I went to Quilt Market! If you’re part of the home sewing or quilting industry, even tangentially, you know that Quilt Market is the twice yearly industry trade show. Quilt Market isn’t open to the public and I think for a long time it was rather mysterious, but today people who attend the show post copious photos on Instagram for all to see. If you search the #quiltmarket2015 hashtag you can take a look at almost every booth and see every new fabric line (FabricDepot seems to have taken a photo of pretty much everything this year so check out their feed and you’ll get the whole picture).
I actually think this shift from being hidden to being a social media darling is important and could be better acknowledged and capitalized on. More on that in a minute.
If you’re not totally sure how Quilt Market works (what’s a Schoolhouse? is the fabric at Sample Spree free? how much does a booth cost?) check out my post from last year where I explain those things.
Although I’ve followed Quilt Market on social media each spring and fall for years, I’d never been. At the end of August Kristin and I decided we should go together to promote Craft Industry Alliance. We wanted to meet some of our members and forge new relationships with industry leaders who might be able to contribute to the community. So, after preparing meals for my family to eat while I was away, scheduling three days of babysitting, two drivers for after school activities, and an extended school day for my 5-year-old, I headed to the airport on Thursday and flew to Houston.
Kristin and I have been business partners for nearly a year now, communicating daily on Slack and via email and weekly on Skype, but until this weekend we’d never met in person (she lives in Portland, OR and I’m in Boston, MA). We shared a room at the Hyatt and the trip would have been completely worth if all we did was sit together in the same room and talk and plan for the future of our business. But of course we did a lot more than that, too.
Friday I went to Schoolhouse presentations all day. The premier Schoolhouse was sponsored by Andover Fabrics. They’ve licensed the rights to Little House on the Prairie from the son of the Hollywood producer who made the television series and they have a new line of fabrics and patterns that replicate the calico fabrics featured in both the books and shows. David Weinstein, the President of Andover, explained that there are seven trunk shows of quilts available to quilt shops.
“Our customers need a reason to leave the computer screen,” he said. “The reason people shop at quilt shops today is they’re looking for an experience. Dress up! Make the patterns. Use our video clips,” he suggested. Next, two actresses who starred on the television show spoke and then we got free tote bags on the way out. I feel that Weinstein has a great point. Since we no longer need quilt shops for fabric (we can buy the same premium quilting cottons that are supposedly exclusive to independent quilt shops on Fabric.com for $2 less than MSRP) we visit quilt shops to have an experience and to access expertise. More on that in a minute, too.
Tula Pink (watch my Pericope of this Schoolhouse)
Elizabeth Hartman’s stunning quilt!
There are 40 or so Schoolhouses going on at each interval which means you have to choose among them. Shop owners might choose based on new lines, books, or techniques they’d like to learn about. I chose based on the people presenting. I saw Diane Gilleland, Sara Lawson, Alex Anderson, Tula Pink, Pat Sloan, Cotton + Steel, and Elizabeth Hartman. I missed one session because I was stopped in the hallway by an editor at F+W who saw my name tag and told me how much she enjoys my blog and newsletter. We had a 15 minute chat that was so interesting and affirming it was truly a highlight of my day. I’ll write more about what she told me in a future post.
In the halls I met Vanessa Vargas Wilson, Rob Appell, Luke Haynes and countless other people whom I’ve wanted to meet for years. The way I describe this experience is like having a playbill and studying it carefully every day for so long, then suddenly looking up and all of the actors walk into the room.
Friday evening we went to Fabric 2.0, a party at the Hilton the night before the show opens. This was the part of Quilt Market that I enjoyed the most. I told Kristin afterwards, “I could just come to Houston on Friday afternoon, go to Fabric 2.0, and go home!” I booked several podcast guests and have a lot of connections to follow-up on. We also headed over to Sample Spree which meant leaving Fabric 2.0 for a bit because the events overlap. My main goal at Sample Spree was to Periscope it (watch the recording here). Although everyone says it’s a madhouse, it turns out if you go 15 minutes after the doors open it’s totally not crazy. I didn’t do any shopping.
