Category Archives: Quilting as a Business

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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Tariffs and the Cost of Quilting

Have you paid any attention to the new tariffs imposed on goods imported to the US? I’ll tell the truth: there is so much chaos in the political news all the time, I haven’t keyed in on this as much as I should. However, yesterday I saw two articles on the tariffs and the cost of quilting. The issue in total is worth understanding better, and if this is our entry into that understanding, so be it.

The first item to clear up is the term “tariff.” A tariff is a tax or duty paid on a class of imported goods. (Alternately, it could be imposed on goods being exported, to be paid before they leave the country.) The importer pays the tariff. If the importer re-sells that good directly, they will need to increase the price at which they sell, in order to recoup the expense of the tariff. If they don’t increase the price, their profit will be reduced or wiped out. If the importer is a manufacturer, they may be able to cut costs elsewhere to reduce the impact of the tariff. However, that will have a different effect, perhaps on the other suppliers they buy from, or on labor, or on the end buyer of their goods.

In July, the Trump administration announced that new tariffs would be imposed on the import of $34 billion of Chinese goods coming into the US. The intention was to make Chinese goods more expensive for American consumers, so we would import less Chinese product as compared to the amount of US product we export to China. In addition, American businesses would theoretically be “protected” from foreign competition, allowing them to increase their sales.

A trade deficit is the amount by which a country’s imports exceed its exports. According to the US Census Bureau, at the end of June, the US had a trade deficit with China of $185.7 billion for the year to date. In other words, we imported $185.7 billion more from China than we exported to China so far in 2018. In 2017, it was more than $375 billion for the year as a whole.

So far, that sounds reasonable, right? If we want a different balance of trade, we should (preferably) export more, and possibly import less. Tariffs would be a good way to import less. (There are a lot of economic reasons this may or may not make sense at all. Way beyond the scope of this little post.)

The hitch in this plan comes in with retaliation and escalation. As soon as the tariffs were announced, China declared their own set of tariffs on incoming American goods. And in return, trump has set in motion more tariffs against China, as well as new ones against Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Japan. A wide range of goods from all over the world will be more expensive for Americans.

So how does this all affect the quilting industry? After August 30, another $200 billion of Chinese goods will be subject to tariffs that could be from 10-25% of value. In 2017, the US imported $6 billion worth of fabric of all types. Not all of that was from China, but from what I can gather (a variety of somewhat confusing sources,) about 30% of woven cottons are from China.

It is reasonable to assume that the prices we pay for fabric will go up, on average. Fabric companies will have to cover the tariffs as they import, and that cost will need to be covered by the consumer to maintain their profits. Small retailers (local quilt stores) may not be able to pass on the price increases to their own customers, which could lead to more shops leaving business.

In addition, textile machinery, including sewing machines not made in America, may have increased prices. (Which “domestic” or regular sewing machines are actually made in America these days? Any?) Tariffs on goods coming from the European Union and Japan might hit that market. Parts for repair of your older machine could face the same hurdles. Many gadgets and notions are made in China and may have higher prices, too.

I don’t have the answers on this, but I advise you to pay attention. Some retailers, including JoAnn Fabrics and Dharma Trading Co. have already notified customers that tariffs may affect pricing.

Here are the two articles I saw yesterday. One is from craft industry expert and reporter, Abby Glassenberg. Mostly, it explains that she is researching the issue and will be reporting on it soon. Sign up for her newsletter for notification on this concern, as well as other great stuff on the craft world.

https://whileshenaps.com/2018/08/on-embracing-the-unknown.html

The other item was from Quartz. It gives another brief summary of the upcoming changes.

https://qz.com/1365978/the-all-american-pastime-of-quilting-is-being-tucked-into-the-trade-war/

Updated to include a link to this article in Bloomberg:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-21/retailer-joann-calls-on-crafters-to-oppose-trump-s-tariffs

Update 2: As said below in comments, ‘My post is NOT about the politics of this, from either side. As I mentioned, there are economic arguments in both directions. And this is not a question or post about “is it worth it.” It is ONLY to let people know this is an issue they should be aware of. If there are more comments on the politics of it, I will delete them.’ I have very strong opinions on the politics of this. As a retired investment professional with degrees in finance and economics, and many years experience in the field, I also know a few things about the economics of it. I WILL NOT DEBATE those issues here, and I will not allow for others to do so, either. That, again, is NOT the point of the post. Thanks for your respect on this.

