In June 1987, while on home leave from my job in Tokyo, I walked into The Quilt Patch in Fairfax, Virginia, marking the first of many trips I would make to quilt shops around the world. At that time the shop was filled with navy, dusty rose, pine green, burgundy and brown calicos. Jinny Beyer had a massive line of basics and border prints but the colors were extremely traditional and the prints were primarily just 2-3 color prints in 1″ repeats.The fabrics did not speak to me at the time but I knew I could get some advice on how to make my first quilt (a Modern improvisational one, using traditional Japanese indigoes) and I could buy solids, thread, a rotary cutter (a new device at the time), a mat and batting. At that time I did not know a single person in the US or in Japan who knew anything about quilting so those women were extremely helpful to me, even though they seemed to think I was nuts to be making my first quilt without a pattern and big enough for a full-size bed. I was an investment banker at the time so I didn’t even have any design cred. I just had a vision and was willing to struggle to deal with problems as they came up nearly 7,000 miles away. I remember leaving that shop for the first time with the helpful advice and tools I needed to make my first quilt. I don’t know if I would have been able to make that first quilt had I not had their advice. Japanese shops at the time we focused primarily on small handwork projects like purses and lap quilts. They would answer specific questions but they weren’t like those ladies at the Quilt Patch who took a “let’s figure out a strategy together for your project” approach. It was life-changing for me.
So if you’re a hobby quilter or someone who jumped on the Modern Quilt Movement bandwagon 3-4 years ago you might not realize what a momentous occasion it was for me, 25 years later to be asked to write an article on attracting the modern quilt customer for American Quilt Retailer, the magazine read by every quilt retailer I know. AQR, a refreshingly practical magazine, devoted the entire issue to the Modern Quilt Movement. In the article I wrote I tried to give retailers who are worried about the million(s) they have invested in inventory some advice on how they can buy and merchandize their shops to attract new customers in a volatile economy. We all understand the appeal of getting the best price for a yard of fabric but local quilt shops provide a wealth of expertise and community to the quilters they serve and it’s in everyone’s interest (other than Fabric.com’s I guess) to help them understand and adapt to the needs of a changing clientele. I hope they find my article helpful and that it will be the first of many conversations on this topic that I’ll be able to have with owners of local and online quilt shops around the world.
I hope you’ll join me in creating a helpful dialogue between quilters and their local quilt shops. It’s one thing to walk out of a shop shaking your head complaining that they don’t have the fabric you’re looking for. It’s another to ask if it would be possible to special order a bolt if you commit to buying half the bolt or get a group of people together and request a specific class. Shop owners will benefit from customers who can work with them to meet their needs and customers will benefit from the expertise and convenience of being able to see and touch the fabrics that inspire them.
[Note: I plan, if I can remember, to bring that first quilt to QuiltCon in Austin, Texas in February 2013. More on the schedule for QuiltCon on Monday right here!]