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Sewing-sphere Trend: Fabric Store “Networks”

August 27, 2014
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Occasionally I like to rant point out some of the blogging trends that I see going ’round the online sewing world, although this one I’m kindof ambivalent about: Fabric store “networks” or “blog teams.”  First of all, that sounds so ambiguous!  They’re just avoiding saying the truth: advertising.

(click image for source) The spider web is a metaphor… either we’re all connected in a web or we’re all getting stuck in the web. Or is that a simile?

If you haven’t noticed this blogging phenomena, basically fabric stores that have a website they can sell from (I think all the ones I’ve encountered so far have brick and mortar stores also) create their own blog.  Then they enlist a selection of “established” sewing bloggers, possibly from anywhere in the world because of the magic of the internets, to sew projects from their fabric (the fabric is given to the bloggers for free, I believe there is no other compensation) and write up a post about that project.  I am not saying that is bad, I really don’t care what these fabric stores do, but just to play devils advocate here are some things to think about:

Pros:

  • Meaningful advertising for small businesses targeting their prime customers and allowing them to find new customers that won’t be able to visit their stores in person.
  • Product testing. It’s really hard to buy fabric online and know exactly what you’re getting.  These bloggers can basically test out the fabric, tell us how it drapes and wears, and show an example of how it looks as a finished product.
  • Style points.  I assume the people that actually work for these stores are picking bloggers because they make stylish things.  There are some people out there who can make just about any fabric look good, which in turn makes the stores look good!  Having stylish blogging “collaborators” also helps give us less-naturally-stylish folks ideas of how to use their fabrics.
  • It’s possible that these blogs could bring in people that are new to sewing, for instance women that like style blogs or whatnot.  The stylish bloggers point above definitely feeds into this.
  • Free fabric for some bloggers.  No, it’s not benefiting many people, but it’s got to be a benefit to these few people.

Cons:

  • It’s entirely possible that there will be bad reviews of the fabric along with the good.
  • Is it really working out for these stores?  I’d be interested to hear from a business stand point if this is actually drawing people in or if it’s just another advertising expense.
  • Are we getting honest opinions?  Free fabric makes most sewers really happy, heck, fabric we spent lots of money on usually makes us happy too!  So how can we really tell?  If they are truly honest bloggers they’ll tell us when expectations weren’t met and why.  But I always get the impression that sewers blame themselves long before they blame the fabric or the pattern.  That’s not honest in my mind.  However, for a lot of people honesty in sewing reviews seems to come with experience too; the longer you sew, the more you know, the better you can judge a project’s outcome.
  • This is really similar to the pattern testing issue that swept around a while back (which actually kindof pissed me off that some pattern makers were getting so upset about people questioning them.  If you’re in business, you’re making money off of us, so we have a right to tell you when we’re not happy about what you’re doing.  You also have a right to not change a thing… unless it’s unlawful… but that’s a different issue!  Also see my point about sewing cliques below).  Are these people being fairly compensated for their time?  Yes, fabric is usually more expensive than a pattern, but time is even more expensive than fabric if you break it down.  At least in this instance it’s very up front that to get the free fabric, the bloggers are expected to blog about their finished product.  Everyone knows it’s advertising.  Transparency is good, everyone should get with it!
  • It’s more advertising on top of the all the other advertising we’re bombarded with on a daily basis.
  • These “networks” are very selective.  Obviously for good reason: they’re businesses and they want to put a good face forward.  But I really feel like sewing blogs are somewhat cliquey, there’s no two ways about it, and this just adds to it.  And every time I read a dissent on that point of view, it’s always from one of the popular bloggers who are already part of the clique, so of course they don’t get it.  I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind on that point and you’re not going to change mine, so don’t try.
  • These people are more than likely not sewing professionals.
  • I’d chance a bet that these bloggers get major stressed out over these projects since there are deadlines and expectations.  Stressed sewing isn’t fun sewing.  And all sewing should be fun sewing unless you’re getting paid for your time.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t care what these people do with their time and money and fabric.  I follow along with a couple of these so called “networks” (the terms they come up with feel so ambiguous, I can’t help but put them in quotes) just because they’re good inspiration sources and I like reading about sewing, that’s why I follow any blog.  I don’t like buying fabric online if I can help it because feeling the fabric is key for me, so they’re probably never going to pull me in, especially when we’re talking about expensive “designer” fabric (side topic: that’s such a meaningless word nowadays.  Everyone’s a designer.  People who design paper clips are designers.  We need more vocabulary apparently).

