Looking back at this year’s Winter Needlecraft Market, I’m seeing some interesting trends both in products and in the industry. Most are fantastic and herald a resurgence of needlepoint. One however is bad and should be of concern to us all.
At first Christmas was the big holiday for needlepoint. Then Halloween got added to it. Now, along with a broader interpretation of Christmas themes and colors, two holidays are becoming more popular.
I’m seeing many more canvases with a fall/Thanksgiving theme. Most of these aren’t Thanksgiving per se, but more harvest-themed. That’s great because these designs could be used in the home from mid-September until the Christmas decorations come out.
For some, these colors are used in the home so these projects have a permanent place in the decor.
The second holiday growing in importance is Easter, but no in the sense of a religious holiday but in the sense of spring. There are lots of wonderful designs out there that use the traditional chicks, eggs, and carrots but in fun, fresh ways.
I like this expansion of needlepoint so it can be used all year.
One reason I switched to smaller needlepoint projects was that my husband didn’t like all those pillows. I think part of the problem was that pillow designs weren’t that exciting. Interior design, especially fabric design, has changed in the past 30+ years and now the needlepoint market is catching up. You find designs from companies such as Kelly Clark, DJ Designs, and Cooper Oaks that take these fabric trends and apply them to needlepoint canvases.
The result is lovely pieces that coordinate with your home.
Embellishment has been a popular technique in needlepoint for the last decade or so. It started with simple beads. The new embellishments that are coming out expand the possibilities. But they also need more skill and creativity in use. It isn’t too hard to add a bead to a canvas, but it takes more skill to attach a mental finding with no hole on top, or to find a way to integrate a patterned ribbon.
Unlike as was the case with threads where consumer demand led thread manufacturers to create new threads, the manufacturers are leading the way with embellishments. Expect that you’ll be seeing classes and projects incorporating these.
There have been articles recently about needlepoint growing (read the post about it here). Celebrities are even openly expressing their fondness for the craft.
In the past several years we’ve seen consolidation in needlepoint with several designers becoming distributed by other firms and with companies going to a second generation of owners.
This trend is now being reversed by an expansion in the market. Several companies have added new designers to their lines, often with a significant number of canvases. Still other designers have expanded their line of canvases. I can think of a couple. Kate Dickerson’s booth at this show was three times the size of her booth a year ago. And it was crammed with canvases. Other relatively new designers, Canvases by Barbi and Pippin Studio among others, also had larger booths and expanded lines.
For stitchers this expansion is a good thing. If we look back at the creation of new threads in the early 90’s, we saw an explosion in the kinds of stitches and effects that appeared on our canvases soon after. With this increase in the number of designers and canvases, we will see a corresponding expansion of new stitchers and new projects for stitchers. I may find it easier to find canvases for people in my family it’s been hard to stitch for. A friend who has been vaguely interested in needlepoint might start stiching because a product delights her heart.
In this, more is definitely better.
Licensing & Legality
I am seeing more and more companies creating canvases from works of other artists. They adapt some works to the form of needlepoint. Typically when this is done the designer gets a license to do so. There are some popular lines, Charley Harper for example, and some companies, Cooper Oaks for one, where this is an important part of the business.
But lately I’ve been seeing more and more instances of needlepoint companies using images or logos for which they do not have licenses. They might be using professional or college sports team logos (controlled very strictly). They might be bringing out canvases where another company has the license. They might be bringing out a “new” artist whose work is controlled by a company, agent, or foundation.
Using a work that is nicely designed and looks perfect for needlepoint is much easier than creating a new design from scratch. But when the company does this they open themselves for legal action, penalties and fines. Many of these companies pride themselves on their design skills and, often, original works make up large parts of their lines. But by doing this they are pulling the wool over our eyes.
I think about the while college needlepoint thing. It used to be that there was a company that properly licensed and sold needlepoint based on college logos and seals. But that was before college sports became big business. Today that company is no more, partly because every NCAA college is controlled by one licensing company for their sports logos (usually also the school’s logo). It cannot be used except by licensees and the fees are high. If you want to make collegiate canvases, look for something else, perhaps an iconic campus building, but not the mascot or logo. See those things and you can bet it’s not been properly licensed.
What it Means
As consumers and shopowners we need to be able to trust the companies that supply us with designs. Unless you can recognize similarities in style or know a decent amount about licensing, you are unlikely to recognize violations. Even for people trained in this, it can be hard to tell an illegal rendition from a perfectly acceptable inspiration.
And researching this matter can often be time-consuming. Therefore we need to trust the designers of needlepoint canvases. These days I find that a few companies are taking advantage of this trust. I don’t like this erosion of business ethics. It’s fueled by a wish to find new designs, by a desire to expand the business, and quite simply, by laziness.
While you and I might think “It’s old therefore I can use it;” this isn’t our a part of our company’s purpose. We don’t have to know that age is no guarantee that something is in the public domain. We don’t need to know whether we can legally sell an image as needlepoint.
For the needlepoint designer, this is their business. Can’t they take some time between getting the idea and creating the painted canvas model to find this out. They know how licensing works, they know the people and businesses in this industry. Why won’t they take a little time to be sure the designs they use can be used?
Needlepoint designers who illegally use licensed designs are counting on several things to evade paying the royalties they should pay:
- Needlepoint is ‘too small’ for anyone to notice.
- Stitchers and shopowners don’t care where the design comes from if it’s nice to stitch.
- If I have validly licensed artists no one will question whether new artists are licensed or not.
- It’s old, it can’t possibly be licensed.
Doing this is unethical and bad business. Doing this means that the company can’t be bothered to seek out new artists to license or to do proper diligence on these works. Doing this means they are depriving the artist or licensor (often charitable foundations or museums for older works) from their income and keeping it for themselves.
Is this the industry we want?
What to Do about it
Don’t assume. Just because one artist in a line is licensed, don’t figure they all are.
Ask the designer. Ethical designers should be able to tell you if the design is licensed.
Check the website, some designers say that lines are licensed.
Do a Google search on the artist’s name or on their name plus licensing. You’ll find ways to contact them or their agent’s name. Then email and ask.
Most of all, don’t buy questionable canvases.
Don’t forget to check the coverage: