As we pull in to our neighbourhood, home from the pool or errands or whatever my kids inevitably start talking about the things they will do when we get home. Can we watch TV? What is there for a snack? I have homework. Does Dad have to work tomorrow? Can I go over to so and so's house? It is relentless. The demand for attention, the inability to focus on what is front of us right now - a conversation in the car together - and the creation of more chaos when a bit of order, first, is needed. It is exhausting.
Life is full of competition for our attention. The kids are in battle with our parents, the news is in battle with the laughter of memes, the dog is in battle with our partners. And around and up and back again. How we don't all live with a crick in our neck from the constant twists of the head to watch something, the next thing, is beyond me.
Fabric and the quilting industry is no different. Hundreds of lines, with probably 10-20 different fabrics in them, launch each year. Actually, each season. Then there are the patterns to go with each. Not to mention the thread, the latest notion, and the world of bags, crafts, and garments. It is all enough to make one feel like they are spinning in a vortex of colour, not knowing where to stop or look.
And I didn't even mention social media.
Those of us working in the industry have been saying for a few years that it is getting worse and worse. The churn through of inspiration, the saturation of the market, the sheer volume of stuff is overwhelming even for us. It makes the hustle more exhausting as you try to find a way to differentiate yourself. Yet we too are contributing to the noise.
I always think of the Grinch and Boris Karloff saying "Oh the noise. The Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise."
Book publishing has already slowed down. You just don't see the volume of quilt books hitting in the market anymore. Two weeks ago we all saw the news of Free Spirit shutting down. Now it will have a new owner. Brick and mortar stores are closing, and others are opening. Ecommerce still expands and contracts
All of this could truly be a market correction. The quilt industry has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. That is a lot of years of buying, not just new quilters. The economy is still not great. I know my own disposable income doesn't get spent on fabric even though as a professional I can write it off. How many other people are in the same boat?
I have three other theories regarding the consumer side, while others have addressed the supply side of the quilt market.
... One, all those new quilters, the twenty somethings who led the Modern movement, now have kids, and sometimes parents, to take care of. Our time and money disappeared. We are quilting less obsessively, if at all. Not to mention, #2 below.
... Two, we have enough fabric. Plain and simple. Many of us got caught up (still do) in the need to stock up on the latest and greatest, to build our stash of celebrity designers fabrics and products. Those stashes are now sitting there. There is that old joke about she who dies with the most fabric wins, right?
Some folks destash, others let it languish in the closet. This is regardless of the age and the situation we are in. Many of us can now shop at home first. Those large stashes have essentially created a quilt store in our home. That means we aren't necessarily hitting the stores to stock up anymore.
... Three, I'm seeing a move away from consumerism. It might be the recession, it might be a increase in environmental awareness, it might be simple exhaustion at the churn of new product. Regardless, I think a lot of us are buying less new stuff simply for the sake of buying less. This translates to a rise in upcycled material, thrift store purchases, and using what we have already. This also ties into what I am seeing as a backlash against new, new. new.
Personally, I've been feeling a shift over the last year. At first it was because we were tight on cash and I needed to not shop so much. (Kid's sports, yikes!) It continued because I wasn't seeing much new stuff I eagerly wanted. Or rather, nothing was standing out to me. I also launched my own fabric line in there and 20 bolts of fabric suddenly in your tiny space is A LOT of fabric. To be perfectly honest, I have a large stash. At least for the last 10 years or so. And I always shop first from there. But if I went to the store because I needed a particular shade of blue, I would buy 4 different fabrics to fulfill that need and fill the blue bin. It was a lot of consumerism.
At the beginning of the year I cleaned out the stash. The closet was full of falling over piles, bins that wouldn't close, and a heck of a lot of fabric I wasn't and will never use. So I went through each colour, purging and refolded. It only took a few evenings after the kids went to bed, not the big deal I made it out to be in my head. I now have a large blue IKEA bag ready for donation and a neater closet. Was it ever liberating!! I've been in a quilt store twice since then and only bought what I needed because that was the easiest thing to do. Perspective is a wonderful thing.
None of this, however, helps the quilt shops or the suppliers. Or my colleagues in the industry trying to make a living. This market correction is going to hurt some people, I have no doubt. People will leave the industry, things will get leaner. This isn't always a bad thing, but it sure can be ugly. It also doesn't guarantee that quality is the winner. If social media has taught us anything it is that those who know how to play the game, with or without the rules, are likely to win.
I've been asking myself a lot of questions about the hustle lately for exactly these reasons. As I said before, I'd love to write another quilt book, but that may not be in the cards. I'd love to design more fabric but I have a lot of work to do there on improvement and I need to be comfortable with putting more product out in the world. I'm not ready to leave the industry, but it is definitely time to redefine my role in it. And I don't think I am alone in this process, from the consumer to the supplier level people should be doing this.
In the meantime, I've slowed down. Life is insanely busy between kids and the family business (outside of my own work). The only time I really sew is for that Morning Make habit. Let me tell you, slow is good! I love all my quilts under construction but I am starting to focus more. Working on only one or two at a time. Trying to spin less, take more deliberate action. Instead of walking in the door of my sewing room and asking a million questions about what comes next, I take off my shoes and move thoughtfully, getting things done little by little.
As I say to the kids every time they start off in a frenzy: Simmer Down.