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What is a Quilting Bee?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A quilting bee is a gathering of friends and neighbors who come together to work on creating a quilt. It can be a social event during which friends spend time working together on one quilt, or it can be put together in the form of a competition, in which teams work together in an attempt to finish their quilt before their competitors. The original purpose behind this event was to enlist the help of several people in order to get the quilt finished in a much faster fashion than if just one person worked on the quilt. While this is still an advantage to the quilting bee, the primary purpose behind modern bees is to socialize with others who enjoy the craft of quilting.

Throughout history and into modern times, quilts have served more of a decorative purpose than a source of warmth like a blanket. Today, quilts are often referred to as art quilts, as they are commonly hung on walls rather than used in a bed. At a quilting bee, several individuals who enjoy quilting often gather together in order to create the squares to be added to such quilts. The bee also provides quilters with a place to exchange their fabrics and their quilt blocks, which are blocks of decoration they have created to be used on a quilt. In addition, they may each apply one of their quilt blocks to a common quilt.

Sometimes, the quilts created at a quilting bee serve a special purpose. For example, the quilt may be auctioned for charity, or the quilt may carry a certain special theme and be used as a means of bringing certain people together. For example, a quilt put together by cancer survivors may be passed around the country, and new squares from other cancer survivors are added at quilting bees.

Similarly, a quilting bee may be put together in order to commemorate a special event, such as the birth of a child or a wedding. In these cases, the quilt blocks may be made of worn out clothing with a significant meaning. For example, the maternity clothes worn by the new mom while she was pregnant may be used to make a commemorative quilt for the baby.

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Discussion Comments

By anon339019 — On Jun 19, 2013

I think the term "bee" has changed a bit over the years. Whereas it used to refer to an event, I think it is more commonly used now to refer to a small group of ladies who enjoy quilting together. Quilting guilds are often made up of smaller "bees".

By LisaLou — On Apr 11, 2012

My aunt lives in a retirement community and many of the women love to work on crafts and projects together.

I can't remember the name she called her group, but I know there were many different crafts women worked on when they gathered together. I think getting together to visit and eat is just as important as the craft they are working on.

This would be similar to a quilting bee as far as the socialization, but they would just be working on different crafts.

My aunt loves to quilt, so this was always her first craft of choice. The first quilt I ever remember her making was a bumblebee quilt she gave to my brother.

Since then, she has made several different styles of quilts for us. The older I got, the more I appreciated all the time and work that went into each one of them.

By SarahSon — On Apr 11, 2012

Our state fair has a large room where they display quilts made by women from all over the state.

I have never quilted anything in my life, but I enjoy walking through this room and looking at all the different quilts. It is also interesting to see which ones received blue ribbons.

I don't know if all of these are made by hand, or if some of them are made with a quilting machine. I just know I would never have the time or patience to sit down and make something like this.

Many of them are very intricate and would have taken hours of work. I am sure this is relaxing for many people, but it would be much too stressful for me.

By golf07 — On Apr 10, 2012

I have two handmade quilts that were given to me when I graduated from high school. One was made by my grandma, and one was made by a dear friend.

As far as I know, neither of these woman belonged to a quilting bee, but worked alone while they were at home.

One of my quilts was made from pieces of leftover fabric that my sister and I had from clothes we wore. My mom had a lady sew a lot of our clothes and this quilt brought back a lot of memories.

I can look at pieces of this quilt today and specifically remember what the dress, shirt or pants looked like that matched that fabric.

I have never really used either of these quilts for warmth on my bed. Both of them hang on a quilt rack in my bedroom and remind me of two special people in my life.

By Mykol — On Apr 09, 2012

@desertdunes - The only reason I can think of it being called a quilting bee is because you have several people working on the same thing at the same time.

If you are familiar at all with beehives, there are thousands of bees who are hard at work and they are all working for the common good of the hive. It must also have something to do with the expression 'as busy as a bee'.

I remember my mom being part of a quilting bee. Sometimes they had a hard time deciding on what their quilting bee designs were going to be, but they always made some beautiful quilts to give away.

By anon127042 — On Nov 15, 2010

The idea that "throughout history" quilts have "served more of a decorative purpose than a source of warmth like a blanket" is incorrect. --S. Davis,PhD

By desertdunes — On Dec 21, 2009

But why is it called a Bee? For that matter why is a Spelling Bee called a Bee?

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