One of the things I talked about during The Slow Stitching Movement webinar was an important aspect of The Slow Stitching Movement. That is your role in ethical shopping.
Everyone likes to think of themselves as being both ethical and moral, doing the best for their communities, their families, and trying to live their best life. I know that I do, but it’s not always easy.
It’s one thing to talk the talk, and it’s a whole other story to walk the walk. Such is the case with my own ethical shopping experience, and trying to be an ethical consumer, in the quilting, needlework, and stitching industries.
If you’re like me, you want to do the right thing, you want to support companies who support other people, you want to make the right choices to encourage local businesses and organizations, but it sure ain’t easy! I really have to work at it.
I often struggle with the choices I have to make as a consumer, in this day and age, after most of my local creativity-based businesses have been decimated by the likes of Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Joann Fabrics, and other big-box stores. Then, when you factor in the convenience of what is available on the Internet, ethical shopping can feel like unethical torture. But I plod on, and I encourage you to do so as well, for the good of all of us, your stitching community, and for your personal benefit.
First of all, it is really important to remember that every time you shop, or you spend money in person or online, planned or impulsively, you have an indirect (or sometimes a very direct) impact on someone, something, or on our planet in general.
That’s why it’s important that you are as mindful when you shop, that you are is intentional when you gather your threads and fabrics and crochet hooks and sewing machines, etc., as you are when you sit down to actually do your creative work and begin your creative process.
Look, my role here is to not pass judgment on where you shop, how you shop, or what you buy. Frankly, I don’t care. All I am going to try to explain is what being an ethical shopper is, and how you might want to incorporate ethical shopping into your own stitching life as part of The Slow Stitching Movement. Fair?
What is Ethical Consumerism?
According to, Ethical Consumer magazine (where the term ethical consumerism was coined in 1989), ethical shopping (alternatively called ethical consumption, ethical purchasing, moral purchasing, ethical sourcing, ethical consumerism or green consumerism) is a type of consumer activism that is based on the concept of dollar voting.
Ethical shopping is practiced through ‘positive buying’ in that ethical products are favoured, or ‘moral boycott‘, that is negative purchasing and company-based purchasing. We can apply that definition, in many ways, to The Slow Stitching Movement.
In the interest of not having you read a crap-load of text and to get right to the point, I thought it might be easier if I just gave a bunch of bullet points as to what ethical shopping is for me. I want to reinforce that these are guidelines that you might want to follow as a part of The Slow Stitching Movement. That said, just like Alcoholics Anonymous, take what you like and leave the rest for somebody else.
Here goes . . .
Shop from Your Stash First. The world, as you know, is a very polluted place. The human race is literally trashing the earth and you can see it wherever you look. Frankly, I live in a small town in middle of nowhere and I see overflowing garbage cans at the strip mall, heaps of garbage on pickup day in front of every house, and advertisements constantly bombarding our area with transportation for dumping.
Do you ever wonder what’s going to happen with your stash, the stuff that you might never use and have been collecting for years and years and years? Let’s be honest, most of it is going to end up in some landfill. Save yourself some money, save yourself some time, save yourself some energy, save yourself some gasoline, and save your planet by shopping your stash first. You don’t need every new gadget or fabric that hits the marketplace. We all know that the more you buy, [statistically] the less you’ll actually use.
Support Your Local Businesses. Quilt and yarn and cross stitch and needlework and rug hooking and embroidery shops around north and central New Jersey have been closing almost faster than the speed of light. If I need supplies I have to drive at least 40 minutes minimum to one of the few stores that are left in this part of the state. Trust me, it ain’t easy to shop and support local businesses so I feel your pain when you tell me that you can’t either. Do your best.
For those of you who are lucky enough to have local businesses who inspire you creatively, know that if you want local business to stay local, you have to support them and not just on SALE days or their ‘Going Out of Business’ event.
Yes, you may end up spending a couple extra shekels, but they are there for you when you need them and for your convenience. When you think you’re going to get a better deal on crochet thread at Walmart, who are you hurting but yourself and your creative community when your local shop can’t make enough profit to stay open?
I wish I had a nickel for every time I went to speak or teach at a shop or festival around the country, or even internationally, where the local shop owner told me that the area quilt or EGA (Embroiders Guild of America) guild doesn’t support her shop but will go online or order in a catalog as a first option. So not good.
Then there are the ‘gimme’ customers. If you want to enjoy the benefits of ethical shopping you might not want to become one of these!
Last week, while I was manning a quilt shop for my friend who went on a short vacation, I was about to ring out a very conservative order when the purchaser said to me, “Sally usually gives me a discount.” Really?