Expect to see more on this soon. If enacted, these tariffs have the potential of affecting every part of the quilting industry.

 

 

 

 

Design Theft or Outright Scam

Some of you are aware of the quilting-and-copyright research project called Just Wanna Quilt. I wrote a little about it here.

Besides the website with interview podcasts (including mine!), there is also a Facebook group linked to the research. The lead researcher, Elizabeth Townsend Gard, is using the group as a way to learn more about the culture of quilting. You can join, too!

Because the research focuses on intellectual property, Facebook group members post interesting items on the topic. Recently there was a post about a company that, apparently, steals quilt designs and prints them on low-quality blanket material. Or perhaps, what they’re doing is using the designs to collect orders, with credit card information, and then not delivering on the order. Whether it is phishing or scamming or stealing designs, it’s kind of horrifying that they are making money on the backs of talented designers and quilters.

Here are three of the companies that are involved with this. I’m not going to add active links, but you can check for yourself if you’re interested. Company names include
ustrendygear.com
greatbuyaz.com
usgearviral.com

A friend tagged me with a link to a picture of a great “quilt blanket” offered by one of these companies. The price of the supposed blanket was $49.95. It was NOT a quilt. And again, without trying to make a purchase, who knows if there really is a product, or if it is a phishing scam?

I looked up the quilt design the friend showed me. It was an elaborately appliquéd quilt, pattern by McKenna Ryan. You can find the pattern, as listed for sale by Ryan’s own site, here. The image below is a linked image from Pine Needles, Ryan’s store. As you can see, this is NOT a cheap blanket. It’s not a $50 item. The actual value would be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, based on all the time required to replicate it in appliqué.

McKenna Ryan’s pattern And On That Farm, https://www.pineneedles.com/And-On-That-Farm-s/1920.htm

Here is the product description from the scammer company page (NOT McKenna Ryan’s company.)

And here is a screen shot of the “returns policy” for the scammer company.

I clicked through the link my friend gave me, and on that original post, I said it was McKenna Ryan’s design, and the company appeared to have stolen the design to print it on cheap blanket fabric. Soon after, whoever originally posted it removed the link.

Have you seen this type of Facebook post? You’re welcome to share my post with friends or your online quilting groups, if you’d like to warn them of the scams.

Just Wanna Quilt

Have you heard about Just Wanna Quilt? It is a research project on quilting, with the ultimate focus on copyright and intellectual property issues of the quilting industryElizabeth Townsend Gard, the lead researcher, law professor, and a quilter herself, is going full-immersion into quilting to understand the subject better.

The long-term goal for the project, as summarized by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps,

is to create two bodies of work about intellectual property as it relates to quilting … The first will be intended for the hobby quilter. It will include “everything you need to know about copyright and intellectual property when it comes to quilting. Just simple. So that we can get everyone on the same page on things they don’t understand.” The other will be a more in-depth work for people in the quilting industry. “Every single person in this field is using materials and you should feel confident in what you do with them so that you don’t get in trouble, or if you get in trouble you do it deliberately,” she says.

In a lot of academic research, the initial stage is a review of the existing literature. In quilting, there is very little formal (academic) research existing, outside of quilting history. Elizabeth’s project includes surveying the whole landscape to create a basis for the research product. To do so, she’s initiated a series of podcasts, interviewing dozens of participants in the quilting industry, from corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, fabric and pattern designers, and hobby quilters.

You can find those interviews here. I’ve barely scratched the surface listening to them — there are dozens, and more being added all the time. Most of them run between about 30 and 60 minutes. They’re the perfect thing to listen to while you’re working on a project. Elizabeth’s interview style is very conversational. She comes across as charming and funny, and the focus is always on the interview subject and their part of the quilting world. It’s so interesting and I’ve already learned so much.

