Needlework FAQ: Competitions, Selling Designs or Needlework

Kathleen Dyer --
Sunday, March 20, 2005

Copyright © 1994-2005 Kathleen Dyer
All Rights Reserved.
Permission is granted to redistribute this article in its entirety for noncommercial use provided that this copyright notice is not removed or altered and that no portion of this work is sold either by itself or as part of a larger work without the express written permission of the author.

Table of Contents

1. Entering Competitions

2. Comments on Selling Finished Products

3. Designing as A Business

A. About the Needlework FAQs

A.1 General Comments
A.2 How to Find the FAQs

1. Entering Competitions

If you plan on entering a project in competition, the best policy is to find out the specific rules for that competition. But for those cases where you don't decide to enter until the piece is well under way, it can help to keep some commonplace rules in mind. Below is a general list of "what judges look for" in an award winning counted cross stitch picture. Many of the rules also apply to other forms of needlework.

Liz Bell <> worked at the competition registration desk during the 1995 Spirit of Cross Stitch Festival. She had the opportunity to follow the judges around and ask questions about what they look for in competition pieces. Here is what she learned...

If you ever use colored fabric to stitch on and frame the piece using a white mat board under the fabric, BE SURE to use a like colored fabric underneath your stitched piece to cover up the white mat board. Since competition pieces are ALL so good, judges have to really get picky and the shine from a white mat board can definately cost you a blue ribbon.

Make sure NO threads on the backside are visible on the front. I saw several pieces get "disqualified" because threads were visible.

Make sure x's are ALWAYS crossed in the same direction.

Make sure the 2 threads lay side by side when stitched and not wrapped around each other. By the way, Jean mentioned that this is why stitchers wind up with one thread shorter than the other...I think there was some discussion about this a while back. Jean mentioned a laying tool should even be used when x-stitching to make sure your stitches are smooth.

Make sure your stitches go through the holes and do not pierce the fabric unless, of course they are 1/4 or 3/4 stitches.

Make sure you keep your stitching going in the direction, ESPECIALLY if you are covering a large area with the same color. A beautiful L&L bride was eliminated because most of the white wedding dress was stitched horizontally. The stitcher, for some reason, changed to stitching vertically at the bottom of the dress. The result of this change of direction was that there was a line in the dress as obvious as if someone had drawn a black line on the piece with a marker.

If you frame your competition piece and use glass, make sure there are NO smudges on the glass and NO pieces of lint, etc., ANYWHERE under the glass.

Make sure your piece is absolutely clean and pressed. When pressing, however, make sure the stitches are not flattened. You can do this by pressing from the backside and putting a towel under the frontside.

When registering a piece in the SOCS Festival competition, make sure you know the name of your piece and who the designer/publisher are. An EXQUISITE Madonna (Mary, not the singer :) ) that looked like it had been charted from an Old Master's painting, 32 count (I think) stitched over 1 (yes, ONE), undoubtedly would have taken the grandest of grand prizes but was disqualified because the stitcher did not know the above information. We were all grief-stricken for the stitcher, but rules are rules!

Unless you are VERY GOOD at framing your piece, take it to a professional. And make sure the professional frames it correctly. The fabric must be stretched evenly so that no threads, either stitched or fabric, are wavey. If your piece is padded, make sure the framer takes the padding all the way to the edges and corners. Also, make sure the padding stops at the edge of the mat, if one is used. I saw a piece where the padding stopped correctly at the edge of the mat on the left, but went under the mat on the right.

If you're doing an afghan and don't have equally pretty stitches on the back, use something to back the afghan with. One lady used another afghan, which was really nice, and one (who won a prize) used a compatible piece of fabric to back it and make ruffled edges. It also had quilt batting in the inside.

When doing bellpulls, make sure the backing fabric is heavy enough to give the bellpull body. A flimsy bellpull doesn't impress judges. Also, make sure the edges and seams do not "wobble" or pucker. Make sure the hardware used is appropriate for the piece.

When doing the "standing" pieces, a nativity scene or stuffed santa's, etc., make sure the seams are smooth and do not pucker. Use of some kind of cord in the seam to hide puckers in curves is appreciated by judges.

Oh, I almost forgot...make sure the FRAME is appropriate for the stitched piece. They will kick a piece out if the frame is "dorky" and doesn't match the design. Judges like unique seems to catch their eye.

