Do you belong to a quilting bee? How about a virtual bee? I’m going to hazard a guess that if I had asked that question 18 months ago when Alissa Haight Carlton and Kristen Lejnieks first shared their book proposal with me, I would have received some strange and puzzled (perhaps even bordering on shocked) looks. Do they really still exist?
But today, I am willing to bet that most of our blog readers would answer, “Yes. Actually, I am a member of a few.”
For readers unfamiliar with the concept: A typical virtual quilting bee is formed by 12 contributors who select or are assigned one month of the year to distribute a block for the 11 other members to piece. At the end of the month, all of the 11 blocks are mailed back to the originator who can then use them to make a quilt. One block a month, a different block each month. Each bee operates a little differently, but that is the basic model. The Block Party bee was one of the first virtual bees formed, and if not the first, certainly the first that caught my attention.
And you can see why! The Block Party group was a group of 12 amazing quilters who each struggled to find a common aesthetic in their work at the local level. The members are Alissa Haight Carlton, Netie Peterson, Ashley Shannon, Ashley Newcomb, Josie Scott, Kristen Lejnieks, Jacquie Gering, Lisa Billings, Sarah Johnson, Rashida Coleman-Hale, Elizabeth Hartman, and Megan Risse. So they each turned to the internet and found each other. This book chronicles the personal journey each of them took during the year of their Block Party group which was, in many ways, the birthplace of the Modern Quilt Movement. One of the authors, Alissa Haight Carlton, started The Modern Quilt Guild in L.A. which has since spread like wildfire!
But this book is much more than a snapshot of the evolution of quilt-making. This book is structured in much in the same way as a virtual bee works. Each member has selected a block, chosen the fabrics they wanted to use, sent out the block instructions and fabrics to their 11 fellow members, and constructed a quilt using the blocks pieced by their bee. So the reader gets instructions for 12 improvisationally pieced project quilts.
Many joined the Block Party without any sewing or quilting skills and learned from one another. Similarly, to help new quilters along their authors have included general quilt-making tips and techniques in a section called “Collective Wisdom.”
Even though Alissa and Kristen have included complete instructions so the reader can successfully create each of the designs on their own, both Kristen and Alissa want to encourage their readers to find connections online as well. They have shared their valuable advice on how to start and run your own virtual bee, or to join one (there is a wonderful master list here).
Aside from being a journal of the emergence of a new audience embracing the craft of quilt-making, Block Party—The Modern Quilting Bee is packed with fabulous designs, a stellar group of leading designers, creative tips, and there is a lovely, personal foreword to the book written by Denyse Schmidt. Block Party was certainly the inspiration for the Stash Books team to start one of our own bees in January so I hope this encourages more readers to join the online sewing community. If you want to start getting connected right away, you can also explore this great flickr discussion board which lists bees looking for members or members looking for bees.
While I would love to get together with my neighbors once a week after church and sew in the dappled sunlight of a patio, with acres of open space behind, as all of our kids tirelessly run about in pristine white clothes grasping butterfly nets and collecting ladybugs, that just isn’t reality in my suburban scene. But I don’t let that stop me from making connections with like-minded quilters from all over the world. The neighborhood went global and I hope this book helps you find a group within it that makes you feel like you found your Block Party too.