C&T Publishing is celebrating 40 years as a publisher of quilting books, and now as a multi-media publisher and e-commerce brand expanding out into new areas of craft.
Photos courtesy of C&T Publishing.
C&T Publishing is celebrating an important anniversary this year: 40 years in business. This milestone feels especially significant given the turbulent waters craft publishing has experienced over the past several years when multiple longtime book publishers shrunk or closed their doors entirely.
At 40, C&T is not only surviving but thriving, with the motto “Another maker inspired!”
The company was founded in 1983 by quilt shop owner Carolie Hensley and husband, Tom (thus the initials C&T). When one of Carolie’s shop instructors wasn’t able to find a publisher for her work, the couple set out to publish it themselves attending Quilt Shop to crowdfund the investment they were making in printing. That first title was An Amish Adventure, a book focused on Amish quilt patterns. After that first success, C&T published a few books a year before ramping up into the full-scale publisher we’re familiar with today.
Publisher Amy Barrett-Daffin has been with C&T for 23 years, over half of the company’s lifetime. She says that today C&T publishes about 40 books a year and has innovated and adapted with the times including launching an online learning platform that supplements and supports its titles, as well as hosting virtual events with its authors.
Creating multiple products based on a book has become one of C&T’s signature strategies. Joen Wolfrom’s book has several spinoff products including a color wheel and card deck.
C&T has diversified in other ways as well. The company now offers a large range of products and notions that extend the ideas presented in its books. For example, its book Color Play by Joen Wolfrom which came out in 2014 has several supplementary products including the Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool, the Essential Color Wheel Companion and the Essential Color Card Deck with color theory concepts on the back of each one. This selection of products extends the book and the author’s brand while diversifying C&T’s revenue.
When the pandemic hit, C&T heard from many of their authors that without the ability to travel and teach their craft, they were losing a significant revenue stream. As their publisher, C&T stepped up to use its audience and platform to help their authors replace this loss of income. In June 2020, the company came up with the idea of hosting and promoting their authors’ live events themselves. By November, the company had launched Creative Spark, a new virtual portal for classes and events.
Barrett-Daffin says C&T’s virtual live events are “always a party” with sponsors and giveaways. The events have creative names like Piecing Palooza and Quilt-Finishing Fest. Each one is several hours long and includes a keynote speaker, several sessions that run simultaneously (and are recorded for participants to view afterward), and a digital swag bag. On average, Barrett-Daffin says each event gets 1,100 signups with about half of all registrants attending live.
“We have some people who attend every single live event. They love that community feel,” says Barrett-Daffin. “People want community, connection, and a way to learn from the experts.”
Carolie Hensley and her husband founded C&T in order to publish patterns by a teacher at Carolie’s quilt shop. Today, the company has nearly two dozen employees.
Today, Creative Spark offers over 100 pre-recorded video classes, an impressive rollout in just three years. Wolfrom, the author of Color Play, teaches a What’s Up with Color class on the platform, another supplement to her book. Not all of the Creative Spark instructors are C&T authors, but many are. “For our authors, we are really able to offer a full package,” Barrett-Daffin says. “From course to live events to products and books.” Teachers on Creative Spark get a 50/50 revenue split with the publisher. In addition, C&T offers an affiliate program so that they can earn on each ticket sale they bring in for their live events.
In the fall of 2022, C&T began expanding its scope beyond quilting, although quilting remains a key focus for the company. The spring 2023 publication list, for example, includes books on weaving, polymer clay, candle making, sewing for sustainability, scrap quilting, and embroidery as well as the backbone of quilting titles.
In the fall of 2023, C&T will be expanding into edible art, publishing a book on royal icing, and paper crafts with a book on modern paper making. In addition, their imprint, Fan Powered Press, which focuses on cosplay books has taken off and has published 14 books to date including Armor Up! Thermoplastics which is about making props from thermoplastics and other modern materials and Handwear Handbooks which is about making gloves, cuffs, and vambraces for the forearm. C&T also publishes Cozy Mysteries, a series of novels with female protagonists that have craft-focused themes and content.
“When you’re publishing, it’s all speculative,” says Barrett-Daffin referring to the bet book publishers make in authors and topics before seeing how sales will actually flow. “We saw signals that it was time to expand out into some other crafts.”
When longtime quilt publisher, Martingale, closed down earlier this year, C&T took over some of their titles.
Over time, C&T has shifted some key aspects of how they do business, including in 2018 when the company closed its warehouse and began working with National Book Network as its distributor to independent retailers. “We made the decision to keep the company small,” says Barrett-Darrin. C&T now has approximately 22 employees when previous to the distribution shift it has 52. “We’re being more efficient now.”
Co-founder Carolie, who is now in her 80s, still owns The Cotton Patch, the quilt shop she founded in Lafayette, California, in 1978. Today, it’s one of the oldest quilt shops in the United States. In 2004, at Quilt Market, a quilt industry trade show, Carolie was awarded the National Michael Kile Award for helping to further the quilting industry. C&T Publishing is now owned by Carolie and Tom’s sons who carry on the family business.
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.