I've gotten a lot of questions about quilting bees during the past few days, so I thought I would post a little about what they are and how to find one. Interspersed with all the explanations are photos of some of my favorite blocks that I've sewn for virtual quilting bees.
Online quilting bees are a lot of fun and I encourage everyone who can to join one!
What is a Quilting Bee?
Traditionally, a quilting "bee" was a gathering where a number of quilters would collaborate to complete a quilt in less time than it would take one person to do it alone. Quilting bee quilts were usually made for a reason. For example, to commemorate an occasion like a wedding, to produce a quilt to sell/raffle for a fund-raiser or to make quilts to donate to a charity. Quilting bees were also a social event, where quilters could talk as they worked. The quilts they produced were unique in that they included the creative work of many different people.
How Does an Online Quilting Bee Work?
Online quilting bees take the collaborative aspect of a traditional quilting bee and put it to work over distance, using the Postal Service and the Internet.
Most online quilting bees have 12 members and take place over one calendar year, with each member being responsible for coordinating one month. In advance of the month, the member whose turn it is prepares packages of fabric and instructions to send to each of the other participants. The other participants then create one or more blocks, which are returned to the sender. After receiving all of the blocks, the member whose month it is should have enough blocks for an entire quilt. This is repeated, over a year, until all members have had a turn. There are lots of ways you can vary/personalize the process, but most online bees follow this basic structure.
January 2010 Blocks for Suzanne for Bee-autiful Quilting Bee. Suzanne's theme was "Opposites Attract." She asked for blocks with both quiet areas and areas with lots of activity.
If you're thinking about starting a bee, here are a few things to think about:
Postage can add up. If you're concerned about the cost of postage, consider looking for bee members only in your part of the world. Alternately, you can structure your bee where members always sew blocks from their own fabric stash, thus eliminating the need for everyone to send out packages of fabric each month.
Consider how much structure you want. Will your bee use traditional block patterns, or will your members come up with more abstract ideas (e.g. blocks inspired by a photograph or color scheme)? Maybe you want your bee to focus on one style of block all year. As long as your whole group is on board, anything goes!
Discuss your skill level openly with other members. Are you terrified of sewing curves? Does the idea of paper piecing make you want to hide under your sewing table? I always want to encourage people to try new things, but the stress of trying new things in the context of making a block for someone else can turn a fun bee into drudgery. I recommend having this kind of discussion among your members before you start.
Please be respectful of other people's property and copyright. Unless you have permission from the author, it's almost never okay to copy patterns and send them to other people. If you want your fellow bee members to follow an online tutorial, please provide them with a link to the pattern/tutorial on the author's site.
Take advantage of free online resources to organize your bee. Flickr Groups and free blogging services are easy to use and can give you a place for your bee members to "meet."
Where Do I Sign Up?
By the time photos of blocks start showing up online, the bee they're affiliated with is usually already full. However, there are new bees starting all the time. I can recommend two great Flickr resources for finding bees that need members (or finding people to join a bee that you're starting).
Quilting Bee Blocks features photos of more than 2,700 different photos of blocks made for quilting bees. The discussion section of this group is always busy with people looking to join or start a new bee.
Block Party Quilt-Along is an outgrowth of the forthcoming Block Party, the book. The discussion thread of this pool is also a good place to post about new bees and look for ones to join. And, if you can't find or don't want to join a bee, you can always participate in the quilt along from the Block Party Blog. (Hint: There's a new tutorial up today!)
Please keep in mind that the moderators of these Flickr Pools are not responsible for setting you up with a bee or with coordinating existing bees. Once you've found other interested bee members, I suggest exchanging e-mails via Flickr Mail and then taking the discussion of specifics off Flickr.
Do you have more advice about starting bees? Do you have a bee that's looking for members? Post about it in the comments!