The Risk and Beauty of Online Quilting Bees

I have found that the majority of quilters love to sew with others and share their work. Although based on your location you might not have a guild that fits your style, a quilt shop with an open sew, or a community to reach out to. Welcome to the internet world where the ‘social’ aspect of quilting makes is easy to find your people!  When I first started quilting years ago, I ‘instantly’ fell in love with Instagram.  So quickly I was able to find quilters that liked the same fabrics, the same styles, and I could follow as many as I liked.  Then I found online swaps and bees!  First I joined a few swaps, thinking doing a one-off swap would be a good starting point. It was and it was nice. I was happy with what I received in return, even though it wasn’t *really* what I hoped for.
Then in 2014 I joined an online quilting bee and here is where I found my true people! A group of quilters all working from the same book and sending each other blocks for a matter of 12  months.  Instantly I had 11 new online quilting friends.  We created a hashtag, picked blocks and color schemes, and had a wonderful time.  I still follow many of those quilters today.

But an online quilting bee might not always turn out with the luck I had on my first. There are a few risks in joining a quilting bee.

Risk #1 – Quality Control

When you join a quilting bee there is probably a set of standards or guidelines set up.  You might be working from a specific pattern or specific collection of fabric – which is what enticed you to join the bee. Then the fun begins with making and sending blocks until it’s your month’s turn.  You chose a block and a group of colors for everyone to use and you eagerly check your mailbox that month, waiting for the blocks to arrive.  Your blocks start coming in and it’s so exciting! But you take a closer look – is that block the right size? Is it square?  Is it even the right fabrics?  What if the quilter made it in the right colors, but didn’t use quilt shop quality fabric?
Unfortunately these things happen. Honestly, you have no ability to control what people send you.  Hopefully the blocks are the way you want, but they might not be. You have to decide how to use the blocks you receive.  If it’s not a perfect block, can you square it to fit? Maybe you piece it into the back of the quilt or use it as the quilt label.  Maybe you create the top as is and then donate the quilt to someone who will love it.  Or donate a bunch of blocks to someone else’s UFO project.  Ask yourself, will the person that sent you the block ever actually know if you don’t use it?  What is important is to acknowledge and thank the quilter for sending their block even if it’s not perfect.  This block could be more advanced to them and they did their best effort.  They held to their commitment to make and send you a block, using their time and fabric to do so.  If it’s not the quality you expected, take it with a grain of salt.

Risk #2- Missing Blocks

If you have been in a quilting bee before that didn’t go well, you may have a fear of being placed in a group of quilters that everyone starts off with tons of energy and excitement, but dwindles as it goes on.  What if you choose a later month and people don’t want to participate anymore? What if you are in a group of 12 quilters, and you only receive 10 blocks? How are you going to make a quilt?  These may seem like trivial questions, but they have been asked.  We hope every group in a quilting bee gets along swimmingly and all exchange blocks for the duration of the project.

Sometimes life happens, and you might not get all your blocks. For the quilter who didn’t send a block, you may not know what is happening in their life.  The easy thing is to ask them! Ask if they are still working or need more time.  Is the block more challenging than they thought it would be? Did they run out of that color fabric? We now know life happens, and it can happen hard.  Are they located near any fires and need to leave for safety? Are they unexpectedly out of a job and need to count every penny, which includes postage? Obviously they don’t need to be that honest, but if you are in a group that is counting on you, we hope the quilter will at least respond and tell us “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this month.” You may jump to the worst conclusion, but give the quilter the benefit of the doubt and ask. If you get no response, well it looks like you just need to make yourself another block.  Good thing you already did one for yourself and you know how!

Risk #3 – It’s My First Bee

Maybe you are scared to join a quilting bee because you never have.  What if they don’t like my skills? Will it be too time consuming? What if I don’t like it?  But you know what, we bet you do like it.  This can be awesome.  You’re going to make a group of new quilty friends that all love the same thing you love.  They joined the bee because they like the pattern, the book, or the fabric.  They joined to make new friends.  You might live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of quilt shops or classes, or guilds that are not in your style.  Sometimes classes and guild meetings may be when you work and you just wish you had something you can be a part of on your own time.  Here lies the perfection of online quilting bees.
When you send out your first block, you might be a little nervous.  But with each block you will gain confidence and a new friend.  When the time comes for your month, you will see everyone’s gift coming in to you.  Getting the mail will be exciting, not knowing whose block arrived.  As soon as you have the full set you will be tempted to put them all together, even if it’s only a design wall for now.  Whenever you do finish the project, you will always remember the group of quilters it came from.  You will remember the blocks you sent, the challenges you may have had, and overall the fun of the bee.  You might forget their names over time so if you’re smart, write them down now (speaking from experience – lol).  But you won’t forget the feeling of receiving the blocks, the feeling of finishing a project made from a group of special quilters.  Be it one month from the bee, or three years when you finally finish it, you will remember this quilt and its origins.  This is what  quilting bees are truly for.  You found a new community of quilters, a group of friends, and a quilt that will forever have a special meaning to you.

