Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Needlework Temptations and the Musings of a Retail Customer


Amazon Books

In the mood for a little needlework temptation? Well, I almost didn’t share this one, but then I reconsidered! You see, there’s a little side of me that’s whispering, “Don’t do this to your readers …. ” and another little side of me that’s practically shouting, “Are you kidding?! They won’t want to miss this!” And then there’s the other little side of me (oh, it’s true – I have so many sides!) that is calmly saying, “There’s nothing wrong with looking. Just be prudent…”

Each year, twice a year, there’s an online wholesale needlework event – a trade show, as a matter of fact – called The Needlework Show. The concept behind it is fairly simple – shop owners can browse through the inventory of different wholesalers in the trade and order stuff for their shops, without having to travel to a trade show. Regular retail customers (you and me) can browse through and see the things that are available, and ask our local needlework shops to order this or that thing that we might see. It’s a nice concept, but for the average retail shopper, unless you’re in pretty close cahoots with your local needlework shop, it just doesn’t mean all that much, except that we do get to see some new stuff coming out on the market.

Mostly, I keep up with the event to see what’s going on in the world of needlework threads (several thread companies usually display their wares during the show) and to see if there’s anything new and enticing in the way of needlework accessories.

Well, guess what? There’s a new show in town, created by the same folks, only it’s called Needle Show Retail… and it’s our opportunity to experience the “trade show” approach to needlework supplies.

This is the way it works: between November 5th – 8th, you register as a customer, and then you browse the booths. Some of the booths are simply for advertising, while others will be taking orders. You get to see what’s coming out new on the market, or what specialty items are available, and then, you get to shop through the various retailers. Basically, what you’re getting is the convenience of shopping or browsing through many retailers all in one spot. They’ll only be displaying a small number of items, though – my guess is, they’ll be displaying what’s new or particularly popular in their shops.

Even though this approach is mega-convenient (if the shops feature any needlework goods that you are interested in), I would gently suggest that you might take a look at what’s available on the retail market, then see if your own LOCAL needlework shop can order what you want. If they can’t or won’t, then order online. Supporting your local needlework shop first will help ensure that your local needlework shop stays in business!

Now, speaking of interest in Local Needlework Shops and so forth, I have been musing a bit about a recent surge of interest in an interesting project called The 3/50 Project. Have you heard about it? It is a movement to encourage people to shop locally at privately owned businesses that have brick-and-mortar stores. (Ironically enough, the 3/50 Project has an online shop for their promotional merchandise, and no … ahem … brick and mortar store…)

I’d love to know what you all think of this project. I agree wholeheartedly with the concept – I live in a small town, and I know the value of small privately owned businesses.

But as a serious needleworker who regularly shops for needlework supplies through retail businesses (and mostly online, because my LNS does not cater to my interests), I find there’s another side of the issue that bears consideration and has me thinking:

When I shop for needlework supplies that I often need in my projects, or when I shop for kits that are suited to my tastes, the only place I can find them is through online retail businesses, most of which don’t have brick-and-mortar stores. Some of these businesses are in the States (the Japanese Embroidery Center, Hedgehog Handworks, Yodamo, The French Needle, Thistle Threads, etc.) and some are not (Berlin Embroidery, Benton & Johnson, Alison Cole, for example).

The way I see it, for the needleworker in the US who is interested in a variety of needlework techniques, if we were to restrict ourselves solely to brick and mortar stores, it surely would mean the death of most needlework techniques in America, with the exception of cross stitch and needlepoint. I would sorely love to find a brick-and-mortar store in the States that supplies the range of metal threads for goldwork; that supplies floche and coton a broder for surface embroidery, whitework and cutwork; that carries a range of fine linen; that sells beautiful surface embroidery kits from a variety of talented designers…

Does such a store exist anywhere except through the combination of retailers available online? I’m afraid it doesn’t. And if we turn our backs equally on these specialty retailers who sell online only, we would be eliminating our ability to embroider with the specialty supplies that we need. Many of these small online specialty needlework shops are home-grown businesses begun by a needleworker with a real passion for needlework and a real fortitude to undertake running a business for a rather slim market. I can’t begrudge them their lack of brick and mortar.

So that’s what I’ve been musing about. At the same time, I do have a fear for the survival of small local needlework shops in the present economy, so I do my bit when I can and shop locally.

Any thoughts on the subject? And hey – if you’ve found the Ultimate Needlework Shop – feel free to recommend it in the comments section below!


