Today I'm writing about a recent scandal with a major embroidery company about paying contributing artists, and how artists can best be supported. Read more to learn about the controversy over the DMC corporation, and my recommendations for 25+ embroidery patterns, books, kits, and original pieces available for purchase. You can go on social media and like all the posts you want, but at the end of the day, this doesn't generate a paycheck for artists. We eat and pay rent, too.
If you're immersed in the world of embroidery on social media, you've probably heard all about what's going on with popular embroidery floss and pattern company, DMC, and their failure to always pay artists for their work. This is bringing up a larger issue in the world of fiber + textile art, that of artists being exploited, copied by large corporations and other small businesses, and generally not receiving adequate compensation for the work they are contributing to the industry.
If you've been reading this blog for the past few months that I've been writing, you'll know that I fully advocate for artists receiving adequate compensation.
If you'd like to catch up on the controversy with DMC, check out Abby Glassenberg's articles for the Craft Industry Alliance, linked below.
In a nutshell, here's what's going on: DMC controls 60% of the embroidery floss and pattern market. They could use their monopoly to help fiber artists earn an income and be taken seriously, but instead asked artists to submit cross-stitch designs to a contest. The winner would have their pattern published online, but would not receive any monetary compensation. Several artists have submitted designs with slogans criticizing DMC's corporate greed and mentioning that exposure doesn't take care of basic needs the way only money can. Because of this backlash, DMC is now offering the contest winner a $500 cash prize, and the company will prioritize paid partnerships with artists in the future. They can certainly afford to do so.
That being said, I talked to a few artists who had worked with DMC in the past. The perspectives were mixed. Here's what they had to say:
"I was actually paid for my patterns -- it makes me feel sad that other artists weren't! [...] I should note, however, it was not much -- far less than I would usually create designs for. But I was excited about the exposure and getting to see my artwork in that form, especially since I am not an embroidery artist. I only designed the artwork, and DMC's team turned them into embroidered patterns. I was able to negotiate with them about usage and ownership, which is something I'd encourage all artists to do when when contacted by a large company. In my contract, I had them change the terms so I own the copyright of my artwork, and they are paying me for the unlimited rights to use that artwork for embroidery related patterns. [...] Contracts can be really intimidating, but if a company really wants to work with you, they should be willing to adjust things slightly... ESPECIALLY if payment isn't a part of it. An artist should always demand that they keep the copyright."
"I let DMC use one of my original embroideries for a pattern. They released the pattern on their website but did not provide a link to my own website. At the time I was so honored that a big company wanted to give me exposure. But in hindsight, I felt exploited. I wish I would have said no, because honestly it hasn't helped my business much."
"The exposure from DMC using one of my designs was phenomenal. I would do it again and again, even without being paid (I wasn't). DMC also posted about me on their instagram, which led to a huge boost in followers and engagement."
I spoke to another prominent artist in the community, who has worked with DMC in the past. She agrees that no one should do work without getting paid; with the caveat that if they agree to work for exposure, they cannot blame DMC for continuing to ask artists to do this. However, you can always say no and continue to pursue and advocate for paid opportunities.
Here's what I have to say about this whole thing, from my own perspective. In any career field, you have to do some unpaid work to get your foot in the door. When I was working in the environmental field, I worked hundreds of hours on unpaid internships. This allowed me to gain skills, learn an incredible amount, network with other professionals, and develop a reputation in the community. By doing these unpaid internships, I gained an edge over other applicants when applying for "real" jobs. That being said, there's a few caveats. Just because that's how the job market works, doesn't mean that it should be. In addition to unpaid internships I still worked 30 hours a week AND went to school full-time. I was probably spread too thin. I made it out alive, though, but it turns out the environmental field exploits labor in other ways, so I transitioned careers. In the embroidery world, I have never worked for free, but I have exchanged some content for exposure. In the beginning, this helped a lot. In the beginning, like 2015ish, I was still working a part time job and working on my master's degree, so I wasn't worried about income. Embroidery was my side hustle.
I'm not new to the embroidery or quilting world, and I still sometimes trade content for exposure. It can be helpful. Sometimes. I've learned to be more intentional about the work that I provide for free. For example, sometimes I pattern test quilts and review the patterns on my blog. This is a free service that helps out other artists in the quilting world. Sometimes other quilters help me out in the same way, and I don't pay them, because I can't afford to. I do, however, make sure that a pattern tester is benefitting from helping me. I'm looking into more ways to make this process beneficial for participants, because I'm still not at a point that I can pay quilters for their feedback. I'm a one woman show, though. If I was a big corporation, like DMC or any other, I would definitely have the means to pay artists for their contributions. I don't think there is ANY excuse for a large conglomerate to pay artists in "exposure".
