End Of An Era?

I was shocked but not surprised to get an e-mail from my quilt guild’s president about the dissolution of the National Quilting Association. NQA has shaped the way quilt shows are judged and been a national outlet for quilt guilds. While I was a member for just a few years, I was always aware of the organization due to its annual show in Columbus, Ohio. I often joined a busload of enthusiastic gawkers to travel to the show.

From NQA’s announcement, I gather lack of funds and dwindling membership led to this step. As I understand it, NQA was run by volunteers and was very quilt guild oriented. I observed in an earlier post that members of many traditional guilds are getting too old (or too burned out) to remain active in running quilting organizations, and there haven’t been enough new, younger members to take up the slack.

Here I speak from the experience of my traditional guild. Actually, we have attracted new, younger members. They are happy to attend meetings and workshops, but have voiced little interest in some past guild activities such as charity quilts, challenges, and fund raising. I think it’s partly because many work yet also because much of our guild structure has been swept away – no historian, no sunshine committee, no quilt show. I won’t go into why this happened. Suffice it to say the reasons were beyond the guild’s control.

That brings me back to NQA. The organization’s board took many steps to remain financially viable. There were fewer issues of the magazine, dues were raised, they changed the annual show’s location. I gather nothing worked. I think it’s hard to run an all volunteer organization, especially at the national level. Work gets done when members have the time to do it. There’s always a learning curve as new volunteers take over activities. And, again, some members simply can’t be as active as they once were. Another factor may be the proliferation of national quilt shows.

The saddest part of all this to me is that, aside from the official announcement by the NQA board, I didn’t find any mention of this step when I searched Google yesterday. Do quilters simply not care or not find NQA relevant? If so, that may sum up the problems of the NQA. Or is it that those who care aren’t part of the online quilting community, but are talking about it with other quilters?

I’d like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.


Filed under Commentary

28 responses to “End Of An Era?

  1. DeeDee

    I don’t know how many of you are knitters or crocheters or spinners or weavers, but there is a website called Ravelry. It has revolutionized the way those of us in the fiber world communicate. It’s a database of patterns, yarns, tools, projects and the like. But there is also a large social component. And all of the sewers and quilters there have begged for it to be expanded into that world as well. But the owners have said repeatedly – and I wholeheartedly agree – that it needs to stay in the fiber world. I often wish something like it could be made for the quilting world. I communicate with knitters and the like all over the world all in one place. There are groups for everything under the sun, not just fiber related things. The demographic for the site is very young. I’m in my 40s and I would say I’m above the average age of the users on the site. But I think something to bring all the bloggers and quilters and teachers and students together all in one place would be hugely beneficial to the quilting world. That is why the site started. The founders, a husband and wife team, were desperately trying to find a way to not have to keep up with bookmarks from all the blogs, a way to catalog patterns and yarns and projects without having to use a journal. It’s a very very powerful too. Right now I have a handful of quilting blogs on my reader because there are just too many to keep up with and not all of them interest me. There is also a similar site for woodworkers called Lumberjocks. It’s not nearly as active as Ravelry, but the concept is the same. This is a multi-billion dollar a year industry? Is there no way to make something like that for quilting? (These questions are rhetorical by the way.) I’ve met so many local people on Ravelry. I found my local knitting group there, I go to fiber fests (our version of a quilt show) and meet up with others at them to hang out. It’s a very big deal. It seems like the quilting world needs something to unify it. I think it would be hugely beneficial. But I can tell you, the older knitting guilds and the like in my area are not doing well anymore either. The trend is now towards stitch n bitch and knit nights and spin ins and hanging out with friends and watching a movie while we pursue our passion. So I think guilds in general may be starting to become more obsolete.

    • I agree–I also knit and crochet and Ravelry has been great in all the ways you said. A difference for me is that knitting is portable and I can take it to the coffeehouse and knit and chat. Hand sewing can be portable too but it’s limited in scope. So trying to quilt in a group means having space to set up machines, lay out pieces, etc. guilds can only provide so much of this.
      I don’t have an answer, really. But it’s concerning.

      • The space for quilting issue is indeed vexing. My one guild reserves meeting rooms at local libraries a few times a year, so we get space free. You still have a lot of supplies to lug. Some quilters have projects they work on only at retreats, and the projects are kept packed up for the next retreat.

    • A long time ago, in internet years, there was a site called (I think) the world wide quilting page. It attempted to do just what you talk about. I don’t know when it died, but I’m sure it was hard to keep it going as a volunteer effort. There is a site that used to collect quilting blogs but that part of the website has been removed. I’ve found other sites that quilting bloggers can add their blogs to, but ownership of the compilation sites isn’t transparent. I suspect at least one is set up for advertising. Bottom line – I think the care and feeding of a site like Ravelry for quilters would be a thankless task unless you stood to make money off of it.

