Does Blended Learning in Crafts and Art Favor E-Learning?

What is the best way to teach a craft or art technique? Is it through a person (class), printed text, diagrams and photos, and videos, or the blend of these now found in online classes? The NAMTA Artists & Art Materials 2012 Study (Hart, 2012) shows that artists typically use four different types of learning resources, most often books, magazines, online articles, online videos, friends, and workshops, indicating blended learning is likely the norm for creative people.

The new e-learning setup, for example on, provides blended learning through personal interaction, video, diagrams, and text. E-learning is not new (see the mid-1990’s hype during the dot-com boom) but the slick and effective way of integrating different learning methods within it is.

This has important implications for everyone in the art and crafts industries. The answers to all these questions may shift (how much?) from the silos of people/print/videos to e-learning:

  • How do we most effectively teach the next generation of creative people?
  • How do we encourage people to try new products?
  • Where do we sell project kits?
  • How do we inspire people to create more art and keep them engaged?
  • How do we attract people to take up creative activities in the first place?

How much they shift to e-learning depends on many factors including the overall benefits of the learning mode. In-person classes can provide many benefits beyond learning, especially an enjoyable time among friends. Local classes also offer a payment and attendance schedule that supports higher class completion rates than the “whenever” schedule of e-learning. Classes in a retail setting provide an inspiring environment full of wonderful creative materials. Retailers can compete with e-learning if they do a great job with the features that online can’t supply as well, including an enjoyable social time, support to complete the class, and lots of inspiring materials.

A recent conversation with Liz Gipson, a well-regarded weaving teacher and video producer, brought forth this idea of blended learning originally described by Graven and MacKinnon in 2005. (See Exploring the e-Learning State of Art, Kahiigi, Ekenburg, Danielsson, and Hanson, 2005, for good scholarly article.) Coopetition with Creative Retailers and Media

The initial success of, an e-learning site for creative people, supports the finding that 9% of active artists have taken a paid online art class ( See the 2012 NAMTA Artists & Art Materials Study produced by Hart). A recent Denver Post article provides intriguing data on Craftsy’s class enrollment (840,000), revenues ($12 million), venture funding, and current focus on fiber arts and cake decorating.

Craftsy is an important force because it is not focused on the 20-something hipster market you might expect; Craftsy serves the creative female 40-year-olds-and-up market. This is the core demographic targeted by specialty art supply, yarn, sewing, and craft retailers and media companies.

These  “classic” competitors would do well to examine how their own learning offerings stack up against Craftsy’s. Think of customer needs around learning: Does your business meet those learning needs better than Craftsy? How can you differentiate from Craftsy? Can you harness the Craftsy technology and teacher platform through a partnership with them?

Are Online Surveys Accurate?

Recent Hart research indicates online surveys mostly give an accurate picture except when the questions are about information use and purchasing habits. If these two topics are of interest to your business then consider doing offline surveys or interviews.

Information Use Questions

  • Where do you get how-to information?
  • Where do you get creative inspiration?
  • Do you use Facebook?
  • Do you take workshops or seminars?

These questions yield different results depending upon whether the survey is online, printed and mailed, or done as an interview. Online respondents will of course emphasize online information and learning sources. Interestingly, both online and printed survey respondents may emphasize information use because the survey itself is a “test” of reading interest. If you need to survey people who are less reading oriented, try conducting the survey as an interview or a short and simple printed survey and offer a good participation incentive.

Purchasing habits questions

  • Where do you buy creative supplies?
  • What information sources do you look at before making a purchase?
  • What store attributes are most important to you?

Online survey respondents will report higher rates of buying online, using online purchase information, and even magazine reading about products. In contrast, in-store respondents will  be more likely to say they buy mostly in stores and don’t consult much information before making a purchase. These in-store respondents are more representative of the general population. (Side note: only about 5% of U.S. overall retail sales are online.)

So where should you survey?

Conduct a survey online if your business’s market is information-oriented people or your business is online, such as a publisher, online store, or e-learning site.

Conduct a survey in stores if you are a brick-and-mortar store or a supplier to them. This could be done as an interview or a short-and-simple printed survey to be completed in the store. If the cost of an in-store survey is a significant issue, however, you may have to survey online. If that is the case, don’t take the results at face value – Interpret them knowing the responses are higher than they should be around information use and online purchasing.

U.S. Adult Participation in Creative Activities 1992-2008

More than 33 million adults created a painting, drawing, or sculpture or engaged in printmaking in 2008, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Participation in these fine arts grew 14% from 2002 to 2008. Participation in selected fiber arts and materials arts declined and participation in creating photographs and videos grew significantly.

Do not make overly-broad conclusions from this data, as the categories tracked by the NEA study do not include several large closely-related activities: knitting, beading, and mixed media.

Number of U.S. adults creating these works

Number of U.S. adults creating these works in the past 12 months

The data is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a highly reliable source. Do not sum these numbers, as there are overlaps in participation between these creative activities.

