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Cross-Stitch as a "Dying Art"
Sat, Oct 31, 2015 11:36 PM
Posted by Interlacements
This needed a longer post than just adding to the thread about Michaels. I've been stitching for 40+ years. Many of the people that I know that are avid stitchers learned in the late 70s/early 80s when the popularity started to explode. There were many designers that created some lovely works of art: Theresa Wentzler, Barbara & Cheryl, Marbek Designs, and a ton more. Then, around 1998, the explosion of the internet caused a two-fold erosion.

First, the internet began to pull people away from actual handwork. The issue has only grown worse over the years and with the rise in mobile smart phones, it's epidemic. I used to see one kid out of 10 on the college campus buried in a device while walking (5 years ago) and now it is 9 out of 10 are on some sort of device. A similar issue happened to handweaving in the mid 50's when TV was introduced during daytime hours. Literally, one loom vendor described it as "the phones just stopped ringing." (Handweaving did go through a second renaissance in the 1980s/1990s with the craft mania of that time.) Actually, I think that's when the craft surge died for a while until their kids picked it up in the 80s/90s.

The second cause was worse for cross-stitch. With the start of bulletin boards, people started copying patterns and sending them to others that requested them. Many of the designers were making a decent living off of the work, but stitching is slower than writing books. Theresa Wentzler was probably one of the most popular designers ever. Her work is lovely, and she just stopped putting out a lot of new work. A lot of designers tried to shut down online trading sites --Mirabilia was probably one of the most aggressive. (She also would sue you if you put out a design of your own on the market that centered around a woman in a flowing dress, so I have some mixed feelings there.) The computer programs that would convert photos and art to cross-stitch came out and began wreaking havoc in the market. People began buying a lot of those, and they tend to be very frustrating to stitch with tons of little singleton stitches scattered over the work. The designers warned that the piracy was going to kill the design market. Without decent designs, people lose interest in stitching as other activities compete for their time. And the piracy killed the financial incentive to keep designing well-designed patterns.

This still happens. Chatelaine is still creating work, but she doesn't hire the model stitchers to stitch it out before it goes to market. She has a loyal following and they buy her work based on some of the dodgiest computer-generated graphs that I've seen. However, her work is stellar and lovely and a joy to stitch. When they're completed, they are amazing. Chatelaine has been battling piracy for a while, and it's beginning to get to her. She puts out about 6-8 designs a year or so, but this year has cut way back.

The online stores now are becoming a third threat. They undercut many of the physical stores in price because they don't need a staff to run a store. They also don't really run classes or give advice so they don't need staff to help customers. The flip side is that the physical stores tended to bring people into the craft. Without them, it's hard to find someone to introduce you to a hand art. So, eventually the number of stitchers begins to decline.

Those of us who were part of that 1980's craft renaissance are now getting over 45. One thing that happens after 45 is that your eyesight changes. I have had the worst time trying to stitch for the last few years because my eyesight changed drastically. I also seem to be working *constantly* at my job just to continue to be effective. Stitching and other free time activities have suffered. Lifestyle changes are different. In the 1980s/1990s, there were a lot of stay-at-home moms stitching. Heavens, even the not stay-at-home moms had some time to stitch. We've scheduled every single moment of kid time with activities that we have to pay for and take them to because they don't go out in the neighborhoods and play anymore due to "stranger danger." The cost of living has bloated on the two-earner salary to the point where we have to work.

Was the 1980s resurgence of craft because we were the kids of the Baby Boomers and there were a lot of us? There was a huge rise in crafts in the late 40s and 50s that tapered off in the 1960s/70s, then flowered again in the 80s/90s. The Millennials are more in population than the Baby Boomers, but they have no interest in handcrafts. Part of this is that they have video games, chatting, instagram, constant social networking online. Another part is that their attention spans are much shorter and skills we learned years ago they have not. (Velcro shoes made my kid slow to learn to tie her shoes. She was almost 8 before she learned, and she still ties them in a way that makes me shudder and they tend to just untie.) That short attention span thing makes handwork excruciating for them. TV is also becoming a victim because a long show is too long --they need chunks of information and constant interactive feedback. Probably also why movies are not thriving either. And books are going to be the next dying market with the rise in ebooks and the fact that Millennials view reading as a chore required by school rather than a leisure activity.

