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Quilters in 2021

Quilters are an interesting group of people.  When I first started quilting in the mid-eighties, we were primarily women, and the average age was around 52.  Most of us were mid-level professionals, our children were older, and if there was a local guild, most quilters had at least some passing knowledge of it and/or were members.  About 10 years ago, Premier Needle Arts began tracking quilters.  As the internet encroached more and more on our everyday quilting lives and shopping habits, PNA wanted to know what was motivating quilters, how much were we using the internet, how was our shopping habits changing, and how much we were spending on our craft.  They devised a survey and sent it out to hundreds of quilters.  I began receiving this survey in my email box about seven years ago.  It’s my understanding PNA works in cooperation with various brands in the quilting industry to collect the names and email addresses of the quilters who are sent the survey.  It’s a fairly detailed and generally takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. 

This year the survey was sent to a random portion of the email lists from Handi Quilter, Connecting Threads, Superior Threads, Craftsy, National Sewing Circle, and National Quilters Circle.  All-in-all, over 1 million quilters received the survey in February and of that number, 30,000 filled it out and returned it.  Eighty-nine percent of the respondents were from North America.  Demographic data, such as race and geographic location, were optional portions and many quilters chose not to answer those questions.  According to  PNA CEO Mark Hyland, of the demographic data which was collected, there was no significant differences between groups.  Now for the down-and-dirty about what this survey and other data tell us.

  1.  There are currently 85 million active crafters in North America – meaning people who have worked on at least one creative project in the last year. 
  2. Crafts and crafters generate $35 billion in sales annually.
  3. There are currently 10-12 million quilters, and the quilting market is expected to approach $5 billion by 2026-2027.  In 2020, there was more than a 12% increase in the number of new quilters. 
  4. Quilters are spending more time quilting (maybe this is still the quilting hang-over from Covid?).  The survey discovered 51 percent of quilters are spending more time quilting than in previous years. Thirty-three percent said they were spending the same amount of time quilting and 16 percent stated they were actually quilting less.
  5. Shopping habits (and this one surprised me) – the survey found out 65 percent of quilters would rather purchase all their quilting supplies from a local, independent quilt store.  This is the preference.  However, of that sample, the same percentage actually followed through with the preference – they shopped local before they went online and purchased what they couldn’t find in a quilt shop.  I assumed – wrongly – after Covid locked us all down, everyone would continue to go online to purchase supplies.  I am so delighted I was wrong.  Local quilt shops are treasures and need to be supported.  However, beginner quilters were more likely to shop Big Box Stores rather than a LQS.
  6. What does the average quilter look like?  The average quilter is female.  She is retired and approximately 65 years-old with an average household income of $60,000.  Despite being of retirement age, 17.5% have full-time jobs.  She’s quilted more than 10 years and spends more than six hours each week working on quilting projects.  She owns an average of four sewing machines.  Another surprising fact:  Fewer than 30% pay someone else to quilt their quilt.  They prefer to do it themselves.  She is online every day.  What’s she doing on the internet?  Well, despite preferring the LQS, 30% more quilters are shopping online than they were last year.  And YouTube is now the go-to option to learn new techniques and obtain patterns (25.4% in 2021 as opposed to 13.0% in 2020), versus websites and blogs, which were number one last year.  Research is also another big online task for quilters.    
  7. Sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  New quilters report sewing is their main hobby besides quilting.  There are now 33 million active sewists, more than a 10% increase over last year.
  8. “Availability” trumped price this year.  Because of out-of-inventory issues brought about by the Pandemic, quilters were quicker to purchase supplies based on availability, even if those supplies were a little more expensive than normal (I believe that…just ask me what I paid for ¼-inch elastic at the beginning of the Pandemic to make face masks….).
  9. Despite lockdowns and shipping disruptions, nearly all quilters spent the same or more money than they did three years ago.
  10. Sixty-three percent of quilters still buy and read magazines, but overall, magazine subscriptions have decreased over 15% in the last five years.
  11.  Fourteen percent of quilters report they attended at least one virtual quilt show this year.  However, their overall experiences with online quilt shows were disappointing and subpar.  Eighty percent say they wouldn’t attend such a show in 2022.  And here I have to agree with these quilters.  While the Zoom/Online classes, meetings, lectures, and workshops I attended were excellent, I was overall disappointed with online quilt shows.

So, what does all this mean for us?  I mean, all these numbers are great…even eye opening, but how do we apply them to our quilting world?  Let’s skip the dollars spent (because we all know we spend money on our craft) and go right to the number of folks quilting.  Currently we stand at 10 – 12 million quilters, with a 12% increase in 2020.  This is a seriously large demographic.  If you belong to a guild, and it’s not paying attention to these numbers, perhaps you need to bring them to your executive board’s attention.  If you noticed during the Pandemic, it was really difficult to find a sewing machine at some of these Big Box stores.  I vividly remember walking into a local Walmart in February 2020, cruising over to the fabric and craft department, and discovered no fabric (except for a few stray fat quarters), no elastic, no interfacing,  and no sewing machines.  People had to stay home, so many of them learned to sew in order to make masks.  According to the survey, sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  If these new sewists are quilting, then our guilds should reach out to these folks, welcome them with open arms, and assist them in learning more about quilting.  This is important not only for them, but for us as guild members.  We’re aging out.  We need new ideas and fresh enthusiasm.  We need to accommodate them by arranging Zoom meetings if necessary and maybe even mentoring programs.  Guilds are seriously negligible if they don’t tap into these numbers. 

