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)
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.
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?