And here is a fun thing — she’s just posted a podcast interviewing ME! Click on this link to find the recording. It’s 52 minutes, on the long side. We talk about how and why I started quilting, what medallion quilts are, how I see green quilting and our responsibility as quilters to make the Earth a better place, and more.

In truth I’m not sure how this helps the research, but I had so much fun sharing my quilting world. 🙂 Thanks in advance if you choose to listen. Either way, check out the long list of podcasts available. If you love quilting, you’re sure to find this fascinating, as I do.

The Tutorial

This is the story of how a bad thing happened, and a good thing happened because of it. But a big part of the story is how you can keep that bad thing from happening in the first place. It takes two of us to tell the story, so we agreed to write it together and post it on both of our blogs.

Melanie: I’m Melanie McNeil and I write the blog Catbird Quilt Studio. I design my own quilts, mostly medallion quilts. And I help teach other people to design, too. Part of that is showing and describing my process as I work, and part is figuring out how to do things, and then creating tutorials. I enjoy the geometry of quilts, including the math. If someone knows how to do the math, they don’t need other people’s patterns, and they are more powerful because of it.

Lorna: I’m Lorna McMahon and I blog at Sew Fresh Quilts. I design and make quilts and, after testing, offer the patterns for sale. I offer basic quilt making information as well as a variety of free quilt alongs. And host the Let’s Bee Social Wednesday linky party as a way for other quilt bloggers to meet up each week, to connect and to share what they are working on.

Melanie: So the bad thing that happened — the story starts well before that. It starts in early 2014. I wanted to use a square-in-a-square block in a quilt, the kind of block that is called an “economy block.” I didn’t know how to do the math of creating them, and I wondered if someone else had a tutorial out there that would show me. I looked at lots of quilters’ blogs. Several had tutorials on how to make a specific size of block. Some were by paper piecing and some were by cutting patches for their own size of block. None of them were generic with the math included. So I wrote one.

It explains the math (which is actually very cool) and also gave a cheat sheet for people who want to make one of several sizes of blocks without doing the math. Almost since I posted the tutorial, it’s been my most-viewed piece.

Lorna: I took on a project where a quilt fabric company sent me fabric to make a quilt. I really should know by now that this is not what I want to do. Yet, it is hard to resist the idea of being sent fabric to use. It’s just that you must then use only the fabric they have sent. I have long struggled with using prints. And this project was all prints with no solids or “reads like a solid” in the mix to break things up.

I had committed to making something and knew these prints would not be suitable for my usual style. They would not work for me to design my typically pieced block. So I started looking for an easy way to just get something made and chose a traditional block.

I looked up a tutorial to make those blocks. Made those blocks. Put it together. And my quilt was finished. But I was not proud of the quilt and dreaded posting about it. I wanted to offer something more and decided to add a tutorial to the post. But I was lazy and feeling low about the whole experience.

I found Melanie’s Economy Block tutorial online and then – I stole that tutorial. Now an explanation – not that I am attempting to excuse what I did, but rather to attempt to describe the reasons behind the why I did what I did. No, I did not simply copy and paste the tutorial. I took my own photos. Made my own charts. Omitted the math formula because I wanted the tutorial to be simpler. And did not really change much concerning the written instructions. There really isn’t much you can do to change how you say, “Place fabric A on fabric B and sew a seam”. But even if I had found a completely unique way of writing it…. It was still wrong. It was still stealing. If nothing else, at the very least, I would have stolen the style of how that tutorial was written. At the time, I must have felt that these changes would make it “less wrong”.

And I published it without another thought. That is until I received an email requesting that I remove that tutorial.

Melanie: Um. It wasn’t really a request. Recently I wanted to post about a new cool thing I found out about economy blocks, a math thing. And I googled the term just to see if there was anything new out there. The third item on the list was Lorna’s tutorial. My tutorial. I knew it was mine because I knew there was nothing else out there like it at the time I wrote it.