2. Comments on Selling Finished Products

The consensus in this new group is that it is difficult to sell good quality, handmade items at a price that reflects the time spent making them. Most stitchers view their work as a labor of love, and distribute their items as gifts. A few people stitch models for craft stores in exchange for a small amount of money and/or a discount on supplies from the store. An even smaller number of people manage to establish themselves as artists, designing their own patterns and displaying the models in galleries or special niche market auctions.

Below are some extracts from postings about this topic.

From: Marina Salume <quiltnut@marny.Corp.Sun.COM>...

...In general, there is no market for needlework like this, unless you can establish yourself as an "artist", which means you'd have to design your own patterns and make them in very limited editions. You'd either get a gallery to represent you or make things on commission. Take a look at magazines like FiberArts and Ornament, they show lots of this type of work, altho not many people are working exclusively in cross stitch. (i've seen things done in millions of French knots tho, which seems similar).

There is probably a market for reproductions of antique samplers, tho. Since the real antique ones sell for hundreds of dollars, if you can make good copies you can probably sell them in antique shops.

Quick ornaments are sold everywhere, here you are competing with things made in mass quantities in the Orient by women who work for pennies a day. However you can probably sell these at craft shows or shops.

From: Louise Vrande <>...

I tried selling cross stitch pieces--I designed them, worked them, finished them, and went to crafts shows (small ones) to sell them. No one was very interested. At least, not in paying for the work. They admired it, as if it were a museum display. Others said, well, I do cross stitch myself. Never mind they didn't have and couldn't get these designs!

At one show I did, a "customer" pulled her younger companion away from my booth, saying "No, that stuff is handmade. It's too expensive." Isn't handmade the point? And, given the hours that went into producing each piece, it was not expensive.

From: Gillian Cannon <>...

I have a friend who is a professional stitcher--she stitches both cross stitch and needlepoint on commission for clients. She charges $1 per square inch (the client provides the materials). Right now she is working on a large needlepoint canvas that's 18 count or so. It will take her about 3 months to do (I don't think she will be working on it full time however. She rotates her stuff so she doesn't get stale on any one.) When she is done she'll get about $400, which is slave wages.

I stitch as a labor of love--for my family and friends (and I'm finally gonna sit down and do something for myself--an enormous Cross Wing chart of wildflowers that will be about 38" x 23" on 30 count linen). Somehow, if I get paid for something it all of a sudden becomes "work" instead of "fun" and is a pain to complete.

Quick ornament types usually take at least several hours to complete. If you can get $5 for the finished item, you will be lucky. However, I do not know what your financial situation is or how you value your time. All I can say is that you can make a whole lot more (and at home as well) doing computer input, etc.

From: Mary Rita Otto <>

I created original designs for a niche market, and sold them through art auctions. I designed things for techie-types, and sold them at Science Fiction convention art shows. They sold very well. I made what I consider to be good money -- that is, more than double the cost of the materials on pieces which didn't take a lot of work. It was a ego stroke to know that people were willing to bid against each other to get my stuff. On the other hand, I was sorry to see some of them go. I guess art is like that.

From: <>...

Most of my stitching for pay has been for customers who have approached me through the years to do something special for them. Some have wanted samplers for special occasions like anniversaries; others have asked for stitcheries of their homes. And one person requested a sampler with her family tree, that of her husband, and their lovely home on the shores of Lake Michigan, which they were about to sell. I have requested and have been paid anywhere from $150-$400 for cross stitched pieces. The point is, most of my customers have come to me.

I have had occasion to show and sell a few items at craft fairs, but the ones that sell best are small, unusual things like ornaments. The more unusual, the better, it seems.

I also spent about a year and a half as a member of a craft co-op in my area and did very well there selling larger cross-stitched pieces. Among them were some sampler clocks, which I design myself and have cases custom made for. One customer bought the first one she saw and ordered 13 more as gifts for friends. Ironically, she has since been convicted of embezzlement and is in prison.

Word of mouth has always been my best way of finding customers for my stitching. I've also discovered that people are more apt to purchase something that they don't see anywhere else. :-)

3. Designing as A Business

Thank you to Pam Kellog of Kitty & Me Country Crafts for permission to include this post she made to the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework group.

From: Pamela Kellogg <>
Newsgroups: rec.crafts.textiles.needlework
Subject: Re: Designing as A Business - Be thankful for your local shop
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 09:02:35 -0600
Organization: Kitty & Me Country Crafts

So many people have asked for my advice and to share my secrets in how I became a successful needlework designer. This is what it takes and this is reply that I send out when I'm asked these questions:

My suggestion would be to start by sending letters to all the needlework/craft magazines and manufacturers. Ask them if they review designs for their publications and what format they would like designs submitted in.