This quilt is from the first quilting bee I ever joined, and loved.  Search the hashtag #moderninstabee2014 for great inspiration.

Block is Triple Star from Modern Bee: 13 Quilts to Make with Friends, by Lindsay Connor. I love this book and go back to it all the time.  It has great quilts to make by yourself, too!  😉

FreeSpirit Block Party InstaBee!

Hi everyone! I just received this amazing book this week: FreeSpirit Block Party.


This book is incredible! 40 Quilt blocks from your 20 favorite FreeSpirit Fabric Designers.  The blocks are at all sewing skill levels! I see straight beginner blocks, detailed patchwork, paper piecing, curves – incredible! Diamonds, squares, triangles, circles – every quilt block shape is included in these designs. You know what else I love about this book? I never realized how many FreeSpirit designers I love and follow! Kaffe Fassett, Anna Maria Horner, Kathy Doughtry, Tula Pink – just to name a few.

And of course, the designers used their own fabrics which makes the book just so pretty to look at.  I have a new favorite each time I look at this book, but currently am crushing on Mod Cabin by Amy Reber.  This is a paper piecing block design, which I don’t do a lot of. But for this design – I would!

Now there is a really wonderful aspect to this book that I need to mention.  100% of the proceeds of FreeSpirit Block Party go to Project Night Night.  This organization supplies care packages to homeless children. How wonderful is that?  No need to think that you have too many quilt books.  Here you can buy a new quilt book and know the proceeds are going to help children. A win-win for sure!

So here’s the thing – I love making blocks, I love making quilts. But sometimes it takes a long time, right? Do I really have time to make a new quilt with 12 blocks in it? I don’t know.  But what if I was in a Bee that helped me make my 12 blocks? The quilt would be done so fast!  And here are 40 blocks to choose from. These two ideas go hand-in-hand.  So I am proposing a FreeSpirit Block Party InstaBee!

Ok, you might be wondering “What is an InstaBee?”

I was part of the #ModernInstaBee in 2014 and loved it.  I ‘met’ some of my first Instagram quilty friends through it. It felt great learning how to make a block and sending it off to someone I know who loved the pattern and the colors.  And then when my month came up, so quickly I had 12 great blocks to make my daughter a quilt! Now finishing that quilt was another story, but hey – the blocks were all created in a month. Another cool connection – the author of Modern Bee-Quilts to Make with Friends, Lindsay Conner, is one of the compilers for this book!  It’s like it is meant to be a quilting ‘bee’.

You will be linked up in a ‘hive’ with a group of quilters. Your ‘bee hive’ will pick an order for who gets what month. Let’s pretend my Bee starts in October and I received the October month.  I would contact my Bee and tell them which block I want everyone to make and with what color scheme to use.  Each member can be as specific as they like but please note not everyone has the same fabric selection as others. You might be hoarding Tula Pink whereas your friend has a stash of Laura Heine. My hive then makes my selected block during the month and mails it to me by the end of the month. Poof – 12 blocks completed in one month! Then November comes along, and it’s November’s turn to make a block and send off to that person. And so on, until all  bee member blocks are created. You don’t have to be on Instagram to participate, but it will be the easiest to follow everyone on it!

So what do you think?

Do you want to be part of my FreeSpirit Block Party InstaBee?  I hope so!  You really never know how big these things can get. I’m hoping for 12, but wouldn’t 100 members be amazing?

Remember, FreeSpirit is donating the proceeds they receive from the book sales to Project Night Night.

The book is amazing, and so will be the InstaBee! Please Sign Up Here!

Here is a link to the book. If you have a local quilt shop who has the book, please support them! If not, please support me, lol. If you order through me I get a small affiliate rate. The little change I will receive from the affiliate link will help organize the bee for the coming year.  I hope you participate!

Need some more information to make your choice? FreeSpirit has you covered! Learn a little bit more about the book and the quilts with this video by FreeSpirit Director of Marketing Nancy Jewell. She is one of the book compilers.

One last thing. I do not work for FreeSpirit Fabrics (but wouldn’t that be awesome!) nor is this sponsored by them. This is just a fun idea I had to build community between quilters. Please follow me on Instagram @Handmade3D.   For the block party use the hashtag #FSBlockPartyBee  and please share with your friends!