I was mad. And I sent her an email and commented on the post and put up a blog post of my own, asking my readers to demand she remove it. I didn’t mince words. ugh. Embarrassing. I do not always react well when I am mad, and this was a prime example of it.

Lorna: I emailed back a reply right away. I apologized and complied immediately. I did not go to the links provided in the email which would have enabled me to compare the tutorials. Even if they would not have been considered by some to be without question the same, I knew what I had done was wrong. And I was able to freely admit that. But that was not enough.

Melanie had written a post about it on her blog prior to me reading her email. But I did not get a chance to read her blog post. When I sent my apology, she edited her post. But there were comments on her blog, naming me and the tutorial I had posted. And that bothered me. Why? Why did that bother me? Selfishness again. I wanted the whole thing to simply go away.

I had apologized and deleted the tutorial. Shouldn’t this have been handled just between the two of us? No. She had every right to post about it on her blog. She did nothing wrong. And I deserved to be “named and shamed”.

Melanie: I’m gonna break in here and say “yes,” I should have first just emailed Lorna. Even if that in particular had been ugly because of my ugly mad, it would have been better to do that in private. And I’m incredibly sorry that I made it public before first contacting her. It really wasn’t fair in any way.

Lorna again: At the time, did I not know what I was doing was wrong? I had never done this in school. I knew that it was wrong to take someone else’s work, change it around a little, use a few different words. Why did I do it? That is something that I have been questioning of myself ever since.

I thought about my children. How would I feel if they did something like this in school now? How would I react? What would I do to make it clear they understood that this was wrong? Well, I would talk to them and hope that they learned their lesson of course, but I wouldn’t punish them severely. Lesson learned. And I felt I deserved that understanding too.

Then I read a piece in our newspaper about a police officer that told an inappropriate joke. He offended those in his presence and was reported. Now he is being put through a “process”. In his interview, initially I felt for him. You do one thing wrong and you are judged for that one thing, no matter how many good or positive things you did before. This is the one you are now known for. You have lost people’s trust and respect. And you cannot take it back. You cannot undo it. You cannot make it right. Then he said something about how if he was disciplining his children, if they were in his situation, he would “leave the sledge hammer in the garage”.

And it dawned on me….

I am not a child. I am a grown woman. I know better. I deserve the punishment. Because what I did was wrong. I was not afraid to admit it to the one person that I had hurt directly. I wholeheartedly apologized. I did not try to diminish what I had done. I did not try to deny it. But what I was now afraid to do was to admit it to everyone else. Afraid to lose followers. Afraid to lose sales. Afraid to lose face.

I would never have taken a person’s pattern and copied it in this way. I would not like, and have not liked, the experience of having someone copy one of my patterns in this way. It’s happened to me with blog posts. It’s happened to me when my Elephant Parade had been printed by someone else in a quilt magazine. Why did I not think of this when I took the tutorial? Why did I not simply state “This is where I found a great tutorial for making this block” and provide a link? Selfishness. And a big ego.

It took me a while to go through a range of emotions that started with selfishness, shame and fear of this coming out to everyone else. “Everyone else” includes you, if you are reading this. I wronged you too. I took someone’s work and told you it was mine. I lied to you. And I am apologizing to you now, too.

I am over the fear of losing friends. Losing followers. Losing sales. Losing respect. If all those things happen, they happen. I will go on from here as a better person. I have learned a great lesson. And I could not go on without writing this post.

Melanie: It was a bad thing that happened. She did the wrong thing, and I reacted both wrongly and out of proportion. Bad happened.

But then something amazing and good happened. Lorna and I started to email, and we found that we actually like each other. And we both love to write and analyze what we do and why and how we do it. And I think we both understand how such a thing can happen, even as an exception to our normal behavior.

We both wanted to write this post together, because the main subject of using someone else’s work as your own is important to both of us. As we emailed, we discussed — how many? — lots of situations of our own or that we’d seen where whether and how to give credit isn’t always clear. I know I fail at it on the edges, even though I try to do the right thing. So I know for people who aren’t thinking about it, it’s easy to do someone wrong.