      • DeeDee

        Ravelry makes quite a bit of money through pattern sales and advertising in the bottom of forums. But the only ads allowed are ones that are relevant to that particular site. They have 5 full time employees to help run the site because the original two founders couldn’t do it all themselves. Casey, the husband, is a coder. He built the site, made it for free and they asked for donations. Designers are independently able to post their patterns for sale and Ravelry takes a small portion of that. I think the best way to describe it would be to think of it as similar to Craftsy except without classes, but add forums and the ability to catalog your stash and your tools and also projects the way you can on Craftsy. It’s a similar concept.

  2. I was also shocked by the announcement. I read every NQA magazine and watch my email and never knew they were having issues. I belong to a local quilt guild which is seeing all of the above same problems. While I am very active in my guild I also belong to a multi state network and a professional group and have discussed these same thoughts with shops and guilds in several states to try to understand the current shift in culture. Many of my fellow guild members have not. They try to blame one person or a group of people when that is just not the problem. I talked to volunteers at the New England Quilt Museum and was surprised to find they too have the same problems we do, finding volunteer help and even board members to dedicate time to the organization. This is not a single guild problem, but a shift in culture with all social groups world wide. Wake up and smell the roses ladies, times are changing and guilds need to change how they relate to members to survive. Everyone loves progress but no one likes change, but the internet and digital devices are changing how we do everything, whether we want to embrace it or not. Even having a website is not enough these days. All of the above conversations are happening all over the U.S. All of them are valid issues. I’d love to have a national discussion about it and brainstorm how the quilting community can change to fit the new generation of quilter. The quilting industry will adapt, eventually. Will you?

  3. Very interesting reading the comments. DeeDee’s observations comparing the knitting and quilting industries is spot-on.

    These days I’m a very casual quilter, so take my comments/observations for what they’re worth.

    I haven’t been part of a local guild for over 10 years mainly because of cliques and pressure/expectation to participate in community stuff I have zero interest in.

    I haven’t been a member of a national level organization for over 10 years because frankly I got nothing out of it. A nice magazine and a discount off the submission price if I want to enter a quilt? Meh. I don’t enter shows and there’s tons of free information online – pictures of show winners, tutorials, etc. I don’t even buy magazines or books anymore (for any of my hobbies, not just quilting). If the internet wasn’t around then yes, I’d still be happily purchasing good quality magazines and books. But today it’s wasted money.

    And the sheer number of organizations is overwhelming. NQS, AQS, SAQA, SDA, IMQA…and the list goes on. Who has the time and money to get involved in all this stuff? I think going forward it will be organizations that have strong online content and support (SAQA comes to mind) that will continue to prosper, and most people will likely pick one or two organizations they really like and stick with that. There’s only so much money and time to go around.

    The big problem I noticed at the local level was most of the hardcore volunteers didn’t work outside the home and had grown children – but a big percentage of the membership was working mothers, and asking them for that level of involvement is unrealistic.

    • Thanks for summing up the feelings of many quilters about quilting organizations. It may well be the successful national organizations focus on a particular aspect of quilting. I’m thinking of the Modern Quilt Guild, in addition to SAQA. I recently joined SAQA, and have been happy about the amount of news and information I receive online. Others may view it as an annoyance, but I find out about stuff I’d never learn about otherwise. To me, that’s a big purpose of a national organization. And yes, I think that many of the active volunteers in quilting organizations no longer have small children to tend, and may be retired from full time work. Working mothers are lucky to get a few hours a week to sew, much less take on organizational projects.

  4. jennyklyon

    It seems to me that quilting is like any other market place-it has a natural life cycle. As quilters, we must adapt to change and organizations must do the same.

    NQA was the standard bearer and I appreciated its many contributions. I was shocked and saddened to hear of their demise. I wonder, why was there no call for additional contributions, etc. I don’t mean that question as criticism, but true wondering. Perhaps the back story is that like our guilds, the leadership was weary. Perhaps they had tried to get new blood in for years and were unsuccessful.

    I do think this type of thing is just beginning and will ripple across the whole spectrum from shops to quilters to organizations and shows. Many do not value brick and mortar shops. I hear open talk about pattern hacking-ie stealing someone else’s work! And one can look at it as “retaining standards” but many consider the NQA mission to be The Quilt Police. It’s a push/pull.

    I think we may go through a period of ugly. I think we need a model that is more nimble and responsive yet holds high standards. I don’t pretend to know how that will come about or who the leaders will be, but I’m confident that the industry will grow and adapt.

