Quilting Bees for a Quilting Adventure

A quilting bee is a social gathering where people get together and quilt. Traditional quilting bees became very popular in the 19th century. The goal of the original bee was to work together to make a quilt quickly, much faster than if it were being made by only one person alone. Many times women would work on quilt squares and tops throughout the winter, and then they would gather to complete the quilts once the weather cleared. These quilts could be for everyday use, or they could be special quilts made for specific occasions, like weddings, births, or charity events. If the bee lasted an entire day, numerous quilts could be completed. Women enjoyed the social aspect of quilting bees as much as the actual sewing, and the day would be full of gossip, food, and more. Sometimes the families would join the women at the end of the day for a big dinner. The quilting bees were special days, providing fellowship and creative expression.

sample bee block

Who could join a quilting bee? It would depend of the purpose of the quilt! If the women were going to be working on a special quilt, they would ask only the best quilters to come. This created competition between the women and really encouraged them to hone their skills. If the women were working on everyday quilts, all women were invited. These days were great for teaching, and oftentimes young women would learn new skills then. Back in the pioneer days, when families lived far away from each other, the quilting bee days were a reprieve from isolation. Entire families would travel far to participate in these social events, and the women would sew while the men and children played.

How did these quilting bees work? Women generally came prepared, armed with the blocks or completed quilt tops that they made throughout winter. Quilt frames would be set up in homes, churches, or community buildings. If a home was too small, the party was moved outdoors! Smaller bees included only a few women around one frame, while large ones had dozens of women working around several frames.

bee blocks

Though they have changed quite a bit, quilting bees are still going strong today! They are still very popular because they are a lot of fun. Many of the goals in today’s quilting bees are the same. The work is shared among many people to create a quilt quickly, and socialization is very important. Joining a bee allows you to meet and spend time with other people that share the same hobby as you.

Quilting bees are run a little differently now. Many take place within quilting groups/guilds or online! As with the traditional quilting bee, the online groups work together to create quilts for each person. The most common virtual bee consists of 12 members and lasts for an entire year. Each person is assigned a month, and they choose a block or theme for their quilt. During that month, the other members sew one or two blocks for that person. Even though the bee members are not meeting together in person, friendships are formed through emails and other online communication. Most virtual bees have an online meeting location, like Flickr or a group blog. This provides a location for bee information, picture sharing, and discussions. New skills and techniques are learned throughout the year as members sew all sorts of different blocks for each other!

Another common quilting bee that you find both online and in person is a round robin. In this bee each person starts their own quilt. This can be a block, a row, or anything that person decides on. They send it to the next member of the group and that member adds whatever the quilt owner asks for (block, row, border, etc). The projects circulate through all of the members and becomes a finished quilt top by the time it returns to its owner!

quilt blocks

Are you interested in joining a bee? Here are a few tips for you!

1. Be honest about your quilting level. This is nothing to be embarrassed about! If you join a bee that is sewing at a level that is too advanced for you, it will not be enjoyable at all.
2. Find a bee that is filled with people who have similar sewing interests as you. Are you a traditional or contemporary quilter? Do you like bright fabrics, batiks, or reproduction fabrics? Look for a group of people that like the same thing.
3. Only join a bee if you are ready to commit to the group. The other members will be relying on you and your participation, so be prepared! Being prompt and active makes all of the bee members happy.
4. Remember, life happens! Sometimes after you join a bee, things come up that keep you from completing your obligations. People are understanding, just be honest and stay in communication with your group.

I hope that you give quilting bees a try! Not only are they fun, but they are a great way to make friends and try new techniques. If you are ready to join one, check out the Quilting Bee Blocks group. In the discussion section you will find a list of upcoming quilting bees as well plenty of useful information about quilting bees. There are thousands of bee block pictures posted there for your viewing pleasure. Another quilting bee option? Start your own! Gather some friends and create your own quilting bee.

Are you part of a quilting bee?

Come back to the Bluprint blog tomorrow for tips and tricks around building a useful stash. In case you missed it yesterday explore continuous line quilting designs.

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