Despite the publishing industry's substantial monetary losses, thousands of layoffs and massive cutbacks in production, one section has found prosperity beneath the looming shadow of recession. “Historically, the craft market has done well during recessions,” says Melanie Falick, editorial director of STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books. “Vendors are not panicking and thus perhaps not making rash decisions that propel further panic.”
This rational behavior keeps stores stocked with books and materials, which penny-pinching consumers who choose to create household products and gifts—rather than purchasing them—can turn to for their crafting needs. “The current economy has ushered in a huge number of new sewers and quilters,” Falick has noticed. Thus STC is set to publish four titles offering “fresh modern projects that teach basic skills,” says Falick. Two are out this month—Weekend Sewing: More than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching by Heather Ross and Material Obsession: Modern Quilts with Traditional Roots by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke—and two are set for fall: Quilting for Peace (Oct.) by Katherine Bell and Kata Golda's Hand-Stitched Felt (Oct.) by Kata Gold.
Reinforcing Falick's argument is C&T publisher Amy Marson, who says, “Creating useful and beautiful crafts gives the consumer a way to continue to improve their surroundings and those they care about in a cost-effective way.” A December 23 New York Times article, “For Craft Sales, the Recession Is a Help,” confirms Marson's opinion. The piece looked at several leading retailers and their preholiday business. In nearly all instances, sales were up, including a surprising annual increase of 33% at Portland, Ore.'s Scrap. One title Marson thinks will generate sales is C&T's Embellishing with Anything: Fiber Art Techniques for Quilts—ATCs, Postcards, Wallhangings & More. This April release offers, Marson says, “17 small-scale projects that give you a quick and inexpensive way to play with new fiber art techniques and materials.”
According to Interweave publisher Steve Koenig, “Though the economic headlines are doom and gloom, we're finding that dedicated crafters continue to shop and create.” Interweave claims its titles address the fiscal concerns of crafters. For example, Mixed Metals: Creating Contemporary Jewelry with Silver, Gold, Copper, Brass, and More by Melinda Barta and Danielle Fox (May) “offers designs to mix gold and silver with affordable metals like copper and brass.”
“In the next few years, people will redecorate rather than replace,” says Robert Woodcock, North American sales director for Search Press in the U.K. “They'll be stamping and embellishing a lampshade rather than buying a new lamp, re-covering furniture and pillows rather than replacing them.” For eclectic crafters looking to save money, Woodcock points out the publisher's Twenty to Make series, which “covers a spread of disciplines (beading, artists' trading cards, glass painting, Wild Women and macramé, for example) offering 20 easy projects. Essentially, this is a series of recipe books for crafts.”
Chronicle Books executive editor Jodi Warshaw agrees that “crafters tend to be a frugal lot who save a lot of money by hand-making beautiful clothing, household accessories and gifts.” She also notes that the upsurge in craft sales is a cost-effective amusement—“a terrific way to entertain oneself without spending a lot of money on movies, dining out, etc.” Surely no one would love to save money in a recession more than an expectant mom—hence Jenny Hart's June title with Chronicle, Baby Bib Embroidery Kit: Utterly Adorable Projects, Plus All the Tools & Techniques. “Make any wee one the envy of the highchair brigade,” says publicist Christina Loff. “Hart's cool iron-on transfers can each be used several times, so moms-to-be and their friends can customize all sorts of accessories.”
Ten Speed Press, too, caters to the thrifty mother. Vintage Knits for Modern Babies by Hadley Fierlinger (Oct.) is “for mothers who don't want to spend money on designer baby wear, but still want stylish and unique pieces for their family,” says managing editor Brie Mazurek.
“Crafting is both pleasurable and practical,” says Pam Stebbins, Leisure Arts sales and marketing v-p, who reasons that crafting brings the reward of having completed a project—“not only in providing a sense of accomplishment but also in having created something useful or meaningful.” Mary Engelbreit's Sew So Cute! (Mar.) provides “practical projects that don't take a lot of time, but look like they did,” says Stebbins. What she has found particularly interesting during the economic crisis is how “challenging times tend to bring us closer to home, spending more time doing things with the family—and for the family and others.”
Community: Net Results
According to Stebbins, “community is an integral component of the craft market. There are guilds and associations, local and national organizations that perpetuate all sorts of crafting activities. This has helped to sustain the industry even in the worst of times.”
