When you see or hear the words “quilting bee”, what comes to mind?
I don’t know about you, but I always think of a bunch of women sitting on the front porch of a quaint little house, sipping sweet tea, gossiping about friends and family while quilting the same quilt they’ve been working on for the past ten years.
Well, what if I was to tell you that a quilting bee is SO much more? It’s more like a quilting party with an actual purpose.
Let’s dive in and explore some of your burning questions about the origins of this group sewing gathering and how to start one of your own.
I hope to answer all of your questions and teach you some fun facts along the way!
- What Is a Quilting Bee?
- Quilting Bee History
- How to Start a Quilting Bee: 5 Fun Ideas
What Is a Quilting Bee?
First things first — what is a quilting bee anyway? The Merriam Webster dictionary describes a quilting bee as “a social gathering of women at which they work together at making quilts or doing other quilting work.”
That’s a pretty self-explanatory definition, but why is it called a quilting bee? Let’s dig a little deeper into the history of this “social gathering” and find the details of how it all got started.
Quilting Bee History
The Word Histories site states that the usage of “bee” (as in the term “quilting bee”) was first coined in the late 18th century, referring to “a meeting of neighbors to unite their labors for the benefit of one of their number” — just like little worker bees in a hive.
So the term “bee” could be used in conjunction with sewing, quilting, weaving, or even barn raising.
If we combine these two definitions, we have something pretty awesome.
Quilting Bee: A social gathering of friends to unite and work together to create quilts and other quilted items to benefit one or all of the members.
Now that we have a fair grasp on the definition of a quilting bee, let’s go back through history and see if we can find when they all started.
The earliest mentions of a “quilting bee” in written form were in the early 1800s, usually a call to arms for the towns’ women to gather and create quilts for soldiers or society’s poor. Quilts have always been a great source of comfort and love and make the best gifts.
The quilting bees of days gone by were equal parts social, necessary, and therapeutic. Women could get together, talk about their struggles, celebrate their accomplishments, and share skills while creating quilts that would serve a real, essential purpose.
How to Start a Quilting Bee: 5 Fun Ideas
Ready for some quitting bee ideas for starting your own — whether it’s in-person or online? Quilting bees are an excellent way to make new quilty friends and share your love of quilts with others.
1. Create a quilt or quilts for a great cause.
Many of us know friends, families, or even acquaintances who struggle financially, relationally, or physically. How great would it be to gather your quilty friends together and make something special for those in need?
Does it need to be in-person, or can you host online quilting bees for a cause? This type of bee could easily be done online or in person.
Start an email chain or a Facebook group and figure out together who your bees will help. You could have everyone meet and create a quilt together, or each person could create individual blocks and then send them to one person to put all the blocks together.
Check your local children’s hospital and see if it would be okay to create quilted pillows for the children. Call your local homeless shelter and see if they need blankets or other items you could create.
2. Create a quilt for a celebration.
Say one of your friends is getting married or expecting her first child. Wouldn’t the perfect gift be a quilt? I love this idea because you can personalize it for the specific person who will be the recipient.
Are you making a wedding quilt gift? You could have each person who has a hand in creating it write their advice for marital bliss on a block with a fabric marker. Depending on how many people you have in your quilting bee, these messages could take up the entire quilt top or be incorporated into a design.
How about a first baby quilt? Find out the nursery colors for the expecting mother. Then let everyone in your quilting bee know, and go pick out fabrics individually or together. If you are able, have everyone get together to create this precious one-of-a-kind gift.
Or if you can’t gather together, you can have a designated person put together everyone’s individually made blocks. Imagine how special this gift will be with all the love incorporated into every stitch.
3. Start a quilting bee to teach others how to quilt.
Many people would LOVE to quilt, but they have trouble learning how by reading tutorials or watching videos. What if you started a “beginner’s quilting bee” where you could teach people how to sew and quilt at their own pace?
This gathering would be an excellent opportunity for the students and a rewarding experience for the teachers. You could do this a couple of ways.
- Have one teacher per student for a one-on-one learning experience the entire time.
- Have one teacher that is helping several students. This option could be done online as well via a video call.
Quilting bees center around community and sharing. You’ll not only help others learn a fantastic skill; you could even make some lifelong friendships.
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4. Plan individual projects but during a quilting party.
Let’s be honest. Quilting is fun! Who wouldn’t love to attend a quilting party? This idea is typically how a quilting guild gathering would work.
Everyone brings their projects to work on while the members (I’d like to call them “busy bees”) gab and eat good food.
Think birthday party, but instead of pin the tail on the donkey, you quilt! Sounds like a good time to me. You could hold this bee in the evening or as part of an extended party with a weekend retreat. This retreat format is probably the most popular type of “quilting bee” for in-person, modern-day quilting.
Quilting guilds and parties are great because you can have various skill levels under one roof, working together, getting to know each other, and having a great time bonding over their shared love of quilting.
5. Try a Quilt-A-Long quilting bee.
Have you ever heard of QAL? QAL stands for “quilt-a-long,” and they are all the rage online right now.
They are so popular because of the format — an online quilting bee where several quilters get together and work on the same project in the comfort of their own homes.
Each week you are assigned a quilt block, so it is quite manageable even if you have a busy schedule. You then have a designated day and time each week to get together and talk about the project either on a video call or a group chat scenario.
This video bee is a terrific option for people who have busy schedules or are a bit shy about getting started in a guild or bee in person.
Read to start or join a quilting bee?
I hope one of these five ideas spoke to you and got the wheels turning on how you can start your very own quilting bee.
And you don’t even need a front porch to sit out on! A quilting bee can be two people or 50+ people, but the group’s size isn’t what’s important. What’s most valuable is the purpose of the group and the community and love it is creating.
About the author: Miriam Ronne is a lover of all things quilting and sewing. She is a self-taught quilter and is constantly learning and broadening her skill set to create one-of-a-kind quilts! When she's not behind her sewing machine you can find her playing with her fur babies or trying her hand at other crafty things.