Internet and computer technology are other areas both quilt stores and guilds should be observant about.  While the majority of quilters still love their local quilt shops, we are becoming tremendously savvy about online options.  If the LQS has a website where customers can pre-order items, it should be user friendly and kept up-to-date.  Likewise with guild websites.  These should be kept current and easy to navigate.  However, the biggest change by far with quilters is the availability of online classes and meetings via Zoom.  Frankly, I had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic.  I was keenly aware of FaceTime on my iPhone, but this Zoom-thing was nowhere near my internet consciousness until 2020.  I know some quilters like it, others don’t, and some have no opinion, but it’s a tool we can no longer ignore.  It’s nearly the end of 2021, and after a couple of years of Zooming, we’re all pretty familiar with the program.  For guilds, Zoom has opened up the potential of acquiring speakers from all over the world and is allowing guild members the freedom to meet regardless of weather or pandemic numbers.  It also allows people from all nations and states the opportunity to join our local guild. 

I think what guilds (and perhaps other sewing groups) need to remember is we’re aging.  The average quilter is now 65.  Sometimes it’s difficult to drive – especially if the guild meeting is at night or it’s miles away.  Zoom is a great alternative during the winter when it gets dark earlier.  It allows home-bound members the opportunity to still meet with their guild-friends and participate, instead of being shunted aside.  I realize Covid changed the way we do a lot of thing, but it’s also allowed us opportunities to expand our horizons and keep quilting.  The one great quality about quilters is we do adapt to change.  And more often than not, we take this change and make it work positives in the field of quilting. 

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a binding tip.  I know that’s kind of a random topic after writing over a thousand words about the PNA survey, but this idea isn’t long enough for a blog, but it’s kind of a handy idea to tuck away if you ever deal with this situation.

I am in the middle of making my son and daughter-in-love a quilt as part of their Christmas.  The binding is white, and there is no right and wrong side to the fabric.  When I have fabric that has no right or wrong side, or the sides are so close in color it’s difficult to differentiate, it’s easy to sew the binding wrong.  You’ll think you’ve sewn it right sides together, only to find as you’re sewing on the binding, you didn’t.  This can lead to quality time with a seam ripper, as well as some colorful language.  To avoid this situation, this is what I do.

 After I cut my binding strips, I fold each strip wrong sides together and press it.

  •  Then I unfold it, so I can see the crease I just pressed into the fabric.  The side that has the crease is considered the right side of the binding strip.
  • Join the strips with the creases facing each other and sew as usual.
  • Fold in half again, wrong sides together, and re-press before sewing to the quilt.

This is a great system if there is no right or wrong side to the fabric (like my current situation), or the right and wrong sides are so close in color, they’re difficult to distinguish (like batiks).

Now for the very last word. For those of you who have prayed for my brother, Eric, I need to give you a very joyous update. On November 30, he underwent some follow up tests (including another bone biopsy) to see if the stem cell transplant worked effectively. We found out on December 2, the test results came back as “No Cancer Present.” The doctor told us he was in remission! Thank you so much for keeping Eric and the rest of my family in your thoughts and prayers. This will be a joyous holiday season, indeed!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

4 replies on “Quilters in 2021”

This is the first year in a long time that I didn’t get to complete a survey, so thank you for sharing the results. I agree 100% with what you say about guilds and shops. The internet and Zoom have to be included for them to remain relevant. Barriers of distance should not exist.
Thanks for the binding tip. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to employ my seam ripper 😉

The binding tip was born of desperation. I made a quilt for my daughter and one for my son and both had white binding. I was going nuts. My guild is going with half-and-half Zoom next year. We’ll Zoom from October to April, then meet in person May through October. Our guild is aging and some of us have issues driving at night. The in-person meetings are scheduled after the time changes, so there should be few issues transferring to those — unless Covid rears its ugly head again.

That is very good news about your brother. I know family must feel a huge amount of relief. The results of the survey were very interesting. I have taken that survey each year it was offered, so seeing the results was very interesting. You’re right about guilds using Zoom technology. My guild is doing that…but it’s been very hard to find anyone who has the technical knowledge to run it effectively. That’s an area that needs to be worked on.

We are all hugely relieved the doctors have found no cancer after Eric’s SCT. I am navigating my guild’s Zoom, which we will begin in January 2022. I’m fortunate the first presenter wants to meet with me prior to our January meeting via Zoom and walk me through the way she handles her presentations. I think Zoom is user-friendly, it’s just still new.

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