Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Start a Quilting Bee

Hello everyone!  Our recent chat stirred up lots of thought, one of which was a reminder to get back to the basics.  Many of you may be newer to the online sewing scene and curious about how entities like virtual quilting bees come to be.  I'd love to share with you the details and hope you'll feel empowered to start a bee of your own!  And, just for fun, I've peppered this post with photos of quilts made by various circles of do. Good Stitches {a Charity Bee}.

What is a Quilting Bee?

Today's online quilting bees are small groups of quilters who come together to make quilts as a community, physically working on blocks for each others quilts.  Members communicate through email, Flickr groups and/or dedicated bee blogs and send materials back and forth to each other through the mail.

January:: Do Good Stitches :: Seeing Stars
Seeing Stars by Imagine Circle, quilted by Amanda at My Sewcial Hour

The most common virtual quilting bee model has 12 members who work on one member's quilt each month.  So, each member is assigned a month in the year.  In advance of your month you gather fabric for your quilt and decide on a design.  When it's your month, you send out fabric to each member, along with instructions, and they return a finished block or two to you.  At the end of your month you would have lots of blocks all ready to be assembled!  In this quilting bee model, most bees last a full year so that each member has a turn to get help on her quilt.  Every month you are working on someone's quilt, which introduces you to many different styles and color schemes.  It is vital that all members are committed for the full year so that those who are assigned later months in the year aren't neglected.

One alternative bee model is the famous 3x6 Sampler Quilt Bee that only involves a commitment of 2.5 months, but you must make 6 blocks in that time frame.  This one is always open to new members, so if you want to test the waters, pop in to try a bee there.

Old School Library
Old School Library by Trust Circle, quilted by Kate of Swim Bike Quilt

Another stand out is the "round robin" bee style where each member starts her own quilt and then sends it to the next member who adds to the quilt and then sends it on again.  The quilts continue to rotate through all hands until they return to the original maker having evolved slowly into something really special.

sherbet squares.
Sherbet Squares by Inspire Circle, quilted by Holly of Bijou Lovely

The do. Good Stitches bee is a bee variation in which each circle of ten members makes one quilt per month for charity.  We sew with fabrics from our own stash, rather than shipping around fabric, and not all members are responsible for designing/finishing quilts, in order to make the bee more welcoming to new quilters.  Do. Good Stitches adds new circles every few months, so there is no cap on our membership.

For another look at online quilting bee's see Oh, Fransson!'s post published 2 years ago.   You can sometimes locate new bees that are looking for members through this Flickr thread.

Bliss do. Good Stitches quilt from November
by the Bliss Circle, quilted by Linda Beth of Surrounded by Scraps

Start Your own Quilting Bee!

If you'd like to try a quilting bee, you don't have to wait around for an invitation!  If you have some admin skills, this is something you can definitely do.  Here are some places to start:

::Theme::  A theme is not strictly necessary, but it often inspires members to join.  What would you like to work with?  Nothing is too simple or too advanced, as your theme will draw the right members.  If you're new to quilting, maybe a bee that works with log cabin blocks or pulls from any 9-patch block design?  To push your quilting skills, your bee could focus on paper piecing, curved piecing or improv style work.  Your theme doesn't have to be about construction.  It could be that your blocks will include linen, embroidery, all solids or even a favorite fabric collection.  I suggest you find a unifying theme that also leaves room for members to experiment.

stacked books quilt (trust circle)
Stacked Books by Trust Circle, quilted by Svetlana of S.O.T.A.K. Handmade

::Structure::  How many members?  How many months will it run?  How much are members expected to sew?  Do they use their own fabric or fabric that is mailed?  Before deciding spend some time looking at how other bees are structured to get a feel for your options.  Asking folks (and yourself) to commit to a modest time frame may be a wise choice for your first bee, especially if your members are not already acquainted.

