On Quilting Bees

Once again I have been having fun with the Oxford English Dictionary. A bee is (1) a stinging hymenopterous social insect of the genus Apis… (2) a busy worker (3) a gathering for combined work or amusement. Isn’t it remarkable that a string of three (two, actually) letters can be packed with so much meaning. There is more than idle musing behind this visit to my trusted OED. I was looking up the origin of the term quilting bee, which is under Q in the second volume of this “Shorter” dictionary. It has the less stimulating description of “a social gathering for the purpose of making a quilt or quilts”. I am half tempted to write to the editors of the esteemed Shorter Oxford English Dictionary to point out that there is a serious omission here. What about the “amusement”? When there is a gathering of quilters, there is always fun, laughter, conviviality, teasing, enjoyment, excitement, sharing of tips and tricks, and remarkable creations.

And that’s exactly what happened yesterday when my local quilting group gathered for a workshop on how to make the birch tree block. One of our members had made a quilt, using her scraps and this design, and offered to show us how.

The inspiring birch tree quilt made by my good friend, Karen Davies

Apart from the fun, there was also the inspired hum of sewing machines as we produced a range of blocks that were the same, but different.

We have been stitching together for a long time and have come to know one another’s styles. It’s almost uncanny how easy it is to spot whose work is who’s.

This photograph was taken at lunch time. By the end of the day we had run out of space and were pinning blocks and strips onto the curtains!

I consulted google for background to the quilting bee. It dates back to the mid 1800s and was a popular social event. The quilting bee provided a social space for women to gather and gossip while they simultaneously expressed their artistic capabilities — and stitched communally on a quilt. The quilting bee was often held in a grange hall or a church vestry room which allowed for a maximum of 12 women. Often times, the number of guests was limited to seven, who, with the hostess, made up two quilting frames. (Http://xroads.virginia.edu)

7 thoughts on “On Quilting Bees

  1. Love this!
    A few observations and contributions on my humble part: those painted toe nail feet make a fun appearance along with the gorgeous quilt reveal; another designation of the bee is that it’s the symbol for the city of Manchester England and has quite a history behind it (as you can imagine, mostly related to the ‘worker bee ethic’); and the grange was wide spread throughout the rural United States in the 19th and 20th centuries and has a few active chapters even now in the 21st! They sound romantic, but as buildings, they are pretty basic and kindof rusticly run down…While our children were little, our small church rented space from an active chapter for a few years while starting up – kind of a unique experience!
    BTW: which row of blocks are yours? Can I take a guess? The purple batik ones?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I love your reply!
      Beautifully manicured toenails to match a beautifully made quilt.
      Am grateful for the background information. I wondered what about the Grange reference. Thanks for the personal description. Fascinating.
      Correct guess, except they fabric is hand dyed indigo — made with the same group to celebrate a significant birthday of one of us

      Liked by 1 person

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