The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Panic at the Quilt Shop!
A run on a quilt shop! Just kidding, this is picture of a run on a bank. But doesn’t it feel panicky? Image: WikipediaThere is a low-grade panic in the air. There usually is, in the quilt world, though it may be more electrified lately.
I have felt this panic at industry trade shows. I have felt it at guild workshops. I have felt the vibration at some quilt shops, and I have perceived it from fellow quilters. The cause for the panic? A generalized fear that quilting is dying out, and, for those who work in the industry, that the quilt industry is crumbling right along with it.
You can’t blame people for worrying. On the surface, sometimes the outlook really doesn’t look so good. In the last few months, numerous quilt magazines have shuttered; with the magazine closures, so go those jobs. A quilt shop in your area may have closed its doors. If your guild isn’t growing, it feels like it’s shrinking—and maybe it is. From time to time, you’ll read something online or in print that suggests attendance is way, way down at shows, commercial and otherwise.
“Quilting is dying!” the people lament. “It’s over!”
I do not believe this is true. Quilting—i.e., quilts, quilters, and the industry supporting the manufacture and distribution of the tools needed to make quilts—has been around a long time, in this country and many others. Quilting tradition has survived civil war, world war, economic hardship, and much more—indeed, quilting gets us through these sorts of things. It is true that we need to keep quilting as a practice vital. It’s true that we need never stop intentionally valuing our quilters and our quilts, but remember: As long as there are people, there will be babies. As long as there are babies, there will be people who want to make quilts for those babies. (For example.)
This lady is alone. But she’s not alone. You know? Image: Wikipedia.If you look at the surface of the issue, the state of quilting might not look rosy to you. But if you look a little deeper, the issue quickly becomes more complicated—and comforting, frankly.
Yes, some quilt shops close. But there are any number of reasons why this might happen, many of them having nothing directly to do with the true health of quilting in America.
Consider that a quilt shop is a retail business. To succeed with one means understanding inventory, seasonality, staffing, the bottom line, and, most of all, the customer.
Frankly, I marvel at quilt shop owners who make it work. As warm and fuzzy as it sounds to run a quilt shop, it’s a tough business. So, if a quilt shop closes, is it that “quilting is dying” or could it be the management never got quite the right formula and decided to pack up and move on? Was there a personal or family crisis that changed everything? Has unemployment in town drained the former customer base? All of these are possible reasons why a quilt shop might close; none of them mean that “no young people are quilting” or that “people don’t care about quilts.” It might look like that, but A + B does not always equal C.
Let’s consider another example. If a guild’s membership is down, does it mean all guild membership is down?
I visited a “traditional” guild in Wisconsin recently that had a waiting list! (There’s a way to get membership up: Push the exclusivity angle! Brilliant.) You might like to know that the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild has new members joining every month by the fives and tens. They’re at about 150 now, but as the months get colder, they’ll surely see their numbers grow faster than they did this past summer. Yes, some guilds are aging and newer, younger members aren’t coming to those guild meetings in droves. But is it that “quilting is dying”…or that people are doing their quilting elsewhere? Don’t take it personally: As long as people are quilting, period, that’s good.
Quilting has and always will be about community. That’s in really good shape, promise. Image: Wikipedia.As for the magazines...well, I’m pretty qualified to talk about this topic, but I’m also hesitant to do so. As editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine and former editor of a recently (re-)closed F+W magazine, this is dangerous water in which to wade. What I will say is that there are many magazines that are not closing; magazines that are, in fact, thriving. There are many blogs, Instagram accounts, websites, and other forms of media that are enjoying popularity and whose users are arguably more engaged with each other and their passion for quilting than ever before. Those publications that can keep up and innovate are going to be just fine.
It’s become extremely important to me in my life to do what I can to spread the gospel of the quilt in the country I love so much. There are closures, there are membership cards that are not renewed, it’s true, and these things do have an effect on our community. But there are still many millions of quilters in America and millions more who are on the way. As long as we keep making quilts we love, as long as we teach the next quilter how to make one of her or his own, the future of quilting is bright.
In other words: Don’t panic.