CHA and TNNA Needlearts Market Sizes Compared

The CHA Attitude & Usage Study market sizings for needle crafts are significantly larger than TNNA’s State of Specialty NeedleArts market sizings. Why is this? Basically, the CHA data covers crafters (a large population) and the TNNA data covers enthusiast needleartists (a smaller but higher-spending population).

The National NeedleArts Assocation (TNNA) is an organization of wholesalers and retailers supporting creative enthusiasts who knit, crochet, needlepoint, cross-stitch, embroider, weave, and/or spin yarn. The Craft and Hobby Assocation (CHA) is also a trade assocation, but they support the broader crafts industry. Hart produced The State of Specialty NeedleArts for TNNA in 2005, 2007, and 2010.

Comparison of the two studies:

CHA Attitude & Usage Study TNNA State of Specialty NeedleArts
Market scope Anyone who has made at least one project Enthusiasts – Consider needlearts an essential part of their lives
Average knitter spending on supplies $69 per knitting household (year ending 3/31/11) $807 per knitter(2009)
Needlearts* supplies market size $3.1 billion (2009) $1.15 billion (2009)
Retail channels Crafter spending 58% at   craft/fabric chains and discount stores (2006) Knitter spending 51% at specialty needlearts stores, 12% at craft/hobby chains  (2006)
Reasons for shopping at major channel Crafters: Price, convenience, selection (2006) Wide selection, unusual things, helpful staff, comfortable store (2006)
Percentage who consider selves experts Crafters: 16% “experts” (2006) Knitters: 34%   “experts” (2006)

 *The needlearts include knitting, crochet, needlepoint, cross-stitch, and embroidery.

CHA Attitude & Usage Study market size estimates for four needle crafts, from 2005 to 2010 (click on image to enlarge):

CHA needlecraft market size 2005-2010 graph


What About CHA versus NAMTA Market Sizings for Art Supplies?

What about the CHA Attitude & Usage Study market size for art supplies compared with the International Art Materials Association (NAMTA) Artists & Art Materials Study market size? The same market difference (the bigger casual crafter/artist market versus enthusiast artists) drives the disparity in market size estimates. The CHA Attitude & Usage Study estimated the 2010 “fine arts” supplies market size at about $4 billion. The NAMTA Artists & Art Materials Study estimated 2008 art enthusiast spending on art-related materials and services at $2.8 billion. (The above CHA and NAMTA figures do not include classes or studio-related costs.)

The Final Word

Enthusiast creative segments are always a subset of casual/crafter segments and as such are always smaller. Both market sizings are accurate, they just reflect different market definitions.

How to Make Sense of CHA Attitude and Usage Study

There are three things to keep in mind when using the Craft and Hobby Association’s (CHA’s) Attitude & Usage Study U.S. data sets from 2005 to 2011.

  1. The accuracy of the market sizes varies from +/-10% to +/-35% or more, depending upon how large or small the market is.
  2. CHA changed the names of categories (woodworking became wood crafting, etc.) and went from 30 to 47 segments in 2010, making many segments seemingly not comparable.
  3. CHA changed the survey from print to online in 2010, attracting a slightly younger and more male set of respondents.

So, what do you do if you want to compare the data from 2005 through 2011?

  • Always look at the household participation rates for each segment. Hart estimates if less than 5% of US households participate in that segment, the CHA Attitude & Usage data is much less reliable. This affects leather, mosaics, macrame, print making, paper mache, needlepoint, fiber art, needle felting, and mixed media.
  • Take a close look at the category changes. There are poor matches over time for woodworking/wood crafts, wedding crafts/wedding bridal, food crafts/cake decorating, fine arts/art and drawing. Don’t compare 2005-2009 with 2010-2011 for these.
  • Set up a spreadsheet with all the data you’re interested in and graph how it varies. Some category data resembles an EKG, so don’t bet your venture capital (or credit card limit) on those.

Where is Growing in Crafts and Art?’s site data indicates many people are out there selling what they make, and the number is growing fast. This site for selling handmade and vintage items now has more than 12 million members worldwide (as of 11/30/2011), nearly twice what it was a year before. Etsy’s gross sales were more than $500 million in 2011. Go to for monthly details.

Etsy categorizes what they sell into handmade, vintage, and supplies. The handmade super category is about 70% of the total. Note these are Hart observations of site data, the data changes constantly,and categories may overlap, so use it for relative size and trends and not absolute answers. The dates are not a precise year apart because we just happened to look at them then. This table updates what Hart included the CODA report Craft Artists, Income, and the US Economy 2011.

Number of items for sale on in handmade categories that fall under crafts and art, plus a comparison of the three super categories:

Handmade category Number of items, 2/6/2012  Growth 12/15/2010 to 2/6/2012















Bags and purses












Ceramics and pottery



Dolls and miniatures












Books and zines












Other handmade categories



All handmade items