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Conversational Threads

Thoughts from Threads’ Managing Editor

JeffersonKolle | Posted in Feedback on Threads on

Hello, my name is Jefferson Kolle, and I have been the managing editor of Threads since October. So far, I’ve worked on three issues of the magazine, including issue #119, which we are sending to the printer today.

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I’ve read with interest the postings on Gatherings and have paid particular attention to all the discussions about what is wrong and about what it right with the magazine. At the Taunton Press we’ve always believed that we publish our magazines for you, our readers, and as such, it really is your magazine as much as it is ours. That’s why we send out reader surveys after each issue and why we pay attention to what you tell us in forums such as Gatherings.

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If you look at the cover of Threads you’ll see a tagline just above the title: It says, “For people who love to sew.”

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The tagline doesn’t say, “For people who have been sewing for over 30 years,” nor does it say, “ For people who are just beginning to explore the wonderful, exciting, creative world of sewing.”

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It might help to think of Threads as a community of sewers—a huge sewing circle of 150,000 plus members. Or think of it as a huge one-room school house. In that giant room there are members who’ve sewn for 50 years, members who are only interested in sewing wedding gowns, members who sew wearable art, members who have just bought their first machine members, members who are teachers, and on and on. Along with this diversity are commonalities, too. All of you love to sew and all of you love to learn about sewing.

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It’s common for magazine editors to hear that they’ve dumbed down a magazine, and we usually bristle at the idea. In the last decade, largely due to the influence of the internet, access to hundreds of cable TV channels, and the fact that most of us have less free time than ever before, magazines have changed. Rather than “dumbed down” we like to say that we’ve made our information more accessible. I think you’d agree that in Threads (and other magazines) you don’t have to hunt as far or as long for information as you used to. We’ve speeded up the learning curve.

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Back to the idea of community for a minute—and this will further address the “dumbing-down” thing. Think back to when you were a beginning sewer—better yet, think back to when you were in first grade. You weren’t dumb in first grade, anymore than you were dumb in 5th, 6th, 7th, high school college or beyond. But I’ll bet that you were hungry for information in every grade, and what you learned in school got more challenging every year. If you’d started school with a seventh-grade curriculum, you’d have been baffled and bored (if not panicked) pretty quickly.

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Now think of the person who taught you to sew—your mom, grandmother, whoever. Remember the first time you attempted to set in a sleeve. Did your mentor say that you were dumb because you hadn’t set in a sleeve before? Did she call you dumb when you asked what to do with a hook and eye? I doubt it, and if she did, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t still be sewing today.

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There are fewer home sewers than there used to be. Our demographic surveys tell us that. The community is shrinking, in large part because there are few new sewers willing to tackle the intricacies of things like setting in sleeves without fun, reliable, indisputable information. And that’s where our community comes in.

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To those of you who’ve complained that there is too much beginners’ information in Threads, take heart: In upcoming issues you’ll see that there is also more information for the advanced expert sewer too. There will also be lots of new departments and new ways that we’ll provide information—for sewers of all skill levels. We’re making a better magazine, and the result will be a stronger community in which you will all feel welcome to communicate, cooperate, and in no small way, to learn. Finally, I want to assure that the quality of information in the articles, the departments, the photographs and the drawing will continue to be the best in the whole, wide, creative, inspirational world of sewing.

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I look forward and welcome your responses. Please email me at [email protected]. Thanks for listening. I’ll be listening too.

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Happy sewing,

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Jefferson Kolle

Managing Editor, Threads

Replies

  1. Jean | | #1

    How good of you to respond here. That proves the Taunton folks are paying attention. What a demanding job you have, trying to publish a Fine magazine that is all things to all people. Good luck to you. I'm keeping my subscription, BTW, and I have kept every issue since #1.  I just wish I'd been more interested in Fine Cooking back then.

    PS, I love your nickname.

  2. kjp | | #2

    Wow!  Good to know that you are listening to all of us!  I, too, still love Threads and have no desire to cancel my subscription.  There is no other sewing magazine which does it so well.  The one thing which you did not address in your letter is the machine embroidery articles.  I think that others have made some excellent points that there are other magazines which cover that well.   Many of us do not have embroidery machines.  I personally don't give those articles a glance.  I might like to purchase an embroidery machine someday, but I doubt those articles will be ones I refer to in the future as I do for so many of Threads past articles.  It might be interesting to do a reader survey to find out how many of us have the machines and are doing machine embroidery. 