None of the crafts are doing well right now. Quilting, paper crafting, jewelry making, food crafts, and knitting are the popular ones. Knitting is beginning to taper a bit. Michael's pushed out a lot of stuff to make room for things like a lot more jewelry making supplies and paper crafting. Amazon could be their biggest threat. Amazon is very aggressive and with stores dying everywhere, people will turn to online more and more for every item.

We need a movement to unplug. Research has shown that once the constant computer interaction is broken, concentration does recover after several months.

  • Reply from Interlacements
    Sunday, November 1, 2015 12:18 AM
    As a rather grim reminder of why we're losing designers, I just checked one design on the scammer Chinese site that offers free downloads of patterns if you upload scanned patterns of your own. Or you can just pay them money for tokens to download items. (For those downloading from there, watch out for them planting something on your computer other than the downloaded file.)

    One of the Chatelaine designs on the site has had 151 downloads. That pattern sells for about $29. So that's a loss of $4,379 to the designer. We have a name for that. It's called theft. The scammer probably earned $50 on that pattern, while Chatelaine stops designing out of frustration. Go to top

  • Hide Replies
    Reply from Pauline
    Wednesday, November 4, 2015 6:49 PM
    I think the crafters of today, for the most part, want immediate results. Many do not have the patience to work long hours on knitting, crocheting, or cross stitching.
    They seem to be into beading and jewelry making. Also, if these crafters choose to sell their wares, we all know that you never really receive what your needlework is really worth. Look at the myriad of cooking shows on television now. Go to top
    • Reply from Finny
      Tuesday, November 10, 2015 8:44 AM
      You're right Pauline. People are way more willing to pay 25 dollars for a piece of jewelry that was made out of $3 material. But for the same price for cross stitch items, they won't pay more than $10, unless its a catchy thing like My Little Pony pillow or something. Go to top
  • Hide Replies
    Reply from Brooke
    Sunday, November 29, 2015 2:25 PM
    Thank you for writing this. I find your perspective very interesting, and it made me think. I guess I'm one of the younger crowd who doesn't like the designs I have can find. I looked up some of the designers you mentioned and while their work is beautiful, I don't want to hang it on my walls. They would be overly elegant and fancy for my home, and at the same time pixilated and folksy looking to me. At the same time, if I put this much effort in something I want it to be timeless and unique to my tastes, So the simple little patterns don't appeal to me either. Plus, I hate back stitching and specialty stitches.

    I actually love doing the full stitch computer generated patterns, and my friends have been so impressed with them that they beg me to make them one, and show interest in learning themselves. In fact my husband is even learning! It's a completely different to use the parking method to cross stitch. Maybe it is more satisfying for an instant gratification seeking millennial. I get to see my pattern grow by columns and it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I can also pick up my work quickly and set it down quickly, which works for a busy lifestyle. I learned by watching online tutorials, and I purchase all of my patterns online from reputable sources (the cost of a pattern is really minimal when I'll be working on something so much and for so long). This is so important because if I'll be doing something for so long, I have to love the picture and it needs to feel personal, so the enormous selection of the computer generated patterns is very appealing to me. I really hadn't considered that what I do is so different from traditional cross stitching, but I guess it's almost a different craft.
    Go to top

    • Reply from Pauline
      Sunday, November 29, 2015 5:17 PM
      I never worry what other folks may think. I don't sell my cross stitch since I would rather "gift" to family and friends. Before, we had to purchase books of charts for just one that we liked. Now, thanks to the internet, we can just find the chart we like, pay for it, and download. I purchase my DMC when it is on sale. Last year I hit an A.C. Moore sale and purchased 90 skeins for $6.00 (using the sale price, a 25% off coupon, and a Michael's rewards). I've stitched three 50th anniversary pieces - each one different. I have several Christmas trees I display. One is a Christian cross stitch tree and another is a cross stitched bird tree with other pertinent ornaments. My first job was in an exclusive department store and while my friends got the busy main floor, I got the 4th floor art needlework. The ladies taught me just about everything except knitting and crocheting which I find absolutely boring. I've just started creating some of my own patterns thanks to a stitching website where we trade ATC's (artist trading cards). This site has really gotten me going! I was always taught to "preach my passion with passion", not only in the church but in my life. Go to top