If your local shopkeeper finds you to be a good enough customer to afford you a regular discount, be grateful for the gift but don’t expect it. There is a grave misconception that shop owners are rolling in dough when, in fact, they are barely making ends meet in most cases. (First of all, I am not Sally nor was I authorized to give anyone a discount, but that entitlement rubbed me so wrong that . . . gurl, fagaddabahit.)
Follow the Rules of Common Shopping Courtesy: If you’re going to shop online, fine, that’s your business. But don’t go into your local shop to read her books, feel her threads, coordinate her fabrics, check out her kits, take pictures with your smart phone of her stuff, and then shop online because you think you can get a better deal. You’ve already spent the gas money to get there in the first place!
I have seen with my own eyes, shoppers who will go into a stitching shop for inspiration and product information, then go online to buy it “cheaper.” They will pull out their cell phone cameras unabashedly to snap SKU numbers from bolts of fabric and threads and/or book titles! Dude, not only is that totally unethical, it just sucks by anyone’s definition. Do you really think you’re saving money? Is it worth it for the couple of bucks you think you’re saving? Soon, your shop won’t be there. Then, where will you go to troll?
Once your local shop goes out of business, you’re going to have to find yourself with the Internet the ONLY places to shop rather than any alternative. Ever try to match threads, fabrics, or get an accurate reading on a kit or pattern online? Not much fun, is it? Stalking a creative supply shop for Internet purchases is really like being penny wise and dollar foolish.
On those occasional days I work at my local quilt shop, I cannot tell you how many times people come in with photocopied patterns, given to them by a friend, for a quilt. Unethical! It’s not only a copyright violation, it’s just not nice.
The problem with photocopies, on a more global level, is that everybody suffers. It looks like the book or magazine or the designer’s design didn’t sell very well, or the designer’s work wasn’t very popular, simply because people are copying patterns versus buying the magazine or book. Just wait! There will be a time when you need a book or a pattern by that particular designer and you may not be able to find one. Why? Because ‘it just didn’t sell.’
Yeah, I’m getting a little preachy and high-horsed, and I know that it is impossible for any one shop to carry everything you might need. But at least try to shop local first! Ask your shopkeeper if they will order what you want for you. Sometimes shop owners are very willing to do this, and sometimes they are not (big mistake). But at least you tried. Once you’ve given it a try, then by all means, take the next step. By next, I mean go to your local JoAnn Fabrics, or Michael’s, or AC Moore. They might be big-box stores but they are also local and you want to support your local businesses as a part of being an ethical shopper. If that fails, hit the Internet — but still shop with intention and ethically and don’t go cra cra.
Give Your Money to Those Who Give. When I shop I like to know where my money is going. That’s why I make it my business to find out. This is ethical shopping in the very purest sense.
Say, for instance, I don’t like the ethical/unethical choices of Hobby Store A (maybe because of their contributions, or lack thereof, or how they support or do not support social issues that are important to me). If Thread Manufacturer B or Fabric Manufacturer C is a supplier to Hobby Store A, then I will make it my choice, based on my ethical shopping choices, to not buy those particular threads or fabrics — no matter where they are sold. Yes, even in other stores.
Ethical consumerism is very much about voting with our dollars, and asking companies to do the right and ethical thing by their customers. Not only do I try to hold companies like Hobby Store A accountable for their actions by not spending my money there, I also don’t do it anonymously. That’s just not fair or ethical, in my humble opinion. I will actually sit down and write a note or send an email giving said company my personal (ethical) reasons for not shopping in their stores or to manufacturers the reasons I am not buying their particular products. They deserve that much, don’t you think? And if they don’t know, then they don’t know. Conscious clear.
When I need to buy my supplies, my notions or fabrics or threads or machines, I like to know who the various companies that I am buying from are donating or supporting, through their profits, if at all. Are they giving back in any way? How are they supporting our creative industry, our artists, our planet? These kinds of things are important to me. You may have a different and/or opposite criteria than I do and that’s totally OK. I’m talking strictly about what works for me. Ethical shopping means voting with your money — every dollar is a vote for or against what you might consider unethical business decisions.
What is important to you? Where do the companies that you financially support? Where do the national, online, and local businesses that you buy from stand in terms of your ethics?
In those rare instances when I do not find what I need locally, like fabric, for instance (and this is NOT an ad. I’ve been buying from eQuilter.com since the early 1990’s), personally I like my purchases to go to eQuilter.com because I know that, Paul and Luana Rubin, donate a lot of money to various charities — and they allow me to choose what charities I want to support when I buy fabric through them. They are amazing to work with over the phone and the fabric they sell is quality.