Saturday we spent the whole day on the show floor. We wore our Craft Industry Alliance t-shirts and walked 4 miles up and down the aisles handing out pins and talking to people. I knew from reading Ellen’s post from several years ago that most of the booths at Quilt Market are showing very traditional fabrics and patterns and she was completely right. Lots of beige, lots of Santas. My favorite fabrics were in the Seven Islands booth (Seven Islands is the Japanese distributor). I tried out some Kai scissors and they are amazing. I’m asking for a pair for my birthday.
Nearly every booth had softies in it. Softie makers may be on the sidelines of the industry, but our work is very much present at Quilt Market.
Rifle Paper will be the first Cotton + Steel guest designer in this spring.
Okay, now for a few overall reflections.
1. Craftsy was noticeably absent from Quilt Market. They will have a big presence at Quilt Festival, the consumer show, this week. I know a few years back they had a large booth at Quilt Market and had sponsored Fabric 2.0. To me this affirms that they’re no longer putting any emphasis on working with local quilt shops. Craftsy is partnering with Jo-Ann’s and is marketing directly to consumers.
2. I kept thinking about bloggers and YouTubers and professional Instagrammers while I was there. For the most part these are people who don’t qualify as “industry professionals” under Quilts, Inc.’s rules and in the Quilt Market User’s Guide it states, “Photos taken at Market are for your personal enjoyment and for sharing with family, friends, and business associates who could not attend.” In other words, they aren’t for sharing on a blog you make money from. But what if Quilts, Inc. were to take an active role in facilitating blogger/business relationships? Shop owners and manufacturers could really benefit from connecting with bloggers for sponsored posts and collaborations. I think it’s time to acknowledge that bloggers (and YouTubers and Instagrammers) are part of the industry and have a significant role to play in reaching a targeted audience of consumers.
3. I think this idea that David Weinstein mentioned of providing people with an experience and access to expertise is the key to the future survival of quilt shops. At the Schoolhouses as they exist now shop owners learn about new books to develop workshops around and hear from the designers about the inspiration for their new lines. All of this is good, but is it enough to help shop owners craft an experience that will make their shop truly special and worth visiting? Could there be Schoolhouses that helped them do that more effectively?
4. I’m glad I didn’t go to Quilt Market before now. I’m not sure if previously I would have had a strong enough goal to pursue while I was there. This visit I knew that my primary purpose was to spread the word about Craft Industry Alliance. I think if you’re considering going to Quilt Market it’s a good idea to carefully consider what you’re actually going to do there. Are you setting up meetings with fabric companies to place wholesale orders? If not, then what are you there for? Get specific with your goals.
Those are my thoughts about my first trip to Market. If you were there, what stood out to you? And if you were at home, what are you thinking about or wondering about Quilt Market?
Teresa Ascone says
Abby, your post is the first report I’ve seen on the Houston Quilt Market and I think it really captured the flavor of the event. My new fabric line, Wildflowers by Teresa Ascone, is being produced by Clothworks and I’m hoping it was introduced at the show. It comes out April 2016 in Alaska and then nationwide in 2017. So maybe they won’t present at a quilt show until the nationwide release.
I loved your details of all the presentations and also the note that one should have a good reason to go before investing the money. I agree that the show would benefit from less mystery and more social media. That picture showing the red carpet, rolling out endlessly, made me want to attend!
Love this wrap-up post! I agree 1 million times about connecting and inviting bloggers and the like. I would say over 50% of my purchases are directly influenced by seeing a blogger use a certain fabric. I find it so interesting that there is still a ton of “traditional” fabric and wonder if/when that tide might turn. I went shopping with my Mom a few weeks ago and all 3 of the fabric shops we visited asked her for a frequent customer card, only addressed her, etc. – she thinks I was being paranoid but I think it was ageism! People are craving in person connections in the wake of Facebook everything, LQS are so well positioned to open up to a new audience of milennials if they get creative.
Colleen C. Yarnell says
As always thoughtful, unbiased, and well written. You always make me think and show me points of view clearly.