    Keep up the good work and welcome!  Karin

    1. ChrisHaynes | | #16

      kjp wrote:  "...  The one thing which you did not address in your letter is the machine embroidery articles.  I think that others have made some excellent points that there are other magazines which cover that well.   Many of us do not have embroidery machines.  I personally don't give those articles a glance.  ..." 

      Actually, I feel the same way about quilting.  I tried it once (for a school auction project, helping the person who was a quilter) and I hated it.  I will never make a quilt.  I admire quilts and am amazed at the talent that went into them.  But I will NEVER ever make one, or attempt one.

      But would I want Threads to toss out all the quilting articles.  No.

      I feel the same way about knitting.  Once upon a time Threads had lots of knitting articles.  I just ignored them.

      But I do own an embroidery machine.  It was an impulse buy when I saw a used PE-100 for $200.  Then I paid 3 times as much for the software -- which is what I am working on learning.

      So I do not mind having one article per issue on embroidery, and I am not really interested getting anymore magazines in my house. 

      I also have scanned issues of embroidery magazines at my local book store.  I was not impressed.  They were definitely hum-drum, doudy and without the technical expertize we have become accompased to with Threads.

      1. kjp | | #17

        I must have ignored any quilting articles, too!  I didn't think Threads was still including any unless they related to garment sewing.  I did take out an old compilation of knitting articles from the library this year.  Such fun to read!  Please don't think I'm saying throw out the embroidery articles, just that they should be sure that a good percentage of their readership is reading them and finds them useful.  Most of the sewers that I know don't do much with machine embroidery.  I would love to own one of the new berninas, but that's a pipe dream for me right now. 

        1. CarolFresia | | #18

          Chris is correct in noting that we have been including less on quilting in the past year. We'll continue to publish the occasional article on quilting as it pertains to quilted clothing--no bedspreads or wall hangings. Similarly, our plans for machine embroidery are to feature it when it's germane to a specific embellishment technique. We're aware that not all our readers have these machines, and we don't want to inundate them with material that has no use whatsoever to them.

          Given the current trends in fashion for embellishment, texture, and surface design, both quilted garments and embroidery will remain in the mix, especially when we discover a really great technique or application that's new to us.

          Carol

          1. Loomchick | | #19

            Carol wrote - We'll continue to publish the occasional article on quilting as it pertains to quilted clothingWhen I read this, I was reminded that the winning fashion designer of Bravo's "Project Runway", Jay McCarroll, incorporated quilting into some of his fashions that were in his final runway show during Fashion Week in New York. It really piqued my interest in application of quilting techniques for garments.

          2. CarolFresia | | #20

            I liked his collection. He used not just quilting, but also patchwork, and to me it looked funky and interesting rather than frumpy.

            Carol

          3. Loomchick | | #21

            I agree! I would love to see some close-up images of his fashions . . . reminds me of the time I got into trouble at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and almost got kicked out for leaning over the rail too far (several times) to look at the back of a garment . . . the alarm kept going off and security didn't understand why I was interested in seeing the back of the garment I always appreciate fashions that show design also went into the back of the garment . . . so often, design is concentrated on the front . . . maybe that's why I liked Julia Robert's vintage Valentino gown at the Academy Awards . . . wedding gowns also are known for incorporating intriguing ideas into the back.

          4. CarolFresia | | #22

            I always wish that the wall text at museum exhibitions would talk more about the construction of the garment; I'm interested in the history and the style of the garment, but usually I also want to know what's holding it together. But I realize that there's limited space on the wall cards, and the average viewer doesn't care all that much about the construction details.

            Carol

  3. Bernice | | #3

    Thanks for your input and participation here.  Just a few comments/observations...

    "If you look at the cover of Threads you’ll see a tagline just above the title: It says, “For people who love to sew.”

     The tagline doesn’t say, “For people who have been sewing for over 30 years,” nor does it say, “ For people who are just beginning to explore the wonderful, exciting, creative world of sewing.”"

     

    You're absolutely right.  And people who are just beginning to explore the .... world of sewing aren't people who love to sew (though we hope they'll grow to be)... at least not yet.  Yet it does seem that the complexity of articles/details or amount of more basic information is skewing toward them.

     

    As far as "dumbing down" - if someone will please provide a more appropriate term I'll be happy to use it as I don't want to imply that anyone is dumb either because they're a new sewer or because a technique is new to them.  But without reading a word it is visually obvious that the magazine articles have been simplified, presumably to accomodate those who read less or less thoroughly  or are less commitment to getting all the information they can.  It certainly goes along with the overall simplifying of literature and media in America (I was flipping through some old 30's - 50's magazines one day and wow!  Did this phenomena ever leap out at me!).