Yes, eQuilter.com is a for-profit company, and it should be. But they also give back to the world. That impresses me. Why would I buy my fabric from a place that only wants my money and does nothing for my community, my creative friends, or the planet in general (I won’t mention any names)?
Sure, I have found myself in a quandary here and there. Like what happens when Fabric Manufacturer C is a vendor and sells their merchandise at Hobby Store A but also donates a lot of money to another of my favorite causes? That’s a dilemma.
Then I have to weigh what is best, by my mind, for everyone on the creative and/or global spectrum. These are the times, when I want to use my power as the consumer and can become so confused, that I’ll find myself eating doughnuts uncontrollably to calm my do-gooder, ethical anxiety.
Buy Quality and The Very Best You Can Afford. We live in a spend cash/make trash world. When we buy things that are not of great quality, those things end up in the garbage faster than fast, which ends up in a landfill, which then pollutes the earth. That’s why it is important that I, as an ethical shopper, by the very best products I can afford (even if I have to save a few months for it). You get what you pay for in most cases.
I am urging you to buy the best you can afford and then take care of it. Cover your fabrics and threads if they are being stored in a sunlit room to prevent fading. Get your expensive machines regularly serviced so that they can last for the rest of your lifetime. Treat your notions with respect rather than tossing them haphazardly thinking “I’ll just get another ruler.” Don’t be so quick to throw something in the garbage, because there’s always someone who can use it who can’t afford what you’re tossing. Know the value of your stash and respect it.
Don’t spend your cash on trash and don’t trash your stash thoughtlessly! Speaking of . . .
Shop Thoughtfully. You don’t really need everything in the whole damn store to make you creative and productive.
Take your time, shop for exactly what you need to fulfill your creative project at hand, and be done. You don’t need an extra pile of crap sitting around your house that you know you will never use.
How do I know? Because I used to be the very biggest offender in this area. I was, and am a compulsive shopper. It makes me feel good to spend money. It makes me feel good to have things. It makes me feel good to look at a fully stocked sewing room. But guess what? It’s all smoke and mirrors. Do yourself a favor, save yourself some money, and shop with intention and with care. Ask yourself — Do I need it or want it? – before you pull out your credit card.
So, What Are the Benefits of Ethical Shopping?
You Are Going to Rock. Don’t you want to feel good about yourself? Shopping ethically to support your creative vision is going to make you feel like the million bucks you just saved by not buying a bunch of crap you don’t need.
Knowing you were doing good by supporting your local community, by supporting Internet shops that give back to the world, by supporting stores and vendors who do the right thing by supporting issues and projects that are important to you — you are doing more good for yourself than you can know.
- Watch, as your self-esteem grows with every dollar you spend ethically.
- Be conscious of your creativity expanding in direct proportion with your ethical spending.
- Take note, as you feel better about your place in the world when you know the money you are spending to support your creative pursuits is going to encourage what is both important and dear to you.
You are Going to Save Some Bucks. Even if what you are buying seems more expensive as a result of your ethical shopping, the fact is if you only buy to support the good in the world, your community, and your conscience, you will end up saving cash. If you purchase only what you need at the time for the project you are working one, while consciously curtailing your victimization to the onslaught of advertising you endure every time you pick up a magazine, a book, or go online, you will actually save money in the long run. Not just figuratively, but you will save cold, hard cash.
Less in = Less waste
Better product = Less breakage
Less waste = More for you buck
Less impulsive shopping = More cash in your wallet
Less stitching burnout = More trips to your local shops for a longer period of time
More stash respect = Longer lasting stash
You Are Going to Know What Grateful Feels Like. What a gift to be able to support not only your community, but the products you really love!
By shopping ethically, consciously, with your heart, and pureness of spirit, you will be sending off affirmative and positive energy (as well as hard-earned cash) to the people and businesses and causes who support the things that are most important to your creative successes. You can’t beat that!
You Will Be Saving the Planet. By not hoarding rooms full of fabric and notions and threads and canvas and wool and lace-making pillows and cross stitch kits and irons and sewing machines and tatting machines and die cutting machines and spools of ribbons and embellishments, and 700 knitting needles, and skeins of yarn, etc., the Earth will be better for it.
You know, and I know, if you have a room full of stash, you’re not even going to use a quarter of it before it’s time to meet the Grim Reaper and your stash ends up in giant black plastic GLAD trash bags in front of your house even before rigor mortis sets in.
Take pride in leaving the planet in better shape through your life and creativity, rather than in worse shape, as a result of your having been here and overindulging your way through your craft — rather than celebrating your art.
