Jan 4, 2011

Amy Bunger's Stitch Guides: A Review

I’ve long been a fan of Amy Bunger’s stitching. You may know of Amy because of her shop in Memphis, or you may have heard of her as a teacher, or perhaps have watched some of her “How’d You Do That?” videos. Recently with the explosion of stitching blogs, you’ve probably seen Peggy McGown’s Needlepoint Study Hall blog that talks about Amy’s Home Study canvases and posts hints and help for Amy’s students who are stitching them. (Amy tells me Peggy’s blog is in no way tied to Amy or her store other than the fact that Peggy wanted to work and write about the Halloweenies as she works them.  We owe Peggy a big thank you for her volunteer efforts to help her fellow stitchers.)  So I was very very happy when Amy agreed to send me two of her stitch guides for review.
But before we start, here’s the section of the Amy Bunger website that talks about her custom stitch guides. http://www.amybunger.com/custom_stitch_guides.html
Many (but not all) of the custom stitch guides available from her shop are listed above. Please note that any guides written by Robin King instead of Amy are clearly marked, and that the guides are only available for purchase if you buy the canvas and/or the thread kit from Amy’s shop. We’ll talk about why Amy works that way in a minute but first, let me quote Amy herself about her stitch guides.
I actually write more than one type of stitch guide. One type of guide is a custom stitch guide written as a request for a class participant for a class in my shop. When the class is over and the student has received their guide, then I will sometimes open the guide for purchase by other people. These guides are written without having been stitched by me and will rely partially on the experience of the student to put the stitches and thread suggestions into practice. I try to be as thorough as I can be without spending an excessive amount of time writing them. (These guides are commissioned at an hourly rate and can become quite expensive.) I require that a person purchase either the canvas and/or the thread kit to quality for the purchase of a custom guide. My style has changed through the years and now sometimes these guides include drawings as well as stitch diagrams.”
Amy loaned me a copy of her 2005 guide to Maggie’s Piece of Cake #M-722 canvas to serve as a typical sample of one of these custom stitch guides. http://www.amybunger.com/catalog/item/6289714/8153335.htm
This particular guide comes as loose sheets paper-clipped together which Amy says is her usual practice. There are four pages of bare-boned instructions followed by five pages of stitch diagrams. The instructions list each section of the painted canvas and tells the student the stitch, thread and number of plies to use for that section. The stitch diagrams are excellent. Each stitch used is diagrammed (unless it is a very common stitch like a tent stitch). The diagrams are usually black and white (or shades of gray) and most are numbered so you know where to start each stitch. Some stitches have more than one diagram so you see how each row works together. There is one line drawing that illustrates how to do a technique in this particular guide.
Note that there are no tips. After all, this custom stitch guide is for a class where students will be able to ask Amy about anything they don’t understand. A colored photograph of the finished piece is not included. There also is no master list of threads used since this custom stitch guide was intended to be part of a kit. The student will have the threads pulled and waiting when they arrive at Amy’s shop to take the class. This means that anyone who buys one of Amy’s custom stitch guides to use at home will want to at least pick up the thread kit so that everything is right there. Going through a custom guide and making a list of threads yourself is not a hard task but many stitchers will prefer having their threads included with the guide especially since the custom stitch guides don’t tell you how much of any one thread will be needed. (However, an experienced stitcher should be able to estimate amounts if they read the guide carefully.) Amy explains about the lack of a thread list in the custom stitch guides this way--
The custom guide does not come with a thread list. Many of the earlier ones don’t even have one--we have to make it if we get an order for the canvas (or guide). The thread lists change continuously as threads are changed in color or discontinued and we make those changes when the guide is ordered if possible or desired. The Home Study Guides do come with a thread list since I know exactly what and how much was needed for every stitch of the canvas from experience. We do make every endeavor to kit adequate amounts of thread for the custom guides without over-pulling threads, but we can only estimate on these guides.
Since there is no photo of the finished piece to refer to in Amy’s custom stitch guides, these stitch guides are really more useful to the experienced stitcher who will understand the instructions better than a beginner. I’m not saying a determined beginner can’t figure them out--they are very well done--but it is going to be easier if you have some previous needlepointing under your belt.
Now let me refer to Amy again to talk about the second type of stitch guide she offers:
The other type of guide that I write is for Home Study Projects. These are ‘classes in a box.’ With these guides, I try to add the flavor of a classroom with tips and hints from the teacher about the stitches, design, and threads. Since I physically stitch these projects before writing the guides, they are more detailed. The only way that you can purchase a Home Study Stitch Guide is by signing up for a Home Study Project through our store or a local needlework shop. I do not sell these guides wholesale but I do ‘share’ a retail sale with other shops across the country. The student’s local store can sell the student the canvas and we will sell them the guide and thread kit. We refer to this as a Co-op program between two shops. There are some shops that do not opt to do this, so the student can choose which shop to order their canvas from, but the guides and thread kits are ONLY available from us. These guides are not as expensive as the custom guides because they are designed to be sold in mass quantities (as part of a kit) and will pay for themselves in that way. The example that I have enclosed is for a Halloweenies Character, Frank N. Stein, and was one of a series of either guides making up the Halloweenies Character Series.

