Wednesday Words – Not all the News is Bad – Blog post Series

Happy Wednesday. There’s been a lot of  publicity and news lately about the state of the quilting industry, and a lot of the news is negative. I know that’s a shock, but work with me here.  Shops are closing all over, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that quilters are pulling back.  While I certainly see the same things that everyone else does, I also see signs of strength and growth in certain pockets (at least here in New England). I’m going to be looking at that side of things  from my perspective in the next several weeks of blog posts, which I call Not All the News is bad.

I’ve watched the news, the emails, the items coming out in social media for the better part of two and a half years, and I’ve seen the notices of shops closing.  And let me start this off with a couple of disclaimers – one, this is my personal opinion, research and observation – this isn’t a sponsored post, and I have no inside information to share (sorry). I am absolutely lucky to have some great friends to call on when needed, but this is me attempting to read the tea leaves.

Two, I admit to having been a quilter for 25 years at least, and while I can shop with the best of them when I am inspired to buy fabric – I haven’t done major fabric purchases for a while now.  It’s partly space issues here, it’s partly because I haven’t been wowed for a long time – trust me, when I saw the Hoffman Orange dream big panel, I pounced.  But here’s the crux of it…I shop a lot faster than I sew (and that’s not changing anytime soon).

I began building my stash as I began quilting – and that coincided with the quilting renaissance. And I always have been a round up to the nearest yard shopper, so my stash is plentiful.  I sew in a room where it’s organized, it’s pretty, it’s color coded – and really, other than solids to go along with my contemporary aesthetic…I’m mostly in a ‘maintenance’ mode unless something comes along that I have to have…and even then, I think about it.

With customers like me (and my counterparts)…is it any wonder that shops are feeling the pinch? That would be the narrative that a lot of us have been hearing…and yet consider these facts:

Earlier this year, on Feb 12,  the quilt world was shocked when overnight, Coats ,  the worlds leading industrial thread company (yes, Coats & Clark thread) announced that effective immediately, they were shuttering both Free Spirit Fabrics and Westminster Fabrics.  Those two entities were the creative home of Tula Pink, Kaffe Fassett, and a whole host of lesser known designers and fabric lines.  Tula Pink and Kaffe Fassett are two of the hottest names in the quilting industry, and if they were gone (with no notice), what did that mean for the rest of us?  A company shuttering that abruptly usually means a company specific problem, not an across the board softening of demand.  Shortly after that, Scott Fortunoff  of Jafftex made an announcement that Jafftex intended to purchase both Free Spirit and Westminster, and that sale closed at the end of April.

Jafftex as a company is a multi generational privately owned entity. Scott’s blog is titled Tales of a Fourth Generation Fabric Executive, and I’ve linked here to the first of his blog posts on the merger.  They haven’t been around that long without knowing the ups and downs of the industry better than most.

The next part of the story involves Keepsake Quilting, in Center Harbor NH.  As a NH quilter, I’ve made several trips (my husband would probably say pilgrimages, but that’s another story) to Keepsake over the years, and a good portion of my stash began there.  Keepsake began as a family owned business, then was purchased several times over by conglomerates and money people, and it slowly but surely began to lose the charm of a quilt shop. It was a sad day for me when on a trip to Lake Winnipesaukee, I skipped a trip to Keepsake because there was no reason to stop – and felt a bit of a pang as we went by. Sadder still when I skipped another trip, went by…and felt nothing.  That made me sad.  I wasn’t the only one…the changes from Keepsake as a quilt shop to a ‘big box’ shop were well documented.

At almost about the same time that the Jafftex sale closed, I woke to a article shared by a friend that Keepsake had been bought by a Steelcity llc, a family owned business from North Carolina, owned by Rick, wife Dot and son Dave. Steelcity is another fourth generation textile company…trust me, when I read that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Steelcity had been a supplier of Keepsake Quilting and has retail experience through its company Pineapple Fabrics.

The family’s commitment is to make Keepsake once again America’s quiltshop, and while it will take time to implement changes – they made two right moves immediately.  Keepsake Quilting’s hours had been shortened to a few days a week last fall – and right after the merger, they are back to 7 days a week.  The annual tent sale is always at the beginning of June, and this year…it’s going from 2 days to 3.  I’m so tempted!!!

