I’ve been in quite a few quilting bees now. Let’s name them.
KC Scrappy Bee 1 (Two Year Participant)
KC Scrappy Bee 2
KC Scrappy Bee 3×6
Lovely Linen Bee
I’m taking a break from bees for a bit. I really do enjoy them, but if I have to make another string block (one of the best and most popular bee blocks), I might kill myself. (For anybody who asked me to make a string block, I don’t hate you. You made the right choice.)
I’ve had a few people ask me about bees, what to expect, etc. I’m pretty laid back about bees, but I think that’s because I approached them with the right attitude and expectations. So, without further ado, here are my bee notes.
Ok. So maybe there’s a little more ado. Please don’t be offended by anything I say. It’s not directed at you. I’m probably trying to be funny and failing miserably. Also, I’ve made mistakes. It happens to the best of us. I try to learn from my mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t f up sometimes.
1. Don’t pick a difficult block for your bee mates to make.
Don’t take advantage of your bee mates. They are not your workhorses. This is not the opportunity for you to get blocks for a quilt because you didn’t want to have to make all of the blocks. Stay away from difficult techniques like intense paper piecing, hand applique, lots of applique or tiny applique, lots of piecing, curved piecing, etc. Expect your bee mates to have a little bit of knowledge in each area and be experts in none. You may be the best hand applique-r in the world, but I guarantee that your bee mates aren’t. Well, unless you are in a hand applique bee, but only maybe then. Also, not everybody’s work is created equal. You want to get a good block back, so don’t pick something that is easy to f up. I have a lot to say about this topic. I’ve had to make a couple of bee blocks that made me want to kill myself. They were SOOOOOO frustrating. Don’t do that to a person. Just don’t. It’s mean. I have enough frustrating things in my life (and so does everybody else) that I don’t need your bee block to be one of them.
2. Pick a really easy block. (This is kind of the same thing as above, but it’s OK to reiterate it.)
Your bee mates will thank you. People get busy. They have lives. Sometimes being able to knock a block out in 30 minutes is a HUGE relief. Have I done this every time? No. Did I do it quite a bit? Yes. Easy blocks make stunning quilts. I used a wonky cross for one of my bees. It was awesome. I used a bow tie for another. That was super great. I had a Modern Maple block, which was also excellent. Those blocks don’t take a lot of cutting or a lot of piecing. They’re quick and easy. And you know what? They are going to make STUNNING quilts. String blocks are easy blocks.
3. Don’t pick fabric you love.
If you have been hoarding a cut of fabric and want to use it for a very special project, that special project is not your bee blocks. Things happen to bee blocks. They get lost in the mail. Kids spill milk on them. Adults spill beer on them. Irons decide to be evil and scorch them. People make cutting mistakes. The list can go on and on. Plus, as I said above, not everybody’s work is created equal. Do you want your super special fabric in a block that isn’t up to your standards? I didn’t think so.
4. Find a block that can be trimmed.
Not everybody’s quarter inch is the same. Some use a scant. Some use a perfect quarter inch. Some use something that doesn’t even resemble a quarter inch. Blocks that can be trimmed without sacrificing the integrity of the block are PERFECT for bees. A couple of blocks I’ve used that can be trimmed are wonky crosses and Converging Corners. Also, string blocks.
5. Ask your bee mates not to trim.
Speaking of trimming, ask your bee mates not to trim. You do the trimming. Cutting mistakes can happen and you would probably rather make them than have your bee mates make them. Plus, if you planned on having a 12.5″ block, maybe all of your untrimmed blocks came back at over 13″ inches. Congrats! You now can have a larger quilt if that’s what you want.
7. Don’t expect to get your blocks back on time.
Again, people have lives. Their kid decides to fall off of the swing set and break their arm. Guess what? That one afternoon that wasn’t taken up by baseball practice and dance lessons that was going to be the time your bee mate made your block is now spent in the ER. Fun times. Or let’s say that their in-laws decide to make a surprise visit the weekend they had planned to spend in their sewing room. They get to visit with their mother-in-law instead. Have some pity on them. Therefore, don’t plan to give your bee quilt to a friend for their birthday the month or two after its your bee month. In fact, don’t plan on giving your bee quilt to anybody for at least a year after your bee month.
8. Don’t expect to get all of your blocks back…ever.
There’s only one bee that I’ve been in that I’ve gotten all of my blocks back. It may still happen for others, but I’m not holding out. And that’s OK because I didn’t choose fabric that I loved and I don’t plan to give any of my bee quilts away in a certain period of time. I’ll live. I can make up for those blocks. Shit happens, which is pretty much a theme throughout this entire post. There are uncontrollable things in people’s lives and they just may never get to making your block. Or it may get lost. Or a variety of other scenarios where it just doesn’t make it to you. Move on. Forgive. Understand. Be kind. Figure something else out.
9. Don’t expect to get more than one block back.
For most bees, you are only required to make one block per month. However, sometimes, if you pick a block that’s super small, like 6-8″, bees allow you to ask for two. However, if your block is regular sized, don’t expect two. Hell, don’t expect two if your block is tiny. A 6″ block could take longer to put together than a 10″ block depending on the block. If you pick an easy block, people may be kind enough to make two because it won’t take them any extra time than they normally dedicate to making bee blocks. Yet another reason to pick an easy block. However, again, don’t expect two just because you picked an easy block. If you get two, though, be VERY happy. That person who gave you two is a nice person.