(To see Frank N. Stein and the rest of the Halloweenies as well as the companion Halloween House in this Home Study Series, check Amy’s website.)
http://www.amybunger.com/home_study_all.html
The Home Study lesson that Amy sent me for review arrived sealed in plastic. There is a cover page with a full color photo of the finished Frank N. Stein and a full thread list along with any other items you might need (such as size and type of needles, size of stretcher bars, etc.). The photo and the thread list face out through the plastic so it is easy to check in your thread kit that arrives with the guide.  Remember, the guide is ONLY AVAILABLE with a thread kit.  There is also a reminder in this Home Study guide that some of the leftover threads from that lesson’s Halloweenies character will be used with another of the set. 
There are 12 pages of instructions in the Frank N. Stein guide. Each section of the canvas is described, and there are tips for working each section under the description of how each section is worked. Amy lists the stitches, threads and number of plies needed for each section and refers to the diagram for the stitches used. There are seven pages of diagrams and drawings that explain fully how you stitch each section. The diagrams are in black and white and in color when color helps explain what you are to do. The stitch path is numbered to make it easy to understand how each stitch is done.
For those who are interested, here are links to the Needlepoint Study Hall blog run by Peggy McGown so you can see how the Home Study guides are packed to be mailed to students.http://needlepointstudyhall.blogspot.com/2010/01/little-coffins.html
The Home Study guide Amy sent me for review is very, very detailed and full of Amy’s personality. I think even a beginner could stitch Frank himself with only minimal help. Amy has certainly achieved her goal of making these Home Study guides a real “class in a box!”
Reading through Amy’s custom and Home Study guides is an inspiration to stitch guide writers like me. They are beautifully done and the diagrams out of this world. Amy has managed to include useful information in the Home Study guides as well as making her own unique style accessible to folks who aren’t able to take one of her classes.
However, I do have one criticism of the custom guides. They are quite expensive and are also not available unless you buy either the canvas or the thread kit (or both) from Amy’s shop, which increases the price even more. So I asked Amy if she’d consider at least having a yearly sale of her guides to make them more affordable. Here is her answer. You are going to be surprised by why Amy prices her guides this way!
Your criticism is noted and I know shared by others. Experience has taught me that guides are purchased once and then copied many times for friends, etc.... I can only write about 85 guides in a year (and am getting slower each year) and it really sticks in my craw when I find out that the guides have been copied with no remuneration for me or consideration for the person that commissioned them in the first place. By forcing the purchase of threads or a canvas with each custom guide and Home Study Guide I have put in place a partial protection against ‘sharing’ with friends or reselling the guide by other shop owners. I would love to sell my guides by themselves, but I try not to be foolish in my business practices. Maybe that is why I have been able to keep a retail business open through thick and thin for over 30 years. Every time I break the shop rules, it comes back to haunt me somewhere down the road. I would love to sell hundreds of each guide that I write, but I am happy to sell just a few, or only one, and protect my customers from finding that the guide that they commissioned, at what I feel is a high price, is available to everyone without having to buy the threads or pay for a class.
Those of us who pay attention to the world of cross stitch know how copyright violation has put quite a few cross stitch designers out of business and put a serious dent into profits for many others. I am not sure that cross stitch will ever recover from these thefts. However, it never occurred to me that our needlepoint world was threatened by the same thievery. As a beginning stitch guide writer I knew that I ran the risk of selling a guide and having it xeroxed and sent to the buyer’s ten closest friends, but it never dawned on me that Amy Bunger’s business was seriously enough impacted that she was forced to only sell her custom stitch guides with a thread kit or canvas to protect her investment of time. This makes me worry about my fellow stitch guide writers and about counted thread designers like Laura Perin and the folks who publish Jean Hilton’s charts. Are these going to become less available through the greed of stitchers who refuse to pay for charts or stitch guides?
We have only ourselves to blame for the high cost of Amy’s stitch guides. Believe me, Amy’s frank discussion of her guides and their pricing will make me re-evaluate my own stitch guides and how much they cost, and it will certainly make me more rabid about copyright theft since I know now just what it costs us in higher prices as stitchers!

2 comments:

The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

Hi, Jane. I couldn't get my comment on today's Stitch Blog article to post so I am sending it to you this way. It was a great discussion with Amy. Thanks!

Stitch guide preparers like you and Amy deserve every penny you charge for your work. I'm not sure we stitchers understand the effort that goes into the planning of a guide. If it was so easy to do, we'd all be doing it. Thanks for raising this issue - copyright infringement is a scourge. Any stitcher who 'copies and passes it on' deserves to have every thread length knot up!

Nancy
[posted by Jane/CH for Nancy]

Palma said...

Thank you so much for this Jane. As strange as it may sound it never occurred to me that stitchers would pass stitch guides on. Your information makes me respect the work people like you, Amy and others do even more.