The first week of 2015 has already slipped by! When each new year falls upon us, I think human nature dictates that we reflect and respond to the past as we push into the future. New Year’s resolutions tend to be the biggest outlet for those thoughts.
As quilters who thrive on sewing, a lot of us have very specific resolutions directed at our art/craft. Many resolutions tend to be goal-oriented with a specific outcome, such as “I will complete a quilt a month”, ” I will participate in two swaps this year”, “I will learn three new techniques”, or my personal favorite, “I will finish every project I start.” (Ha!) The resolutions start to read like a to-do list or a set of rules. Pretty soon, sewing becomes an obligation rather than a pleasurable experience.
Goals and guidelines are important, but so is the inherent reason for why we all sew. The most important resolution for me is to engage in mindful sewing: to truly be present in my approach and do my best work, inside and out. I made a list with a more do-what-you-love, love-what-you-do approach. Here’s sticking to these resolutions this year!
– Unless sewing is your job, quotas do not matter. No one is keeping score.
– If you don’t love it, don’t finish it. Change the pattern. Cut it up and turn it into a different quilt, or a pillow, or a bag. Straying away from an original design isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a mark of creative genius!
– If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. No one cares if you got “that” fabric first. If it runs out, new pretty things are on the way.
– You don’t have to cut up your favorite fabric. It is still waiting for its moment.
– Don’t forget to make something for yourself.
– Challenge yourself. Not sure how to use “Marsala” for 2015? See if you can’t incorporate it into a quilt or a project! Haven’t tried paper piecing yet? Go for it!
– You really can mix up that fat quarter bundle. It’s okay, I promise!
When I was a new quilter I never thought about labeling my quilts. I made my first quilt when I was in art school for a class project and my second for my first child when I was pregnant. Both quilts never left my possession so a label seemed irrelevant. I realized how much a quilt label meant when the first child was born.
I gave birth in December of 2002 at the hospital where I worked as a labor/delivery nurse. Our local guild donated quilts to the hospital for all of the holiday babies. The nurses I worked with presented me with the most precious Christmas quilt I could ever imagine. It was a sweet little rail fence quilt in red, green and white that was hand tied with perle cotton. Every year will pull the quilt out when we decorate for the holidays and wonder who took the time to part with such a lovely treasure. It had no label. Years later when I joined our local guild, I would sometimes sit there and wonder which lovely woman made the quilt for my son. I asked around but no one seemed to be able to identify the maker!
Quilt making is a long running textile tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. The gifting of quilts also usually signifies an important event in someone’s life, such as a marriage, birth, illness, birthday or other major life event. These stories of life and relationships are lost if you do not label your quilt!
We have also all heard of at least one sad quilt story where a quilt is labored over and sent off to its destination only to somehow get lost on its way. Shipping labels can get smudged or battered. Sometimes theft of a package could be the culprit. I would like to think if a quilt had a label it would somehow find its way home.
The Quilt Alliance, a non-profit established in 1993 to document, preserve and share American quilt heritage, has done a lot of work to share quilt stories so they do not become lost. They are a great resource for how to document the quilts we make or collect, and why! You can also purchase a quilt labeling kit from them that is really quite lovely.
Labels can be as simple as printing one at home on printable fabric or using a Micron pen and making one by hand. Etsy has several sellers that offer pre-printed and custom labels. Ananemone Labels has some lovely ones.
Labels should include at least
– the name of the maker
– the name of the quilter
– the date it was made
– if it has a specific purpose, the name of the recipient and the occasion for which it was made
This textile tradition is very important. So is your work! Label your quilts, take credit for your work, and share your quilt stories.
We would love to see how you label your quilts. Share a picture of how you label your quilts on our Facebook page or Instagram. Share your quilt stories!
It’s been a weird month in the fabric industry. For a variety of reasons, there’s been a lot of turnover in quilt shops, both brick-and-mortar and online. New shops are constantly popping up, particularly on sites like Etsy, while some of the cornerstones in the world of indie fabric are closing their doors. As will come as a surprise to no one, we have some opinions about this.
The fate of fabric shops is an issue that hits close to home. Rhonda opened Tabby Fabric & Studio as a brick-and-mortar quilt shop in Beaufort, South Carolina in early 2011. There was much early resistance to a “modern” fabric shop in the town, but Tabby eventually gained a devoted following of local modern quilters and became the “home base” for the Beaufort Modern Quilt Guild. But Rhonda continually felt that a lot of the younger quilters in town were forgoing her shop in favor of online retailers, and a quick visit to Etsy and big-box fabric stores who shall not be named here confirmed why: designer fabrics that she sells at the MSRP were being sold elsewhere for several dollars less per yard. This has become even more of a pain in the badonkadonk for Rhonda since Tabby has transitioned to selling fabric online.