What do you (honestly!) think about these “networks”??

~Molly

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2014 8:12 am

    I only follow the networks insofar as I was already following a blogger who became part of a network. And I continue to follow that blogger (or not) because what he/she makes is inspiring or interesting or etc. If the blogger changed the content a lot and I felt like it was all about promotion and always product reviews, I would probably stop following. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for now. So I’m not annoyed. :)

    • August 27, 2014 8:04 pm

      Agreed, I think some people handle the fabric promotion differently then others and hopefully most continue to be genuine.

  2. August 27, 2014 9:09 am

    I’m with Donna, I follow along if it is someone I find interested or have followed before. I’ve thought a few times “ooooh cool fabric” but never felt inclined to purchase it. Sometimes I feel overloaded with it (the advertising, the makes, the networking).

    • August 27, 2014 8:09 pm

      One of the things that I actually really dislike about this phenomenon is seeing some posts twice, in complete, because I follow both the network blog and the individual blogger. I think only one blogger mitigates that by only posting one photo and a link to the network. Definite overload.

  3. August 27, 2014 9:52 am

    I think that for now the good about fabric store/blogger pairings outweighs the bad. There seems to be plenty of transparency about when someone is getting free/discounted fabric. I have seen a few bloggers who eventually felt that it was no longer a good fit for them to be part of a network and who have been very open about quitting. Overall it seems that those bloggers who are part of the networks take care with their fabric choices and how they make them up so that what they end up posting is more often than not something interesting to read and of decent quality.

    I suppose it could be stressful to always be sewing on a deadline, though, there would also be the satisfaction of completing a project on time as well, which for some people can be a form of “fun”, at least in a sense.

    I think the clique factor is probably the biggest drawback. I don’t think the intention is there to create cliques per se, but there is the part where if someone is looking for an interview/pattern tester/fabric tester, etc. It makes business sense that they might use someone whom they can easily find, who has proven reliable in meeting deadlines, and who has an established following so that the product will have exposure. The biggest problem with the cliques that I could foresee would be how much pressure there could be to follow certain formulas. One of the best things about sewing is the diversity that can now be found. If everyone started needing to be affiliated with this or that company, and if there starts to be increased pressure for projects/postings/blog formats to be a certain “right” way, a lot of that diversity could be lost and sewing blogs won’t be as interesting anymore.

    • August 27, 2014 8:15 pm

      I agree and I think it would take a lot of significant changes to force out the online sewing community’s individuality, there are so many different personalities! So I really hope “popular cliques” don’t get new comers down, but that’s always a difficult thing to deal with.

  4. Miriana permalink
    August 27, 2014 1:26 pm

    I get the feeling (as I do with pattern testing) that the fabric supplier is getting a pretty good deal – direct advertising for some fabric that cost them far less than they’re selling it for. And that’s erring on the generous side by not counting the monetary value of the time taken to make the item (as I’m assuming that these folks would be making something anyway).

    What particularly irks me is the tone of some posts…”I was honoured to be given this free book to review”, “I’m so lucky to be asked to test this pattern”, “I’m really lucky to be part of this network”. I can just about get over the fact that I think they’re selling themselves cheap (as I guess that’s their business if i conveniently ignore the harm this does to people actually trying to make a living in th same area by devaluing skills and time), it’s the naivity of these “lucky, lucky me” comments that rile.

    • Kristin P. permalink
      August 27, 2014 5:48 pm

      Miriana, I completely agree with you. Trying to make a living with sewing (in my case mainly wedding dresses) is so difficult because our time is so undervalued. It’s disheartening to see so many talented bloggers giving away their time for free, and I think that has repercussions on us all.
      Molly, thank you for giving your honest opinion on this topic, very interesting to think about.

    • August 27, 2014 8:20 pm

      That’s a really good point that I hadn’t thought of. It’s probably on the same level of not understanding when it’s the fabric or pattern’s fault that your project didn’t turn out well, and not your fault. It’s a mentality thing that good fabric and good work is above us, when really it’s not at all. If I counted how much my time is worth while I sew the same way the company I work for charges for my time to clients, my me-mades would probably be far outside my price range for ready-to-wear!

      • September 14, 2014 11:09 am

        I only really follow Mood blogger network because they make it easy to follow it on blog readers & the blogger network blog is purely just project showcase posts not polluted by advertising posts. So my opinion might not apply to other sewing related networks that you ladies are complaining about.

