More on Tariffs and Quilting

I wrote the other day about upcoming tariffs and their effects on the quilting industry. The main point of my post was to define terms — what is a tariff? and what is a trade deficit? — and to note that the proposed tariffs are targeted to consumer goods, including fabric and other craft goods, from China. You can find a list of the targeted goods here.

A great new source for information on tariffs is this podcast with a trade law expert named David Gantz. It’s about 35 minutes and is presented by Just Wanna Quilt, the research project led by Elizabeth Townsend Gard from Tulane University.

A primary concern to quilters is woven cotton fabrics. From what I could learn, approximately 30% of imported woven cottons are from China. (There are a number of woven cottons on the linked list, starting on page 125.) Of course, woven cottons include lots of different things, right? There are denims and broadcloths and dress fabrics and flannels and decorator fabrics. Lots of things, including quilting cottons.

There is some good news about quilting cottons. Though I can’t find any stats on this, according to Abby Glassenberg’s new Craft Industry Alliance post, “The majority of premium quilting cotton sold in independent quilt shops are imported from Korea and Japan and will not be tariffed.”

If you look on the end of a bolt, it shows country of origin. People who’ve looked in quilt shops seem to be saying that this is true, the majority show Korea or Japan as the source. However, as reported by Abby Glassenberg, there are quilting fabric companies who have recently started having digital printing done in China. A source of mine says digital printing allows better color control and smaller batches. I’ve been told that the ink toners for digital printing are more environmentally friendly than screen printing colors. These factors make digital printing an attractive alternative, and China, apparently, does them well and cheaply.

This doesn’t speak to the proportion of quilting fabrics at Joann’s and other big-box stores that are from China. I don’t know anything about these numbers.

More importantly, I don’t care. To me, it doesn’t matter if Joann’s buys all of their fabrics from China and “quilt shops” buy all of their fabric from other countries. Other than pure intellectual curiosity, I don’t care.

Here’s the thing: as long as I’ve quilted I’ve heard people say “I’d never shop at Joann’s” and
“I’d never shop at Walmart for fabric.” There has always been a “good fabric comes from quilt shops” and “I don’t buy fabric from Joann’s because it’s icky” vibe from a lot of quilters. But you can’t tell what’s good or bad by where you buy it. What’s important is how it looks and feels and holds up to the purpose. I’d love to set up a blind test for those who think they can tell the difference.

It would pain me personally to see an increase in quilt snobbery. I’d hate to think that, because I can afford to shop at a quilt shop, I shouldn’t care what happens to those who shop at Joann’s, either because that’s the only store around or because that’s what they can afford. It reminds me of those who don’t care about food deserts, where people have their gas station quick mart to get groceries and not much more, and then make opinionated remarks about how those people should just buy better quality food. This issue of tariffs makes me concerned that same style of snobbery will show itself even more than usual in quilting.

Let’s not be like that. Let’s be supportive of quilters and other makers, regardless of where they buy their materials. Let’s look at the issue of tariffs and how it will affect quilting, not how it will affect ourselves personally. Quilters are generous. We give quilts, we teach, we share. Let’s be generous with our attitudes, as well.

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29 thoughts on “More on Tariffs and Quilting

  1. piecefulwendy

    I don’t care where others buy their fabric, and I’m certainly not going to look down my nose at purchases made at stores other than quilt shops. I will admit, however, that I personally prefer shopping at quilt shops for many reasons other than quality of fabric (but that is a factor for me). More often the condition of the store and the attitude of its employees will have a bigger impact on my decision of where I shop, whether it be an LQS or another shop. The type of quilt I am making, and how it will be used, also has a bearing on where I purchase the fabric. I don’t really pay attention to where it comes from.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for adding those thoughts, Wendy. I agree, there are differences besides fabric quality. And of course, if I just compare the local quilt shops (and there are several,) the prices are similar and the quality of fabric is similar, but there are some I like better than others, so I go to my favorites first. Thanks much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  2. jmn

    The whole tariff thing is downright evil. It effects people who can ill afford the cost increases on both sides of whichever border is involved. And just relying on your stash makes it very difficult for small businesses caught in the middle. Let’s pray they survive.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Small businesses and consumers definitely are the first to be hurt by any price change, whether imposed like tariffs, or due to some other shift in the market. And you’re right, it hurts people on both sides of the border. mm…. I could go on with my thoughts on this. But I’ve declared the topic here politics-free already (see other post if you didn’t already.) So I’ll stop there. Thanks much!

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth

    Yes this! And folks who cry “Well then sell USA made” don’t seem to get that there isn’t a USA made option for many things and even if there can be, someone has to start/open that business which could take a couple years before we saw products on the shelf and they still wouldn’t be cheap.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Exactly. As far as I can tell, there are quilting fabrics in solid colors made in the US, and not much else. Even those printed or dyed here in small batches here probably use greige goods, prepared for dying, from overseas. The time it takes to adjust to changes like this can be long. Thanks for reading and commenting today.

