suggested retail price is $1.29 for an 8-meter skein.

Stitch Elegance, the distributors of the glass laying tool, have a wonderful new thread called Snipits. This is a Mercerized cotton, which is one of the softest threads I've ever used. It comes in 22 soft variegated shades. The retail cost is about $3 for 10-yard skeins.

Caron Collection has come out with new solid colors in Impressions and Soie Cristal. There are three green color families as well as a family of red-violets. Finally, JL Walsh has 10 new colors of Silk Perle, milky pastels which look like sherbet.

Books & Tools.

Ruth Dilts has written a great book for beginning needlepointers, called Needlepoint 101. It talks about all the basics beginners need for stitching painted canvases, has 20 stitches diagrammed, and includes before and after pictures, so that it's apparent how stitching decisions were made. Best of all, it should be generally available for less than $20.

Charland Designs has come out with the Little Clipper, a scissors fob clip which can be attached to your scissors. Rainbow Gallery has made a new version of the LoRan needle threader which will be available in bulk for local shops. (It's inexpensive enough to make a good giveaway.)

Colonial Needle has a few new needles, Chenille needles in size 28 (for very fine embroidery) and the Tapestry Tweenie, which has a larger eye and is a slimmer needle.

Romancing the Past had a fantastic tool tote, which is the size of a glasses case. They are covered in oriental brocades and have short handles. Inside is a mirror and two Rare Earth Magnets. It's a great size to pop into a stitching bag and is elegant enough to be an evening bag.

(Note: Janet's company is Napa Needlepoint. Contact her at janetp@napanet.net or visit www.napaneedlepoint.com.)

Report II: TNNA, A Second Opinion

(Note: The following was written by a veteran needlework designer/business person, who asked that her name be withheld.)

The good news is that most folks seemed to be having a good show, but the question remains: is that based on lowered expectations due to poor sales in 2004?

The bad news is that there just wasn't anything show stopping not at TNNA, Quilt Market, Stitches-East or CATS in Hershey. Lots of good standards and variations on standards, but nothing show-stopping new.

At TNNA, all the big guys seem to be doing their best to copy each other, although Trendsetters managed to offer a yarn or two of the type that offered some interest, and certainly the Gedifra line is one of the strongest ever offered. Berroco, Euro, Kertzer, Knitting Fever, and Plymouth continue to offer interesting novelties at good price points. Cascade seems to be working at building on its solid basics and will be "the most ready" when the new knitter turns to more traditional yarns to use in their projects.

There were a few new yarn companies who seemed hungry to compete, but again, not really offering much outside of possibly slightly discounted pricing for a large enough order. Although, Dark Horse Yarns offered a small line of interesting textured yarns that will be attractive to the dyers a small but always growing segment of the fiber arts market.

Politically, TNNA's two new Special Interest Groups seeming to be moving forward, The "Reps" group had its second meeting and is looking forward to meeting again in June.

The Counted Thread & Embroidery group leadership was handed over from Designer Tink Boord-Dill to retailer & mythbuster Cathe Ray of Needle In A Haystack. The CT&E group hopes to learn from the Yarn group as they work together to rebuild their segment.

The Yarn Group held a meeting late in 2004 and created several task forces to help them develop strategies on how to go forward. Each group set reasonably "doable" goals for itself and several had implications for more than just the Yarn group members. Certainly there is a recognition of the need for more business oriented education and a better understanding by retailers of the supply chain.

No one seems sure what the hot colors will be, so there were variations on existing themes such as the lodge look, mixed up with today's versions of the Acid Greens, Bright Yellows and Hot Pinks from the late 60's & early 70's. Seems they got the part of Color Trends lecture on Rustic & Urban Sheen, but missed the middle ground of refreshed basics.

Missing or at least not obvious, was any recognition by yarn of home dec as a viable market niche; most exhibitors featured basic scarves with bits of novelty clinging almost as afterthoughts or ponchos. At least they offered basic and beyond knit and crochet, but one has to wonder, "What's next?"

Felt seemed a big stronger, but still not taking anyone's imagination by storm; maybe we can convince Jennifer Garner that she can practice kick boxing and felt a new purse all at the same time or combine a wine pressing with dying and felting.

Free Form Knit & Crochet continues to build a following. Interesting Phenomena: TNNA once again offered its "needlework bee" with a free intro to counted thread, knit, and crochet. Apparently crochet is on the upswing as retailers realize that it sells 25-33% more yarn and that yes, there really are consumers out there who will pay for "good yarn" if they are treated nicely in the "fancy yarn stores."

Miniature Punch Needle seems to maintaining its own, although many retailers are not yet sure this will continue.

Amazing Needle teachers showed off a prototype of a metal version that should be offered later this year.

Among those offering glamorous, added-value sales were Geddes Glass Studio (constantly busy), and new exhibitor Gita Maria was also getting well deserved recognition of her wonderful enamel charms and buttons.

If there was any trend at all, it was Embellishment and Elegance. It will be interesting to see what the Yarn Group does to take that next step in moving new knitters from "craft of hour" to lifelong hobbyists and in further encouraging the "next generation"

In keeping with the Embellishment - both extreme and elegant there seemed to be more embroidery-type products than has been obvious is recent years, and some retailers indicated a growing call for surface stitchery.

The interesting question to ponder: What will happen when as the chains start rolling out their private label products at very competitive pricing? Will the independent shops be ready to compete?

For now at least, overall, retailers seem to sense a loosening of consumer wallets and were ready to begin to prepare their stores for the buying season.

And that is the news all the suppliers have been waiting to hear. Here's hoping this optimistic view point carries over to CHA & Nashville

(Note: To read previous Category Reports, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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