What’s the Problem?
As anyone who runs an independent fabric store will tell you, it is not easy work. Managing inventory, cutting and ringing up fabric, coordinating and sometimes teaching classes, assembling kits, and managing finances results in long hours, little family time, and a lot of stress. The $11 retail price per yard for quilt cottons (the industry standard) results in far less revenue after deducting the wholesale price of the fabric. From this far-less amount, all other expenses incurred in operating a small business (rent, bills, wages, etc.) must be paid. This applies to both brick-and-mortar and online shops; while online stores don’t necessarily have the costs of retail space, they have other expenses such as e-commerce costs and website maintenance fees. Either way it’s not cheap, and it’s increasingly rare for these small businesses to turn a profit, let alone pay their owners any sort of living wage.
THEN, on top of that, enter the competition. Contrary to popular wisdom, local quilt shops don’t primarily compete against each other. They’re local, meaning more or less isolated to a certain market, and each shop has its own niche. The main rivals for a local quilt shop are the huge corporate online retailers and the hobbyist fabric sellers who undercut MSRPs online. These folks contribute to bad stuff in several ways: they force other legitimate sellers online and on Etsy to lower their prices in order to compete; they violate fabric manufacturer policies, thereby punishing shops that don’t; they present a direct threat to local fabric shops; and they help contribute to a culture of devaluation in the craft industry.
But What About the Free Market?
“But Lauren and Rhonda,” you say, “what about free market capitalism? Don’t people selling on Etsy have the right to sell their fabric at whatever cost they want?” Yes and no. Many fabric manufacturers (though not all) insist on no more than 10% deviation from their MSRP to provide a level playing field for all of their retailers. It’s a good policy, as this whole kerfluffle shows. The problem? It’s not enforced. We know a lot of folks in the industry, and have not yet found a single example of people losing their accounts with manufacturers because of lowballing prices. This ends up punishing people who are trying to make a living wage by doing the right thing. So boo.
But even if there aren’t policies in place for a specific manufacturer, and even if the seller has the right to name her own prices, it doesn’t make it the right thing to do. A lot of the online sellers who undercut MSRP are not operating a small business with the intent to support themselves and their families. It’s impossible; their prices are so close to wholesale that any profit margin is completely incompatible with running a serious business. Instead, it’s a hobby. Buy fabric at wholesale, sell it at a slightly higher price to watch the Paypal balance grow a bit. And that would be fine, if that were all it was. But actions have consequences, and I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that our hobbies generally shouldn’t hurt other people. As a lot of independent fabric shops can tell you, that’s what this practice is doing.
But I Like Cheap Fabric! Why Should I Care?
In its purest form, Etsy is a good thing. So is the quilt community. We’re a friendly bunch, and we like to support makers and doers (hence the raison d’etre for RST). But the same processes that have helped to grow quilting into an industry have hurt the industry itself. There is a troubling strain running through Etsy and elsewhere where handmade work is selling for far, far less than its actual value. The culture of Etsy promotes this; it’s not uncommon to see a meticulously pieced baby quilt run for $75 or so, which is barely the cost of materials. How can I, selling a paper-pieced lap quilt that I easily spent 40 hours making and value at a conservative $600, compete with that? (Answer: it’s been a while since I’ve updated my Etsy site.)
A lot of quilters have embraced Sam Hunter’s We Are $ew Worth It campaign, which beautifully articulates the idea that those who make things should be paid what they’re worth. She is right on. A quilt takes hours and hours to make, and the cost of fabric and batting and thread and sewing machine maintenance isn’t cheap (see Mollie Sparkles’ No Value Does Not Equal Free post). How can we, as quilters, claim in good conscience to support the notion that makers should be paid what they’re worth but not support the small businesses that supply them? How can we complain that our work is being devalued when we devalue our own materials and the work of others to sell them to us? If we want to encourage a fair value for quilts as product, we need to get behind every step of the process. We need to support the industry that makes makers possible.
There’s so much emphasis these days on shopping local, which is a wise choice economically and environmentally. It’s hard to “shop local” when fabric is concerned, because if your LQS doesn’t have what you need, they just don’t. You’ll probably have to order online. But to piggyback on this movement, we are taking a stand and encouraging buyers and sellers to shop ethically. If you are a shop owner, don’t devalue your hard work and your product; stick to the industry accepted range of MSRP. If you are a buyer, accept the price of designer fabric and shop from retailers who set fair prices. If you are a manufacturer, hold your retailers accountable.
