The Future…

I worry. For much of my life I have been something of a professional worrier; I’d like to think that is one of the things that made me a good academic. I sweat the small stuff and try to put it all together into a coherent bigger picture. I’m not always sure how good I am at doing this, but it is what I do nonetheless.


Today I noticed that Patty Young has also joined the list of Joann’s fabrics Premium Designers (after noticing not so long ago that Cloud 9 has a Joann’s line as well), and honestly I couldn’t be happier for her. The mod market is rough, with most shops allocating little if any space to mod designers, and much of that space going to luminaries such as Anna Maria and Amy, Tula and Denyse. There are a handful more names that jump onto the list of mods that have even crossed over to the typical shop, though the percentage of shops open even to those designers is not particularly sky high.

Despite all the marketing that is trying to capitalize on the mod scene, it is still a movement that is working at the margins. It may feel incredibly mainstream, but in terms of economics (certainly for the designers) it is nowhere near there. And that is what worries me.

Based on the new audience that is coming to quilting, the future of quilting is moving more and more towards the mods. At the moment they are not the quilters and sewists with the highest percentage of disposable income, but they are the growing ranks of the quilting world; they are the next mainstream. And the thing is they are less and less frequently going to their LQS; most indy shops are not serving them very well.

The new quilters are buying fabric online because they are not happy with the one shelf of mod designs. They don’t want to pay for classes that they can find online for free, or really cheap at any of the for-pay online classes. And they don’t want to pay a premium for the same notions they can get of Joann’s for half the price.

And that is the brilliance of what Joann’s is doing: in bringing in the mod designers that are not able to get their fabric into enough shops via the indy fabric world, they add another draw for the current wave of new sewists that aren’t being served by the current LQS model. And the designers who sign with Joann’s they get to access a far larger audience than they ever would in the LQS world. Yes, I think it is likely a great monetary move (if every Joann’s carried a single bolt of a collection that would be over 750 bolts of each SKU. That is a lot of fabric; I was lucky if Andover ever did 100).

But I don’t think is actually all about money for either side, the designers or Joann’s. I know the designers who are doing collections with them, and I truly believe a big part of it is about getting good design out there, about seeing people make things that they love with the fabric these designers created. And I think Joann’s is seeing the future in a way the indy quilt world isn’t. When I go to Market it feels like mod is being exploited as a trend, something to pounce on before it dies off, and as I have written many times I think that is fundamentally missing the core of the recent quilting revival. I think Joann’s is banking on the future and a future audience. Certainly they think the audience is there now, one that can be attracted to Joann’s because they aren’t being served well by their LQS, but they also see a chance to bring customers to their store for years to come because they are responding to what is happening now and what is likely to happen next. No longer content to be the source for inexpensive fabric, it looks like Joann’s is intent on becoming the fabric supplier to the next generation of quilters.

Soon all the manufacturers may have to start looking at the way they do business, the exclusivity relationships they have with the indy fabric shops. Joann’s may be dropping some pebbles into the pond that could cause some pretty serious ripples. And I for one hope they do, not just as a fabric designer, but as a quilter who has rarely felt welcomed in an indy quilt shop.

So, is Joann’s going to steal mod from the indy quilt shops? Perhaps not any time soon, but it is certainly looks like it may peel off some more customers, making it even harder for the indy shops to have that small shelf of mod design at all. If I were the indy fabric world I’d be thinking really hard, because the future can sneak up really quickly; it’s tricky like that. Next thing you know Joann’s and John Lewis (here in the UK) could just end up the epicenters of the mod scene. Who would have thought it three years ago? But then the future belongs to the agile, and Joann’s is looking pretty nimble right about now…


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20 Responses to The Future…

  1. 1
    Michelle says:

    I am so thankful my “local” (30-minute drive) Jo-Ann’s is bringing in more modern fabric designs!

  2. 2
    DeeAnn says:

    The Joann Fabrics in my smallish town finally got some of the Cloud 9 fabric. I chose not to buy it, however, because the quality was so poor. Not sure if they got a bad run, or if all of it is like that, but, for now, if I can’t get the mods at the LQS I work at, I will continue to buy online.