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(19) Comments

  1. Hello Mary,
    I can honestly say that "no" I have not found the ultimate needlework shop in my home town or the other home towns close to mine. I emailed the Embroidery Guild of America and they recommended a shop about 40 minutes away that carried a variety of threads. My mother and I visited her store just this past weekend. Through many searches online I could not locate this shop through the normal internet search engines. Only when I was given her shop name did I find it! She has floche, but only in a limited array of colors. She has Au Ver a Soie but only in a tiny limited number of colors. She has tons of Anchor and lots and lots of DMC Pearl, some soy threads, some japanese threads, and metalics. She specilizes in Needlepoint and has an array of pre stamped and colored needlepoint designs on canvas ready to work. But alas, no embroidery patterns. And said, as we looked and compared threads, I am strictly a Needlepoint Shop. Okay we said. We can use the threads in our embroidery work. My mom and I are a hands on type shopper. We like to look at the threads, compare how they feel, how thick they are, actually see the color palletes. Online shopping is great, but you have to know what you want. Otherwise you are ordering and then shipping back (if they allow you to ship back) which can be a huge waste of precious hobby money in this economy.
    The shop owner was very knowledgeable about the threads she sold, rayon blends, all silks, all cotton, overdyed, and we enjoyed the thread lesson while we were there.
    Was it the perfect local needlepoint shop? No. But it's the closest one we've found so far. We won't give up the ship however. We will press on. After all, it's fun just spending the day with your mom on a road trip looking for the perfect needlepoint shop to while away a lazy afternoon!

  2. Mary, you are so right about the local needleart shops. My shop does not even carry crewel yarns. Her excuse is she has kits and they have everything you need, leaving no room for your own creativity, and yes if it isn't about cross-stitch or needlepoint you can't find it in her shop unless it is a kit. She is killing her own business slowly but surely.

  3. Dear Mary, I think that what you predict in your post already happened here in Brazil. I can't seem to find anything for any kind of embroidery besides cross stitching. The other kind I see in magazines and such is what we call "vagonite" (I have no idea how to translate it into English), and people use crochet threads for that, because it seems like the "right" thread is no longer available. I'm embroidering a Christmas scene now, cross stitch in a more delicate fabric – and I just can't find a slimmer needle to keep the holes subtle enough. It drives me crazy! I'll end up using sewing needles for this – just like I did for our Long and Short lessons…

  4. I actually have 2 needlepoint stores near me, one which has a lot more of the stuff that I want than the other. I try to go to them to get the supplies that I know they carry, and occasionally to special order things. However, there are many things that I like, that I can't get through them so I order over the Internet. Since I like many different techniques, it's not reasonable to expect one store(unless it was really huge) to have everything I want. So, I try to support the local stores as much as I can, because seeing things in person is so much better.

  5. I sure love visiting brick and mortar stores, but alas order much online due to its availability there.

    The Japanese Embroidery Center has products for purchase at their location, though access is limited, so perhaps they are 'brick and mortar'. If I have a STABLE (STitching Above and Beyond Life Expectancy) it's due to purchases at the JE Center. I would encourage stitchers visiting Atlanta to try to visit the Center, much beautiful work is on display, and they are extremely gracious.

    Thank you again for the best blog on the web.


  6. I just posted about this movement on my blog, too. I have mixed feelings about it, really. If both my husband and I followed their recommendation to spend $50 each month in three stores, we'd quickly be bankrupt! OTOH, we really do try to spend what money we do spend at local, independent businesses.

    Needlework is hard though. Five years ago I had three good LNS close by. Now they are all gone, for various reasons. The shops I can get to meet some of my peripheral needs for fibers and fabrics but they're primarily fabric, quilting or needlepoint shops (I don't bother with cross stitch shops).

    It's been many (many) years since there's been a local store that specialized in hand embroidery (fine embroidery, French hand sewing and smocking–and I still miss them!). I have never been able to find crewel supplies locally. And I live in a large metropolitan area (Chicago).

    I browse the semilocal shops when I can, buy what might work for my purposes, and mail order the rest.

    I have discovered a sometimes compromise. Most brick-and-mortar stores will send things by mail if you can't get to them in person and you know what you want. I don't get that pleasure of browsing, but if I know the shop carries the thread I need, generally if I call them they'll mail it to me. I even called one shop and said I want a gray linen that tended toward bluish gray, about 32 count, and we discussed the options and I had my package within a week.

  7. I agree that the Internet has, in many ways, saved some of the less widely known needle arts. I know of one lace oriented brick & morter, but several on line sources. Local shops to me are primarily about needlepoint (but fortunately only once have I had the experience of actually being told I was not welcome becuase I did not intend to use the threads for "needlepoint"!) or modern cross stitch.

    Fireside Stitchery in Malvern, PA which is local to me (and also on line, the best way for shops to survive today) is close. Not ultimate, but very good. Wide selection of threads and happy to have non-needlepointers (ok, non modern needlepointers — I do historic canvas work) come in and browse and buy — and request items.

    One way to help local stores help their customers would be for the distributors to make goods available without minimums — even if at a higher price. If a store has someone who wants, for instance, one or two skeins of a given thread that the store doesn't normally carry, if the store could order just what the customer wants, they might be more likely to do it (rather than have to order more than the customer wants).

