What can be bad about a bee? My rule of thumb is (i) don't expect to get all your blocks and expect that some of your fabrics may go missing; (ii) expect at least one of them to be made in a way you did not ask for or to a standard lower than you expected; (iii) expect some bee members to go quiet or dark or be unable to continue with the bee; (iv) understand that real life is more important than a bee block so sometimes real life must take precedence; and (v) try to make and mail your blocks on time but accept that others might not always be able to. This sounds like doom and gloom but I find that, if you don't set your sights too high and aren't too over controlling, being in a bee is a whole lot of fun and that's what it's all about.
What do you need? You need a bee mama who groups everyone together, sets up a Flickr group (set images to public and threads to private - that way you can share addresses in the group), starts threads like "who wants which month", "let's introduce ourselves", "shall we skip December"? and "here are some rules of our bee". She might make a bee button or get the group to design one (Sue, come back to me for a button tute if you need one!) She reminds people to start a thread on their month describing what she wants people to make. She chases late blocks. She negotiates disputes over missing blocks, badly made blocks, lost fabric. She may have to make difficult decisions about whether a bee member can stay in the bee. She usually has to recruit new members to replace drop-outs at least once and often more than once. I say "she" throughout this post but I am currently in a bee with Dan and John so please don't be offended D&J by my narrow minded sexism.
Who should be in your bee? My first two bees were open invitation on my blog and were full of the most talented, fun and lovely people who I still count as my (real and online) friends today. Sometimes I asked to join bees which I thought looked interesting. Recently I started two bees and invited people whose style I thought suited those bees. The premise of one, called Stash Trad Bee, is that we make from our own stashes but as are allowed to specify a Kona solid for the block. We make traditional blocks. The premise of the other, called Free Bee, is again that we make from our stashes but we make very free, improv blocks. The premise of your bee might be less defined. It might be that any blocks at all can be made or just raw edge appliqued blocks or just pink blocks or just blocks using Denyse Schmidt fabrics. The rules are whatever you make them.
One word of advice though. Many people are intimidated by the idea of joining a bee. They imagine that "everyone else" is competent and capable and that they are incompetent and incapable. They might be shy to ask to join thinking they are not good enough. They might find the instructions for one month overwhelmingly scary and might even leave as a result. I have had one of the most talented quilters out there leave a bee on the basis of what seemed to be quite a simple month's instruction to this insecurity is not restricted to lesser known quilters - it affects most of us out there. As a bee mama, bear this in mind, keep in touch with people, see how they are doing, ask why they have gone quiet. In my experience, the quilters I have teamed up with in bees, whether they were beginners or highly accomplished, all had their strengths and their weaknesses and the fun of the bee was working through that and making the most of it.
And finally a few top tips for bee participants (some given to me by Laura). Expect to love and hate some months. Expect to really not want to make certain blocks. Expect to be surprised that the blocks you thought you hated turned out to be your favourite. Expect to run out of fabric (i.e. send out more than you think people will need, especially for paper piecing). Don't go into a bee with the dedicated purpose of getting a beautiful quilt (although this may well result). Go into the bee to have fun, make friends and not to worry too much about perfection and timing and workmanship. Yes there are perfect bees full of perfect bee members and perfect bee blocks but those are few and far between. However there are A LOT of bees where quilters get together, have a chat, have a laugh, accept that not all quilters make perfect blocks on perfect time. Expect to go through hell and back as a team, and love each other all the more for it. And that's what it's all about for me.