    • I value your opinions since you’ve been dealing with broader aspects of the quilting world than I have. Standards versus the quilt police – that’s certainly a line drawn in the sand. I guess I see the standards as the craft part of quilting. A solid foundation of technique frees you to create wonderfully artistic work. I’ve been watching “So You Think You Can Dance” where Paula Abdul made a similar comment to a street dancer. I part company with the standards people when they seem to fetishize every technical bit, where technique becomes the end rather than the means to the end. I can’t believe I’m defending the quilt police, but I realize that many standards have a rational basis in the structural integrity of a quilt. I don’t know if those reasons are apparent to all quilters.

      I don’t know what appeals NQA made to its members as I haven’t been a member for a few years. I do know that once my membership lapsed I never received any e-mails to encourage me to rejoin, which hasn’t been the case with other entities.

      And pattern hacking? It’s one thing to be inspired by someones work or use it as a springboard, but to outright steal and brag about it?

      • DeeDee

        I agree! I watch SYTYCD as well and Paula’s comment was very astute.

        Pattern hacking irritates me to no end. It also bothers me when people will make every work around possible to get a pattern for free. In my knitting world, I buy single patterns. They aren’t as expensive as quilt patterns are. Often they range between $5 and $6. That’s not much of an expense for me. So for quilt patterns I tend to buy books of designers that I really love. Jacquie Gerring, Kimberly Einmo, Joan Hawley for her bag designs, Joan Ford. I can usually find at least two or three patterns in each book that I want to make. I will also try out a designer’s free pattern they may have posted on their blog and if I like the way the pattern is laid out and written, I will buy more. I know how much work goes into design and designers deserve to be compensated. But more and more with quilting I am experimenting with my own ideas.

        It’s sad to think that the guild in question here has not tried to get lapsed members to rejoin, or that anyone wanted to try to take charge. But then again, we don’t always know what goes on behind the scenes.

      • I tend to buy quilting books (often secondhand) rather than individual patterns as long as I think I can make at least 2 items from it or I need step by step instructions on various techniques (like mixing dyes.) Books often offer further general instructions that can sometimes teach me a new way of binding or working. The patterns I’ve seen are of the “just the facts, ma’am” variety, with no extras.

  5. DeeDee

    I’ve only been quilting for about a year and a half. I’ve been knitting for 10 years. To me, quilting isn’t a social activity. It may be that people coming into the quilting world now are used to doing things online. Reading blogs, taking classes from Craftsy, learning from YouTube videos or maybe taking classes at a local shop where you have limited interaction. I love being in my sewing room where I have everything at my fingertips. It’s not a portable craft for me. I do go to a block of the month at my LQS and I’m going to their retreat next year, but to me a guild seems like too much work. For me, knitting is a much more social activity. I can touch and feel another knitter’s project, I can easily take a project from place to place, I can discuss knitting techniques and yarns and dyers. Yes there are tools to buy and yarn to acquire, but it seems as though in the quilting world everything changes so quickly. Fabric lines are limited, things are extremely expensive, there are always new and better techniques and tools to purchase. Compared to the knitting world, where there aren’t any dues for my stitch n bitch, a yarn line comes out and the ability to purchase it doesn’t hinge on a limited run, the tools I get are useful for years and patterns aren’t $10 a pop. I love quilting, I love sewing and my fabric stash and two brand new machines are a testament to that. But to me it’s a much more solitary activity. It makes me sad to hear that guilds aren’t doing well. There are so many things that new quilters like me can learn from those who have been at it for so long. But I also realize that the new generation of quilters may just be getting their information and interaction online as opposed to through a guild now. Part of it may hinge in newer quilters like me getting their information in a different way. I hope this response doesn’t come off as critical of guilds or the quilting industry. I don’t feel that way at all! I’m just making an observation from a different perspective.

    • I certainly don’t think you’re being critical of quilt guilds or the quilting industry. I value learning about your experiences as a relatively new quilter. I hear what you said about getting your information in a different way. The ease of access to information online has brought a sea change to crafts like quilting. Fortunately, quilters are generous about sharing their skills and experience online, often for free. Individual guilds vary widely, with some welcoming newbies and some less so. Yes, it must seem strange to hear about quilters going on retreats with sewing machines and all the paraphernalia of sewing. Some even have a spare set of everything for just such a reason. Knitters have much less packing to do. Of course, some quilters devise hand sewing projects (especially applique) for easy travel.

      • DeeDee

        I have a second set of everything for sewing I use for travelling too! (Glad I’m not the only one.) I brought my smaller sewing machine and a quilt to work on when I went on vacation a few months ago. I had everything I needed, but I prefer my sewing room. For hand work I tend to knit. I know there are a few guilds in my area, but they don’t seem to be especially active. I hope it’s not the end of an era.

