The Great Recession of 2008 was anything but great, yet, as a quilter and crafter, I noticed a small ray of sunshine in the economic clouds – the number of people who shifted their focus to creative endeavors. Whether it was because they had time on their hands, needed or wanted a side hustle or just used crafting as self-care, it seemed like everyone was making things.
Knitting was hip. Craft blogs were all over the Internet and craft fairs were popping up everywhere IRL. Etsy was on fire, Pinterest was taking off… it was a crafting renaissance.
Lately, though, I’m starting to feel like the renaissance has peaked and, in fact, may be over.
San Diego’s local collaborative workshop, MakerPlace, changed hands a couple of months ago and then unexpectedly shut its doors last week. I say unexpectedly, but really I’ve noticed a lot of turmoil in the craft world recently so this latest closing wasn’t a huge surprise.
The last scrapbook store in SD closed its doors over a year ago. There are 4 million people in the greater San Diego area and not a single brick and mortar scrapbook store to serve them. Zero.
As a quilter, though, I’m most aware of changes to local fabric stores. When I started quilting professionally 16 years ago, there were almost two dozen San Diego fabric shops, each one bursting with new fabrics. I’ve lost count of the number that have changed hands, closed completely or been bought by larger chains – and of the ones that are still around, most have cut back drastically on their stock.
Craft shows I attend are getting smaller and smaller. There’s usually a few long-time participating crafters, but new booths are few and far between (and some of the spaces feature nothing but mass-produced crap. At a craft fair.) Even the San Diego Quilt Show is on “hiatus” this year. After 38 years, there isn’t enough interest to even hold the premier local quilting event of the year.
It’s even worse online. It seems like every day I get an email announcing another online fabric store I’ve purchased from is closing. I click on interesting Pinterest tutorials and find that the original blog hasn’t been updated in 2-3 years. Or I see a fabulous creative piece I want to buy only to learn the Etsy shop is on “permanent vacation”.
I know the economy is doing better and more people are getting jobs and other opportunities, which means both fewer customers for craft suppliers and fewer people sharing and/or selling creative output. And the stock market is up, so store owners who can now retire are choosing to, closing up shop or selling to the highest bidder.
Then there’s the changes to the Internet and the demise of net neutrality. Algorithms that used to bring the world to you now assume you only want Amazon. Searches that would return random crafty websites now only bring up ads (and what small creative business can afford to buy in against the big-pocketed big guys?)
The good old days of a maker putting themselves out there with a self-programmed webpage and still connecting with customers are gone. Etsy has more people selling off their stash of craft supplies, or just selling craft supplies alone, than selling something made with them. Even without staying up to date on the constant changes, updating Facebook and Instagram feeds is a full-time job – and if you spend all your time updating social media, when do you get the chance to actually make anything?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for everyone who now has a job, or has retired, or has just decided to take a break from creating for a while. I’m less excited about structural changes and lost opportunities, but I realize change is a constant in life (and the Internet is going to Internet.)
Still, I’m sad to see the vibrant craft scene that I’ve enjoyed for the last 10+ years diminish. I truly hope this craft renaissance isn’t over, that the environment for creators will revive – and thrive. The world needs more makers, artists and crafters, not fewer. And I’d really like a local scrapbook store to visit once again.