Paige Gilchrist, editorial director of Lark Crafts, agrees: “We're all re-evaluating our priorities and realizing the importance of community. Creating things ourselves and supporting others who do so connect us with our values and with other people.” Gilchrist says that Lark will be collaborating with digital partners and taking advantage of existing communities and forums—from blogs to Etsy.com—to both deliver and promote information. The publisher hopes to capitalize on in-person knitting groups, round robins and online interest groups to sell two of its upcoming titles. Craft Challenge: Dozens of Ways to Repurpose a Pillowcase by Suzanne J. Tourtillott (Mar.) “marries the trend of craft challenges with the popularity of repurposing,” while Freddy and Gwen Collaborate: Freewheeling Twists on Traditional Quilt Designs by Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran (May) provides “50 creations displaying all different patterns, blocks, pieces and shapes.”
Echoing Gilchrist's appreciation of Etsy.com is CICO Books publisher Cindy Richards, who says, “Etsy.com and other sites have really brought the crafting communities and publishers together.” According to Etsy.com's Web site, it's an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade. Its mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. “Nearly all our craft authors have their own very active Web sites and blogs and encourage feedback,” says Richards.
Cindy Kitchel, Wiley publisher, notes that “even if someone never joins a knitting circle or takes a quilting class, he or she has access online to literally hundreds of thousands of other crafters and their collective knowledge.” Referring to Wiley's already-published Seams to Me: 24 New Reasons to Love Sewing by Anna Maria Horner, Kitchel claims to “check flickr.com each day to see all the creative ways that readers are using the book's patterns as a basis for expressing their own creativity.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, manager of proprietary publishing at Walter Foster Publishing, views the Internet as a tool that does more than support community crafting; she believes that it also drives droves of young people to crafting as a means of escaping “a world saturated by the digital.”
Crafting, she says, provides a real and tangible alternative to computer-related hobbies. Instead of looking for an escape into a virtual world, younger people are looking for an escape into the real world. She concedes that the Internet is useful to publishers as “a great way to get a sense of new trends as well as the staying power of not-so-new trends.” Gilbert will be scanning the blogs following next month's release of Embroidery for Little Miss Crafty by Helen Dardik, a title “tailored for young girls eight and up, with easy-to-use templates, step-by-step illustrations and expert advice.”
“There is no question that the most powerful marketing tool today is the Internet,” says Kim Cook, marketing director for Trafalgar Square. “Not only has it affected the business side of the industry, controlling the distribution and sale of materials and related products, but it has become the social hub of many crafting communities. Trends spread faster and ideas catch on more quickly.”
Not surprisingly, the burgeoning green movement has moved into the crafting arena. One idea that has caught on quickly in recent years is green publishing. Crafters are by nature not wasteful people,” says Betty Wong, acquisitions editor at Potter Craft. “They often find creative ways to reuse, recycle and transform throwaway materials into wonderfully artistic new pieces.” Hoping to capitalize on this characteristic is Potter Craft's just-published Born-Again Vintage: 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe by Bridgett Artise and Jen Karetnick. Aimed at helping people spend less while looking swell, the book features tips for affordably reinventing disused castoffs (“Avoid trendy vintage boutiques,” “Don't underestimate the estate sale”) as well as a comprehensive 50-state vintage shopping guide.
Trafalgar Square's Cook has witnessed “crafters all over the country reassessing their methods of creation. 'Thrift' and 'economize' are the new blog buzzwords.” She says a May release, Paper Crafts with Style: Over 50 Designs Made with Cut, Folded, Pasted and Stitched Paper by Marie Claire Idees is an ideal title for today's environmentally and economically concerned consumer. It features “projects using recycled paper items for cost and eco savings,” she explains,
Because crafting is about creating and making and not buying, there has always been an inherent green mentality in the industry. At its core, according to Paul McGahren, sales and marketing v-p, Fox Chapel Publishing, crafting “is about nonconsumerism. And crafters have been ahead of the curve in the form of 'shabby chic' or flea market finds. With the green movement, this unique characteristic is simply more evident.” Fox Chapel's Woodworker's Guide to Bending Wood by Jonathan Benson, out last month, “allows people to create curved furniture, Shaker boxes, and so much more. Folks don't want to spend $1,500—$2,500 on a table or bookshelf when they can build one that will last longer, look better and cost much less money.”
Crafts publishing has traditionally prospered during tough times because of its tight-knit community of frugal enthusiasts. Unlike most other categories, crafts publishing serves a basic and practical role: “things are tight now for everyone,” says Tuttle Publishing senior editor Sandra Korinchak, “but children still have birthdays and couples still want to celebrate their anniversaries.” Along with every other publisher with whom PW spoke, Tuttle credits Etsy.com and Web communities for keeping this industry afloat. Etsy.com represents the powerful idealism of the crafts world; though its goal—“to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade”—is a lofty one, it seems sure to inspire crafters and noncrafters alike.