Sunday, November 15, 2015

End of an Era - Tokens and Trifles

It seems prophetic that so many of the Victorian pieces said
"Forget me not".  I hope our 21st century versions won't
be forgotten either.
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
The originals came in plain center and perforated center so
an assortment of woman's accomplishments could be worked
on the cards.  We loved this idea so the original
Tokens and Trifles came with a 'blank' too.
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.

A delicate and still perfect original that was over 100 years old
I found it on a ski trip in Vermont and couldn't wait
to show it to Wendy
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
We were about to cut this pattern when the company doing
out manufacturing failed to get their annual loan and closed
This was my personal favorite and I still mourn that we
never even tested the finished design file!
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.

An Ebay find that led me to visit the seller in Germany,
she had so many treasures
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

An outstanding example of the flights of fancy available in the original 'perforated paper period'.
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
There were patterns for cut and stacked perforated paper
madein France
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
This one is printed with the pattern over the squares
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.

We are incredibly proud of the product lines
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


  1. I have some I ordered years ago but they are lost in stash. Thanks for the heads up I just made an order. Sorry to see them go. wish I had a way of getting hard copies of free patterns. I have no Printer since I retired this year. Thanks so much.

  2. Audrey - get together a list of pages (with the URL's) that you want to print and head to your local library - most of those with computers allow a certain number of pages to be printed free of charge. I think our local library allows up to 20 pages...

    1. Thanks for the great idea, too bad I am disabled. Maybe I can get a friend to go for me, Thanks

  3. Oh, that's really sad to hear. I'm glad I have a tendency to purchase supplies and patterns even though I've got tons of other projects to work on is a good thing. I always figure even if the company is doing well, it doesn't mean the particular item will be around later on. My closets don't like it, but I'm always happy to know that it helps the independent business.

  4. Thank you for creating such lovely products for us to use!

  5. Thank you for the years of pleasure you have given us! I have a drawer stuffed full of these cards. I haven't done cross stitch in a few years but I will get back to it! I love doing the smaller items. One year I made ornments for my Granddaughters. My favorite was a tiny quilt, I did several in different coloways.

  6. Appreciate you passion and enthusiasm! Hate to see an aspect of perforated paper fade into history, but totally understand! Thank you!

  7. so am I too late to order any of the actual cards?

    1. Donna, I know you can order some on the Kreinik website, while they are in stock, And some needlework stores may still have some (like Cross My Heart in Columbus, Ohio, or Stitches N Things in Michigan).

  8. So sad to hear that you are discontinuing these wonderful perforated papers. I love working with them and giving them to my friends as last minute gifts. Maybe when the economy returns you can resume making them again? Please do not give up your plans for a book on the subject, like you did with the plymoth jacket.

  9. Hi, I just came across this post. I'm sorry to hear you've closed. I still have some of your products.

    How much longer will the website with free patterns be up? I was looking for more patterns for the Christmas ball, ivy circle and some of the Christmas baubles. I tried clicking on these images on the website but the site kept getting hung up, so I wasn't sure if it's still working or not.

    Thank you, and all best to you.

  10. Sorry to read about the end of these unique and beautiful sewing cards! I have quite a few in my stash but I guess I was like many who thought these would always be around. I'm also glad that I had downloaded many of the wonderful free patterns.

    Thanks for bringing these to us - even for a short time.

    Best luck in all you do!