Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

It’s been a tough month in Quilt World. The American Quilter’s Society has announced a cutback in shows per year, taking out the Chattanooga show. They also announced that they will no longer publish any new books and will not sign contracts with any new authors. Quilters’ Newsletter Magazine has ceased publication after 27 years. IMQA and MQS, the machine quilters’ organizations, have closed shop. My area doesn’t have a local quilt shop (LQS) for 50-something miles. Not local, really, is it?

I’ve also noticed that C&T Publishing has their $5/book sales more and more frequently, often selling relatively new $30 books for $5 each. This can’t be good.

I got a post from a blog I follow, an independently published quilting magazine, the other day, and in it they blamed advertisers for the demise of quilting magazines, claiming that manufacturers are increasingly using “free” social media to push their products. This can either mean that their sales aren’t very good, or they are trying to hang on to more of their profit. The article didn’t really say which the author thought.

We are so interesting, as people and as quilters. I know a lot of people with a $13,000 sewing machine who want to pay $5/yard for fabric and have things quilted and finished for $60. And often this is because they are giving away the quilt. One of the local quilt guilds gives away hundreds of quilts a year to local charities. And then we moan about how people don’t see value in the quilts we make.

When the Modern Quilt Guild began, the organizers were heavily criticized for charging dues that were realistic to pay them a salary for all the hard work they put into building a new business. Their classes and retreats cost more than people around here were used to paying. And they sold quilts for prices that reflected the cost of premium fabrics, education, time and business costs! Heresy!

It’s tempting for me to launch into a treatise about “women’s work”, but you’ve heard all that before. A graphic design education from RISD costs as much as a law degree. Quilt shops pay the same rent as Starbucks. Curating fabrics and keeping stock in a quilt shop is very hard work, and even though the people who do it often do it because they love it, they deserve to make a living wage! A longarm machine costs upwards of $13,000, and the machine is only the beginning of what one needs to quilt on it. I personally think that some people think that because they give away all their time and effort and materials, others should do the same. That brings me back to the thing about value.

We all, each and every one of us, has a voice in all of this. How we spend our time and money reflects our values. (And I’m not just talking about quilting here, either.) For example, there are beautiful and inspirational magazines available that have absolutely no advertising at all – pure content. Of course, they cost more than $5 each. I subscribe to a few, and I can’t sit down and flip through one in 15 minutes. I sometimes take 3 weeks to read every article. It’s like eating a really good meal for me, and gives me something to digest, not empty calories and just on to the next thing. I have rediscovered hand sewing and though it has taken a lot of practice for me to like what I make it’s been a great exercise. A member of my sewing guild puts hand stitches on everything she sews, and sometimes on what she buys, which of course just makes it so special, so personal, so unique.

I’ve also discovered, the hard way (moving house), that I didn’t really wear 90% of what was in my closet. I’ve been able to choose what hangs there, and getting dressed every day is much more fun than it used to be. Just looking through is more fun than it used to be! And all those things I don’t buy leave space (and money!) for the things I really love.

I’ve heard so many people say lately that they just can’t afford premium fabrics and threads and can’t pay full price for patterns. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe it’s perception. Maybe we spend so much on things we don’t really want, or need, that we really can’t afford the things we want and love. I tend to think the latter is more often the case in the people that I know. I know when I start thinking I can’t afford things, I can look at my spending habits and see all the waste.

What if, instead of sewing to give away, our guild members were willing to sit down with some of the recipients of their charity and actually show them how to make it themselves? What if we began to see value in what we do everyday – cooking, cleaning, driving people around, taking care of our parents, our children, our spouses – instead of calling it “women’s work”? What if you had to pay someone to do everything that you do every day? An Uber driver, a chef, a housekeeper, a nurse, a nanny – this all adds up! And sitting down and planning a quilt or an outfit takes time and talent and experience, and often trial-and-error. Few people are experts without a lot of time invested into an activity. We as a society tend to disregard this time spent experimenting, studying, learning and refining, because we only see the finished products once they are really great. Chanel has begun to post videos of their process. Alabama Chanin has done a lot to educate people about their costs. Let’s believe in ourselves enough to work with quality materials and invest the time to make things we are proud to consider our legacies. Because if we’re not careful, those quality materials are going to become more and more elusive.

What’s It Worth To You?

What’s It Worth To You?

Lately, I’ve had a whole slew of folks telling me my product is “so much nicer than the one I saw at the big-box store, I’d certainly pay $10 more for this!”

This is flattering, but it is more than $10 more. Often they are disappointed.

digitally printed hemp electronic envelope
“Find” tablet envelope

But it’s progress. People are at least starting to be able to discern that there is a difference between handmade using quality products and the petroleum-based mass manufactured cheap stuff. We have so long wanted things for “free” that I think I should be glad they think it’s worth paying anything at all!

And then, the other day, I had the tables turned on me. I am so tired of hunting down any particular tool I need in my sewing space that I have finally sat down and sketched out a plan for a storage solution that makes sense for my space and will help me organize – and stay that way! (This may be a magic storage solution.  I’ll let you know.) A couple of years ago I was going into my space at the Chase Street Park Warehouses and there was a plumbing truck that was backed up to the loading dock, and I got a good peek inside. It was cleaner than my kitchen. There was a drawer for everything and everything was in its place. All wood and brass and gleaming and just beautiful. I got the name of the carpenter responsible for this bit of wonderful work and the other day I gave him a call.  I described what I wanted and he started telling me that he couldn’t make it for me because of the cost! And he never once asked me what I was willing to pay. He automatically assumed that his time was worth more than I thought. Surprised me a little, and made me a little sad. Because, really, at this point I am willing to pay probably what he would consider a lot to have exactly what I want.