Dream Circle :: November Boy's Quilt
Boy's Quilt by Dream Circle, quilted by Lindsey of L.R. Stitched

::Meeting Place::  A virtual bee doesn't meet in person, but "meet" it must!  Most folks join a bee to make friends.  Where can you develop relationships, as well as keep up with logistical details like who has mailed blocks, received blocks or what the sewing instructions are for this month?  Flickr groups are a free and popular solution.  I love them!  Some groups also start a private blog that all members can post on so that it's a discussion group.  Although I haven't used one myself, it sounds like a Google+ circle might be another way to meet virtually for more real-time interaction.

do Good Stitches Joy Quilt
Quilt of Joy by Joy Circle, quilted by Fiona of Poppy Makes

::Presentation::  The way in which you present your idea is key to garnering members.  Spend time coming up with a name that captures your theme.  Also, it's ideal to develop a square graphic or "button" that is like a logo for your bee. You can use this button on your Flickr group or blog as well as share the image with members who might want a bee badge for their blog.  If you are not graphically inclined maybe someone who is joining your bee would be willing to make a button?

Starflower Quilt
Starflower Quilt by Peace Circle, quilted by Michelle of City House Studio

::Members::  So, how do you get members?  Most folks who start bees are bloggers with small followings.  You don't need to be uber popular to start a bee!  After doing the work above you have a clear invitation to extend. You can either post a general invitation on your blog or contact people you know from blogland and Flickr to invite on an individual basis.  These individual invites tend to be most common, which is why you typically don't hear about a bee until it is already formed.  You could also get some members individually and then post an invite on your blog along the lines of "I need 4 more members!"  Another place to reach out to people is in this ongoing Flickr thread.

When you invite people, paint a picture of your theme and clearly detail the structure you have in mind.  But also be open to feedback, be flexible.  Make sure your would-be members know that they'll be expected to follow through the entire way.  Expect that some people will decline.  This is not about you! We all have lots of obligations, so even a fabulous idea has to be turned down quite often.  Remember that and just keep asking!

Bliss Circle October Quilt
by Bliss Circle, quilted by Becky of My Fabric Obsession

::Sticky Situations::  Every bee needs a leader to usher it through those unfortunate events that will pop up.  Sometimes blocks will get lost in the mail.  Are any members willing to make "angel blocks" to help out or will the missing blocks be replaced by the mailer or perhaps not replaced at all?  What if a member is chronically late with her blocks?  Be sure to set a deadline for mailing blocks and think about how you can encourage promptness.  Sometimes someone disappears altogether.  Life can deal us unexpected turns.  Unfortunately, drop-outs are a common problem even in bee models that rely on members to stay the course.  You can probably replace members who aren't able to continue if their month to quilt has not yet come up (thus the new member will still have a turn to get help on her own quilt).  But, if the drop-out's quilt has already been done by your bee, it's going to be tough.  That's why it's extremely bad etiquette to drop out of a bee that has already sewn blocks for you.  If you find yourself struggling to meet your obligations, be sure to talk to your bee leader.  She definitely wants to help find a solution, even if it means lightening your load.  The worst thing to do is to disappear without communicating.

Bento 4
Bento Boxes by Hope Circle, quilted by Kat of BBC Textiles

I did it and You can to!

When I started do.Good Stitches, I had only been blogging for a few months and had only made 2-3 quilts.  I had never been in a bee before.  Yes, I was not at all sure that I'd find anyone who would join my bee, but my mama always says, "It never hurts to try!"  If you have some sort of admin skills and the passion for it, I'm sure you can start a bee.  Just go for it!  You'll learn as you go.  Be flexible, listen to feedback, give others the benefit of the doubt and above all Have Fun!

do.Good Stitches Harmony October
by Harmony Circle, quilted by Denise at My Family Thinks I'm Working

Quilting bees are so popular precisely because they are a ton of fun.  For a quilter, what's better than learning new skills, trying new things and making new friends all at once?  I encourage everyone, even if you are really new to quilting, to consider a quilting bee.  Just be honest about your skill level.  It's nothing to be shy about!  Be realistic about how much you can take on, since people will be relying on you, but don't be afraid to volunteer.  A dedicated and friendly heart is more important than having perfect points in most cases!

You may also enjoy Alissa Haight Carlton & Kristen Leijnieks' book Block Party: The Modern Quilting Bee.  It shares the quilts made throughout a 12-month bee, along with reflections from the members and more tips on starting your own.

Good luck!


  1. This is such a great post, Rachel! You've given some really good information about the ins and outs of bees. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. It's sometimes a challenge to find basic quilting info in our virtual world. I knew about a few types of bees, but this is so complete, and the guidance you provide on starting a bee is priceless!