Felice Regina says
This was my third time attending Quilt Market. I went to the previous two markets with the intention of licensing my artwork for fabric, which I achieved last spring. So this time, was the first time I was able to really feel like I was on the “inside” as a designer with Windham. That being said, I’ve never felt unwelcome as a non-buyer. There isn’t anything that leads me to believe bloggers are unwelcome, and I think they do fall under the industry professional category. The credentials are not nearly as difficult to obtain as they seem, so a blogger could certainly get an industry professional badge.
To be fair, I think Quilts Inc. has its reasons for not letting every person with a blog or instagram account into market. In the end, manufacturers need to sell their products to the shop owners. If a ton of bloggers are running around jeopardizing the exhibitor’s time, that’s bad for business. As a general rule, if I’m talking to an exhibitor and a buyer approaches, I immediately defer to them and give them the chance to cut in and take care of business.
Regarding the lack of Craftsy presence, I’m not surprised. A lot of LQS owners in my area seem to be quite hostile towards sites like Crafty and Creative Bug because they feel like they’re hijacking another one of their selling points: classes. You mentioned the need for shop owners to market their shops as an experience. Classes are a big part of that experience, and now we don’t even need our LQSs for that. It makes more sense that they would focus more on the end consumer than working with shops that are giving them the cold shoulder.
It was great to meet you in person, Abby. I hope you’ll come to market in the future and we can talk again.
It was so nice talking with you, too! I think in person classes still have a lot of value and can still attract a good crowd even if the instructor teaches online as well. Anne Weil has a Creativebug class, but I just signed up to go to her in person class in the Boston area because I want to meet her and learn from her one-on-one. It’s still really special! I agree that everyone with an Instagram account shouldn’t be at Quilt Market, but I’ve talked to shop owners who are really mystified as to how to find bloggers to work with. If there were a Schoolhouse on working with bloggers to promote your products or your shop, taught by a panel of bloggers, I think that could be really valuable.
Lauren Lang says
I agree about the industry professional angle, Felice. I’m a blogger looking to connect the home sewist with the fabric industry, and I’ve attended Fall Market twice with no problem. The truth is that people who want to attend Quilt Market should have business there, and if they want to have business there, they should have *a* business (complete with tax ID number and a real website, which is really all you’d need). I think the requirements are just right to allow easy access for those who want to have a viable online presence in the craft industry.
I don’t feel the least bit conflicted about sharing photos, either. Certainly the feeds of all the fabric manufacturers and pattern designers are not just for family or friends. It’s a business market, and Instagram is a prime marketing tool. Certainly part of the purpose for QM is to generate excitement for new products and patterns, and it’s unrealistic (not to mention silly business practice) for the Powers That Be to assume that that excitement would only stay within the industry itself and not be passed onto the consumer.
Interesting reflections on quilt market. Glad to see you found lots of softies, there definitely seemed to be more there than when I went last year, I didn’t see that many. I think Schoolhouses give a great quick view of a product, it was interesting to see more authors and designers following that up with demonstrations etc at book signings. I really enjoyed sitting back at home and watching Quilt Market unfold on Instagram.
I really liked the in-booth demos. Those were terrific. I have no idea if there were more this year than in the past, but I think they’re neat.
Allie Aller says
If shops want to compete and provide a fun and creative experience for their students (which believe me, they can do; all quilt teachers know that at least 40% of what they do in class is performance art)…they could pay the guest instructors that they do bring in more money. Seriously.
And yet I’ve heard shop owners say they can’t afford to bring in the big name teachers.
Sharyn Cole says
Hi Abby, I was a first time market attendee too and your observations are spot on! We attended many of the same events and even stayed in the same hotel; I wish our paths had crossed because I would like to meet you in person. I think your posts contain valuable information and I look forward to reading them.
Thank you, Sharyn. I hope we get to meet at a future event.
Hi Abby – I’m sorry I missed you. I was at Market and would have loved to say hello to you and Kristen.
I couldn’t agree more about including the bloggers and Instagram leaders. They have been great partners, teachers, customers and cheerleaders for me and my business.