    Wow, I'm getting wordy here, maybe it's a topic I should bring up in my blog soon 🙂

    Kandy — who is now off to think of three local stores to spend some money in ….

  8. There are no needlework shops within a 3 hour drive of me. There used to be a rather nice one in my town…she carried a wide variety of patterns and supplies, and anything I wanted that she didn`t stock, she would order for me. Unfortunately, she closed out the needlework store and opened a beading shop. It was for a combination of reasons…she can`t do framing anymore because of carpal tunnel, and the cost of bringing goods from the US (where most of the suppliers are) was eating into her profits. I was sad to see her close. Now I even have to order DMC from 3000 miles away. (Traditional Stitches). It`s hard for shop owners to carry a wide range of things that there is limited demand for in this economy…and shoppers can`t buy it if it isn`t being carried, unless they can special order. It`s a shame, but I see the death of LNS in the near future if a solution can`t be found…

  9. I have written to the 3/50 project administrators to add something to their concept. It is a new thing called "local currency" recently featured on Fast Company. The basic idea is that local communities print their own legal tender. It is redeemable only in their own community. This money is being used in several large cities right now and very successfully. As for the shops, needlework is so sparse with supplies spread out because it has become a hobby niche. That is why we have to resort to online shopping. For me and my husband, we support community shops as much as possible and really try to stay out of "big boxes". But needleworkers don't, nowadays, have that option.
    I'm hoping to soon complete my website that will engage in assisting crafters. As consumers and workers, we've all got to do what we can, including lending support where needed.

  10. I really enjoyed your series of reports about visiting various needlework shops around the country over the summer — because I see myself as a bit of a needlework tourist too. Whenever I get a chance to go somewhere with a shop that specializes in different items than my local shops carry, I'm thrilled to use the excuse of a vacation to do a little splurge and add items to my stash. I also like to visit the two semi-local needlework shops for the chance to see and touch what they have, and, again, add items to my stash.

    Still, you're right. I've not yet found a brick-and-mortar shop that has everything I might want, that can be reliably counted on to have that one thing I need RIGHT NOW (which, I suppose is the reason for having a bit of a stash — but that's not perfect, either).

    So I guess I think there's a need for both. That's one reason I support both kinds of shops; I think they're both endangered more by the kind of big box retailers who only carry a few brands of threads than it is a war between brick-and-mortar needlework shops and Internet specialty shops.

    Because if we're left with only the few pitiful offerings that are available in the chain stores, then we'll really be in trouble!

    Karen in Arcadia

  11. Yeah, needlework shops are closing right and left, and the ones that remain are heavily, heavily focused on cross-stitch and maybe needlepoint. I buy linen and spin silk floss locally, but since I've switched to using primarily filament silk, I've bought a few spools at my quasi-local shop (45 minutes away), but when I need more of those colors I will have to order from Hedgehog, since they don't carry much of a selection. I also stock up on some other supplies when I visit my mom in Portland (Acorns and Threads is much better for specialty threads than most brick-and-mortar needlework shops)–I got a Hardwicke Manor Hoop, some linen, and an assortment of Soie Perlee on my last visit (they actually carry a good selection of that and Gobelins…but not the color I need to order a bunch of).

    But if I want spangles, Gilt Sylke Twist, real metal thread, silk purl? I have to order online from Hedgehog or Thistle Threads or Lacis (I've been to Lacis's brick-and-mortar store once, and I love it–but Berkeley is pretty far away from me).

    The internet is what has made some of these specialty threads economically feasible. If GST and metal threads had to rely solely on brick-and-mortar, they wouldn't exist.

    I do prefer shopping in person, especially for silk thread…but it's just not really an option. My local store has about 6 colors of Soie Perlee, and half of them are ugly. I doubt they'll reorder when they sell out. They are not interested in the business of embroiderers like me.

    Acorns and Threads is pretty close to perfect, super-specialty-threads aside, if you live in Portland, OR. They have a vast range of cotton and silk threads, some wool, a great selection of fabrics, and HUGE numbers of patterns and kits and miscellaneous tools. They carry a small but interesting/unusual selection of books. Great selection of back issues of magazines. The fact that they carry a good selection of Soie Perlee and Soie Gobelins speaks volumes to me.

  12. I live in a small upstate NY town that does not have any needlework shops. I can go to the local quilting stores to get DMC threads, but that is all. Otherwise, I have to travel at least an hour and the shops I've found so far are not worth the time/gas. I figure I may as well save my energy and time and wait until I have a reason to make the 3.5 hour trip to NYC to shop. Mostly, I just purchase online, it's really my only reasonable option, sadly.