     

    To confirm I wasn't imagining it, I pulled some old Threads issues.  I don't have first issues, but I can definitely see the changes in 1995 issues.  Looking at the Dec. '94/Jan. '95 issue, article columns are, in general wider, and lines of type are closer together.  I compared to a 2003 issue... then started glancing back.  By the end of 1995 issues the columns were narrower and type lines further apart.  What does this mean?  That in the earlier issue cited, you got more to read for every inch of article - wider columns mean more words and closer spaced type means more lines/words per inch.  Articles were meatier.  I know that opening up the space and making columns shorter makes it easier to read or read through more quickly - what I'd like to know is if there was research conducted that led to these changes.... because, and again, please provide a better term than this, this is a classic example of how reading materials are "dumbed down" - not talking to someone like they're dumb but requiring less of them in general and requiring them to consume less information in the same amount of space.  

     

    I am not as concerned with the content/direction I see with articles in the magazine as with the fact that, combined with the above changes, it makes it an overall more simple publication.

  4. bel | | #4

    Hi

    This is my first posting even though I've watched with interest for some time and especially the 'recent issues are a real disappointment'. I'm an Australian sewer, mum, and manager with a background in industry and trade policy among other things.

    I've subscribed to Threads for 3 years, have been buying it for several more (I'd haunt my newsagent 'til it arrived), and recently subscribed for a further 3 years. And about a years ago invested in as many back issues as I could afford! A huge box arrived by seamail a couple of months after my order, and I was like a pig in mud!

    I have to say, even though I enjoyed all of them, reading many of the back issues for the first time ever really gave me a lot more pleasure than most of the new issues in the last 12 months. The new editions got a cursory look through and sat to one side until I'd digested as much as I could from the more-enticing back issues. 

    Referring to your suggestion:

    Think back to when you were a beginning sewer—better yet, think back to when you were in first grade. You weren’t dumb in first grade, anymore than you were dumb in 5th, 6th, 7th, high school college or beyond. But I’ll bet that you were hungry for information in every grade, and what you learned in school got more challenging every year. If you’d started school with a seventh-grade curriculum, you’d have been baffled and bored (if not panicked) pretty quickly.

    I just wish I was a publisher as well as a sewer, because I think what's happening at the moment is that a new publishing opportunity is opening up which picks up on the skill and idea-hungry market that's been fed by Threads (internationally in the English-reading world!) but probably isn't being satisfied entirely by Threads anymore. 

    That's because the demand is changing and widening in a way that (sadly) can't be satisfied by one magazine whose editors have to make difficult choices to maintain a broad baseline readership. In the absence of any other good entry-level publications to entice readers on to more complex it seems to me the editors are choosing 'accessibility' over 'depth' (maintaining a readership that sits at the broad base of a pyramid, if you like, rather than the narrower layers above that and certainly not the smaller pointy part at the top).

    A reasonable business decision. But perhaps one that leaves those of us not entirely in the base of the pyramid disappointed that our craving for something more satisfying remains unmet.

    The magazine hasn't been able to grow with it's historic readership and probably won't be able to if it positions itself in the bottom layers of the market pyramid.

    I don't like the choices you're making, they don't meet my needs as much as I'd like, but to be fair I understand why you'd need to make them. I would like to see a more frank and less defensive (and even less patronising) account of these choices, but hell, I can't recall any other business that wasn't publicly listed and accountable to shareholders doing that. So really, why should you guys?

    So, the gap in the market not being met by Threads creates an interesting- albeit probably boutique - publishing opportunity.

    For the time being, I'll keep subscribing to Threads, because it's the best publication available, I enjoy it (just not as much as I used to). But if I find myself not opening my copy of Threads before I open my bills when they arrive together in the mail, I'll reconsider the value of my subscription.

    So if there ARE spies lurking...or if Threads would consider a "college and beyond" type of mag - perhaps quarterly, even at a higher price but with some consistently inspiring guts to it, that Threads entry-level readers could 'graduate' to...here's an advance subscription commitment from me!



    Edited 4/2/2005 9:44 pm ET by bel

    1. Elisabeth | | #5

      Perhaps something like "Fine Dressmaking".

    2. ElonaM | | #6

      Well said, bel and bernice!Although I'd like to see more rarified stuff, the fact is that the market that supported those jewel-like early issues has shrunk drastically. I learned to sew because I lived on a ranch as a child. That was long enough ago that the US was predominantly rural, 4-H clubs thrived, and the schools required home ec. The times are different now, and Threads is trying to find a middle ground that is financially viable.It's still the best game in town, even though the playing field has changed. Drat.