10. Try to make two blocks.
It’s the nice thing to do. Just plan on doing it and set the time aside each time. Also, if you make two blocks for somebody, there’s a better chance they’ll make two for you. That’s not guaranteed because shit happens, but I think the likelihood is better. If you can’t make two blocks, though, that’s OK. Shit happens. Your bee mate should understand. If they don’t, they probably won’t tell you and it won’t matter anyway. If they do tell you, who in the hell are you in a bee with? I would recommend not being in a bee with them again. Another thing, your bee mate may not include enough fabric to make two blocks and in that case, you’re off the hook.
11. Take your time making blocks and use good quality materials.
I’d rather have my blocks be months late than get one that was rushed through. It’s not like you have to go super slow and make sure it’s extra perfect; just don’t rush through it. Also, NEVER use fabric that isn’t quilt shop quality. That’s a big no no. Big time. Also, use nice thread. Don’t use the stuff you inherited from your grandma. It’s probably brittle. Use new, nice, and appropriate thread.
12. Always put blocks in plastic bags if mailing.
Weather. Enough said.
13. Don’t pick weird colors.
By weird colors, I really mean super specific colors. If you say, “I only want 1957 Chevy blue used in my blocks.”, you should not be in a bee unless you are providing that color to your bee mates. NOBODY has that color. NOBODY has any idea what that color is. I can promise you that if you pick a specific color and don’t provide it to your bee mates, your blocks will not be made with that color.
14. Read directions AGAIN and AGAIN.
Bees are run differently. The Scrappy Bee that I’m in is meant to use up your scraps. Therefore, members typically provide bee mates with a background color and then the rest of the block is made using your scraps. However, sometimes a bee mate has asked that only the fabrics they provided are used. That’s OK, too. In the Stash Bee, you can not require a specific fabric to be used in your block unless you send that fabric to everyone. Read the directions your bee mate provides you. Then read it again. And maybe again. Make sure you know what they are asking for and that you understand it.
15. If your bee mate chooses a difficult block, make a test one first.
It’s going to happen. Your bee mate may not have read this post and they may choose an AWFUL block that seems super daunting. A lot of bees have rules that blocks shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete. That’s a great rule, but not everybody works at the same speed. Maybe your bee mate made a super insanely pieced block in an hour because they are CRAZY. You may not be crazy, so it could take you three. That sucks! But make it anyway. And make a test first. It probably won’t turn out right and you can figure out what to do to make it better the next time. If the test block does turn out, you can send it or you can make another block and send two really difficult blocks, which means you are AWESOME. I had this happen to me. Curved piecing is not my strong suit. A bee mate asked for a block that had A TON of curves. I made the block. It was an inch smaller than it was supposed to be. I should have made a test block. Instead, that block turned into my test block and I ended up cutting the pieces larger and trimming them down after the curves were sewn and then piecing the whole block together. It worked out super well. I ended up putting a border on the first block to make it to size and sent it to my bee mate with a note saying maybe she could use it on the back of the quilt or as an accent pillow. See? I’m a nice person…sometimes.
16. Send extra fabric.
People can make cutting mistakes. Or maybe the want to make you two blocks. Plan for that and send extra fabric if you are providing fabric.
17. Test your block.
DO NOT EVER ask your bee mates to make a block that you haven’t made or haven’t made RECENTLY. Do not just assume a tutorial you found on the internet will work for them. You need to test it out. What if the tutorial has the wrong measurements for fabric and you send everybody a 3″ strip of Kona White when you really need a 3.5″ strip? Yup, that sucks. TEST TEST TEST!
18. Understand that we all aren’t perfect.
The blocks you get back may not be perfect, but they will probably still work. If they don’t, put them on the back of the quilt or fix them or use them for a pillow. Also, don’t include a block in a quilt if it really won’t work just because you don’t want your bee mate to feel bad that you didn’t include it. They probably will feel bad, but you don’t want a quilt that every time you look at it, you see that imperfection. Now, if you can let go of that imperfection, go for it!
19. Provide advice.
This partly goes along with testing your block. You need to test your block so you can provide a lot of advice to your bee mates so you get good blocks back. This also goes along with reading directions. For example, on bow tie blocks, you can either trim off the background fabric or you can leave it. I made the block and decided it didn’t matter if my bee mates trimmed that fabric off or not. So I told them that in the instructions since the tutorial I directed them to wasn’t super clear about that part.
20. Plan ahead.
I know shit happens, but try to be nice to your bee mates and plan ahead so you have time to test your block, buy enough fabric if you are providing fabric, make kits up if you need to, write instructions/advice, etc. When I start a bee, even if my month is at the end, I start thinking about what blocks I should use. Once I decide, I test and write instructions so the test is fresh in my head. Then I choose fabric if I need to and make sure it’s on hand for when I need to make my kits up. I get kits ready weeks (or months) in advance. That way I can see if I missed anything or need to buy more fabric.
Ok. So this would all obviously happen in a perfect world, which we don’t live in. For example, if my bee mate told me to make a string block and provided me with background fabric and a middle strip, I’d be able to go right at it without instructions, etc. because I’ve made ALL OF THE STRING BLOCKS. I wouldn’t care if that bee mate had tested it or not because it’s a block that I’ve made a million times. I wouldn’t read the instructions over and over. So even though these aren’t rules, they sort of are guidelines and those are meant to be broken as much as rules. Although I’m not usually one to want to break rules.
That’s all of the advice I have for today. If you would like to see some more posts about bees, I recommend the links below.
And now, some of my latest bee blocks.