There are no real secrets to being successful at this. The trick is to work. Work, work, work. Work all the time. I put in 50 plus hours a week, sometimes as much as 100. It takes discipline and lots of it. It takes a very strong will, a good sense of organization, a lot of patience and being able to do more than one thing at a time. It takes being focused on your goals. And you *have* to set goals. Ask yourself why you want to do this. Is it the money? Is it because you love needlework? Is it because you have something you want to share with others? Is it because you want to stay home? There are a million questions you should be asking yourself before you commit to this. Designing *is* a commitment. Just like any other job or marriage, children or pets, you have to be committed to this with every ounce of your being. When you commit to this you are taking your hobby and turning it into a business. Plain and simple. You can't be wishy-washy about it. There are deadlines involved and contracts and once you sign a contract, you can't turn back no matter how crazy things get, no matter how severe the deadlines are, no matter how hard you have to push yourself to get things done on time, no matter what! A signed contract is a legal agreement and it is a serious matter. I've sat up half the night on many occasions working to get models done and sent out on time. These are the sacrifices you will have to make.

I've made it work for me because I'm devoted to it and I'm obsessed with it. I eat, sleep, drink and breathe needlework. It isn't something you can do part time and make a decent living at. You've got to be totally devoted to it with your whole heart and soul and you have to be passionate about it. It has to be part of you and it has to become an obsession or it will not pay your bills.

If you are serious about becoming a successful designer, ask yourself the questions. Make a list. Find out why you want to do this and if you are willing to make the sacrifices that it will take to become successful. It will drastically cut into your stitching time. It will cut into everything you do with your time and I'm not just talking your free time. You will be working with real people and real businesses. I have a huge chunk of money invested in my computer. You will need a fax machine. The business world couldn't function without fax machines. You will need a good shipping company like Fed X. Never trust your finished models to the Postal Service. Fed X is expensive but the Post Office is extremely unreliable. What I'm saying is that it not only does this take everything personal that I have already mentioned, but it also takes money. It costs alot of money just to run a small business from your home. And then there's paperwork. Keeping good records is time consuming and you have to keep to good records. You have to save every receipt for everything you spend on your business. You have to keep lists and files and records of everything. Yes, tax time is alot of fun when you have your own business. If you have someone prepare your taxes for you, which I strongly suggest you do if you own your business, you need to also know that they charge more when they are doing your business taxes as well as your personal taxes.

Becoming a successful designer is not something to take lightly. If you think this is something you want to do, you might want to think it over again. We work for our money. This isn't easy and it isn't always the piece of cake that everyone seems to think it is. I'm not trying to discourage anyone. I've only tried to show that there is more involved than sitting around and drawing pretty pictures all day.


Pam Kellogg
Kitty & Me

A. About the Needlework FAQs

A.1 General Comments

Welcome. This is one of several Needlework Frequently Asked Questions (Needlework FAQs) documents.

The FAQs are a collection of information that should be of use to people who do many kinds of needlework. The hints and tips contained here have been collected from many people who have been kind enough to share their wisdom with the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework Usenet newsgroup.

Although efforts were made to make sure that the information in this FAQ was correct, this document is provided as is, with no warranties or guarantees of any kind either expressed or implied. Any commercial products or services are listed as a courtesy to the reader. No endorsement or value judgement is expressed or implied.

The FAQs are successors to the original "Counted Cross Stitch FAQ", first posted to the old rec.crafts.textiles newsgroup on April 20, 1994. Thanks to the people who have given permission for their messages and postings to be quoted directly.

A.2 How to Find the FAQs

The Needlework FAQs and other informational documents are listed below. They are available at <>

x Needlework FAQ: Competitions, Selling Designs or Needlework
Tips for entering competitions, selling finished products, and selling designs.

x Needlework FAQ: Counted Cross Stitch Tutorial
Discusses everything from selecting the fabric to framing the picture (and most things in between).

x Needlework FAQ: Fabric
Information about evenweave fabrics from 6-count to 45-count, including fiber content.

x Needlework FAQ: Threads, Fibers, Embellishments
Color names or conversion charts for DMC, Anchor, J&P Coates, Marlette, Medicis, Madeira, Au Ver A Soie, Mill Hill beads, Danish Flower Thread, DMC Flower Thread, Ginny Thompson Flower Thread, Kreinik Metallics.

x Needlework FAQ: Stitching and Embroidery Techniques<br> Short descriptions of different embroidery techniques.

Copyright © 1994-2005 Kathleen Dyer
All Rights Reserved.
Last modified: Sun, Mar 20, 2005