  5. susanna | | #7

    Good job, Jefferson. I appreciate the fact that you have listened and are flexible but won't back down from the concept of sewing community. In a community, things work a lot better without rank and privilege dictating who gets what, in my opinion. We are all earning our way along as we learn and to heck with resting on our laurels. It would be nice to have a Fine Dressmaking mag or section of your mag, but you know, it would be even nicer if beginners felt appreciated and helped by those who have lots more experience. To that end, I'm wondering if you would consider a feature that incorporates a garment made using beginner, intermediate, advanced, and maybe couture methods and examples of each.  

     

    1. kiwi1 | | #25

      That is such a good idea.  If the article covered a range of expertise, we could all learn something new from it.  Perhaps show three different ways of interfacing a jacket - from horsehair to fusibles.

      1. SewTruTerry | | #26

        Ok Now I am going to add my 2 cents worth.  I really enjoy Threads Magazine and other publications even if it sounds like things are being dumbed down. Since I am a busy mom as well as having my own sewing business I find that the articles are perfect to read during swim meets when my swimmer is not swimming or during the period that I am waiting at the doctors office. I also have to say that for the most part I do not go out of my way to copy exactly what I see in Threads or any other magazine whether it be a fashion magazine like Vogue or another sewing magazine.  What I like best is the inspiration that I recieve and sometimes the permission that I get by taking various techniques like quilting and using it in a garment.  I recently bought some wonderful quilted material and made a denim style jacket that looks very much like it was sewn by a well known purse maker and have gotten lots of comments on it.  I would not have had the courage to do this without articles in Threads that talked about quilting, seam binding, top stitching or buttonhole how to's that gave the basics.  Threads I say keep it coming and keep me inspired.

  6. peg | | #8

    Threads Premier Issue Oct/Nov 1985 featured an article "Inside An Expensive

    Outfit" by Mary Galpin. The outfit was designed by Geoffrey Beene. Metropolitan

    Opera costumer, tailor David Dobsevage gave a detailed dissection of this three

    piece outfit.  The article showed the meticulous care used in matching the plaid, 

    handling double cloth seams etc and the techniques used in the construction of

    this garment.

    Perhaps Threads could feature a few times a year a designers's garment showing

    the couture techniques and finishing used in its construction.

    Designers for example: Pauline Trigere, Norman Norell, Bill Blass etc.

    All good wishes.

    1. Loomchick | | #9

      Peg wrote . . . Threads Premier Issue Oct/Nov 1985 featured an article "Inside An Expensive Outfit" by Mary Galpin.Thank you, Peg!I would love to get a copy of this article . . . Does anyone have a copy of the 1985 Oct/Nov they'd like to get rid of . . . or could make me a copy and mail it to me? I'd be happy to send a set of four handwoven coasters in return.Thanks!

      1. rekha | | #10

        >>or could make me a copy and mail it to me

        This could be a sore legal point but check it out.

      2. Jean | | #11
  7. Teaf | | #12

    Thank you for checking in and posting on the discussions board; otherwise, we readers would have no idea why and how the magazine is changing.

    I agree with your comments about inclusiveness; although I've been sewing forever, I often find Threads articles about the basics useful, either because of a gap in my experience or because the techniques and fabrics have changed.

    Do the editors peruse the most active online discussions? It's easy to spot patterns of questions and "hot topics," those that a large number of readers are grappling with and that might be welcomed in future issues.

    Recent examples include gaping necklines, lining sheers, and hemming bias cut garments; if sewers are interested enough to participate in discussions on these topics, they are very likely to appreciate terrific Threads articles on them!

    1. HeartFire | | #13

      What is wrong with the idea of Threads Magazine being for the high end couture/advanced dressmaker?? there are other magazines that address the beginer. By far, the larger majority of people writing in are asking for more advanced, more thorough instructions. There is nothing wrong with specializing the magazine towards those of us that want this. I don't think you would loose readership from the beginers if you did this, but as it stands, it does seem like you will loose the readership of the more advanced sewer. I've been a subscriber since around issue number 50, but am now thinking of droping my subscription as it doesn't seem to peek my interest any more
      Judy

      1. rekha | | #14

        It might be a good time for Threads to run a survey to make that sort of decision. Personally, I love the magazine for, apart from the presentation and lovely finish, details I still am not able to find in books.

