Jenny Hart (aka sublimestitcher) is an embroidery artist and founder of the amazingly innovative Sublime Stitching, a pioneering design company launched in 2001 to revitalize the craft of hand embroidery. She is the author of two titles for Chronicle Books, Stitch-It Kit and Sublime Stitching: Hundreds of Hip Embroidery Patterns and How-To. Jenny’s work has appeared in publications such as Nylon, Venus, Bust and Juxtapoz. She has collaborated with The Flaming Lips and The Decemberists, and her work is in the collections of Carrie Fisher, Tracey Ullman and Elizabeth Taylor. Jenny is a founding member of the Austin Craft Mafia.
You know that local needlework shop you never go in? (I mean, hooray if you do, but a lot of us just plain don’t.) I’m not talking about that recently opened, hip craft boutique offering great new stuff we all like making, I’m talking about the needleworkers who run independent stores for goin’ on 20 years or longer.
Been in one of these shops lately? There are a lot of reasons we don’t go in these seemingly lost-in-time local stores: the aesthetic is too country-cutesy, we don’t know anything about needleworking anyway, and hey – aren’t they kind of a clique-ish girls’ club who don’t like newcomers? And where did we get this idea anyhow?
I recently sat down with my good friend and local needlework shop owner, Ginger of Ginger’s Needlearts and Framing in Austin, Texas to ask her.
JENNY: What is the hardest part for you in getting younger customers into your shop?
GINGER: You know, there’s that whole idea of ‘middle-aged women who are fuddy duddys’ notion. I’m aware people think that and I want them to look past it and learn what we have to offer!
Well, it can be pretty intimidating to step into one of these shops…
I know that some needlework shops tend to suffer from a chilly, girls-club atmosphere. If a man wanders in they assume he’s looking for his wife (and not interested in needlework), or if they have tattoos and pink hair, they might not approach them. I learned long ago to stop making assumptions like that.
And clearly not all shops are like that. But when a shop is unwelcoming or ignores new customers that wander in, it doesn’t just hurt their business, it hurts yours. I mean, I was hesitant to come into your shop the first time because of experiences I’d had elsewhere. I’ve gone into several small needlework shops where I wasn’t spoken to, or offered helped, and this was often while there was a group of ladies present. I felt like I was interrupting something!
That’s right. I have been appalled to hear customers say with great hesitation…”I’m sorry to bother you, but could I ask a question?” Somewhere someone has been dismissive or thoughtless or even rude about being ‘interrupted’ by a customer, who’s needs are our business!
What changes in interest and attitudes about needleworking have you perceived over the years?
In the 70’s there was definitely the “hippie, Earth Mother, back to nature” movement that fueled the drive toward old fashioned home making activities. The Bicentennial inspired quilters…
And now it’s all tattoos and subverting the methods and materials.
Which I think is great! We have to have new things to keep younger generations interested in needleworking. But what’s important to me is that people are aware of the traditions and appreciate fine craftsmanship. I want them to know how far they can advance with needleworking and understand the difference between a beginner’s work and the truly difficult, fine work that take a lot of skill to achieve.
I think it’s that idea of striving for perfection in needleworking, and the expectation of perfection from the get-go that turns many people off to trying it. So many people have written me over the years to say they gave up after their first attempts at embroidery when they were younger because grandma nit-n-pick told them their stitches were too sloppy. So they gave up. How do you feel about that?
I would never, ever want to discourage someone from starting! That’s just not how you get anyone interested in learning more. I make no distinction between stitchers who follow directions in a kit or design completely out of their head….I just want everyone to be stitching. World peace through needlework!
Your shop feels very community-oriented. I find that interesting because our community is very tied in and mutually supportive…but we connect primarily via the internet, while your community is based around your shop. But our communities, mine and yours, don’t really connect in an obvious way.
That’s right. We reach out with fliers, newsletters and emails. Understanding how to communicate to a younger generation via the internet, on blogs and with a website is my biggest challenge.
Do you offer classes at your shop?
Definitely…Both structured/scheduled and constantly answering questions and demonstrating “over the counter.”
I know I’ve asked you many questions over the years and have learned a lot from you, both about needleworking and the market. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of independent designers for your store.
Most of the cross stitch designers I stock are independents. Many of the quilting books are from large printing companies as opposed to “self-published” designers so I carry both. It’s so important to support the independent designers. And it ensures that our shops offer something unique. When a designer “goes big” and is carried by the large chains, that’s great for them, but I can’t compete with that.
What do you most want new needleworkers to know about your shop?
That I’m here! And that’s most important to me, that they think of me as accessible and here to help them.