I am a bit sad today. Many of you may or may not know that Tokens and Trifles is a business of mine – a joint venture with two friends: Justyna Teverovsky and Wendy White. We started this company back in 2005 when the time was right for all of us to look into a big new project. Today starts the beginning of the end. Wendy, Justyna and I have decided to shut down the company and place all the remaining stock on deep discount. Instead of just telling you to go to the site and grab some of the sewing cards for your stash, I thought you might be interested in how small companies in the needlework space come into being and then close. A window into the brief lifespan of lovely materials – they are fleeting. I know I say this over and over again and yet watch people tell me over and over – “I’m planning for that [insert course, box, thread, etc] when I finish [insert sampler, job, retire, etc]. I so want to take them by the shoulders and yell – “it won’t be here then!!” I know only too well about the life and death of threads, linens, fabrics, etc. I have watched so many companies die or products go away because the expertise or machines have gone. 50% of the kits I used to produce in Thistle Threads aren’t anymore because a component doesn’t exist anymore, not because they aren’t viable. And other needlework businesses are not large enough to buy one when it decides to fold, so they just disapear.
Wendy and I had discovered sometime in 2004 that we each had a passion for the ‘original’ perforated paper. Back when perforation machines were developed, about 1860, the idea to combine die cutting and embossed paper with embroidery was hatched as part of the ephemera explosion of the Victorian Era. This perforated paper could be as small as 32 holes per inch and was rarely as course as 18 holes per inch. It was made from thick, luxurious paper with a smooth finish – and decorative edges that made the unstitched pieces works of art before the embroidery. They were the ‘quick projects’ of their time, often called trinkets.
She and I stumbled upon one in an antiques store with a group and I bought it. Later she called me and admitted that she had a collection of them and what did I think of these little cards? I told her that I loved them and had been musing over them in some books for years. ”Why doesn’t anyone make these?” I said. She discussed what she knew of how these may have been made and challenged me – ‘You are an engineer, aren’t you?’. Within a year, Tokens and Trifles was born. They say to never make a product that you don’t desperately want yourself . We loved it and wanted it so much that we brought these decoratively edged, fine count cards back to life.
Wendy and I scoured the antiques markets and built what is definitely the largest collection of these perforated paper wonders in the world. We even have the printing plates that pre-printed the patterns on some – including the unstitched versions and stitched versions. We were planning a book with the definitive history.
Justyna came aboard as she had just finished an entrepreneurship MBA, was an engineer like me and a stitcher. Between us we had all the skills needed. We learned tons about packaging, manufacturing, partnerships, design patents, and more. It was looking great as the market really liked the little cards, they were featured in magazines, other designers were using them and they were in stores around the world.
Then 2008 happened. You might remember back then capital was so tight as we all felt like we were going back into the Great Depression. Banks stopped loaning to anyone. The Great Recession was compounded and magnified by this false impression, banks refused to loan to businesses that were seasonal who used the capital to float the business until the Christmas season and then repay and take out their next loan. There are many very successful small business categories where this is the mode of operation – stationary is one. Calendars and greeting cards have 90% sold at Christmas time. So those companies need to use small business loans to float their payroll and then payback and take the next. It is how those businesses work and have been a great and stable loan group for small banks for a century. The system broke in 2008. By January 2009, companies went back for their next loan and
were refused, profitable and long standing companies. Massachusetts is full of them as this is the birthplace of greeting cards as well as where American perforated paper was made.
Wendy, Justyna and I had searched out a very special operation with some incredibly good equipment here in Massachusetts. I had a background in laser holography and so knew what type of laser
system we were looking for to manufacture our ideas (Tokens and Trifles). The system was custom built and with it, we could make these cut edge, 20 count pieces with a satin finish. Unfortunately, it was part of a greeting card company in the middle of Massachusetts. Our hearts sunk in March of 2009 when after stretching themselves as far as they could to make payroll and were searching for a bank that would give them their annual loan, they had to take drastic steps. By summer, the company was closed and the equipment had been divided up into a dozen lots for auction. The lovely staff had let us know but we just couldn’t float the $75K for the system and then build a building with proper high voltage/ventilation, etc to save it for our company. It was horrible, a viable family business that was profitable – killed by cash flow issues caused by the unwillingness of banks to loan for six months, so many 20-year employees out of work. And now, we couldn’t make Tokens and Trifles anymore.
I went into high gear, we had already found all the US manufacturers who could do volume laser
cutting and we went back and worked with several. We also investigated overseas, but to great disappointment in quality. We had tons of stock and could survive awhile, the market had significantly slowed due to the recession all around for needlework, until I solved the technical problems. Unfortunately the systems that exist could not cut free edges and we just couldn’t get the hole quality with them back down to 20 count. With the previous system, we could even cut down to 32 count but the needles that were used in the Victorian Era to stitch on them don’t exist anymore (another long story as I investigated that – a victim of World War I). 20 count was the finest we could go and still have a needle that worked. Now, we were limited to 18-count and decided to launch a new low cost line called Trinkets.
and so, so sad to close.
We had hoped that this would save us for the long haul. But we just couldn’t survive the loss of Tokens and Trifles combined with several other factors. In the last decade we have all gotten a bit older – or more importantly – our families have. The conditions that got us into Tokens and Trifles in the first place had now moved on their inevitable paths and responsibilities like taking care of parents in another city, getting kids into college and other issues were draining our time. The Plimoth Jacket
had come up and we all felt it was a very important project and devoted time to it as well. The time was right for the Cabinet of Curiosities. Our E-Textile work exploded. All things that made it hard for us to devote the time we needed to make the company come back from the blow in 2009.
We have known for several years that it was time to close – yet the love of the product line has kept us open. So much so that it really doesn’t make sense anymore. So today is the beginning of the last phase. Our site will remain open for 1-year from today for people to access the free patterns, but operations and sales will be closed down soon. So if you would like some of the sewing cards for yourself or as gifts, please visit the site soon.
Tricia, Jusytna and Wendy