Quilting Bees: Their Origin, Evolution, and How to Start or Join One

We briefly explore the history of quilting bees and look at how they function in the age of the Internet.
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Last updatedLast updated: July 22, 2021

You might have seen many period movies or dramas featuring a group of women sitting on their porches talking and quilting at the same time. This particular way of socializing is known as the quilting bee.

This event allows women to turn their work into a party where they socialize while they work on their quilts. It has been in existence for many years where women not only express their artistic talents but also make a social event much more meaningful.

A quilting bee is a type of work party that results in fruitful products but also allows women to gather around, gossip, and have fun while working.

There is so much more to quilting bees. This article will talk about what is a quilting bee but also go into its history and help you start your own quilting bee.

Let’s begin!

What is the Quilting Bee?

Quilting Bees: Their Origin, Evolution, and How to Start or Join OneQuilting does not have to be a lonely job, which is why quilting bees exist. A quilting bee is basically a social event for people to gather and work on a quilt. People can either work on individual quilts or come together to make a single quilt.

Such types of get-togethers allow people to share skills and techniques with one another. This is also a great opportunity for people to gather around and have fun chats. All like-minded individuals get to have this fun group that can spend time together.

Quilting Bee History

Quilting Bees: Their Origin, Evolution, and How to Start or Join OneQuilting bee has been a social tradition that has existed ever since the nineteenth century. Then, this social event was popularized as a way for women to gather around and showcase their talent while they talked and gossiped with each other.

Quilting held high importance in many homes, which is why it became essential. Women gradually turned it into a relaxing hobby while socializing with their friends.

In the past, the quilting bee was usually held around in town halls or church rooms where a maximum of 12 women Trusted Source The Quilting Bee The quilting bee was often times held in a grange hall or a church vestry room which allowed for a maximum number of 12 women to attend. Often times, the number of guests was limited to seven, who, with the hostess, made up two quilting frames, the equivalent of two tables of bridge. xroads.virginia.edu would attend. When the quilting frame would be small, the women were divided into groups so they could work efficiently while socializing with each other in smaller groups.

In earlier times, it was expected of all women to learn and master the skill of quilting as it was a necessary requirement for socializing. Each woman would quilt her own block on the quilt. This allowed for the entire community to be represented on one quilt.

Women would usually spend a day at a quilting bee session where they would work on many different quilts. Once the day was over, it was ended with a feast. The feast usually included either roasted chicken or turkey. Men were also invited to the feast and gave the women the opportunity to mix and mingle.

The entire night was filled with dances and songs. The event was well-celebrated in many communities as it marked the end of long hours of labor and exquisite craftsmanship.

Gradually, some quilting bees even found a way to express their political views Trusted Source The Surprisingly Radical History of Quilting Many of the quilts featured in “Radical Tradition” explicitly address the ways in which products of domestic labor, which is often performed by women and people whose work is undercompensated, are rendered invisible. One 1987 piece by Jean Ray Laury satirizes a famous 1963 anti-feminist speech by Arkansas Senator Paul Van Dalsem. Other quilts showcase a variety of styles and themes embraced by 19th-century craftspeople, including the abolition of slavery and Temperance Movement. One late 19th-century “crazy quilt”—a chaotic style without repeating features—uses media including silk ribbons and portraits of political leaders cut from campaign banners. www.smithsonianmag.com through their quilting activity, like the famous Freedom Quilting Bee in Alabama.

Quilting Bees Today

While this tradition may have originated in the nineteenth century, it still holds importance among the quilters of today. Nowadays, quilting bee often takes place virtually. With the help of new technology and social media, the art of quilting with your fellow quilters has been kept alive through virtual meet-ups.

Virtual quilting bee events can range from large to small, from local to international events. The tradition has been kept alive in various ways.


Quilters usually gather around virtually and discuss their quilting strategies while creating their own blocks at home. Once they are done, the blocks can be gathered by a bee member or sent over to others to ensure that these blocks come together as one quilt.

While the art of quilting is kept alive through quilting bees, it also allows people to share their skills, learn new techniques, meet new members of the community, and most importantly, gossip!

How to Start a Quilting Bee

Are you still looking to join a quilting bee? Worry not, because you can start your own quilting bee instead.