        With Mood I do think it is a perk to be asked to join their network. They’re not asking you to review and test specific items. They give you a credit / voucher to buy whatever fabric you like from them and make something with it. It is like free money if you’re going to sew and blog and buy fabric anyway. They have such wide range of fabrics to choose from. So it’s not like you’re forced to contort yourself to say something nice about their products. I’m sure there are some duds in their shops as well as gems. But as one is free to choose, then one really only have oneself to blame if one picks the wrong fabric for a project or for one’s skill level. (Though those can be great learning experiences too.)

        I’m not part of their network and have not been invited either. But I did/do shop at Mood stores when I visited/visit LA and NYC. So yeah, I’d join their network if I weren’t such a slower sewer or too chicken to pose outdoor! :-)

        Working in the web industry I do have to say I really admire how Mood has handled their social network presence. So many big brands I work with simply can’t achieve the same level of engagement. Yes, there will always be dissenters. But no one can please everyone all of the time. As long as they’re engaging, acknowledging and pleasing their core audience and supporters then they’re doing a great job. Too many brands IMHO act as if they couldn’t give a damn about their customers. So I value the ones that do.

  5. August 27, 2014 8:41 pm

    Right, with the comments above, I do think a lot of bloggers sell themselves short. Small pattern companies and fabric shops that offer bloggers free patterns/fabric in turn for a review really are getting a fantastically great deal. It’s very smart advertising. I’m not hating on anyone for it, though. It is what it is. Really, I’m just here for the sewing and I’ll take it however I can get it ;)

    • August 29, 2014 2:19 pm

      If it weren’t for the overwhelming advertising issue I’d suggest all fabric and craft stores do something of this kind, maybe in a smaller scale it would work better even. But you’re right, I just want to see what people have made!

  6. August 28, 2014 1:45 pm

    Molly, I always really enjoy your brutally honest posts, and I’m glad you take the time to write them because they seem to be extremely rare (even though I suspect many people are thinking the same things as you but not actually writing about them)!

    My biggest beef with blogging networks is the advertising factor, since advertising has been so persistent and pervasive in sewing blogs lately. I feel like nearly all of the posts on popular sewing blogs contain some form of advertising these days, and it gets a little abrasive. I have no problem with fabric shops and bloggers trying to make a living, but I just don’t want it in my face all the time!

    I also agree with you and other commenters about bloggers dramatically under-valuing their time. As you said, if I paid myself the hourly rate I would make at my real job, my handmade garments would cost many hundreds of dollars a piece, and no one is going to pay for that, LOL. :)

    • August 29, 2014 2:23 pm

      Thank you! Sometimes I’m really surprised no one else is pointing out what I think is obvious, but maybe it’s just because I don’t write my blog to make friends or followers (I’ve made plenty of internet-friends through the blog though! it’s just more of an added bonus), I write to express my thoughts on sewing :)
      There is a lot of advertising, in some cases I think it’s ok, but other’s it just starts getting silly. Like everyone writing books or getting books for free to review.

  7. August 28, 2014 2:50 pm

    When Mood started this trend I remember thinking it was an astonishingly good deal for them and the bloggers would probably find the pressure to sew to a deadline difficult to cope with. But good for the ones that can do it. Fabric is expensive and I guess it’s no different than clothes companies dressing certain people in the public eye for free.

    I’ve enjoyed most of the fabric network posts I’ve seen. What irks me on my blog feed is a lack of variety, and the fabric networks don’t produce that unlike some of the recent pattern launches and blog tours.

    I think you nailed it about the transparency.

    • August 29, 2014 2:26 pm

      I thought the same thing when Mood started, and some bloggers have dropped off. I know I wouldn’t be able to keep up with their one garment per month schedule, then I’d never get to sew from my stash! But it is fun when they have a theme for the month and see how each person interprets that theme. Unfortunately, I think Mood is the most diverse group, many of the others seem to pick bloggers with really similar styles in my mind.

  8. August 29, 2014 4:55 pm

    I came to some bloggers before they joined shop networks. I still enjoy their posts but not the ones promoting the shop. I’m suspicious of all advertorials, be it on a blog or in the mass media. As a consequence I’ve never bought anything from the shops! Plus, I live in Melbourne, Australia, near some excellent and very varied fabric shops.

    The Aus shop Tessuti run competitions where you have to buy a certain fabric from them and create something. Clever way to get people buying from them, but, the fabric they choose has yet to call to me. The prizes are good and I enjoy reading the competition posts on their blog. It did prompt me to go to their real shop a few times. Yet to buy anything, but haven’t needed something that only they have.

