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The New-Fashioned Quilt Bee
by Cathe Swanson
It’s a great time to be a quilter. There are new fabrics and tools every season. The online resources are innumerable. It’s trendy. Tens of thousands of women are sewing quilts and quilted items: bed quilts, baby quilts, table runners, wall quilts and accessories. Textile artists use cotton fabrics to create amazing wall hangings. Interest in sewing and quiltmaking has never been higher.
I appreciate all of that, but I have to admit that I’m old-fashioned in my attitudes about quilting. My favorite quilts are made of scrap fabrics in traditional patterns. My favorite quilts have significance beyond than their aesthetic appeal. My favorite quilts have stories. Quilting is essentially relational. Often, it’s an act of service or a gift, especially when done as a group activity. It’s the perfect venue for social interaction; while the hands and eyes are occupied, the ears and hearts are open.
I started teaching workshops, retreats and classes in 1992, and I loved teaching, but I gradually came to realize that I wanted to use quiltmaking as a ministry. My real joy is in directing events for women, especially in family or church groups. Separated by busy lives and distance, many of us seldom have the opportunity to really visit with our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, nieces, and old friends. We meet in passing at weddings and funerals, but we don’t know each other well. So I created a new kind of quilting bee.
The most popular quilting bee is for the bride. It is a fresh substitute for the traditional bridal shower. Instead of spatulas and pillowcases, the bride receives a queen-size heirloom quilt, created by the women of her family on one never-to-be-forgotten day of sharing.
The quilting bee starts at 9:00, with everyone assigned to work stations according to their skills. Even young girls or people who don’t know how to sew are important participants, picking out seams, pressing, lining up pieces of fabric to be sewn and helping with other small but necessary tasks. Luncheon is served at noon, followed by a devotional message, and then the sewing starts again. It’s exciting to see the quilt start coming together. By 5:00, the quilt top is completed.
Some brides make scrapbooks of the event, with bits of fabric and precious multigenerational photographs. The best part of the quilt is the label on the back, declaring that it was made for the bride by the women of her family, signed by each of the women present. The quilting bee hostess usually has the top professionally machine quilted and displayed behind the gift table at the wedding reception.
At Baby Bees, we make two crib quilts, and one is donated to mother’s favorite charity. There are quilting bees for retiring pastors or teachers, for family members who are moving away or for people who have lost everything in fires or other disasters.
Quilting bees aren’t just about making a quilt. They are about friends, family and love. Real quilts are about relationships.
About the Author:
Quilter/writer Cathe Swanson has loved quilts since 1986, but she didn’t develop a passion for quiltmaking until 1992, when she started teaching and leading workshops. She enjoys designing patterns, being creative and making fine quilts, but her real enthusiasm is in using quiltmaking for ministry and building relationships, especially within families. She writes romantic suspense and contemporary fiction from a Christian worldview, featuring interesting characters of all ages and backgrounds, often in eccentric communities and locations. You will find quilts and quilters in the pages. Check out her website – http://www.gloryquilts.com – to learn more about Cathe and what she does!