why no fashion district kits?

fabric, quilting

Since Quilts Made Modern was published last November, I’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails from people wanting to know all of the fabrics that are in our Fashion District quilt and others hoping to buy kits. Rather than continue to respond individually to questions about kits for this quilt and others, I thought that I’d explain the issue with kits and publications so you can understand just how complicated and expensive a proposition it is.

The problem with making quilts for books and main-stream magazines is that, unless we’re using solids which are always in production, the fabrics are no longer available by the time the publication is printed.  We have to turn in quilts 8 months to a year before the publication comes out and we’re usually planning 18 months to two years before the publication goes on sale. The lifespan of a fabric line is generally six months to a year. In the case of the Fashion District quilt, I collected fabrics for that quilt in April 2009, submitted the quilt to our publisher in October 2009 and it was published in November 2010. That’s two full cycles in the fabric design world. That’s not to say that none of those fabrics is on shelves of stores somewhere, but we cannot order most of them from manufacturers at this point. Even if I could track down all of those prints, it’s a pretty good guess that most would be out of print. I think that only one fabric in Fashion District — one by Kaffe Fassett– is still in print. He’s the only designer I know of whose fabrics are reprinted for longer than a year. Several of the fabrics in that kit are from our Wild Bunch line that hasn’t been in stores since 2009. We wanted to be able to sell it for more than a few months so we bought a ton of it but even we’ve run out of most of it.

This is a constant challenge for us. Magazine editors want us to use “current fabrics” but they often want the quilt delivered to them for photography 8-12 months before it appears in your mailbox. When we do have kits of printed fabrics, it’s because we’ve bought thousands and thousands of dollars of fabric, put them all in a dark storage room and waited a year for the publication to come out. But even then, we have no idea how many kits will sell and how many to buy for.

The classic story was in April 2007, when our Mendhi line was featured in our Spice Market quilt on the cover of American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine. We knew that it would be on the cover, notified the manufacturer (FreeSpirit) and were advised by the magazine to expect to sell 100 or so kits. We bought enough fabric for 150 kits just to be safe, or so we thought. We sold 32 kits the first day.  In the end we had requests for over 1,200 kits. At that time, FreeSpirit had just been taken over by Westminster. Westminster decided to discontinue the line even though we had orders in hand for 600 additional kits and were willing to buy any fabric they reprinted. They were not willing to reprint and 600 people never got kits. Four years later I still don’t understand why they made that decision.

So as much as we would love to kit everything, it’s pretty much impossible given the length of the printing cycle and the short shelf-life of fabric. The only suggestions I have are to look for colors and values that accomplish what the original fabrics have done in the quilt and to shop at a variety of quilt shops. That main blue-gray fabric was a Thimbleberries, I think. Some of the fabrics you would expect to find in a more traditional shop and others you’d find only in a shop that carries more modern fabrics. The trick is looking beyond the actual print and the way that fabric might be grouped in the shop to see the role that the fabric performs in the quilt. Those tone-on-tones that might look boring to you in a Civil War reproduction quilt are the perfect foil to those modern larger-scale prints. It’s all in looking at the hue and value, not necessarily the way it might be presented in the shop.

12 thoughts on “why no fashion district kits?

  1. Soooooo…you need to write a book, using only fabrics YOU design and then release the fabric and the book at the same time. Meanwhile, you will receive the early runs of the fabric and we’ll be EAGERLY WAITING…win win you know. NOW if only the fabric companies would accomodate…

  2. @Megan – We have had that conversation many times. We’d have to self-publish and start our own fabric company to make that happen but I agree. It would make so much sense.

  3. Such a shame. I loved all the fabrics you designed a few years ago. The first quilt book I purchased was your Modern Quilt Workshop and the fabrics in the quilts are so wonderful.

    Westminster’s decision is unfathomable–seems like poor customer service.

    I look forward to the day you start your own fabric company!