    I’m in two minds about referencing in blogs – is it enough to say which pattern/fabric shop you used? Should the blogger also link to them? I’m in the process of doing a research masters, so referencing appropriately really matters….

    • September 14, 2014 11:26 am

      I do reference stuff on my blog, and yeah, sometimes link to Amazon if the item I used can be bought there (though it’s MR who gets any referral pennies, not me). My rational for doing so is more to give credit where its due and also help anyone who want to try the same or similar stuff to do so easily. When I read other people’s blogs I find it frustrating if it’s only showcasing and not enabling me to make something similar if I find the project inspiring. Those posts then become just bragging / fashion posts, and even though I do like fashion, I don’t really subscribe to any of those blogs. Maybe that’s just my maker’s mind – I like tinkering with my hand. So for me, references are enabling. I don’t see it as advertising unless it has nothing to do with the content or it drags the entertainment / informational value of the content down. (Like there’s way too many beginners’ pattern & book reviews IMHO!)

  9. Kat permalink
    August 31, 2014 12:43 am

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here. It is really up to the blogger’s how they want to handle their own blogs. If you don’t like what they are doing or the projects they are involved in…..don’t follow them.

    You can say we are all exploiting the sewing bloggers. After all we all read them for inspiration, guidance, product reviews and tutorials. We pay nothing for their experience and knowledge. If they get free fabric, pattern or a book out of it……good for them.

    Honestly, I think the free fabric is a pretty good trade. If I were offered, I’d rather have the free fabric than have the hourly rate. The reason is because sewing is my hobby and not my job. I answer to a boss in my real job and it isn’t always fun. I don’t always have the freedom to complete projects the way I think they should be done. I wouldn’t want those type of (valid) restrictions on my sewing projects. So what you see as “undervaluing their time” I see as “valuing their freedom.”

    What’s sad is a lot of bloggers seem to be a bit worried about taking those opportunities because of feedback they are getting. That’s a shame. It makes the sewing world smaller for all of us when that happens. Think about it, there seems to be two major negative reactions….”you are a sellout” or “you are being taken advantage of by a “big” company.” Neither one of those attitudes is respectful to those bloggers. Trust that these ladies have enough intelligence and ethics to do what is right for them and to retain their honesty.

  10. September 5, 2014 8:25 am

    I have been sewing just under 2 years. I have already dropped some of the big bloggers from my readers because they are no longer “sewing” blogs. I want to read blogs that discuss the things they sew; the time, the adjustments, the fabric, the highs and lows…I don’t want to see 800 pretty pictures of you in 799 poses. I don’t want to read when every other post is sponsored. I want to (live & breathe) read about sewing! The process!!! :)

    I initially thought,”oooh I can’t wait until I have the time in, I’m going to apply for the Mood network!”. But I can sew up a STORM and then the minute you mention a deadline – ZAP. Gone. Done. No sew-jo. So if they like it and it works for them…so be it.

  11. September 8, 2014 12:32 pm

    I’ve been blogging 6 years and following blogs a year or two longer than that. It’s been absolutely fascinating to see the transformation. 7-8 years ago, the only sewing bloggers were mainly serious and experienced sewers really dedicated to the skill side of sewing. A few were really into unique styles and could get them only by sewing.

    Then there was an explosion — and, for good or bad, commercialization follows popular interest! First, it was everything under the sun geared to beginners. I learned stuff, but missed the high technical quality and expertise in the sea of beginner-everything.

    Then there was an explosion of the fashionable bloggers. It was interesting to see the wild popularity combined with tips and tutorials…and the inevitable criticism that these were beginners teaching beginners. And then sidebars filled with advertising….There was a ripple of confusion or discontent in the blogosphere, I think….we needed to reconcile with the idea that sewing skills are different from the skills of marketing, personality and sense of style.

    Next was the explosion of indie pattern makers. That’s been interesting to watch.

    And now, the explosion of networks or clubs that you’ve written about. It’s actually brilliant. Word of mouth advertising is very effective….until there is a glut of it. For my part, I kind of get bored with too many network or contest or challenge posts, and tend to skip over them. So, the advertising aspect isn’t working too well on me.

    In all of these categories, I’ve participated in some way or another, too.

    So FWIW, I think it’s possible (as you have done) to analyze and critique a social phenomenon without it being considered some sort of attack on people.

So, what do you think?

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