      • I have friends who go on 3 to 4 quilting retreats each year. I’ve stopped going to most simply because I can’t take my whole studio with me. If I’m working on a pattern quilt it’s pretty easy to pack. If I’m engrossed with one of my originals I never know what I might need, and sometimes the chitchat can be distracting.

  6. Doreen

    I had only been a member of NQA for a year and was saddened when I heard they were moving the show. I had just renewed for 2 years so I wasn’t too happy with that. I find that many organizations are having the same problem with falling memberships. My DH belongs to two different interest groups and they are seeing declines. Perhaps we are headed back to a time when a few friends gathered at someone’s home only this time around we watch YouTube videos!

    • I recall that my guild began as meetings in someone’s living room, and I think many groups began the same way. Then, bells and whistles were added. It gives me pause, thinking of quilters watching Jenny Doan videos rather than each other to learn. And what a bite about your NQA membership, after you renewed. The press release says they’re trying to arrange membership in another national quilting organization (presumably AQS) for folks in your position.

  7. I’m not familiar with NQA or its role in quilting or guilds. But yes, the traditional (long-established) guilds’ memberships continue to grey. Though my local guild has a few younger members, the vast majority are a decade older than me, or more. (Mostly much more.) We’ve struggled the last few years for volunteers. The older gals, reasonably, decline. They’ve done their share, or they just don’t have the enthusiasm or energy for it anymore. We need about 30 (of 150) to run things every year, and another 30 as the core group to put on a show. This would have been our show year (every 3rd year) and couldn’t get enough to volunteer, so no show.

    Now we face rising membership dues, except the issue came up too late to raise them for this coming guild year (beginning this month.) Almost half the membership still gets monthly newsletters delivered by mail, EVEN THOUGH they have email/internet access and could read it online. Teachers/presenters and their travel cost more all the time. And someone decided to put most of our treasury into a CD, which in some eyes means we can’t access it for another 2 years. OMG (and that is a phrase I almost never use)!! IT IS OUR MONEY. BREAK the damn CD. Lose a quarter’s interest. The rate can’t be enough for that to matter.

    UGH. Sorry for the rant. But I think what you and I both see locally is symptomatic of the shift nationally, which led to NQA’s dissolution.

    • The CD issue seems laughable until I realize it reflects the tunnel vision that can ossify a guild. And some of my guild members print out the e-newsletter so they can read it on paper. I think we have only member now who has no internet access. My guild no longer does a show, for financial reasons. Another local guild has gone to a show every other year. So I sympathize with your frustrations, but a guild is a voluntary organization that is only what its members want it to be.

  8. This wouldn’t’ve been on my radar because I am such a haphazard participant in quilting but I’m still sad to hear it. I agree that it may be a reflection of the state of organized quilting these days. Our local guild is suffering from the same problems you describe–they had to threaten that there would be no classes the upcoming year because no one would volunteer to organize them!

    • I think there’s a lot of burnout in longtime guild members. From my time as a guild officer I remember complaints and little understanding of the amount of work involved.

      • I will say, no one complains in my guild. Enough of them have done the officer/committee stuff, they get it. And they understand, if you don’t like how it’s done, you better do it yourself. And they aren’t signing up for that.

      • You hit the nail on the head with “if you don’t like how it’s done, you better do it yourself.” For many members, it’s just not worth the aggravation. Just to clarify, most of my guild members don’t complain, but we have one or two…

  9. Judy

    Two days ago, I posted this info to our quilt guild’s Facebook page. So far, I have had ONE comment. That certainly says something. I am not sure what, but…!

    • I’ve been thinking that the demise of NQA is part of the seismic shift in the way quilters (along with most everyone else) interact. Everyone’s online, as are round robins, quilt block swaps, even quilt shows. NQA had an uneasy relationship to the internet, partly because its longtime members did.

      • I was a founding member of a guild (in 1983) and helped start a second one a few years later when the first one outgrew the meeting room and had to cap membership. There was a lot of prejudice against the younger members–machine piecing was barely acceptable, machine quilting was anathema. I eventually left both guilds for several reasons but the last straw was at a workday making charity quilts, when I was told my quilt was “too nice for charity.” So yeah, they got to run things their way, and I’ve gone on to other things. I wonder if the NQA suffered from some of that fossilized thinking.

      • Ouch! I think those sort of attitudes may have helped the popularity of modern quilt guilds. I’ve heard tales of cliquish behavior in “old school” guilds and dismissal of new approaches. I can’t speak to whether NQA leadership was like that. I do know two recent officers who worked very hard to revitalize the organization. Both are enthusiastic about quilting education.

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