Friday, February 14, 2014

designing Collaborative Quilts

Thanks for your feedback on yesterday's improv blocks!  There's a good, healthy variety on which ones we like better.  That's what makes the world go round!  And I do hope you guys try your hand at them sometime.  Scraps are so forgiving, aren't they?  Just sew them together and see what happens!

Today I'm thinking about bee quilts since my turn to lead the Love circle quilt is coming in March.  In the past 3 1/2 years (!!) that I've been a part of Love circle, we've made oodles of quilts for Wrap Them in Love, and I'm proud of them all.  As I think over the ways that they're each unique, I also spot some patterns.  I can roughly boil it down to 3 different approaches for leading bee quilts (all illustrated with Love Circle quilts).  Today I'm wondering... what kind of bee quilt am I in the mood to make?

::Repeating Block Grid::

The most simple and obvious collaborative quilt is composed of a specific quilt block sewn up in a standard grid layout.  The leader will often choose a very specific block, such as the Sawtooth Star or Log Cabin, to finish at a particular size (probably 12").    Each bee member can make one or more blocks, as necessary to bring the quilt to an ideal size.

Goose Creek for do. Good Stitches
Goose Creek by Deborah

One variation of this approach is to ask for a block theme, such as stars, allowing members to choose a favorite star block construction.  For variety, quilters sometimes sash the blocks or set them on point.

Love in Wonky Stars with do. Good Stitches
Love in Wonky Stars by me

Another variation is the strip quilt, where all members make a particular patchwork strip in a certain width.  Like blocks, the strips will be sewn together in predictable rows.

bits and blocks front
Bits and Blocks by Ara Jane

Repeating blocks make beautiful, classic quilts or even unexpected ones, depending on the chosen block.  This design style is easy on the leader (straightforward assembly) and comfortable for members (they know exactly what to sew).

::Interpretive Blocks:

Another style of collaborative quilting relies heavily on each member's artistic contribution.  Here the lead quilter will request blocks in a theme that is very open-ended, such as "houses and trees."  If members can use all kinds of piecing styles (applique, paper piecing, wonky improv, etc.) and the theme is broad, bee mates will create really unique interpretations.

Happy Houses Quilt Top
Happy Houses by Natalie

The leader may ask blocks to finish a particular size or leave the size open-ended as well.  If the size is undefined, she'll have to fill in between blocks with negative space or creative piecing of her own.   I think that blocks relying heavily on improv usually feel interpetive.

Gray Side Detail
by Oh, Fransson!

This type of bee quilt tends to energize!  Each feels that her artistic vision is valued.  On the other hand if you're uninspired by the theme, interpretive blocks can be paralizing.  What to sew?  I think it works well for uninspired members to copy the style of another bee mate (so long as she feels that would be welcome).  This releases that sense of pressure and actually creates some helpful unity in an otherwise diverse work.

FO: Wintry Shoo-fly
Wintry Shoo-fly by Jacey

Intreptive block quilts are fascinating quilts.  They can be spectacularly successful!  But it's true that once in a while a leader will receive blocks that she really struggles to bring together.  It's a style that's exciting and challenging for all involved.

::Design Seeds::

I've notice a whole other category of bee quilts where the bee blocks are like seeds.  In the hands of the lead quilter, blocks blossom into an unexpected and complex design.  The lead quilter might ask for specific or interpretive blocks.  The point is that what results is not something her bee mates could have anticipated.  The assembly is a very creative process!

FO: Geodes
Geodes by Jaceycraft

For example, the lead quilter might place simple, traditional blocks in a really unusual layout with lots of negative space.  Maybe she partly disassembles or even cuts blocks, using them like raw material for a more complex design.  Other times the lead quilter takes smallish blocks, which don't cover much space, and adds a bunch of her own design details.

Love in Polaroids with do. Good Stitches
Love in Polaroids by me

I love it when a bee mate surprises me with a finished work oozing with her unique design style.  I personally don't mind at all if my blocks are like seeds, which others may need to alter to fit a vision.  I hope that others feel the same?  Members probably feel less inspired when they can't see where the leader is going, but hopefully the surprise finish makes up for that!  This style demands much more of the lead quilter, obviously.  I think many times it "happens" more than is planned ahead.

So, what kind of bee quilt am I in the mood to make?  I think I want to do a "design seeds" kind of work that calls for open-ended blocks from my bee mates.  My last few bee quilts were repeating block styles, so I'm ready to shake things up.  I've been feeling very improv lately!  I guess my first step will be to create an inspirational block of my own.

Mmmm... could be a lovely weekend.


  1. Great concepts and something that I'll be sharing with my MQG next month. We have 3 bees going, and a new one just started; but we've had some requests for inspiration and this post might just be the key.

    Inspiring as always!

  2. thanks for this post, Rachel. I sometimes struggle a little bit as a quilter because I tend to like more open-ended creative blocks while a lot of the members seem to prefer more regimented blocks with a tutorial. for my part, i try to do one simple quilt and make the other one more challenging. I think the other quilters in my circle are similar so it all tends to balance out in the end.

  3. I've never done a circle bee. It is neat to see how the quilts turn out. Plus know how the the request came in. That is interesting how they work.

  4. Great post Rachel and wonderful to read about your thoughts on how to approach a Bee quilt.

    1. Thanks Nicolette. I was hoping it might be helpful our bees =)

  5. I like giving bee mates creative freedom, it makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

  6. I think I am probably more comfortable with repetitive blocks for something that I am going to contribute to but for my own quilts I like to do some improv.

  7. Great post. I haven't participated in a bee like this. We did a bee of sorts in our MQG and have our last two blocks due soon. I haven't seen all the finished quilts yet (I need to get going) but it has been interesting to watch all the different approaches from each person.

  8. I've never thought about bee quilts this way, but your reasoning makes good sense. I like the idea of giving bee mates freedom with the size of their blocks. Putting it all together must be challenging, but what a stunning result!

  9. Yeah, I've been mulling over the design I want for my month as queen bee and I am definitely leaning toward open ended improv - looking forward to seeing what you do for yours!

  10. Excellent post and very thought provoking. I am about to take part in my first bee and found it very useful :)

  11. Beautiful examples - and very helpful for me, personally, as I try to get a show quilt together! Thank you!

  12. I will be doing my first time as a quilter in Do. good stitches later this year and your post was the perfect way to start imagining the quilt! Thanks!

  13. I think my favorite sometimes are those Design Seeds quilts...when we as quilters choose to do something totally different than expected makes the Bee process all the more exciting!


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