      Reply
  4. laura bruno lilly

    Melanie – both of your articles on this subject are well written and help make this subject more understandable to us everyday Americans. The world of quilting is but a microcosm of what is to be and in an odd way also helps me personally understand the impact this will have in all facets of our soon-to-be-upended everyday lives…
    In ref to Elizabeth’s comment, just a little FYI: Having lived in SC for the past 6 years, I learned that textile mills/factories have been long shut down – I believe hastened by the influx of cheap quilted goods that began coming from overseas back in the 80’s – and the state still hurts as a result of those lost jobs and related jobs…Incidently, remember those petitions that went around quilt guilds to prevent glutting the market with them?
    As for JoAnn’s…I’m with you – who cares? At least we have choices to choose from – yet another everyday American thing that might be diminishing, we’ll see.
    😦
    peace

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Laura. Yes, mills in the US have long been shuttered. Simply put, labor is less expensive in other countries. There is lot to be said about that, as well, that we can skip for this moment. 🙂 But yes, most quilters in the US are blessed with plenty, from one source or another. Thanks again.

      Reply
  5. jodierichelle

    “Let’s not be like that. Let’s be supportive of quilters and other makers, regardless of where they buy their materials. Let’s look at the issue of tariffs and how it will affect quilting, not how it will affect ourselves personally. Quilters are generous. We give quilts, we teach, we share. Let’s be generous with our attitudes, as well.” Very well said! We are generous, creative souls.

    Reply
  6. Nann

    We had a guild speaker some years ago who brought samples of quilt fabric from shops and from chain stores — she had some that were the same print but different greige goods. The difference was obvious. I source my quilting fabric from shops, show vendors, and JoAnns. I’ve also gotten LOTS from estate sales, thrift shops, and quilters’ downsizing. (Best score: 1700 yards for $600 from an estate. I’m still using it up!)

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      That’s really interesting, Nann. I know the prints are not always very crisp on fabrics from big box stores. IMO, sometimes that matters a lot and sometimes it does not. One thing I know is that Robert Kaufman Kona solids ARE the exact same fabrics, whether at Joann’s or at the quilt shop. Thanks much.

      Reply
  7. snarkyquilter

    Since Abby Glassenberg’s most recent article on this topic included a link to the Request for Comments publication, I decided to skim its 205 pages. The list of goods includes bovine semen. Also included are paints, printing inks, silks, wool, cotton sewing thread and yarns, and buttons. I hope quilters will help each other by sharing material resources we already have but aren’t using as one way to help stretch our budgets. Quilt shops are at the mercy of the fabric manufacturers, who are at the mercy of the tariffs. I suspect the manufacturers will seek other overseas fabric sources that won’t raise their costs too much. The ship on U.S. fabric manufacturing sailed long ago.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, indeed. I think you hit an essential point I was thinking but didn’t say — we have plenty. We can share. It won’t help everyone — as you said, the quilt shop owners, etc — but it can help. Thanks.

      Reply
  8. Elizabeth E.

    When I visited China some years ago, our tour guide noted that 90% of the world’s clothing flows through there–either it originates there, or is finished there. I don’t know what this is now, nor is that important. What is relevant is that after we lost our textile industries, someone had to pick it up, and we have to follow the source to obtain what we need.
    It’s not a terrible thing to buy from overseas companies–nearly everything I touch in my quilting is from overseas–and many from different companies buy my patterns. I am more of a “world order” sort of person, I guess, hoping we can craft agreements to make it work for us all.
    I’ve enjoyed your two posts–thanks, again!

    Reply
  9. Maria

    Tariffs are actually a tax on consumers, because the cost will always flow down to us, even if businesses pay initially. It’s a way to raise taxes without raising taxes. I believe it generally hurts the world economy in the long run because it punishes efficiencies. I do prefer quilt fabric from quilt shops because I like to support them, and because they are designed to appeal to my designer heart. I have bought fabric anywhere, including Tuesday Morning, if I see something I like. I really appreciate your discussion of tariffs – I think it’s important to sometimes look at the larger picture. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You talk like an economist. 🙂 I agree, one of the big reasons to buy at quilt shops is to keep quilt shops in business, and I’ve often chosen a small cut at a shop on my travels just because of that. And like you, I’m also willing to buy fabric where I find it. Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  10. audrey

    Just catching up on your latest posts. I have never felt that places like Joann Fabrics truly hurt the mainstreet quilting stores. Most dedicated quilters end up gravitating toward higher quality fabric and larger selection in the long term. And there is some nice quality fabric to be had at those places too, just have to be selective. I for one would love to buy more American made fabric, but I suppose I am a capitalist at heart–I buy what I like and what I can afford.:) As far as the tariffs, hopefully this is a temporary thing while trade is being adjusted worldwide. I for one can probably weather it out with the fabric already residing in my stash and just buying essential bits and pieces. My fear is the loss of mainstreet quilt stores. I just found out that one of my favorite quilt stores across the states {didn’t go there very often} has recently closed. Bummer. It was a one of a kind, destination sort of quilt store.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Agreed on so much of what you’ve said. Also there are always risks to the small business owner, and this is one more. Assuming their inventory isn’t sourced in China, they may get through this one with not much trouble. But since there is no particular policy strategy that’s discernible, we have no way to guess if the tariffs will stop here or go farther. Or what is the next upheaval? Now way to tell. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  11. Maria

    I am not an economist, but wouldn’t mind being one in another life! I wish more people had the opportunity to take some basic economic courses in high school, along with finance. Somehow we need to rethink our curriculum design so that students graduate with a basic understanding of things I had to get a Master’s in Business to learn. And I know this has nothing to do with quilting, except that quilting has saved my sanity over the years through school and work and everything else, and I love your blog and read and enjoy it regularly.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Aw, thank you Maria! That’s the nicest thing I’ve read all day. As to quilting saving your sanity, let’s just say, I know exactly what that means. Thanks so much. You really made my day.

      Reply

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