The main reasons I go are to buy fabric and patterns, and to get inspired and excited by the designers and understand their vision. It’s a great injection of energy for me and helps me represent them in my online shop. I thought there were some exciting booths, and so much work had gone into them it is inspiring to see context for the fabric and the little still life dioramas that grab your attention. I was just a little sad though that I’d already seen almost all of the fabric. The Instagram”sneak peaks” have taken some of the big reveal out of market launches.
I too ended up loving the Japanese imports best. I spent a lot of time (and money) at Seven Islands and Yuwa, and started a list for Lecien. There is a lot of innovation in that market and a deep appreciation for great design so we’re lucky to access it here.
I also skipped the line-up at Sample Spree, much better! I wasn’t as good as you though. I had to expand and check my suitcase coming home!
Thanks for the excellent post.
Sue A. Sillano says
I am a home sewer in San Diego. I sew every day, and I sew anything and everything. The experience your describing is EXACTLY what I need. A quilt, craft, sew location to have the experience of sewing. Lectures, examples, hands on, any type of scheduled event! I can buy fabric all day long online and waste as many hours online too, but actually working, learning and interacting with sewers, priceless! I would pay an entrance fee.
Cherie Killilea says
SewExpo in Washington State in February is the place for consumers to go, have workshops and lectures and buy fabric and patterns directly. It’s a 3 day event.
Torry Hemmert says
SewExpo is near me and I feel very fortunate to be able to go every year. As time has gone on, they have increased the amount of workshops and include all sewing levels of expertise. It is held at the end of Feb. / beginning of March.
Hi there, Abby!
Great post, as always. Very informative. Also, in the comments Daryl mentioned that Instagram’s sneak peaks kind of took away the surprise element of seeing the new collections. That is an interesting point because I wonder if the Market attendance over the years has decreased because you can see most of the new collections online, either on social media or on the manufacturer websites.
In the online fabric shop early years, we had to scan the fabrics from samples that the companies sent to us or wait until the bolts arrived to scan or do digitals of them for the website. Many of the manufacturers didn’t even have websites and if they did, they often did not have the fabric collections on them.
I guess it might be difficult to determine this impact on Market attendance due to the increase in fabric shop openings over the years.
Remember when Cotton & Steel held back their images of their first collection? They are now on their website prior to Market, as well at Art Gallery Fabrics. Maybe they have decided that it is better to show them prior to Market.
Thanks for the Market info!
GO CRAFT INDUSTRY ALLIANCE!!!!!!!!!!!
I just wanted to say that I found your review of Quilt Market to be a great resource! So many of the recaps are: “Isn’t this line cute?” “So excited to meet this person.” Your review is thought provoking and full of facts, it is a refreshing change. Thank you!
Thank you, Lindsay.
Ellen Baker says
Hi Abby — I wanted to chime in about showing image sneak peeks in advance of market. I realize that this takes some of the surprise out of seeing the fabric in person. But as a designer, my audience isn’t just the quilt shop owners. I need customers to ask and encourage their shops to buy my fabric. When consumers see, like, and comment about my upcoming collection, it shows shops that their will be an audience there to buy the fabric. I understand and appreciate the large financial commitment that shops are making when they buy my collections!
Carol Y says
I’ve been a bit behind in my blog reading, but I really appreciate this review. I’ve been wondering what Quilt Market is like. Did you catch this post about it? http://henryglassfabrics.blogspot.com/2015/11/post-quilt-market-by-studioe-fabrics.html
Stacey Miller (@sewingandparts) says
I’ve made a few quilts in the past and did lots of cross stitches; this hobby is really something you get addicted to. I only wish I started a business as early as then. Thanks for the post. Keep it up!
Eleanor Barber says
Today first day finding out about you and reading your blog. You write so good I could envision being at the market (very jealous). One of the main things is quilt shops. I love quilt shops and pray that they do not continue going out of business. I am one that has to see the fabric – how big are the little animals.. The color is better in person and never good on paper . I like talking to the people in the shop who give out some great ideas. I like being in the shop just sewing with others. And I like seeing “money” staying in our towns.
Will continue to read you and see what wonderful information you will be passing on.