We’re taking Sam’s “$ew Worth It” pledge — for supplies and for the products made from them. We will also stop promoting any websites on our deals posts that consistently sell fabric for lots less than MSRP (excluding sales).* Shop owners work hard (and we know it); let’s give these folks some love. Fabric is fun, but only if it’s fair.
Bitches & Stitches forever,
Lauren and Rhonda
*Do you have (or know of) a fabric shop that’s doing it right? Let us promote it on our weekly deals posts! Contact us for more info.
In my other life as a college English instructor, I am constantly making the case to my 18-year-olds that writing matters. People write to communicate, and they write for a reason. Writing does not happen in a vacuum or bubble; our writing is constantly motivated and influenced by what we wish to accomplish, with whom we wish to communicate, and what is happening in the world around us.
But the more time I spend in the quilting community, the more I realize that modern craft matters in a similar way. We’ve all seen ways in which people have used their knitting talent to “yarn-bomb” street signs, bike racks, and buses, making an argument for bringing the personal (and traditionally feminine) to public (and by default, traditionally masculine) spaces. They’re using craft to begin or contribute to a conversation. Betsy Greer calls this sort of creative activism “craftivism,” and claims that by “using their creative energy to help make the world a better place, craftivists help bring about positive change via personalized activism. Craftivism allows practitioners to customize their particular skills to address particular causes.”
Though “craftivism” is a new term, the practice of stitching with a purpose is likely as old as stitching itself. There are so many examples, particularly of marginalized people who could not express themselves verbally. In the Odyssey, Penelope weaves to mark the passage of time, and picks away her work each night to buy herself more. Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth for years, and used her time to embroider pieces featuring thinly veiled barbs and threats against Elizabeth. (Probably not the wisest move, since she was executed.) Others have been more subtle; in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens features total badass Madame DeFarge, who encodes the names of those to be executed for treason during the French Revolution into her knitting. Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii was put under house arrest in her bedroom in the Iolani Palace by the U.S. government in 1895; she used the duration of her time to assemble a 95″ square crazy quilt, embroidered with the names of her friends and symbols of the Hawaii that she lost. Major Alexis Casdagli, a British POW during World War II, added secret messages of resistance (most notably, “God Save the King” and “F*ck Hitler”) to his cross-stitch projects while he was imprisoned by the Nazis.
Activism has had no shortage of contributors in the modern quilting sphere, either. Thomas Knauer has provided some fabulous examples of contemporary quilt activism (quactivism?); for example, his collaboration with Lisa Sipes, “In Defense of Handmade,” features a UPC barcode label for a mass-produced Martha Stewart quilt. Then there’s the “Give a F*ck” quilt from QuiltCon 2013 (link NSFW, obviously), which challenges notions of what is “appropriate” subject matter for modern handicraft. The Monument Quilt, an enormous (over one square mile!) crowd-sourced collection of quilts by survivors of rape and abuse is an ongoing project as well. Jacquie Gering created a stark, bold response to issues of gun violence. And there are many, many more.
In fact, I might argue that modern quilting itself is an act of communication and of resistance. Styles of modern traditionalism, such as the work of Heather Jones and Lee Heinrich, extend and continue the conversation begun by quilters hundreds of years ago. But by referencing traditional quilts and changing our approaches to them (either by replicating old blocks in new ways or by rejecting them altogether), we are contributing to the conversation about quilting and its purpose in contemporary craft. Our messages are varied: we might be attempting to prove to traditional quilters that our new approaches are valid; we might be paying homage to their skill and showing that we have listened to them before contributing our own voices.
In any event, this whole “conversation” framework can be helpful for those of us who like to design our own quilts. While a lot of quilting is about the process itself, eventually most of us want to share our work with others: no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, we each have something to say. It’s fitting, then, that we celebrate those who have invested a considerable amount of time and skill in making a statement through sewing. They remind us that quilting isn’t just about the craft; it’s about the world in which that craft exists. And even the most potentially controversial statements can make people pause and listen when they’re quilted, bound, and wrapped up in something soft.
To the dedicated sewist, nothing strikes more fear into the heart than the question, “Hey, can I borrow your fabric scissors?” Well, maybe the sound of your sewing machine needle breaking, or your feed dogs eating up your fabric. But you get the general idea.
In my household, the explicit rule is that if you take, borrow, or touch my fabric scissors, you die. Not by me stabbing you with them, of course, because that could dull the blade, but by some other long, torturous method involving lots of passive aggression and impalement. Luckily, no one has ever tested my resolve and all of my family members are alive and well (for now). (more…)