I returned a few days ago from the H+H Americas trade show, a gathering of exhibitors and attendees who work in the soft crafts industry, which includes local yarn shops, local fabric shops, cross stitch designers (such as yours truly!), quilt designers, quilt shops, knitwear designers, yarn wholesalers, small-batch dyers, distributors, and fabric wholesalers. I was a bit uncertain if my admittedly unique cross stitch designs and embroidery hoop kits would be a good fit but it sounded like such a fabulous creative environment that I took a leap of faith, bought a booth, designed a display, and packed my bags.
And, I was so glad I did! To say that I will look back on this week as a turning point for Avlea is an understatement. When I began Avlea four years ago, I initially thought I would produce a few cross stitch patterns with the hopes that it would give me something to do when I retired (and justify my copious purchases of embroidery supplies!). What took me completely by surprise was how much demand there was for embroidery KITS. Until I opened Avlea, I had never bought an embroidery kit in my life because I always wanted to put everything together myself, something that came easily to me having spent decades working as a professional tailor and doing a LOT of fabric purchasing. Doing the math of how much fabric I needed, feeling the hand of the fabric to determine quality, choosing flosses, all of this seemed easy to me, but I quickly realized that this was a high bar for a lot of folks wanting to join the crafting world--many had never been in a fabric shop, much less learned how to feel the "hand" of a fabric or choose a floss. The myriad options for floss, fabrics, and patterns, rather than being creatively inspiring, could be overwhelming for new stitchers or those short on time, and I suddenly realized that I could help by offering a "curated" stitching experience with really great fabrics, easy-to-use patterns, and good floss. So, my attention broadened and I became just as interested in creating a really great cross stitch or embroidery kit as I was in creating historically-inspired patterns. Because I wanted to throw the doors to stitching WIDE OPEN.
Well, it turns out that shops--all kinds of shops, such as fabric shops, local bookstores, yarn shops, downtown boutique-y shops, and even needlework shops--love kits! Cross stitch and embroidery kits allow a shop, say a bookstore, to offer an experience to their customers without having to invest in a bunch of stand-alone supplies like expensive floss displays or yards and yards of specialty fabrics. Kits are convenient not only for stitchers, but for small business owners, too. I began offering Avlea kits on Faire in December 2020 and was simply amazed at the wholesale orders that began to come in. And, this interest in my kits sparked creativity in other directions, too--the articles I've written for Taproot magazine? Well, those came about because Taproot placed an order for my embroidery hoop kits the first month I was on Faire.
And, here's where the magic really began to happen--the wholesale orders helped increase the quantity of fabrics and flosses I was purchasing from my suppliers, which reduced prices across the board, both for my wholesale customers, and those who purchased from the Avlea website. I realized that retail and wholesale customers worked together to create a better, less expensive kit for EVERYONE. Mission accomplished!
That's why I decided to exhibit a booth at the H+H Americas show. I thought I would get to meet shop owners I was already working with as well as partner with some new shops who wanted to offer Avlea kits. And, all of that certainly happened, but here are a few other things that happened that were surprising, inspiring, and just all around interesting:
Industry trends: I got to go to a presentation by one of the industry trends experts at DMC and it was so interesting and informative. She began with sharing about all the big-picture things going on in the world and then moved onto sharing about home decor, fashion, and textile industry trends such as the color palettes that are upcoming. Grandmillenial, granny chic, coastal granny--all of these decor trends are really big and expected to last for quite awhile. All I can say, is hallelujah! because that minimalist stuff never worked for me ;)
Social media: I went to another presentation on social media and I entered with a sigh, thinking "OK, what overwhelming social media thing do I need to do next?" I was pleasantly surprised to find that my quirky little Instagram system (one daily alarm clock and one Google Keep note) was working just fine. Whew! (for now....)
Community: it seemed everywhere I turned, there were industry experts, shop owners, and other exhibitors talking about how important community is in our industry. Vickie Howell of YarnYAY! subscription box fame put to me like this: "Rising tides lift all boats" and I got to see this in action. If I make a great kit, then a shop has a great kit to sell, they get known in their local area as being a great place to find great things, then their local area full of other small businesses gets known as a great area to shop and visit (oh, and some of those folks in their shops want more great Avlea and they come to the website and that in turn helps me design more things for more shops. Circle of life, baby!). When we all work together, we all benefit. I was so thrilled/amazed/blown away/inspired/ALL the words by this! I've long held that generosity begets generosity, but here I was seeing it in ACTION and it was simply the best part of being at H+H.
Partnerships: you could have knocked me over with a feather when one of the reps for Herrschners came to my booth and wanted to discuss partnering together on an exclusive design! Shops asked if they could have exclusive colorways (why not?) and then on the final day, I met Vickie Howell of YarnYAY! and I'm now working on a mini-kit project for her September box. Personally, I find these partnerships really creatively inspiring because they come with limitations such as price point, kit weight, etc and I like working within new constraints. That might sound weird, but I grow as a designer when I've got to design a pattern with a specific number of stitches or a certain yardage of floss and I have to work in combinations or ways that are new to me--this is REALLY good as a designer to be stretched in these ways. So, I'm looking forward to how these new partnerships will help me grow as a designer.
Embroidery hoop kits: honestly, I was concerned my embroidery hoop kits had had their day, but, to my great surprise, they were the most popular thing at my booth. I think a lot of folks find counted thread a bit intimidating (sigh..it's EASY--just watch the video!), but they know what to expect with an embroidery hoop kit. There was so much interest that I've begun work on two new designs, one aimed at a beginner who wants a "sophisticated and classy" kit (one shop owner lamented: "Do you know how hard it is for a 50-year-old woman who wants to get back into embroidery and the only beginner kits have baby elephants?!"), and the other a bit more complex like my other designs. Oh, and I'm going to be switching out the bamboo hoops in my kits for better-quality beechwood (and best of all, it won't raise the price more than a couple of dollars!).
These are just the highlights as I know everything I learned and saw and experienced at H+H will continue to inform my work for months to come. I'll continue to post more info as projects begin and get underway, so watch for those upcoming posts!
With so much gratitude for this amazing industry,
this has made me reflect on cross stitch versus embroidery versus needlepoint. In my years, I’ve worked them all. I think my first Needlework was surface embroidery. There were years when all I worked on was needlepoint, mostly classic Chinese designs and English tapestry designs. I don’t know which I like the most. Cross stitch is the easiest for me at this point - and the Avlea designs and museum pieces have really caught my fancy. And yet the other Two have been sending me invitations to work them again !
I find embroidery really intimidating. Cross Stitch was so easy for me to start. I have embroidery kits and haven’t been able to take the leap.
I really enjoyed reading this summary of your trip. great to know Avlea is thriving and that much growth has been sparked - and for mostly selfish reasons! We all will benefit from the takeaway!
What a great update. Sounds like Avlea is in for exciting times! I’m very glad to hear there will be new embroidery kits and that you’re upgrading the embroidery hoops. Embroidery kits were my introduction to stitching. It did seem less intimidating than counted cross stitch. But of course they helped to suck me into the cross stitch world, ultimately. I loved the idea that I could use my work as table mats, pillows, etc. I remember you saying you might consider larger embroidery kits for things like table runners. I’d be all in for that!
Bravo Krista, how wonderful for you...and us!