  4. A friend of mine recently made your Fashion District quilt as a wedding present. Of course, she made it with different but similar prints and colors. She appreciated the advice you gave in your book about fabric selection. Our Tuesday night quilting group loved how it turned out, and her fabric selections made it unique. Although I have bought one or two kits (the current one is a historical reproduction), I usually prefer to make my own choices – it’s one of my favorite parts of quiltmaking. I will change the fabrics, the number of blocks, and other features to have more say about the creative process.
    I do get frustrated over the short lifespan of fabrics in the stores – sometimes it is gone before I get there, or I can only buy it online. I think this would be less of a problem if I start using more solids!

  5. That Fashion District quilt is a favorite of mine. I don’t want a kit but it would be nice to a large close up of the fabrics used to get a better sense of the quilt. Could you do that in the blog?

  6. Thank you for posting this information.

    What wonderful quilts you design and what great fabric selection. I appreciate all the thought that goes into your selections… it shows!

  7. Discovered your blog today, much to my delight. Found you through your Flower Show quilt in: Perfect for Precuts Volume One, by Better Homes and Gardens/American Patchwork and Quilting. I embarked today to see if there was more where that came from landing here, at your blog and then at your post about the “kit” issue.

    Know this – The red and white Flower Show quilt freed me from paralysis and wishing I could create some of the great projects I see in magazines, books or online, to just going for it. Without specific fabric lines, I studied the magazine picture for days until I theorized what made the prints work together to create such an appeal for me. I then challenged myself to use what I had and pulled fat quarters of florals and stripes (didn’t have any dots)from my stash, even some that weren’t my fav, and let them marinate for a few days. Added to that Kona in white, red and orange (never would have added that color), and I realized – I can do this!

    Why? Reading this blog post turned the lights fully on for me. So many times when a project has stood out to me I felt it was because of those exact fabrics and that I wouldn’t be able to create a pleasing facsimile without those fabrics. I now understand its more likely because of what you called values in print and color. Without the kit, I had to study and think. Perhaps we learn more in taking the principle in the quilt, understanding what makes it work or appeal to us, and then applying our own creativity. Without a “kit”/list of exact fabrics perhaps you actually give us the ability to do more as we use what we have, be it the beautiful outgrown children’s shirts/dresses that we love, Grandmothers scraps, or fabric we have collected. And then we can go on from there. Maybe we complete a designer’s pattern/project as the learning lab for experience, then we take it to the point where our own vision is allowed to unfold and we design our own. The success is not necessarily about the exact duplication, and the only failure is in not trying.
    Thank you for all these lessons and allowing me to break out of the box into creative freedom. Just wanted you to know it! Will now have to find your Modern Quilt Workshop book – for “mentoring” and inspiration! ;)

    And thanks for the heads up on the Chore Camp. Gonna “enroll” all four of mine! This will be fun!
    Glynis

  8. I just thought of something:
    I read recently that someone had published a sewing book with projects utilizing their own designs that could be purchased on-demand through Spoonflower. Now, I know that Spoonflower is pricey, and they use pigment dyeing rather than reactive dyes, but…if someone is really desperate to replicate a quilt..why not? Your cost is zilch–you just upload your designs. They’d be available for, like, all eternity, and people could order them…or not.

  9. @pieceLove – The issue is that we cannot reproduce or place on Spoonflower fabrics by other designers. If it’s a sewing project and you just need a small amount of one fabric, that’s one thing. But buying 15-30 different fabrics is another, especially when the production rights to those fabric designs are held by lots of different companies. I’m afraid it would be a legal and logistical nightmare.

  10. So well explained! As a former editor of several Australian quilting magazines I understand and share your frustrations. Made even worse here by time and distance (if and when we get a range – or contributors using fabric unavailable in shops here that they have purchased over the internet). It was a constant topic at editors meetings.
    Bye the way – love your work, been a fan for some time.

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