Wednesday, 6 June 2012

How it works: the virtual quilting bee

Sue Bone, who came to our retreat, was a little envious of the camaraderie of the Brit Bee Gals and wonders if anyone would like to join her in a FQ retreat bee.  Now I do not know what the limits of this group might be.  People who went this year?  Those who might go next year?  Either way, if you're interested, pop on over to Sue's blog or Flickr or twitter and let her know.

Rainbow Double Flying Geese Circle on White with a dash of block

She has asked me to give an outline of how an online bee works and, since I am asked this questions many times, I thought it might make sense to pop it in a post.  The basic premise is that 12 people get together.  Each month, they make a block for one of the members of the bee so that, by the end of the year, each person has enough blocks to make a quilt top.  Within that basic premise, there are endless variations of rules and ideas.  You can make from stash or send out fabrics each month.  You can make blocks to a very loose or a very precise premise.  You can allow any types of sewing (pieced, wonky, raw edge etc) or just a specific one (eg a foundation paper piecing bee).  The rules are up to the group.

Rainbow tree

What is good about a bee?  Well there are many things.  You get to chat all year long with a small defined group of people within your bee.  You tend to share blog addresses, become bloggy, twitter and flickr mates, sometimes even real life mates.  You are pushed out of your comfort zone by requests for blocks you have not tried before.  You receive blocks from people so that your quilt has a real mix of input.  The more open the instructions, the more varied the blocks in your quilt.

Busy Bees Scrap Vomit Block for Katy 

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.

Army Star Block 

 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.

Liberty film strip for Amy Badskirt

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.

October star block for Shelley 

 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.

Amitie BOM Camelot King George block

Good luck Sue.  You will have a wonderful year.  You will laugh.  You may cry.  You may sometimes cuss and swear.  But we look forward to seeing your bee quilts at the retreat next year and to getting all weepy that we have a FQR bee!  And don't forget Erin Singleton's wonderful "Quilting Bee Blocks" Flickr group where you can post pics of your bee blocks, drop in for advice and a chat, find new bees, advertise for members for your new bees and where you can find a whole series of threads starting with "Quilting Bees 101" full of advice, suggestions and tips for running your own bee.

  FWQAL variation on #60 noon and light

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.  

34 comments:

  1. Amen! Great post!
    I’m having so much fun reading and looking at pictures of the FQR!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Lynne. Posts to private and photos to public - off to have a look.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post Lynne. I think we have been particularly lucky in our Brit Bee in that we really formed great friendships with all members, nobody fell out, everybody made the blocks and nothing went missing. We were all relatively novice sewers before, and so out confidence and skills grew with the bee.

    A few observations on my year of Mama-ing the Brit Bee:
    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). Expect to go through hell and back as a team, and love each other all the more for it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post it makes me feel less nervous about joining a bee in the future! I am one of those people that have been scared of bee's I have only been invited to one bee - that was by you many moons ago and I ran away and hid! I have heard plenty of horror stories about bee's and think a bee like the stash trad bee is a great idea. I am always inspired by Ringo Pie but would never make the grade in a bee of that level, but it's fab to see what others can do. That said I've been watching Brit Bee over the last 12 months and that looks like so much fun. I think the best bee's are the one's where the right people gel together.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes! I feel the same way about Bees. So much fun if you can approach it with a "what will be" attitude!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I joined Sunni's stash bee. So far it has been great, it has stretched me, and is making me think 'outside the box.' I recommend this activity, but my big question is- where does one find a bee to join- I was lucky with Sunni's one, as she opened a second hive, but I haven't found it easy to find a bee to join!

    If you get a chance, anyone who hasn't done so already- Jump right in when the opportunity appears! It is fun.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post! For me bees are all about community and getting challenged to try something new. And getting great mail!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Brilliant post Lynne - I'm in my first Bee (Free Bee) and am loving it.

