LAS VEGAS — Just how big is the craft industry?

Consider a few statistics:

• Last year 75 percent of all American households had at least one person who had ever crafted, and 58 percent had someone who had participated in crafts during the past year.

• Those crafting consumers spent a record $30.6 billion on their projects.

Those figures represent a $3.2 billion increase over 2002 and an average 3.8 percent per year growth since 2002, according to Larry Anderson, vice president of analytics for Ipsos-Insight, a marketing research company that has just completed a comprehensive survey of the crafting community. Results of the survey were released at the Craft & Hobby Association convention held in Las Vegas last week.

"Not many other industries stack up to that," said Sandy Ghezzi, CHA's vice president for marketing, member services and education. "It's an enormous figure and represents growth in many areas."

Many credit scrapbooking with driving the booming numbers. And there's no doubt that it has seen tremendous growth in the past few years. But, surprisingly, it is not the No. 1 craft, said Anderson. In terms of participation, cross-stitch/embroidery and crocheting both still outrank it, with participation by 30 percent and 25 percent of crafting households respectively. Scrapbooking comes in third, with a 24 percent participation rate.

But, added Anderson, scrapbooking is among the fastest-growing crafts, so it could easily take over the top spot. "Everyone wonders if it has peaked, but we don't see it hitting any type of top yet."

The survey divided crafters into four super categories. General crafts, which includes scrapbooking and paper crafts, as well as such things as beading, cake decorating, jewelry-making, candle-making, doll-making, leather crafts, macrame and others, account for a 40-percent slice of the pie. Needle and sewing crafts come in at 25 percent; painting and finishing crafts at 24 percent; and floral crafts at 11 percent.

General crafters spend an average of $26 per project or an average of $272 per year. Needle and sewing crafters spend an average of $23 per project ($202 per year); painters and finishers spend, on average, $34 per project ($215 per year); and floral enthusiasts an average of $29 per project ($157 per year).

But within those categories, there is a lot of crossover as well as a lot of individuality. If you craft, you can see how you compare to the averages, said Anderson.

The survey further identified six cluster groups of crafters, based on attitudes and activities, that range from enthusiasts, who participate in all kinds of different crafts, to specialists who craft mainly to create gifts. These six cluster groups represent major segments of the industry and are also fun for comparison.

But what it really amounts to, said Anderson, is that "it adds up one crafter and one project at a time to become a $30.6 billion industry."

The survey reinforces what many in the industry already believed, said Ghezzi, "the craft industry remains vibrant and strong across all broad craft categories. It once again confirms our belief that the enormous breadth and appeal of crafts continues to grow as more and more consumers discover the personal benefits of crafting."

In fact, she says, with a 58 percent rate of household participation, "more individuals participate in crafting than many other leisure activities, including gardening (36 percent), playing computer games (13 percent), reading books (37 percent), surfing the Internet (27 percent) and dining out (48 percent).

That's not to say the industry has not undergone a lot of change in recent years.

CHA itself was created in 2004, growing out of a merger of two other large trade organizations, the Hobby Industry Association and the Association of Crafts & Creative Interests. That reflects other differences.

As Bill Gardner, editor of Craftrends magazine, said in this month's magazine, "In my 20-plus years, we've evolved from 'cutesy' just-for-fun projects to more sophisticated dedicated end-use projects, such as fashion, home decor, gift and keepsake items. We've seen the knitting/crochet category through its ups and downs, and we've seen scrapbooking take the industry by storm."

The way the industry has looked at itself has changed, too, he said. "We've evolved from billing creativity as a money-saving hobby to calling it a stress-releasing activity to hyping its family-values appeal. Heck, we've even gone from calling it crafting to calling it creativity."

This year's convention, which brought together more than 1,100 exhibitors and more than 8,000 attendees, was also reflective of the state of the industry. It was billed as the biggest and best show yet.

(Interestingly, of those exhibitors, at least 58 exhibitors were Utah-based companies; Utah is considered a major player in the crafts field, especially in the scrapbooking area.)

Ed Barlow, a futurist who conducted a convention session on the place of crafting in a rapidly changing society, noted several reasons for its increasing popularity.

For one thing, where crafting used to be largely fueled by small, independent stores, now a lot of the big chains are getting involved — and not just places like Michaels and Roberts. "With the growth in popularity, discounters, including Wal-Mart, are enlarging their craft sections. Jo-Ann Fabrics has changed its name to Jo-Ann Stores and offers much more than fabric," said Barlow.

Other trends he pointed out:

• Celebrities are taking up crafts in big numbers. Julia Roberts, Kristin Davis, David Arquette and Cameron Diaz are among the knitters. Katie Holmes and Lorraine Bracco paint pottery. Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Hurley do their own sewing. Jennifer Love Hewitt paints hatboxes. Kate Hudson does mosaics. Tony Bennett, Donna Summer and John Cougar Mellencamp love to paint. There's a big carry-over effect.

• Crafts are appealing to a younger segment of the population. Barlow quoted Creative Leisure News' explanation that where "baby boomers grew up with strict fashion, style and behavior rules, Gen-Xers and echo boomers haven't just ignored the rules, they have developed their own new paradigm that focuses on, and values, creativity and individual expression. The young, hip crafting segments is all about individuality."

• Traditional crafts have resurfaced in new ways. Knitting is more popular than ever, in part because yarns that used to work for afghans have become funky fibers for scarves and other fashion accessories. Quilts are no longer just for beds. They have become "canvases" on many levels, as well as "memory-making" hobbies.

In addition, said Barlow, you can't discount the effect that doing something fun, something they like, has on people. "There's a lot of stress out there. In the next 25 years, there's going to be even more. Crafts and hobbies help people deal with it."


E-mail: carma@desnews.com