This is how:

Step 1: The first thing you should do before starting a quilting bee is to decide on a theme. You should pick a theme that attracts people to join your bee and is also fun to work around. You can go for simple themes if you are a beginner or go advanced if you are looking to challenge yourself and fellow bees. Your theme can revolve around a certain type of stitch, or a certain type of cloth, or even related to any event. Themes don’t have to be strict as long as they are related to something most quilters will find in common.

Step 2: After deciding on a theme, you should work on the structure of your quilting bee. Your structure should decide the number of members and the duration of the quilting bee. You also need to decide on the size of your quilting blocks. For this purpose, you can use a quilting ruler. We recommend this one. If you are unsure about this, do your research or ask fellow bees about the best way to go.

Step 3: Next up, you have to decide on meeting details. If you are meeting virtually, then you need to consider logistical details regarding the blocks handing over. To stay organized, you can maintain a checklist and make sure everyone is meeting deadlines. For virtual meet-ups, ensure that your members are well-acquainted with one another so the meet-ups are fun and enjoyable. To recruit members, you can ask fellow quilters within your circle or extend invitations online.

While inviting people, make sure you tell them about the theme and structure of the quilting bee to avoid any future misunderstandings.

Step 4: Once, you have figured out the members and the logistics you can get to quilting. Share ideas with fellow members and see which one best suits your theme. Work on your blocks and then gather all the blocks to finish your quilts using the best sewing machines for quilting. We recommend the Singer-7469q.

Quilting Bee Etiquette

For a successful quilting bee group, there are certain etiquettes that need to be followed. These are:

  • Everyone is supposed to meet the deadlines, so the group does not fall behind.
  • Dropping out of the bee is considered to be bad etiquette.
  • If you are struggling to meet deadlines, then you can always bring it up in the group and a solution can be brought forward
  • Ensure clear communication throughout the entire process.
  • Lastly, have fun while quilting. The purpose of this social group is not only to be productive but to also enjoy the process of quilting with fellow quilters.

Quilting Bee Ideas

Quilting Bees: Their Origin, Evolution, and How to Start or Join OneHere are some fun quilting ideas to help with your own quilting bee:

  1. Gather fellow quilters to patch together a quilt for a good cause. You can do this for people in need or sell your quilts at a fundraiser. Call around different shelters or hospitals and see if they need new quilts. There is nothing as great as coming together and helping fellow community members.
  2. If you have someone in your group who is celebrating something, then a quilt would be a great gift. You can personalize each block to make it more memorable. Such a gift will be special to the receiver as so much care and love goes into the making of this quilt, thanks to the quilting bee.
  3. You can always introduce new members to your quilting bee. Quilting bees can serve as a teacher-student hangout where professional quilters can help beginners. This can help people share tips and techniques to help perfect quilting skills.
  4. Quilting does not have to be strict or rigid. In fact, quilting bees can bring out a more creative side in people with individual projects. People can work on their own blocks and come together to make a mix-and-match kind of quilt. This also brings about various skills in the group. You can use free motion grips to ensure that everyone works comfortably.
  5. Virtual quilting can be done over video calls. This is ideal for people who have a busy schedule but also want to keep their passion for quilting alive. Virtual quilting bees are much more manageable and allow people to socialize over large distances.

Final Thoughts

Quilting bees are an ideal way to keep the community of quilters together. This way of socializing ensures productivity as members keep on meeting to work on their quilts.

The experience of quilting is made much more fun as you get to share it with fellow quilters. People get the chance to bond over their love for quilting while sharing their skills and techniques with one another. This also allows people to network and enjoy the overall experience.

Now that you know what a quilting bee is, it’s time for you to start your own and get quilting!

References

1.
The Quilting Bee
The quilting bee was often times held in a grange hall or a church vestry room which allowed for a maximum number of 12 women to attend. Often times, the number of guests was limited to seven, who, with the hostess, made up two quilting frames, the equivalent of two tables of bridge.
2.
The Surprisingly Radical History of Quilting
Many of the quilts featured in “Radical Tradition” explicitly address the ways in which products of domestic labor, which is often performed by women and people whose work is undercompensated, are rendered invisible. One 1987 piece by Jean Ray Laury satirizes a famous 1963 anti-feminist speech by Arkansas Senator Paul Van Dalsem. Other quilts showcase a variety of styles and themes embraced by 19th-century craftspeople, including the abolition of slavery and Temperance Movement. One late 19th-century “crazy quilt”—a chaotic style without repeating features—uses media including silk ribbons and portraits of political leaders cut from campaign banners.
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