Lorna: It was a bad thing that happened. Bottom line is – I did do the wrong thing. It was helpful for me to do more than simply apologize for what I had done. Through our email thread it became apparent to me that I also owed Melanie an explanation. Not excuses, but a real analyzation of what had caused me to do what I had done and to override what I knew was wrong.

And that is where the healing began. I was introduced to the kind and generous person that Melanie is. Through our shared emails, and as I explored her blog, I could see that she deserved the respect I had not provided her with. And I am so grateful that she was willing to make this turn into something good. At the very least, we have become friends. But we also have a desire to help others avoid the pain and hurt that was caused.

Melanie and Lorna: In a way, the first part of this post is selfish on both of our parts, confessing our sins, so to speak. If you’ve gotten this far, we’d like to  wrap up this post with a positive ending and give you some helpful information.

What are some ways to respect ownership of other people’s work? They include both giving credit appropriately and not using someone else’s work without permission.

  • Instead of writing a new post to explain something, if you have already found a well written tutorial, simply provide a link to that tutorial. And you may even want to go the extra mile – contact the author and let them know how much you enjoyed their post and tell them you would like to provide a link to it.
  • Have you seen a quilt that you liked while searching online? Don’t share that photo on your blog without first asking the person who has posted it online. If they are willing to allow you to share the photo on your blog, always provide a link to the maker.
  • Even if a quilt is antique and the maker is long gone, photos of the quilt may be copyright-protected and not in the public domain. Someone owns the quilt, and someone owns the photo. Museums often provide photos freely, but some do not. Check their policy before sharing photos.
  • Some quilt shows and exhibitions invite you to photograph. Others request you don’t. Please honor that request. For those that allow it, take a picture of both the quilt and the maker’s name card so you can give credit correctly. If you want to share the photos, get permission from the maker first.
  • Sometimes our inspirations are diffused — we like a set of colors or the idea of something, or several things. But sometimes our inspirations are specific and unique. Again, check with the source if possible, and regardless, give credit for it.
  • Copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer. If you like the pattern enough to make it, and to pay for the fabrics that go into it, do the right thing and pay for the pattern, too.
  • Just as copying a pattern someone else bought is stealing from the pattern designer, if you see an example of a quilt that you like, and you don’t need the pattern to reproduce it because you can figure out the math on your own, you should still credit the pattern designer when you share about your quilt on your blog or enter it in a show.
  • And if something is free to you, it doesn’t mean it is free for you to share. Online sources, in particular, provide freebies to draw you to their site. If your friend or your blog reader wants to use the free pattern you used, give them a link to the site where you got it.
  • Don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. Taking credit for something someone else did, even by omission, is wrong.
  • If someone else quilts for you, and you label your quilts, include the quilter’s name on the label, too. It shows respect for the quilter’s expertise.

Laws are different in different countries, so we can’t give you specific laws to go by. (Always consult legal experts in your own country if you have concerns about this!) Instead, we’d like you to consider what is fair to the originator of creative work, whether it is words, photos or drawings, quilts, patterns, or tutorials. They have put time and effort and expertise into their creation. Regardless of their intention to make money off of it or not, they deserve acknowledgement and respect for their work.

Here are a few links if you want more information and perspectives on this difficult issue.

How Copyright Affects the Quilter by Kathleen Bissett. Discusses Canadian law but also general principles.

Can You Copyright A Sewing Pattern? by Abby Glassenberg at While She Naps. Primarily discusses US law.

A Word About Ethics: Photographing Quilt Shows and Judging by Anna Hergert at Anna Hergert, Art & Design. On taking photos at quilt shows.

Why Stealing Patterns is Like Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg by Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio. In particular about using patterns you haven’t paid for, but also the broader topic.

Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations by Melanie McNeil at Catbird Quilt Studio. A general discussion on playing fair, with links to other sources.

Did you Plagiarize that Quilt? by Joanne Cleaver at Chicago Tribune. A story of taking a quilt design you have found on Pinterest and making your own instructions. Is this wrong?