    It's great to be challenged, as we have so far and I'm delighted with the blocks I've received for my month. Personally the improv block idea is perfect for me with the freedom of using stash fabrics and I do love the ideas that some of you have for your foundation pieced blocks and the themed quilts you are creating (your fabric stash must be awesome)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wonderful information!!! Thank you so much for addressing this!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a great post - thank you!! I'm going to bookmark this!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Now there was me thinking all Bees were perfect!! Just Brit Bee then ;)
    We really really lucked out, OK so having a traumatic start (cheers Terri!) meant we had a hell of a lot to bond over other than fabric. It can be as little as an evening a month at one end of the spectrum to taking over your entire waking hours for months on end, the decision is up to you.
    Have fun Kinky Bee x

    ReplyDelete
  12. I would add in that communication is key;. I think if you all communicate, any disappointments brought about by expectations can be resolved much more swiftly.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hear! Hear! Great advice, I concur with everything you've said. Loved being a part of Fresh Modern Bee 2 which was my first bee as well, and made some very lovely friends. How awesome is that? And I still sometimes think about that weirdness that happened at the start where one of the bee members poo-pooed the suggestion that anyone would "get to know" anyone else in the bee. Do you remember that? Sad. Also love bees for pushing me outside of my comfort zone and being given the opportunity to try something I'd admired but had never thought I could make (or could be bothered making!) Great fun. Though a big time suck. Don't be in too many, and don't over commit yourself, that's my advice!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have really loved the community of being in bees and your advice is excellent.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for the great summary about virtual bees. I have always avoided them with the claim that after twenty years of quilting (and more of sewing) I am still not "good enough" to participate to others' standards. But I think it's more than I'm a control freak and don't want to relinquish that to others (or put myself through the stress of living up to their expectations). I enjoy seeing what others swap but it's nice to have all this information here in order to be able to make an informed decision about participation.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great thoughts on the virtual bees! What are these amazing blocks? I'd love to craft some of them up!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh never mind %-) They link up to your flickr! Awesome :-D

      Delete
  17. Thanks for this wonderful post. I hope it convinces more people to join bees.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Great post. I would urge anyone interested to find a bee because joining Brit Bee was probably singularly the best thing I ever did for my sewing, my confidence and for my quilting social life. But, as Hadley said, we really lucked out. Hope Sue gets as good a group for her bee.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Lovely post Lynne. I just finished putting together my quilt top from Fresh Modern Bee 2, I am awe struck by the blocks I received. One of my favorite things about the quilting bee s that you will get some of the most unexpected blocks imaginable, things you would never make yourself, it is a great experience, and a wonderful feeling to complete a quilt with blocks from around the globe!! Thanks Lynne!!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. A most wondeful post indeed. I have both started and participated in a handful of bees along the way and have come across nearly every scenerio you mentioned; yet just as you said...it's more about the people, the blocks are the "Cherry on Top".

    Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  21. GREAT post! Thanks for the insight!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I have recently joined two bees and am excited to be involved for such a good cause with one of them. Thanks for the information.

    ReplyDelete
  23. If I read this right...each month 12 people make a block for one person? The following month they choose someone else? Or do you 'adopt' one person each month and it changes up a bit? Sounds intriguing!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great post.....lots of good info. I'm really enjoying my first bee experience (Free Bee). One common complaint I pick up is being over committed to quilt bees. I'm careful with how much I get involved in, making sure I leave room for my own creative frenzies.

    I agree it's wonderful place for interaction and friendship.

    ReplyDelete
  25. A perfect summary of a Virtual Quilting Bee, Lynne.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Great breakdown of a VQB! I completely understand the insecure and intimidated part... I haven't had the nerve or confidence to join and am kinda terrified about asking to join one. Lol. It's nice to know just about everyone feels a little intimidated. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  27. What a great overview! My first year of quilting (2010, while I was on leave from work) I was in an INSANE number of bees. I learned SO much from these experiences and met some absolutely lovely, talented people...but then I reached capacity...especially when I had to return to full-time work and had so little time to sew generally. So I swore off VQBs for a while. But I have to admit that your post makes makes me miss being in a bee. I guess I might be ready for another go :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. This is very useful for Bee virgins like me! One day I would love to do one. Terri's Brit Bee quilt at FQR was phenomenal!

    ReplyDelete
  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Nicely done - you touched on everything anyone would need to know before starting or joining a bee!!

    ReplyDelete
  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Sorry, that first comment looked strange.. Trying again:
    I have just finished my first swap/bee as the Mama along with my good virtual friend Kritta22.
    What you have described is EXACTLY what we have experienced, luckily most of the good stuff but unfortunately also some of the bad things.

    I would love to host a swap or a bee again. This first time was good for learning. And you are right: Being the Mama is a lot of work but having done it once, hoprfully the second time will be easier :)

    Thank you for a brilliant post!

    ReplyDelete

Comment away peeps :-)