  13. I have a LNS in my town that carries the bread and butter stuff and I special order a lot from her. That said, there is no way she could carry everything and I would never expect her to. So I shop both locally and online. Besides, the online sources are small businesses themselves and I want to support them too.

  14. I support B&M; shops whenever I can, however it's not always practical.

    I'm lucky to live in a very large metropolis (Toronto area) where I can find almost everything I need locally. Needlework supplies however, are hard to come by. And the few specialty shops are spread out all over the Greater Toronto Area.

    Sewing, quilting, knitting – these are very popular here and we have MANY independent shops that provide tons of variety. Needlework supplies and specialty threads? Very difficult to find. And to get a decent selection, one has to visit many different shops. By the time I drive 20 to 40 km, pay for parking, pay for gas – and spend half the day to do this – I'm better off ordering online. Also, the hours that most independent B&M; shops have are ridiculous. They tend to be 9-5, Mon-Fri. There are some exceptions, but in general those are the hours. Well guess what? If I work 9-5 myself, how can I possibly go and shop there? Then they wonder why chains such as Michael's that offer 10 am -9 pm hours (plus weekends) do so well. Local B&M; shops that also offer online shopping are very smart – and they tend to do VERY well.

    Ultimately, business is business. If I can save time and money by ordering online, then I will. That's the bottom line. What I REALLY WISH I could find are large, well-stocked CANADIAN online retailers. I'd most definitely support Canadian etailers and local B&M; shops that offer mail order. Shipping costs from US to Canada are daylight robbery, so very few US-based etailers get my business.

  15. I would gladly support local shops, if I was lucky enough to have any. The closest is over 30 miles away and has a very limited selection. Online is the only way I can go. Living in Canada also means there is a limited number of on-line retailers available too. We are forced to go outside the country to find anything beyond regular DMC embroidery floss. Of course there might be places out there that I am unaware of, but so far this has been my experience.

  16. Hi, Mary!

    Is it appropriate to name my favorite shop? It's a real brick and mortar shop, but, alas, 3000 miles away from me! I might be under-informed, but I don't know of a shop in BOSTON that stocks embroidery supplies. Is this blessed city so fast that no one has time for needlework? The best (needlepoint only) store here closed, leaving only one other with customer service so unfriendly (read: RUDE) that you feel dirty when leaving. So, I order online from Thread Needle Street in Issaquah, Washington. Fabulous selection, friendly and knowledgeable salespeople (I prefer to make my orders by phone), and fast service with sensible shipping rates. I'd love to visit, but it's a long way to go to buy a few spools of GST!

    Couldn't someone run their online shop from a storefront here in Boston?

    Thanks for letting me rant,

  17. I like the 'idea' of shopping in a LNS. However the reality, for me, is that none of the shops in my area (ALL of Southern California) carry anything that I am looking for. They pretty much cater exclusively to cross stitch and needlepoint clients.

    I used to be very frustrated by this, but I understand that they have to stock items that sell and that's fine. I've changed my attitude and have totally embraced buying nearly everything online. Except for DMC floss and sometimes Anchor floss I buy everything online. It has taken a few years, but I now have a group of online sources for everything I use. (I hope they all stay in business! I do my best to contribute 🙂

    Even before I had the option of buying online I was buying via mail order because I don't do counted work so there's nothing in the shops.

    I am so grateful for the online retailers. I would probably never have been able to pursue goldwork or fine embroidery projects with wonderful fabrics and threads if not for online 'shops'. I also appreciate the time savings in ordering online. It would take several hours to go to a LNS to buy some thread and I'd rather not use my time for that.

    The only thing I miss about not having a comprehensive LNS is the lack of being able to see and perhaps touch a thread or fabric. I've decided that I'd just rather buy some samples and go from there. (I don't have much choice.) Yes, it would be wonderful to see items first, but if the choice is buying samples or nothing I'll take the former.

    The 3/50 concept is a noble idea, but as far as LNSes go I'll stick to online. Honestly, if all the LNSes closed in my vicinity it would make no difference to my stitching pursuits.

    I think we will lose many, many more LNSes especially as the population becomes more comfortable with buying online. What I would like to see are more teachers and promoters of non-counted techniques. They would be able to spread the word about where to buy things, just as Needle 'n Thread does!

  18. I thought it would be a Portuguese problem local shops closing everywhere! Local needlework shops are about cross stitch or needlepoint, kits and kits of them!
    I always search for local shops. But I must confess that I find few and with limited stuff so we have the on-line shops…

  19. I try to support any LNS which exists within a 100+ mile range. I live in southern California and the only shops we have left here are mostly combinations of bead/quilting/knitting/needlepoint. What really bothers me, though, is when the shop owner charges exorbitant rates for the "convenience" of using her shop. I'm talking about 150-300% markup! A spool of #8 Kreinek for $6.00? I'll order online, thanks, and forego the expensive pleasure of LNShopping!

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