When working for exposure, I make sure to balance these projects with ones that help me actually pay my bills. Right now, working for exposure is more cost-effective than paying for advertising.
When DMC put out the call for embroidery and cross-stitched patterns, many artists felt exploited. I think the response was appropriate. A company who could pay a contest winner, should. No doubt. As far as exposure, I think that DMC gives so much to the fiber artist community by reposting work on instagram. Given, this is so that they can convince people to buy more thread, but I do think this helps the artist. This kind of exposure is the kind that I'm personally okay with getting without monetary compensation, but when working with major companies, I think this is where the line should be drawn.
If you take away anything from this... know that if you are asked to work for free, you can say no. It may feel really uncomfortable, but you can respond with a rate sheet. You can negotiate a contract, or walk away. You can be transparent about the process to empower other artists that may feel pressured to receive less than they are worth just because it's better than nothing. Your work as a fiber + textile artist is 100% valid and deserving of a paycheck. We can end this starving artist trope.
Furthermore, I recommend shying away from free patterns, if you can. Most embroidery patterns are less than ten dollars, and books are usually around twenty dollars for multiple projects. Below, I've provided some links to embroidery patterns, books, kits, and premade embroidered wall art by small, woman-powered businesses. All of the images are clickable links that will take your directly to the artist.
Recently, embroidery patterns have exploded in popularity along with the modern embroidery movement and that is just too rad for words. Take the artist Sarah K. Benning for example. She travels around the world teaching embroidery workshops, and has sold more than 15,000 patterns. Plus, more than a thousand five star reviews can't be wrong. Her patterns are amazing.
Here are a couple more cool patterns by Etsy sellers (click photo to go to their shop):
I've linked to some rad embroidery kits below. These aren't sponsored, I just think they're cool. Kits are a great way to start learning embroidery, because all the supplies are included. They also make great gifts.
I will be coming out with a monthly series of Quilt Block inspired embroidery kits, stay tuned! If you want to make sure you don't miss out, please sign up for my weekly newsletter with the form at the bottom of the page.
One of the many cool things about the online community of stitchers on Instagram is seeing each other grow. Over the years I've seen a few of my internet pals publish books and that is SO amazing.
The most recent new embroidery author is Kristen Gula of GulushThreads. I've been following Kristen for years on Instagram. She's one of the people who first inspired me to pick up embroidery again, a craft I had learned as a kid. Kristen is the epitome of what it means to be a girl boss, and I admire her so much. No joke I preordered her book, 200 Embroidered Flowers, a few minutes after she made the announcement about it. I'm so stoked.
On her blog, Kristen writes, "Since flowers have always been a big part of my heart (I once dreamt about being a florist), this book makes the perfect resource for anyone wanting to dive headfirst into modern floral hand embroidery, the Gulush way. Not only do you get patterns for 200 FLOWERS/PLANTS, but you also get the how-to on how to take modern floral embroidery to the next level with 10 PROJECTS." I agree. If you want to learn to embroider the most beautiful bouquets ever, this book is for you.
**the books are affilliate links, if you buy them I may collect a small portion of the sale at no extra cost to you. Affiliate income helps me pay the bills so I can continue bringing you free content. Other than the amazon links to books, none of the other recommendations are sponsored, nor did any artist approach me about featuring their work.
While selling patterns and kits for embroidery is on the rise, as more people want to try their hand at the craft, I think most of us started out by selling finished embroideries and continue to do so alongside patterns. If DIY embroidery isn't in your wheelhouse or interest (or even if it is), I recommend purchasing some original artwork for your walls.
I'm sharing these alongside patterns, kits, and books with the trust in you that you won't copy any artist's work that is not available in a DIY version. You MUST respect artists. You must, you must, you must. There's a circle in hell for people who rip of other people's work. I don't care if you're ~inspired~ by someone's original work, if there isn't a pattern, DO NOT COPY IT. I know, this sounds like common sense, but it happens so often that I have to say it. Pay artists for their work. PERIOD.
Lauren Holton of Lark Rising Embroidery is a local artist, to me. She works out of Seattle, WA, about an hour north of where I'm located in Centralia, WA. I adore this brooch.
Lauren Singleton of Yes Stitch Yes is a force of nature. Her work is provocative, original, revolutionary, you name it. She inspires me every day with her unique style and fearlessness. Her work has been on my wishlist for a long time. If I could, I would hang something of hers in every room of the house. She is from Brooklyn, New York.
Kate Beardmore of Tusk and Twine is a fiber artist in the UK. Her work is so amazing. Kate, please start selling prints of your work, too!
I currently sell my finished embroideries online and at Gallery Boom in Olympia. I also do commissions based on previous work or new original ideas; you can view my portfolio here.
here's some of my most recent work:
And that's a wrap!