When I was a child, my mom would set up the quilting frames in our basement and host quilting bees. By then her church lady friends all had school age children, so they’d quilt for a few hours during the day. I’m not sure what they talked about, but — knowing quilters — they likely spend some of the time complaining about their husbands and kids!
In those days, quilts were utilitarian. They may be for happy occasions (such as a wedding) or gifts (such as the church minister leaving). Although, to my knowledge my mother never entered a quilt show, every year we would wander through the local fair and notice whose quilts won ribbons.
Today, quilting is essentially a solitary practice. Most of us do machine piecing, so we don’t have the portability — and potential to socialize — associated with hand piecing. And the quilting no longer occurs in someone’s basement, but is done (again alone) on our sewing machines or by longarmers. The people I know who hand quilt (including my mother) do most of their quilting alone. Shows tend to be bigger and more competitive.
This is why I love the Friday Night “Sit and Sew” at my local quilt shop. Up to a dozen of us lug our sewing machines and projects into the classroom, where we cut, sew, chat and laugh. It’s great to see people’s projects evolve from week to week, and to share ideas and viewpoints. It is the only time I get to experience the social side of quilting — and I love it.
Workshops are another form of modern quilting bee. Usually all day events, people are chatty and helpful. By lunchtime you have a new group of friends! You learn new skills, but often you only have a block or two to show for your efforts.
Conventions are a mega-quilting bee unlike anything my mom and her friends would envision. Busloads of quilters travel hundreds of miles for a chance to view quilts and to shop. This is fun! But it is also interesting that most companionship happens while we are spending money and viewing quilts, rather than while we are quilting.
I know I would have enjoyed the “good old days” and quilt bees.