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    Great post and I agree 100%. I’m new to quilting, but have been intrigued for years. One thing that held me back was the fabric selections at the local shops have always seemed so…dated, or outside of my wheelhouse so to speak. It’s frustrating as I do my best to support small business…but not if they aren’t willing to supply what I want. The nearest LQS and the nearest JoAnn’s are both about 30 minutes away from me. I don’t really have any other reason to drive that way, so I do the majority of my fabric shopping online since I can get whatever I want; and I don’t like to waste my gas or my time. There are two more shops in the opposite direction, about 45 minutes away, both with paltry mod selections. When I’ve inquired about the lack of mods, I’ve been told there just isn’t a demand for these fabrics. I find this interesting because I was just made aware of 2 modern quilt guilds in the area! There is an ongoing conversation about how frustrating it is not to have a decent selection of modern fabrics in our area. My other choice is another of the big box craft stores and the quality just isn’t there! After reading this, I might have to drive into town this weekend and check out the selection at Joann’s.

  4. 4
    3LittleBrds says:

    I stopped by my JoAnn’s today specifically to look for Patty’s line. The quality was very good. The price was $12.99 per yard and was not on sale. So I could have bought one yard at 40% off and gotten 15% off the total purchase with today’s coupons. I am really glad that JoAnn’s is upping the quality of their fabric – I know plenty of people who JoAnn’s is their only option!

  5. 5
    Colleen says:

    A comment on classes, as a modern quilter who works full time online is easier to schedule. I enjoyed your breakdown on Joanns. As someone who buys every DS Quilts line, my fabric shopping at Joanns is all about the sales, coupons(paper, text, & apps), and discount cards. I walked in to craft store AC Moore today and discovered they now carry fabric-not just Walmart quality FQs. They had bolts of Kauffman decor, Bentarex, and Windham. I expected to almost see HR Briar Rose.

  6. 6

    Very interesting to hear a fabric designer’s view on this topic. I’m pretty spoiled in Dallas having a quilt shop a reasonable drive away that carries almost exclusively “mod” designers (The Quilt Asylum). Being active in a MQG branch, I am surrounded by other similarly-minded sewers so I definitely tend to have a skewed perception of the size of the mod demographic. It seems like a huge group! But I have to say that I’m not really jumping on board with the JoAnn’s fabric lines. I have bought bits and pieces but nothing like I buy from quilt shops (local and online). The shopping experience just can’t compare – the store clerks have zero knowledge or interest in quilting, the fabric cutting is HORRIBLE (never straight, looks almost chewed), and the ambiance is Big Box Store. There is no charm or quirk that you find in quilt shops. There are no sample quilts on the walls (or blogs or social media for online shops – that definitely gets me excited about new fabric). JoAnn may bring better fabric design to the masses, but I can’t see it ever becoming a shopping destination for quillters.

  7. 7
    Leah says:

    I go to Jo-Anns a lot because of the sales and coupons, and I mainly buy the Kona solids when I’m there. Neither my husband nor I make much more than mininum wage so I have to save what I can. Not to mention my LQS has NO modern fabric whatsoever, not even one shelf, and they aren’t very friendly unless you’re over 60 and make stuff with Thimbleberries fabric. So I’m all for JoAnns bringing in better quality, modern fabric.

  8. 8
    Maggie Magee says:

    I’ve been shopping at JoAnn’s for many years–probably for at least 25 or 30. Don’t remember exactly when they first opened–I was living in California then. The stores were big, dusty and messy, filled with cheap fabric, but still I’d go there for the thrill of the hunt for a fabric I’d like. Occasionally, I’d find something that seemed decent enough–not often since the fabric was usually dubious quality. There weren’t many local places to buy cotton fabric back in the day, but was collecting for years before actually making a quilt. Most of the fabrics were calicos in dull colors, floral prints, some solids, muslin, etc. Making garments was the focus then, but always had patchwork in mind. My grandmother was an artist, and a quilter in the most traditional sense–sewing everything by hand from flour and feed sacks, and fabric scraps from clothing she had made. All of the quilts she made were for everyday use–and they were beautiful! I lived with them as a child, had one on my bed, and never got over my love for quilts. She was my inspiration.

    I too am encouraged about what’s going on with JoAnn’s. When I moved to Coastal Washington State, found a super store within driving distance. It was big, bright, clean, well organized, and had everything under the sun in regard to fabric for home decor but was still lacking in good quality quilting fabrics–probably home decor too. That was 14 years ago. Lately, I’ve noticed a profound difference in their fabrics–some really well designed stuff of good quality–a refocus. Even though I do most of my fabric shopping elsewhere and sometimes online, do visit JA’s armed with coupons. A good friend remarked that she is liking JoAnn’s more and more, and agree.

    Two quilt shops in our area here in WA closed their doors last month. One, sad to say, had been here for 36 years and was my original contact for the quilting community when I moved here. The owners had it for sale and couldn’t find a buyer. They had grown old–we are talking in their 80s. Sigh! The other shop was very limited–in thought and scope, not to be unkind. Now there is a third shop–my fave–that is doing well; they carry great fabrics and much of it is modern design. Modern quilts are displayed on their walls. It’s a beautiful shop with a savvy owner. Maybe there is hope!

