Well, the quilting/fiber arts world has been shook up again this week. Coats is shutting down its production of FreeSpirit Fabrics effective immediately. Coats deals primarily with active wear and foot wear. It purchased Free Spirit/Westminster Fabrics a few years ago. According to Stephanie Leichtweis, who became president of North American Crafts at Coats in October, Coats has “Worked diligently for the past few years to make this (Free Spirit and Westminster Fabrics) a successful part of the Coats Craft business here in North America. But I am sorry to say that, despite our best efforts, we have continued to struggle with an inherent weakness in the business model and have not been able to demonstrate a profit.”
What does this mean for quilters? Through FreeSpirit Fabrics, Coats had one of the largest and most influential stables of fabric designers ever. Tula Pink. Kaffe Fassett. Brandon Mably. Philp Jacobs. And those are just to name a few. After May 1, it’s all over but the fat lady singing for FreeSpirit. Tula Pink was just about ready to launch a new fabric line, too. I think, by everything I’ve read, that will proceed, as pre-orders for that line have been very healthy.
This does not mean some of our favorite designers are out of a job. Nope. I imagine they will continue to design fabric. Now they’ve just got to find a new partner to help with distribution and printing. Will that be difficult? I’m not sure. You will remember in 2016 and 2017 I ranted and raved about the rate at which LQS’s were closing their store fronts and more and more quilt stores are moving to an on-line presence only. The large on-line presence of such fabric conglomerates as fabric.com, massdrop, etc., has definitely changed up the fabric shopping experience.
However, we’ve always counted on being able to somehow acquire the fabric by the designers we love. Is this also now in question? Let’s take a look at exactly what Stephanie Leichtweis said – Coats has worked diligently for the past few years to make this (FreeSpirit and Westminster Fabrics) a successful part of the Coats Craft business in North America. But I am sorry to say that, despite our best efforts, we have continued to struggle with an inherent weakness in the business model and have not been able to demonstrate a profit.”
That is the same issue that LQS’s, larger big box fabric stores (think Hancock Fabrics), and book publishing companies have faced. And while lots of these folks love quilters and quilting, unless they can turn a profit, they have no other choice but to close. I think in Hancock’s situation it may be a little different – that was a great fabric store trying to be a one-stop home dec center. Most folks that sewed didn’t go to Hancock’s to buy a table or a couch – we went to buy fabric and notions. And with more and more of the floor space taken up by stuff other that fabric, Hancock’s lost a lot of its loyal base of customers.
So, while Coats may love its designers, they did a pretty crappy thing this week by taking all of them off-guard by announcing they’re shutting down FreeSpirit without giving the designers a heads-up. Everyone is scrambling while Coats is looking to turn red ink into black in order to be able to stay in business. I can’t blame any business entity for wanting a healthy bottom line. But I can and do blame them for the way they handled it.
Going forward, what does this mean for everyone that quilts? If a company that is as large as Coats is struggling to turn a profit on fabric, it once again means that quilters will have to adapt. It may mean that we have to pay more per yard for quality fabric if we want that Tula Pink print or Kaffe Fassett yardage. It means that we may have to carefully use our stash and purchase an extra yard or two of a designer print when we find it. It could mean that if we really want that Mably or Jacobs fabric, we may have to resort to fabric.com to get it – they may be the only resource carrying it. And that means pulling away business from our LQS’s and that is not good.
We will adapt. Quilters always have, and we always will. I just think the next few years are going to be very interesting. It will be fascinating to see how the market absorbs this new turn of events.
That said…I’m starting a new quilt called Stars Over Baltimore.
It’s a block of the week offered from Piecing the Past and it’s designed by Debbie MacInnis. I got in a little late to purchase one of her kits, but I discovered Jo Morton’s New Hope fabric line and fell in love with the pinks and purples.
I’ve only made three quilts with any type of reproduction fabrics, so I’m excited to start this one. My main partner-in-crime, Janet, is making this one, too.
I wasn’t able to get all my fabric from the New Hope line, so last Saturday several of my other quilty friends and I took a little road trip to Madison, North Carolina to Stitch Party Studio. This outstanding quilt shop is located at 124 W Murphy St and is owned by Cathy Bogan. It’s on a quiet street that is lined with older storefronts that have been charmingly updated. I love this shop. It’s bright and the owner is wonderful and so helpful. She has marvelous lines of fabric and everything is displayed so you can see it.
Go there. It’s worth a special trip to Madison to shop at Stitch Party Studio.
I purchased these fabrics to go with New Hope. I can’t wait to get started!
Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam