If you've been reading my blogs here on Sweethearts of the West, you know of my great love of quilts and quilting. Besides writing sweet historical romance, the afternoons I've spent creating quilts are the most relaxing, enjoyable, and self-satisfying hours to unwind.
I quilt purely for pleasure, most days by myself. It's only during my annual Quilt Week in Lancaster County that I get together with my quilting "sisters" for ten days of sewing, fun, and food! In our own way, we are keeping alive the traditions of a quilting bee...exchanging ideas, swapping fabric, and sharing ideas and patterns.
So, what is a quilting bee?
A quilting bee has been a social tradition that has existed since the 19th century. Then, this social event was popularized as a way for women, especially for settlers of the Great Plains, to gather around the showcase their talent while they talked and gossiped with each other. Sometimes, women and their families came from miles away just to attend a quilting bee. Many times, the goal of a quilting bee was mainly social, and beginners were welcomed along with the experienced. A fun example of this was when young women would gather to help a bride-to-be finish her quilts before she married. What joyous social events these would have been.
These gathering were typically held when the weather got warm in the spring and
summer. If a house was too small to hold a quilting frame, the quilting would be held outside. Gathered around a simply constructed wooden frame, the quilt in
Mehama, Oregon, 1905
progress would be stretched between two boards. This would result in a taut, flat surface for the women to sew on. Each woman would quilt her own block on the quilt. This allowed for the entire community to be represented on one quilt. Equally important, the women enjoyed getting away from the house and all the interruptions and distractions that come from being at home.
Edgar Melville Ward, Quilting Party, 1892
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Once the day was over, it was ended with a feast. The feast usually included wither roasted chicken or turkey. Men were also invited to the feast and gave the women the opportunity to mix and mingle.
The entire night was filled with dances and songs. The event was well-celebrated in many communities as it marked the end of long hours of labor, love, and exquisite craftsmanship.
A quilting bee has always been a place where quilters help each other. In the olden days by finishing a quilt together, and in modern days by learning techniques and give each other feedback and inspiration. And mostly a quilting bee is a place for friendship and support.