F+W is shutting down Modern Patchwork, Cloth Paper Scissors, Quilty, and Knit.Wear magazines. The issues that are currently in production will be the last. Tiffany Warble, Director of Content, says the company is working on a plan for existing subscribers and a letter will be going out informing contributors later this week. A round of layoffs accompanied the closures.
General Manager David Pyle explained yesterday, “These were magazines that were considered to be not necessarily core to what we feel our strategy is going forward long term and they were also magazines that were not performing and delivering in a way that was sustainable.” He went on to say “the decision was not made based around the overall quality of the magazines” or the teams that produced them.
For many years F+W was in acquisition mode, buying up craft media brands. Now the company is winnowing down, steadily shuttering print magazines, reducing the number of books it produces annually, and shedding non-core operations. Among the art and craft magazines F+W has closed in the last few years are Stitch, Print, HOW, Love of Crochet, and Love of Knitting, as well as Quilters Newsletter, a magazine with a 47-year history that played a significant role in launching the quilting industry as we know it today.
The company has also undergone multiple leadership transitions. In January the board of directors ousted the executive team citing a need to accelerate digital growth. Hopes had been high back in 2016 when John Bolton was hired back as General Manager (he got a standing ovation the first day on the job). Bolton had been an early employee of Quilting Arts magazine, which Interweave acquired in 2007. He’d left the company in 2013 after F+W bought Interweave. But this August, after just two years back at F+W, Bolton left again.
Now, according to Pyle, F+W is trying to hone in on its core business: creating compelling media that its audience wants. This means closing down underperforming magazines. It also means “significantly scaling back” the ecommerce portion of the business. (In April the company sold off Keepsake Quilting, its catalog business and retail quilt shop.) And taking a hard look at the events portion of the business (F+W owns the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo and Interweave Yarn Fest, among others) about which Pyle says, “parts are working and parts are challenged.” And it involves stepping into new territory. F+W is getting ready to launch a podcast soon.
The Four Magazines
The four magazines on the chopping block this time around hold varying levels of importance to the craft community.
Quilty was originally founded by Mary Fons as an online television show in 2010. The magazine launched a year later and Fons served as its creative director and editor for four years until she left F+W in 2016 at which time Quilty ceased publication. F+W revived Quilty a year or so later without Fons’s input.
Fons describes the original incarnation of Quilty as “weird” and “off-beat.” The magazine featured her hand-drawn illustrations of Spooly, a personified spool of thread and says the writing had a tone of “chipper, respectful insouciance.” “That Quilty was as weird as it was within the soulless, corporate garbage fire is a point of pride,” Fons says. “Flowers, if they are tough, really can grow out of rubble.”
The second incarnation of Quilty had none of the spark of the original, according to Fons. “If you compare Quilty 1.0 with Quilty 2.0, this is plain. The publishers and editors thought putting a few exclamation points on the cover or having a vaguely chirpy tone in the quilt descriptions made Quilty 2.0 different from everything else out there in that genre. That’s idiotic. When Quilty 1.0 went away, that was too bad because weird is good. Unique is good. We lose nothing with the closing of the second iteration of Quilty.”
Cloth Paper Scissors, on the other hand, is a magazine that is beloved by mixed media artists. Its closure will represent a major loss. Artist Jane LaFazio was a frequent contributor. “Cloth Paper Scissors was a game changer for my career as a teaching artist,” she says. “My artwork was first published in the January/February 2007 issue and nearly two dozen times since then. ‘I saw your art in Cloth Paper Scissors’ was a frequent conversation started and each time I would beam with pride.”
“Cloth Paper Scissors was a magazine I read cover to cover, marking the pages of projects I wanted to try,” LaFazio says. “I saved all the issues for years. It was always a source of inspiration and education and introduction to my fellow artists around the world. It was the leader of the mixed media movement and I’m sorry to see it end.“
For many modern quilters, Modern Patchwork played an equally central role. “Recently a librarian at my public library asked me for a recommendation for a quilting magazine that they should carry,” says quilt designer Timna Tarr. “I gave her two names, one of which was Modern Patchwork. It’s one of the few quilt magazines that is informative to beginning and intermediate quilters while having a crisp, clear design.
For new designers getting published in Modern Patchwork was a way to build their resume, and for established designers used it as a testing ground for fresh ideas. “The very first quilt pattern I ever wrote was for Modern Patchwork. That pattern played a pivotal role in the launch of my business,” says designer Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio. “Without Modern Patchwork, there would certainly be fewer opportunities, especially for those just starting out professionally as quilt pattern designers or quilt writers who want to gain more experience.”
Malka Dubrawsky has published over a dozen patterns in the magazine. “For myself, this is a huge creative loss,” she says. “For the community of designers, Modern Patchwork was a great place to test a new idea, get feedback both from the editors and readers, and build on that exposure to self-publish later.”
Kate Gagnon Osborn, a knitwear designer and co-owner of the yarn company Kelbourne Woolens says, “I was incredibly excited when Knit.Wear was originally published by Interweave. I thought it was a perfect compliment to the more ‘traditional’ voice of Interweave Knits and loved the clean, modern styling. I’ll be sad to see the modern voice of Interweave going, as I think it was really important to the overall interest of the brand.”
Knit.Wear’s digital offshoot, Wool Studio, will continue. Pyle points to Wool Studio as an example of digital content that’s been able to successfully reach an audience in a way that legacy media couldn’t. It’s a model he’s hoping the company can replicate elsewhere.
Magazines Are Changing
It’s important to note that F+W isn’t the only publishing house closing down magazines. Earlier this year Meander Publishing shuttered Modern Quilts Unlimited and Machine Quilting Unlimited and last year XRX ceased publication of Knitter’s Magazine. Meanwhile, a new crop of independently published, ad-free craft magazines has risen up including Quiltfolk, Curated Quilts, Laine, and Making, among others. Fons is now Editor-in-Chief of Quiltfolk.
“I think the competition in this space has been fierce with independent publications taking front row,” says designer Michele Wang who has had patterns published in Knit.Wear. “It’s unfortunate that the larger media corporations haven’t been able to keep up with the times and set trends, but instead seem to be chasing after them.”
Pyle says he had a conversation last week with the owner of Quiltfolk about their business model. “Hats off to the Quiltfolk people. It’s a great product,” Pyle said. “Is it the kind of product that we need going forward? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
It’s possible that more magazine closures are coming, potentially in sewing. F+W’s sewing magazines include Sew News, Creative Machine Embroidery, Sew It All, Sew Daily, and Burda Style and there have already been layoffs in this department. “The sewing portion of the business is struggling,” Pyle said. “We believe there’s something viable here and something sustainable, but we need to look hard at what that truly is.”
Update October 15, 2018: According to a customer service email that is being sent out to current subscribers, a potential buyer has stepped forward for Modern Patchwork. The email, which is being sent out by Fulfillment Managers at F+W, reads, “Since we began planning to shut the magazine down, a potential buyer has stepped forward. We would prefer to sell the magazine and have it continue to serve its readers.”
Tiffany Warble, Director of Content, says she is not in a position to comment at this time.