I have to do better than this!
I have to do better than this!

How many wonderful artisans and craftspeople have given up making what they love, and at what they excel, because they are tired of defending their costs? Their time, expertise, tool investment. Classes they’ve taken. Prototypes made and tested out. Time spent planning, sketching, measuring, shopping for the right raw materials. This all counts! And if we don’t support it, it’s going to become impossible to get anything that doesn’t come out of the back of the UPS truck in a cardboard box.

I’m not exactly sure how to begin the conversation, but I’d like to call that young man back and somehow get to what he thinks would be a fair price for what I want. We may both be pleasantly surprised.

Back Door Friends

Back Door Friends

Come on in!
Come on in!

In the south, close friends and family always use the kitchen door to enter one’s house. The front door is reserved for those uppity neighbors, the preacher and his wife, and salesmen. In most of the houses of people I’ve known (well) in the south, the front door may not even really work from lack of use!

Lots goes on in that kitchen.  Meals are prepared, secrets shared, problems hammered out. Handwork is always handy for moments away from the stove. Sewing, knitting, knotting, one can get a lot done in the 15 minutes the food is simmering.

Creativity takes a lot of forms, and one of the basic tenets of creativity is that it is contagious.  Creativity tends to spark creativity; and the second tenet is that practicing creativity breeds more creativity.  (It’s like exercise in that the energy is renewed and amped up with repeated use.) Lately I’ve really enjoyed watching my daughter discover the joy of baking and how she takes such care arranging the food for maximum visual impact. She’s getting really good and more and more adventurous, and we are all enjoying  eating what she makes! And  the second “wave” is watching my son who is then inspired to take photos of these beautiful creations, and how much his work has improved with the practice. And the funny thing is that with all of the house within which to work, we are all huddled in the kitchen together where the energy seems to center. But in my history, we’ve always gathered in the kitchen, ever since I can remember, and in every house I can remember.

Love on a plate
Love on a plate

My studio is my kitchen. It’s always a bit of a mess (this may be an understatement – come and see for yourself!) and often I have to shake myself back into the world to be able to even talk. Nothing gives me more pleasure than welcoming visitors into my studio. Lately, though, I have found myself a bit protective about who comes in, and it’s made me think a little about “the company we keep”. I have become more aware of the energy that accompanies people, and of what can happen when those energies merge or collide. It can be magic!

Where does your magic happen?

Behind the Curtain

Knowledge. Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment. Material costs. Skill set. What kind of labor. And more importantly, how many hours. Hours and hours and hours.

Behind the Curtain

I’ve been a very big fan of Natalie Chanin since she began Project Alabama in 2000 (and of which she is no longer a part).  I can’t remember now how exactly I found out about her, but it was probably in a magazine article.  She is now the force of nature behind Alabama Chanin.

My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho
My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho

With Alabama Chanin, in developing her line and her marketing stragegy, Ms. Chanin has given everyone involved, from designer to maker to client, an incredible gift – one that keeps giving back. The gift of information.  She has resurrected the educated clothing consumer.

Alabama Chanin is beautiful, distinctive clothing and home dec made from organic American grown cotton.  Fabric is dyed in small lots, patterns individually cut, stencilled, hand embellished, hand sewn.  This work is performed by people close enough to the Alabama Chanin studio, located in a retired t-shirt factory in Florence, Alabama, to drive in, pick it up, and take it home to finish, as it is quite time consuming.

Perhaps increasingly frustrated by the comments on how expensive her clothing is – everyone I know who makes anything by hand hears these rather constantly! – Ms. Chanin began to educate.  Today it is entirely possible to purchase her patterns, her stencils, her fabrics, her paints.  She sells the thread.  She has published four books elucidating exactly how one would go about the process of making any given item in her line.  I suppose some people thought she was giving it away.

But exactly the opposite of what you’d think would happen did happen – her line began to sell even more.  Sales increased in both her custom and DIY lines.  Ms. Chanin now has factory tours, makers’ days, workshops.  She teaches an absolutely incredibly in-depth Craftsy class (I signed up!).  Her workshops and tours are so popular they have even added a factory eatery and evening events including speakers.

Exactly what happened here?  And how does this directly benefit you and me?

Knowledge.  Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment.  Material costs.  Skill set.  What kind of labor.  And more importantly, how many hours.  Hours and hours and hours.

No more instant disposable clothing that “magically” appears in stores!  And there aren’t rows and rows of identical items – most everything is made to order.

And even Chanel and Dior are beginning to open the doors to their previously guarded back rooms.  Perhaps they too are feeling the need to educate a little?

[The shawl in the photo was purchased as a DIY kit from the Alabama Chanin website and completed from the pattern in her book.  It took me about 6 weeks of working on it 3-4 hours at night.  My ASG guild in Atlanta, CityWide Couture, was very complimentary but when I told them how long it took me there was a collective sigh.  It was then that I realized they had probably not made many quilts!  I love this and wear it a lot.  Totally worth the money and effort.]