So what my inquiring mind wants to know is what in the multi-generational ownership story is common to both deals?  What allows the new owners to take on the challenges (warts and all, and they are there) of each deal, and yet believing that both the entities are worth purchasing and adding to their portfolio?  According to Forbes, “…Less than one third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership. Another 50% don’t survive the transition from second to third generation…”

I have more evidence of positive signs, amongst all the news of shops closing, there are shops reopening (two of them), and shops expanding…

Valley Fabrics is a wonderful shop in Northhampton MA (I need to schedule a road trip), and they were gone for several years, reopening earlier this year.  The Fabric Garden closed last fall, and reopens later this month in an new location.  Pintuck & Purl, formerly of Exeter, has moved to Portsmouth in a new, larger location.  Those are the ones that I know about and can share…

In part 2 of the series, we will welcome guest blogger (and friend of mine) Beth Ditkoff of Damariscotta Maine.  Beth and her husband have relocated to their forever home in Damariscotta Maine, and in that process, a sewing space was moved.  Beth spent the next year settling in, vowing to clear some of her UFOs and to sew only from her stash.  I thought that it would be interesting to read.  Come back next Wednesday, June 6th for her installment.

In part 3, I’m talking about what how the after market effects our buying options – yardsales, estate sales and destash options.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  Many thanks to Teri Lucas for her wisdom and guidance as I sorted this out.  Always a pleasure.



  • Kelly Ann says:

    Good observations ~ as a LQS owner there are so many reasons for what is happening in the industry…the Keepsake Quilting sale was a positive move for the industry and local quilters.

  • Linda,
    First off kudos on this post. Best one I’ve read that has kept my eyes from wondering. Second, I want to say that your sources and guidance partner nailed it. Love these posts and look forward to the next installments.

    • PatchPearl says:

      Thank you for the kind words, and the encouragement. This was too big a topic to tackle in one setting, and I think that you’re going to be happy with the rest of the story.

  • Terry McKinsey says:

    Thank you for the positive news!!

  • Nancy Myers says:

    A nicely written article on your post. I look forward to part 2.
    I began quilting in the 70s, bought fabrics when I was young and working (because I was concerned that when retiring I might not have money to buy fabrics), have a BIG! stash. I am now using my stash and seldom buy new fabrics. I have found that mixing fabrics works wonderfully. I have more than I can sew in 30 years!
    As to 2nd and 3rd generations, I remember years ago hearing about wealthy business owners (mostly men) leaving their money to the 4th generation (not even born at the time) because usually by 3rd generation the money is unwisely spent. Perhaps those who come into a great business as it is passed down, don’t have the same commitment or drive that those who started the business.

    • PatchPearl says:

      Hi Nancy…thank you for the thoughtful post. I actually came at it from the opposite viewpoint; that a 4th generation
      owner has grown up with it providing the background and the security for many family generations. It’s not an issue that I
      ever have to worry about! As for my stash, I’m glad it doesn’t go out of style.


  • Great article, Linda. I need to have a destash sale since O do not piece very often, and just longarm

    • PatchPearl says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and leave a comment; I know that longarming is your first love…but
      a quilters gotta have some stash.


  • Terry says:

    I made my first quilt in 1972, as a young wife and mother. When I retired from schoolteaching in my early sixties, I opened a fabric shop here in our barn, side by side with my husband’s wooden toy shop. I resumed quilting and now teach senior citizens who made a generation of children’s clothing but are now learning to use rotary cutters and sew quarter inch seams. I also teach young students who will someday learn to make clothes with wider seams, and think it a strange thing to cut using a paper pattern and scissors, as they are growing up with rotary cutters. I wrote my first mystery novel using my husband and I twenty years in the future as octogenarians still running their wooden toy and fabric shops, but then my husband died in his mid sixties. I thought of closing the shop … but I’m still here, making comfort quilts in my husband’s memory for our police and fire departments, and providing fabrics to local quilters who make quilts for local veterans. There is still so much to do, and so much the shop can help get done. And so I go on.

    • PatchPearl says:

      Hi Terry…

      Thank you for taking the time to write…I appreciate your perspective. I can relate to teaching young children
      to sew using scissors…I’m starting to do that with my granddaughter.

  • Wonderfully written blog Linda!! Totally enthralled! Can’t wait for the next one!

  • Reba Linker says:

    I enjoyed your post and your perspective that ‘not all news is bad.’ It is great that you found hopeful things to report. In any field there is so much collective tsk-tsking that it is such a public service to find some good stuff to celebrate – and you prove that it’s there!

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