  3. Very interesting, thank you for writing all that down.

  4. Great post with tons of really great info and lots of really great pictures of beautiful quilts!

    1. You are very welcome! I'm very glad to hear it's useful to you. May the bees multiply

  5. Very well written. And the quilts from your bees are just stunning--and for such a good cause.

  6. Great post, Rachel! I love that you included a section on etiquette! I'm part of a bee and I'm the last month. Thus far several people dropped out after getting their quilts together, and now want me to cut out all of the fabric pieces prior to mailing it out. So I'll probably end up doing half of the blocks myself, and with the line I'm working with being so special to me, I'm almost worried I should just do it myself. Again though, great post! Bees are a wonderful thing, especially when you have a group of unselfish women wanting to do their best and have a great time!

  7. What a great post Rachel! Loads of good information, and thanks for featuring the quilt I made with the Joy circle :)

  8. I was asked to be in a bee inspired by the Block Party book. My quilt experience was on 2 quilts I had made 15 years apart. The first one took me 11 years to finish! On paper I don't appear to be the best choice for a bee.
    I am a beginner in all aspects and I let them know that. They encouraged me to join anyway and I am having a blast. The commitment to make one or two blocks a month doesn't take that much time. This group is local and we meet in person once a month for an hour. We each put our block up on a flannel board and say anything we want to about our intention or designing process. It is great fun to see what others have done. Then the next month's person hands out her information for her block. She may include fabric, or not. The theme of the entire bee is 'out of the box' so we are all doing wonky blocks, etc.
    The expectation to do something out of the usual precise sewing is what gave me the courage to join. I have yet to learn the tricks of precision, but wonky I can do. We have done 2 months so far and it has been a ton of fun.

    1. Awesome! That definitely sounds like a good time. Thanks for sharing!

  9. that how you are in a bee, you get invited? Haha, well now I feel sad that no one has invited me.

    Kidding! (Sort of).

    You should do a bee with the block from your previous post. I JUST LOVE LOVE LOVE it. It is perfectly eclectic.

  10. You hit so many of the points of starting and joining a bee. thank you!

  11. You know, I wasn't the least bit surprised when I saw your post title! Our "chats" from last week had me mulling this over in my mind-could I just start a bee myself?? So when I saw your post I just had to chuckle. Thanks for consolidating all the info in one place. Sometimes I feel torn between balancing "community" sewing and personal sewing-given the limited amount of sewing time I do have. There just aren't enough hours in the day!

    1. Haha! That's funny that we're both thinking of it at once. Glad it was a timely post!

  12. Great helpful tips! I just got invited to join a 3x6 bee and its starts tomorrow, I am really excited. This will be my very first bee! If this goes well, and I get a few more followers on my blog I might put your tips to work and start a bee!

  13. I just finished quilting my 3rd baby quilt this afternoon - I don't think I'm quite "bee" ready, but I have to tell you, it got me a little excited to think I might want to in the not too distant future. And, the quilts in this post are just luscious - all out eye candy.

  14. What a wonderful explanation! I just wrote my first, introductory article for my local quilt guild's newsletter, about the online quilt blog community. My next article is planned to explain bees, may I link to your post? I certainly couldn't do any better!

  15. What a great post. Thanks for sharing all the details of various kinds of bees.

  16. very comprehensive and thanks for sharing! Love looking at all those stunning quilts!

  17. So many lovely quilts from dgs! It was great of you to recap the process; there's a lot of up-front thinking to do, but it surely makes things go smoother in the long run.

  18. Great, informative post and lovely, inspiring quilts too! Thanks.

  19. I think there is a lot that goes into starting and running a bee, but the first thing is just to jump in. And really it is no different for starting any kind of group. If you want to have people get together to sew, just invite them. :) That's my motto anyway...and it worked for me since I have had a fun group of people to sew with for the past 4 years.

    Great overview though for sure!! Bees take work and lots of communication.

  20. What a great idea! I'd never heard of this before and your explanation was very helpful. I might just try to start one myself!

  21. Rachel, it's taken out guild a little time to get in "bee mode" but we are finally there - it was one of our goals for 2016. Your post is so well written and informative, we linked to it. Please let us know if that's okay. You share so much information with the online community we wanted to send our few readers your way! Thanks! Cindy Marvel, ECMQG VP 2016.


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