  9. 9
    Peg says:

    I’d like to offer opinion as an online retailer of mod fabrics. One reason I sell online is that I am aware that I don’t have a large enough geographic audience to support the LQS that I envision. While the next generation of mod sewists is on the rise, they’re not quite ready to make a mod LQS successful on every block.
    What the Joann’s trend means to me, as a small business owner trying to support my family, is the Wal-mart-ization of mod fabric. Everyone knows that with coupons, anything in Joann’s can be had for a steal. There’s no way I can compete with that.
    What I hope for is a way for all involved – the designers, the manufacturers and the retailer – to all make a decent living serving the mod market.

  10. 10
    Maria Soto says:

    The problem in Australia is that the small quilt shops cannot compete with the large chain prices, obviously they buy a lot and get a huge discount, leaving the small shops with their stock on the shelves, not fair, especially as they are the ones that we go for advise, classes, personal service and especial requests.

  11. 11
    Adrianne says:

    Hi Thomas. I find your thoughts on this so interesting. I’m seeing a similar (although less pronounced) shift here in New Zealand. Quilting fabric at an independent quilt shop here costs between $28 and $40 a metre. Spotlight (a big box fabric shop which is very similar to Joann’s) sells fabric between $15 and $25 a metre. But if you buy online from the US, even with shipping, you’ll rarely pay more than $15 a metre. (All prices New Zealand dollars).

    I’m a younger quilter, in my 20’s, but based on the quilting groups I belong to, most quilters here are quite a lot older and don’t necessarily shop online. That’s going to change though, both as online shopping becomes increasingly mainstream and as younger people who instinctively turn to the internet for the answers become the next generation of quilters. Obviously that is going to make things very difficult for local shops, because they cannot compete on price. The other issue is that because New Zealand is a very small market, most local shops don’t stock every fabric in a collection, and sometimes they can’t even stock a collection because it is not offered by the distributor. I’ve come to the conclusion that independent shops are going to need a point of difference to the online offerings to stay in business. I suspect that is going to be service, but based on my experience of often not feeling very welcome in quilt shops, things are going to have to change big time. I also definitely relate to what you say about independent shops not really “getting” modern quilting. Of course, there are elements that are trend based, but I think it’s more than just a trend.

    There seems to be a view out there that we should be supporting local shops rather than just buying online. Your post raises the question for me – if they’re not really serving our needs, why? I guess we’ll see how the world changes in the next few years.

  12. 12
    bonnie bus says:

    The mod movement has started a new quilt revival. It is making quilting new and dynamic. It is encouraging and developing a whole new generation of quilters who have many years of quilting ahead of them.
    Although I have been quilting since the Bicentennial, I find Mod very refreshing, but there is much antipathy by long time quilters and indy quilt shops. Many think that quilting must stay in a traditionalist mode and certainly can’t accept brighter colors and new designs.
    At some point there may be younger quilters that want to have a brick and mortar store, but for now it is online or status quo.
    I think that Joann’s partnering with modern designers will keep then viable and attract new customers. The old indy shops will slowly wither away as their customer base grows too old to quilt.

  13. 13
    Penny says:

    My local quilt shop insisted that the DS fabric, even though labeled ‘premium’ at Joann’s, was not the same quality as that sold in the LQS. I’d like to see this honestly evaluated and addressed.

  14. 14
    B says:

    I agree with you that manufacturers need to look at the way they do business with shops. As an indy shop owner I find it difficult to even order from some companies. They still want me to fax things! And the reps are worthless for me since I know how to use the Internet and I usually know more than they do about the modern designers.

    I disagree with you about JoAnn’s and designers. It’s about the money. JoAnn’s is a corporation. They know that they have the capability to put modern fabrics in front of people in areas of the country who have little other choices (aside from civil war repros). And designers just don’t make enough with fabric manufacturers. They aren’t helping them with marketing, they don’t pay enough and with companies as small as Cloud9, they just don’t have the reach.

    Unfortunately, the small modern shop owners DO lose money. I can’t possibly compete with the coupon prices at JoAnn’s. I’m out there doing it right for the modern world and at this rate, it’s not going to work out. One of the big companies out there who pulled back on the modern budget this year did so because modern quilters have no Brand Loyalty, my rep told me. True. No brand caters exclusively to them. But if modern quilters also have no loyalty to independent quilt shop owners then they will have to be subject to whatever JoAnn’s decides to offer them in the future. And JoAnn’s may just well be one of the companies trying to capitalize on the “trend”.