Ethical stitching is not much different than ‘slow stitching.’ What you get out of it depends how much effort you put into it. Just remember . . . you make a difference in everything you do.
My Slow Stitching in Progress
I continue my journey on my important, legacy quilt, as is a goal for each of us as we embrace The Slow Stitching Movement. The goal for each of us is to create one legacy quilt. Something that will matter when we are long gone, but will tell future generations who we were, what we were like, and what our life was like.
I think it is important to note that the legacy quilt I talk about does not have to be story quilts! Your taste tells your story. The colors you choose for your quilts tells your story. The blocks or art you decide to incorporate in your quilt tells your story and leaves your legacy. The design of the fabrics you use leave your legacy and story. Let me be clear: The goal is not for you to write a book of your life in fabric, but to create something that you are proud of, a place for you to try new techniques, where you become excellent at the techniques you’re using, and that you push yourself in an area of intentional and meditative stitching, so that you can benefit from the physical, emotional, spiritual, creative, and financial opportunities that slow stitching can afford you.
More blocks I’ve been working on
For reasons that I’d rather not get into, I was searching out different fabrics to replace some that I thought that I wanted in my piece to represent a optimistic blue sky. The most obvious choice for me was Cherrywood Fabrics. I ordered a few fat quarters from Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics, which I love.
When I talked with the clerk/assistant who helped me choose the fabrics that would represent a happy blue sky to order my colors over the phone (hopefully with a touch of green in it – because that would have been perfect for what I need it for). I love all of them but I am really bummed, however, that the fabrics are just too dark for my overall design — and or not really blue. LOL
I sure don’t know what sky the poor gal’s been seeing, but none of these really did the trick for me (if they were LOTS of shades lighter we could have had a contender) — and as I had mentioned above, it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to choose fabric colors on the Internet and the folks on the other side of the phone are not mind readers . I love the Robin Egg Blue but it ends up being too dark for what I need and the others are…well…green! LOL How the two Indigo darks ended up in this palette is beyond me? I’m keeping them all anyway. I love both the look and the hand of Cherrywood Fabrics. You should try Cherrywood sometime, you will so not be disappointed.
Back to the drawing board!
I created a couple more silhouettes this week, traced them onto the fabulous Soft Fuse (by Stacy Michell) and fused them onto my Michael Miller Jet Black fabric.
I also created my hand appliqué template
Which, by the way, was not heat-resistant! LOL
One of this week’s pieces was embroidered with a light teal floss (3-strands). As you can see, the raw edge of the fused image had not been raw-edge, hand appliquéd yet.
Almost finished. Again, I’m not going to show you the finished pieces until the entire quilt is finished!
Sooooo, here are two more blocks that I’ve been working on for my quilt. One involves both traditional and raw-edge appliqué, done by hand.
The other involves a combination of hand raw edged stitched appliqué and simple embroidery.
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A Private Message on Facebook:
I have learned long ago that marketing is a powerful thing but I don’t have to jump on every crafty band wagon, fabric line and/or fad that passes through. I have been trying to shop ethically and I appreciate this article. I don’t have a big stash of supplies anymore because I have ever evolving and fickle tastes… and a small amount of cash over the years to spend. It is sad when you really do have to go through a relative or friends stash after they pass away…. to see it go in large trash bags…. I vowed I would not do that, what a waste.
Your silhouette drawing is exquisite. Who said you aren’t an arttist!
I just finished reading your Slow Stitching Report. Very impressive. I agree with you 100%. My family runs a small paint and hardware store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They go through the same pains as anyone in any small business. People come in to “shop” your prices and then go on the Internet, or even down 10 or 20 blocks. I want to ask them: is there that much of a difference!!!??? Always buy local and support small businesses. …But check out WebFabrics in Purcellville, VA. Carly Mul is the owner and she is just wonderful. They are semi-local for me, but since it does take about 45 mins. to get there, if becomes a special trip and I have it planned out. I hope one day, Mark, you can make it to Northern Virginia and visit the Quilt Guild I belong to. We would love to have you. Be well and keep on stitching.
Some good thoughts. I am really ANNOYED that the American Quilters Society is now selling fabric and other supplies. One more greedy organization that is in direct competition with our local shops. I told them that at our local show in Phoenix when they asked if I wanted to join their organization.
Mark – thanks for speaking up for all the local shops! Everything you say is totally spot on. 🙂
Made this former quilt-shop owner weep. Got tired of figuring out math and yardage for customers, or showing them how to miter corners on binding, to have them walk out and buy fabric at the big-box store. Once asked to assemble a quilt frame purchased elsewhere! I did it, thinking she would buy some fabric. Nope. When I was having my “going-out-of-business sale, a customer asked “When will ALL of the fabric go down to one dollar a yard?” I locked the door that day, and gave the rest of my inventory to schools and church camps.
