On the whole, quilters are a social bunch. The sharing of knowledge and projects has been integral to our way of life for centuries. In the UK, families are known to have quilted together, working together to produce patchworks and quilts to decorate their home. Often these were made with off cuts, scraps and treasured fabrics to create family heirlooms. Family scrap bags could include fabrics that might have sentimental value or family connections. In the United States, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, quilters of the time would share the workload of quilt making, establishing the origins of the traditional quilting bee. These groups met not only out of necessity, but also for pleasure, sharing stories around the quilting frame as each made their mark on the piece being quilted. Quilting socially allowed many to overcome the loneliness of an isolated lifestyle and provided all-important human interaction.
Although American in its roots, the term “quilting bee” evokes a sense of sentimentality and still resonates with quilters today, who have modernised the term and expanded on the way they interact with each other. As most people now complete projects individually, such interaction has evolved to include group sewing days and both large and small-scale events. Social media has certainly played a role in the renaissance of the quilting bee, which now exist alongside The Guild and other groups. Today, bees exist as a means of collaboration, with ‘queen bees’ choosing a block and other members of the bee contributing their own version. Whilst technology has helped to connect quilters digitally, it is the face-to-face events, such as The Festival of Quilts in the UK, the largest quilt show in Europe and The Modern Quilt Guild’s QuiltCon, that allow quilters to interact on the biggest scale.
With the introduction of The Guild and local groups in the ‘quilt revival’ period of the 1960s and 1970s, quilters have been able to maintain a face-to-face connection on a more intimate level. These groups allow people to experience workshops, guest speakers, trips, community charity projects, and sewing days with other quilters in their local and surrounding area. As well as The Quilters’ Guild regional groups across the UK, they run five special interest groups open to members; the British Quilt Study Group, the Miniature Quilt Group, the Traditional Quilt Group, Contemporary Quilt and the Modern Quilt Group. The modern group is particularly popular with a lot of today’s tech-savvy quilters.
As mentioned on their webpage, the Modern Quilt Group “seeks to share our love of modern quilting with quilters and non-quilters everywhere and embraces social media such as Instagram and Facebook as a way to do that”.
Evidently, the last eighteen months has dramatically altered the way quilters interact. With events cancelled and restrictions imposed on the how and where people can meet, quilters have once again turned to social media and technology to help them connect. There has been a large shift to online teaching. As someone whose entire quilting diary was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I admit to being dubious about making the transition to teaching online. I was worried the sense of community and interaction afforded by an in-person class would be lacking. In fact, it was quite the opposite, with connections being made by people all across the world who, in normal circumstances, wouldn’t have been able to attend a workshop without the cost and effort of travel. Through the use of Zoom, I have taught hundreds of people who have thoroughly enjoyed both the learning and social aspects of the workshop.
Regardless of how you make your quilting connections, you are sure to grow as a quilter when you surrounded yourself with likeminded people. Being able to share work, receive feedback, and participate in a group endeavour instils the same sense of camaraderie that was felt by quilters centuries before. Long may it continue.