    Modern quilters need to support the modern quilt shops that are out there and online or very soon, there won’t be any more left. 🙁 We have seen big online stores like Sew Mama Sew and Whipstich close recently and I know of a few others that aren’t far behind.

  15. 15
    Jen says:

    What worries me about the Jo-Ann’s designers is that it makes those designs inaccessible to everyone outside of the US. Yes, I can buy Jo-Ann’s exclusive designs for a pretty premium on Etsy but otherwise, as a Canadian, I simply cannot access them. Interestingly, Jo-Ann’s does ship some items and fabric to Canada but all of the designer modern fabric lines they carry can only be shipped to the US.

    I think that many LQS’s like to imagine that the internet doesn’t exist. In Canada, fabrics are priced outrageously ($13-$18/yard) for no apparent reason (there are no duties on cotton fabric, the dollar is almost at parity.) I suspect it has a lot to do with what people are willing to pay and the fact that a lot of the people shopping at LQS’s simply don’t shop online so have no idea how overpriced the fabric they are buying is. LQS’s are ill-prepared for the upcoming shift in quilter demographics. They complain about how the internet is killing their business but don’t seem to be doing anything about it.

    Personally, I can’t see why the owner of my LQS here in Canada deserves my money more than my favourite online fabric stores down in the US simply because she is local. The one who deserves my money is the one with the best customer service, with reasonable prices and with a selection I want to buy. If that’s a tiny (or giant) online shop in the US or even Jo-Ann’s then so be it. I found the whole “support your LQS day” event last year incomprehensible. Blind support of a business only because it’s local seems ridiculously simplistic. I wonder how many other young (or not) modern quilters feel the same.

  16. 16
    Barb says:

    Great insight and I totally agree. I bought Patty Young’s fabric at Joann Fabrics and with my online coupon paid $6.00 a yard. I have stopped shopping at my LQS due to the lack of friendly service and the outrageous cost of classes. I am an experienced sewer for many years and it amazes me the cost for classes before materials. There is no reason to visit my LQS when I can buy the same material online.

  17. 17
    JH says:

    I am also a independent quilt shop owner who does have modern designs as much because they fit my taste as because they are popular. It has been my goal to try to attract a variety of tastes and find what is popular in my close to the city suburban area. However we cannot compete with Joann’s and other big box stores that can heavily discount and keep the lights on. It would be nice to see more of the modern quilters support local stores who do carry their types of fabric. I’m afraid that online sites who can discount get most of their business.

    We make it our goal to help the customer, not only buy the fabric, but get to the end of a successful project and spend as much time as we can giving tips on problems and hints on easier ways to tackle a project. Some of our customers purchase modern designers and some are fans of batiks and modern but traditional types of fabric.

    Let’s not group independent quilt stores into one large category.

  18. 18
    Nessa says:

    As a LQS owner, this was painful to read. I just visited two distributors’ warehouses (we’re too remote and small-scale to attract sales reps) and saw so much gorgeous fabric, including a plethora of mod designs…but I just can’t afford to add it when 500 bolts is our target stock amount. You can’t imagine, or maybe you can, how frustrating it is to bypass things *I* personally love because I know I won’t sell enough of it. I’ve learned over 5 years’ time what the majority of our customers is looking for, so that’s what gets shelf space (I do offer to special-order if someone needs something above and beyond that norm). I have to assume that many smaller shops are as tightly bound by economic realities as we are.

    One bright spot, though: our 100% cotton LQS-grade fabric is all sold at $10.50 a yard. $12.99 at JoAnn? that’s gotta be gouging, considering the deals that their corporation is positioned to make with manufacturers. Grab your coupons, indeed.

  19. 19
    Jennifer says:

    I guess it just depends on whether you want a world full of Jo-Ann’s big box stores or a world filled with unique experiences and merchandise that comes from the Indepenents. If you want Wal-mart and Jo-ann’s to someday be your only source for fabric or anything else for that matter, then keep shopping there. And of course it is a money issue for the designers and the retailers…isnt it always (if we were to be completely honest).

  20. 20
    Sus says:

    I just recently moved and have not checked out any LQS where I am now. Where I used to live, the two local stores had such awful customer service I rarely visited even though I wanted to support them. I would buy fabric online instead. Why should I support my local store when the owners are so snobby and create an exclusive environment that is not welcoming to all customers. I may as well travel to Jo-Anns when I have a coupon saved! At least at Jo-Anns there are no expectations of who a quilter ‘should or should not be’ and staff judging me as a customer. I love to shop local, but I’m so over the snobbiness of local stores! They will never survive with this attitude.

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