Great post! I’m starting to pull together the components of my slow stitching/legacy project. I’m happy to say that I will be shopping almost completely from my stash! Who knows…maybe completely. I’m excited about this project because it will be a tribute to my best friend of 22 years who passed away a couple months ago. It will give me a chance to try some new techniques, and perfect some I haven’t done in a long time too.
loved this posting. past shop owner that i am, i have seen way too many shops go under. for the same reasons as above. i do so applaud ‘sue blank’ above for her response to the customer who wanted stuff for $1/yd. good on her.
Mark – I love this Slow Stitching Movement and your views that you are posting here. You often say the exact things that I am thinking (but that most who know me will say I am too PC to say in public. It’s a fault). As a shop owner I am proud to be a cheerleader first and foremost for my customers – always telling them to enjoy the journey of creating and not be so hard on themselves. Just this morning one lady was lamenting about mis-cutting a section of a block and would it look really bad?(no). My response was that unless she was entering a show and counting on the winnings to pay her mortgage than RELAX and enjoy! Working in this industry, with creative people each and every day is what feeds my soul. I love to go to work in the morning and work with our visitors to realize their creative visions and desires. Thank you for spreading the love of creating – enjoying the journey and the creativity.
And for encouraging people to shop local and shop with their dollars – we are all so powerful and need to know that our purchases count! Hope you don’t mind if I go about quoting you and sharing your mission. You rock.
Mark, the happiest most perfect blue sky fabric EVER is by Stacey Michell, and it is called “Pretty Day”. I can’t live without it, have used it for 20 years. Find it here! http://shadestextiles.mybigcommerce.com/sky-fabric/
I learned (the hard way!) that the quality of fabric at my LQS is MUCH higher than that of the Box Hobby Stores. While it’s fun to see an entire, floor-to-ceiling wall of yellow bolts, the fabric is thin, the thread count low, and where was it made? A sweat shop in Taiwan? Just as when you buy tomato products from Taco Bell, or beef products from McDonalds, or commercial eggs or mayonnaise, or Tyson, Hormel or Cargill products, you DO affect the world with your shopping dollars. Thanks for writing about this important topic!
many, many, many years ago a whole lot of hippies stopped buying California grapes to voice our feelings about poor working conditions for migrant workers – I learned then about ethical shopping. I’m fortunate to have a lovely LQS about 30 minutes from me and try to get there every couple of months. I do avoid shopping at chain stores that I believe have unethical practices or practices that do not support my core beliefs, but I never thought about sending them a note – good idea. Now that my income is getting strained, I am shopping from my stash – my future daughter-in-law gets a look of serious panic when she sees my stash and I’m beginning to realize if I don’t use it, it might not end up where I’d like it to go.
Oh, well said! We just got back from an overnight road/camping trip. We visited two small towns, and when I inquired at the visitor information centres in both towns, I was told that there used to be a small quilt & knit shop in each town but each had closed down. So sad. I shop both my brick & motor store (75%) and Canadian on-line shops (25%) when there is a good sale. I don’t shop online shops in the US because the high cost of shipping off sets any savings in yardage. Not to mention the cost of transport (oil, gas etc). Since I am on a limited income I am forced to be wise in my purchases. Not a bad thing. 🙂
I have an addiction of buying quilt kits whenever I see something I want or like. First thing I did this morning was to pull out my credit card to buy another kit off the internet. I already have over 150 complete quilt kits. I am grateful that I read about shopping from your stash and buying locally. I thought to myself why not use the fabric from the kits to make my own projects? I don’t have to do what the kits were intended for. There are several, of course, that I want to complete since there was actually a reason why I bought them. I am so excited to go through them all to pull all the fabric and organize. What fun it will be. I have been looking on the internet for the best deal for an embroidering machine. I will visit each of them to see what brands they carry and what is the best to suit my needs and try to buy from here. If not, a trip to Vegas is the closest. Thanks Mark, you just saved me $150.00. Any recommendations on an embroidery machine that I can digitize, quilt,sew, and do really large embroidery? My budget is $12,000.
Personally, I’m a Baby Lock fan, Robin.
Since both DH & I have retired, I’ve shopped my stash and stitched many charity quilts. So far, I’ve emptied one plastic bin that used to be chock full of fabric. Whenever I can’t find the perfect blue, brown or whatever, there is a local quilt shop (Quilting By The Yard), with sales people who greet customers by name, that I gladly support. The other plus is that QBTY is in the same strip mall as Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT. Peace.