        1. Beth | | #15

          I have been following these discussions on Threads contents and just feel like I must chime in. The magazine is useful and I plan to continue my subscription. Articles on sewing techniques such as topstitching are timely. RTW was showing topstitching around the time of the article. Another example is the article on fringing. Fringing is still fashionable. Going back and referring to previous articles has been helpful and continues to be.

          The problem I see with copying high end designer clothing is obtaining suitable fabric. As a practical person, I don't see how to translate the fashions if I am unable to obtain suitable fabric.

          Elizabeth

      2. vocrn | | #28

        Judy - I think that I would like to see threads include articles that take us to the higher level. I, for one, am well beyond beginner, but terrified by trying the really high level that calls to me like the Sirens - so it would be great for me to see in Threads the goal, and the information about how to make the leap.

  8. RParrill | | #23

    I liked your schoolhouse reference. It actually brings up a very good point. I like to think of Threads as an educational magazine. I am a serious sewer. SERIOUS. I'm neck deep in the industry and have often used techniques and shortcuts learned from Threads in my job. I work for an upholstery shop that does a lot of business with designers. I often have to use dressmaking skills to please them, or to execute an idea. Beyond that, I sew everyday, like an obsession. If Threads is for people who love to sew, then that's me. That being said, the schoolhouse reference made me think about Threads as an actual sewing class. I would not sign up for and attend a beginner's sewing class. It would do me no good. Should I read a magazine that has become its equivalent? Maybe. I guess the question that must be answered is this: Which group of sewers generates more money? Frankly, I really don't see new sewers spending more than I , or others like me on sewing related items, including Threads. I think people who love to sew are drawn to challenges. Making a tool that should be saturated with ideas into a sterile how- to book to please people who may or may not be sewing a year from now is, in my opinion, unwise.

    The truth is, I will not cancel my subscription. I will continue to receive and read Threads. Whether it is with indifference or inspiration is up to you.

  9. seamster | | #24

    I read with interest your reply to the  many Threads readers about the dumbing down of the magazine.  You agreed that there are not many new people becoming sewers.  So, that leaves the rest of us who have been sewing for many years and are somewhat more advanced than a beginning sewer.  I have written a few emails to Threads asking for more articles such as the Masters Class and  and less on the crafts/embroidery information.  I'm glad to see that I am not alone in wanting to see Threads grow along with us with at least one advanced article per issue to keep our interest.  I'll be looking forward to the future issues which you assure will be more to our liking.      SEAMSTER

  10. vocrn | | #27

    Now think of the person who taught you to sew—your mom, grandmother, whoever. Remember the first time you attempted to set in a sleeve. Did your mentor say that you were dumb because you hadn’t set in a sleeve before? Did she call you dumb when you asked what to do with a hook and eye? I doubt it, and if she did, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t still be sewing today.

     

    Actually - she did, but I was stubborn and kept at it - usually when she wasn't home...and learned to carefully follow directions/patterns and garner outside information. Probably why I learn best by reading, someone starts talking to me, and 40 years later, I still get so tense that I can't grasp the directions. And I have become a better sewer than she was...and yes I still love her just as much!

     

    Why do I tell this story...to tell Taunton Press why I need this magazine to take me to the next step, to find solutions to my problems.

     

    I would like to see more articles like the one from about 3 years ago that helped me to buy what is the perfect machine for me...for the skills I had when I bought it, and for the ones I kept dreaming of having.  

  11. FrancesC | | #29

    The problem is that Threads has narrowed its focus too much.

    It was about the needle arts, not dressmaking only. Even when I knew that the subject of an article was something I would never try, I found interest in just reading about it.

    My favourite back-cover illustration is on #12, and is called "Candy's Sampler". Those of you who have way-back issues should go look it up and tell us what you think. (Maybe Threads could show it again).

    In the process of searching for that illustration, I found another favourite, the miniature weaving studio, on #39. And an article in that issue is about making buttons and beads with polymer clay, surely of interest to sewers who want something unique to decorate their creations.

    Probably we could continue to avoid articles on knitting but I think that the editors should go back to the wider focus of the past.

    By the way, the back cover illustrations are highlights of each issue, for me.

    Frances C.

  12. ablakemo | | #30

    GREAT RESPONSE! I agree!

    It's hard when you only hear negative feedback, so I thought I'd let you know that there are those of us who REALLY look forward to each issue and have turned their friends onto the magazine as well. Keep up the good work!

    1. HC | | #31

      Threads is still my favorite magazine, and one I usually read from cover to cover as soon as I get it. I am hoping for more articles on couture techniques and embellishments, as well as on creative uses of sewing machine feet. Thank you for many years of reading (and sewing) pleasure.

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