Sunnyside Diamond Zigzag quilt pattern by Better Off Thread for the Moda Bake Shop.
Cutting quilting cotton into squares or strips is one of the most time consuming parts of making a quilt. In 2006, Moda, the Dallas, Texas based fabric company, began selling fabric bundles that were precut, making it easier for consumers to sit down at their sewing machines and start quilting. Pretty rolls and stacks of fabrics from a single collection uniformly precut are now a ubiquitous part of the quilting fabric world, but when they first launched they were a novel and unfamiliar product in the market.
In January of 2009 Moda set up a new blog to help shop owners better understand how to sell the new precut bundles. “Even though there were many patterns designed to use precuts our customers continued to asked what to do with precuts, especially when we introduced Jelly Rolls and Layer Cakes,” Lissa Alexander, vice president for marketing at Moda, explains. “Even though the answer seemed obvious to me, we thought it would be interesting to see what other people would ‘cook up’ with Moda’s precuts.” Building on the confectionary names of the bundles the new site was named the “Moda Bake Shop.”
Eight years later the blog has 1,047 free tutorials for precut fabrics contributed by 290 designers, termed “chefs.” The goal of the Bake Shop continues to be to help local quilt shops sell Moda’s precuts and to encourage consumers to sew with them.
Hopeful chefs submit a sketch via an online form on the Bake Shop site and Bake Shop editor, Lisa Calle, sifts through the submissions looking for things that are “new and fresh that use precuts in a new way or showcase the fabric really well” to feature on the site. Projects run the gamut from full-sized quilts to bags, children’s clothing, home décor and softies. “Projects need to be reproducible, so not too hard, and if you can just sit down and sew and use the whole layer cake even better,” Calle says. Calle is also the voice of Oda May (Moda in pig Latin), the fictional female author of the blog.
When a submission is accepted the chef receives fabric from one of Moda’s yet-to-be released lines to sew a sample. The retail value of fabric ranges from $55 for a smaller project to $180 for a quilt. They then write the instructions, create templates, take step-by-step photos, photograph the final project and upload the materials to the Bake Shop blog for Calle to review. Each tutorial includes an introductory paragraph with a short bio of the contributor and a link to his or her blog.
A new tutorial is published to the Moda Bake Shop every other day and the blog averages 200,000 pageviews each month. The most popular tutorial to date is a braided rag rug designed by Vanessa Christenson.
Periodically Moda takes out full-page advertisements in quilting magazines with the photos and names of the new Bake Shop chefs.
Photo by Lisa Calle.
For many aspiring quilt designers becoming a Moda Bake Shop chef is a way to build a resume and gain experience designing patterns. I spoke with three chefs about their experiences. One explained, “The Moda Bake Shop gave me great blog traffic and was a really good blogging and designing resume booster when I was just starting out. It gives a level of credibility to the designer and I think it helped me get some of my first magazine work.” Another concurred, “It’s a really great way to get your name out there. You can get people familiar with your stuff and get [Moda’s] promotion…I did see increased traffic to my website after the pattern was put on the Bake Shop.”
Moda doesn’t collect any data on the effectiveness of Bake Shop patterns in boosting sales, but anecdotal evidence points to their effectiveness. This summer designer Pamela Morgan did a quilt-along on the Bake Shop and Calle sales she’s heard that it caused a bump in sales of the line she featured, BeeCreative by Deb Strain. (Morgan’s completed project got the most pageviews on the blog for the month of August at 8,261).
On a recent visit to her local quilt shop sewing blogger Stephanie Woodson noticed a full-color printed pamphlet of Bake Shop patterns for mini charm packs that the shop had created from Bake Shop patterns. It was displayed right next to the precuts. “That’s genius!” she remarks. “I can only speak for myself, but I found myself thinking of excuses to buy it and I didn’t even like the fabric. It was very, very compelling.”
Some designer are hopeful that being a Bake Shop chef will lead to a fabric line with Moda. “It’s a link to Moda,” one told me. “If you want to design for Moda it gets you a connection with them. It also shows that you understand their market and their customers. That’s always a plus.”
At the same time, this designer acknowledges that the path might not be so straight and narrow. “The gal who runs the Bake Shop has nothing to do with the fabric designing so she’s not going to be much connection there,” she points out. Calle confirms this. She’s an independent contractor who works 12-15 hours a week for Moda from home. “The fabric lines and the Bake Shop are not linked,” she says. “I don’t know anything about that part. But it does help you to build your online presence and become a familiar face. It gives us a way to see your work.”
When a design is accepted to be featured on the Bake Shop it’s not clear how the images, sewing instructions, or templates can be used by either Moda or by the designer. The agreement Moda provides simply states:
When I asked Calle to clarify she said designers can simultaneously publish their tutorials on their own sites, sell them to magazines, or republish them in books, although the chefs I spoke with didn’t seem fully aware of this policy. “It was never to clear to me [whether I could post my Bake Shop pattern on own blog],” one said, “so to be on the safe side, I never have.”
Crazed Quilt by Pamela Morgan.
Chefs are sometimes taken by surprise at how their work is reused. Morgan is a trained photographer and had submitted a striking photo of a quilt to the Bake Shop. Calle messaged her on Facebook saying “This is going to be a slider on the Moda website during the month of September. I’ll let you know when I see it pop up!”
“At first I was kid of giddy,” Morgan recalls until she began to wonder if the use of the image on Moda’s front page was fair. “I was receiving no compensation for it, and as far as I know, I wasn’t even given credit for the image.” She doesn’t know if it was ever used.
When she heard that the fabric line she’d featured in the summer quilt-along was selling particularly well Morgan’s doubts about being a Bake Shop chef began to grow. “Definitely a learning experience for me,” she says. “I’d like to think that the success of my quilt-along had something to do with that, but Deb Strain is reaping all the benefits and I received nothing in return” except “a huge box of fabric.”
Calle says that the rate of submissions has slowed down considerably since its heyday in 2013 and 2014. One of the designers I spoke with explained her waning involvement this way. “I think it was helpful for me in the beginning and the benefits I got from the project were worthwhile. Now that I am more established, it has much less value.”
I asked Calle if Moda has ever considered paying Bake Shop chefs with money in addition to fabric. “We would have to post less if we did that,” Calle says. “It would make my life easier, though. People would meet their deadlines.” She points out the difficulty in changing course midstream when it comes to compensation. “Do you go back and pay everyone who has already contributed?” she asks.
For years the Moda Bake Shop has provided up-and-coming designers a way to get published. Helping people get their start in the industry is a much-needed service to the community, but in 2017 the online quilting community has risen to a professional standard that I feel calls for a rethinking of two key aspects of the program. First, a clearer agreement between the company and the designer that spells out how each can use the materials, where, and for how long. And second, real compensation for the designer even if it means slowing the frequency of content. Why not make someone’s first job in the industry a paid job.