Jessica Skultety from Quilty Habit is a quilter, teacher, blogger and lecturer. Jessica curated our My Favorite Quilt series (find all of the posts here), and she’s joined us for some inspiring fabric challenges. Jessica shares all of her latest at Quilty Habit and in her free, bi-monthly modern quilting newsletter, The Wonky Press; her newsletter is packed with original content, special guests, interesting links and community sharing. Jessica also loves to travel and offers classes and lectures related to modern quilting, improvisation and domestic machine quilting to guilds and shops; see her schedule and offerings here.

Jessica has a lot of experience with round robin quilting bees, so we asked for her best starter tips and troubleshooting advice too. Please feel free to add your thoughts and tips in the comments!


Round Robin Bee Starter Tips + Troubleshooting by Jessica Skultety of Quilty Habit

A round robin quilting bee is a fantastic way to get more involved with the quilting community. Whether you participate within your quilt guild or online, you have an opportunity to learn new skills, stretch your creativity, contribute to several quilts and become the recipient of a unique creation!

In a round robin bee, participants receive part of a quilt, add onto it and pass it along. Often, they use their own fabric. Sometimes the first quilter passes along fabric to be used, or makes suggestions about their preference. In the end, the group creates irreplaceable quilts through collaboration.

Luminous Halo by Laura Collins, Ashley Hinton, Renee Hoffman and Jessica Skultety,
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts 2014. Started by Laura Collins and quilted by Mary Gregory.

Since I began quilting in 2010, I’ve participated in two different kinds of round robin bees: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts, which is conducted online, and the round robin/progressive quilts at Mid-Atlantic Mod, an annual modern quilting retreat in Lancaster, PA. Each has its own format, and I’ve created lasting relationships (and quilts) with members from both bees.

For The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts Bee (#sisterhoodofthetravelingquilts), each member creates a “starter” set of blocks, based on their vision for the final quilt. They send this, along with at least a yard of fabric, to the next quilter. This person has two months to add onto the quilt as they wish and pass it along. After one year, the starting quilter receives a fully pieced quilt top from the last person in the bee. The time limits can be changed to accommodate more or less people.

The Progressive Quilt Bee at the Mid-Atlantic Mod Quilting Retreat (#midatlanticmod), the brainchild of organizers Jessica Levitt and Andrew Joslyn, is truly unique. Participating members arrive at the 4-day retreat signed up for one of four progressive quilts. They make a block beforehand based on the quilt’s predetermined theme. One person per quilt acts as the “leader” who keeps the process on track and encourages fellow quilters. The quilts are built on design walls in a room of 75 busy sewists, and each participating quilter has to work on theirs for at least one hour. By the end of the retreat, the quilters finish each quilt top as much as possible. The organizers raffle off the tops to the makers, and the lucky winners take them home to finish!

I Love Sewing, made at Mid-Atlantic Mod Retreat 2015 by Neva Asinari, Robin Buscemi,
Beth Carmody, Michelle Kochan, Heather Kojan, Jessica Levitt, Sandy Perry, Kim Rotter,
Jill Safford, Kathy Schwabeland and Tricia Scott. Quilted by Neva Asinari.

These bees have truly changed my outlook on the sewing community. Building on multiple quilters’ work can be freeing and challenging at the same time. Participating in a bee will surely add some spice to your quilting life!

Below, I’ve included some ideas for starting your own bee, plus troubleshooting tips.

General Tips for Starting Your Own Bee:

1. Find a group of people you can trust. If you are involved with the quilting community online, you may have formed relationships with other quilters through emailing, commenting on blogs/Instagram or participating in an online swap. You also may know a group of quilters from an in-person guild or sewing group. If you don’t have any of these connections, get involved with a guild or start connecting with other quilters online through Instagram, Facebook or blogs! Chances are there are others out there who are interested in a round robin too.

2. Encourage your bee members to create a theme rather than a very specific vision or pattern for the quilt. The most exciting and memorable round robin quilts allow members to show off their individual quilting talents. Some themes to consider: use of one shape, improvisation (with curves, lines, etc.), focus on a specific color, medallion, a quote and “everything but the kitchen sink.”

3. Ask each person to choose a color scheme, send along a certain amount of fabric and make starter blocks.

4. Set a time limit for working on the quilts and stick to it as much as possible. Again, this goes along with trusting the people you are trading quilts with.

Neutral Log Cabins, made at Mid-Atlantic Mod Retreat 2015 by Neva Asinari, Laura Bennett,
Nicole Folino, Elizabeth Jones, Jessica Levitt, Carrie Maria, Sheila Randall, Summer Rankin,
Jordyn Rush, Janet Schoenfeld, Jessica Skultety and Amy Verne. Quilted by Jessica Levitt.

5. Make time to follow through with your commitment, and encourage others in the group to do so as well.

6. Keep a current list of all members’ addresses and emails. A Google Doc or easily updatable list that is accessible to all works best.

7. Be prepared to deviate from your original quilt vision. A quilt can morph many times before it’s finished. Let other quilters work their magic in their own individual ways, and you’re likely to be thrilled with the result.

8. Have FUN! Always have fun. Encourage other members, share progress pictures on social media and keep the excitement going all year (or retreat) long!

9. Make sure your bee members have read all guidelines and troubleshooting suggestions (below). As per #8, bees should always be fun, and guidelines keep everything running smoothly.

Special Consideration for Online Round Robins:

1. Consider location and shipping costs. If you are mailing your quilts, you may want to limit your bee to inside your own country. Shipping costs can get high when you are mailing almost-finished quilt tops!

Cave of Wonders by Laura Collins, Ashley Hinton, Renee Hoffman and Jessica Skultety,
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts 2014. Started and quilted by Jessica Skultety.

Troubleshooting:

Almost inevitably, something will come up during your bee. Here are some tips on navigating those waters:

1. Communication is key! Quilts are precious to the makers, and a quilt that is made by many can mean something even more. If you know you will ship late or are unable to finish your part on time, tell the next person as soon as possible. Being honest and flexible is the best policy.

2. Be prepared for the unexpected. Maybe someone didn’t ship on time and didn’t communicate. Maybe a quilt got lost in the mail (it’s a possibility you have to consider, so make sure you send tracking info and include insurance!). Maybe someone dropped out unexpectedly. Gather with your members ASAP and work towards a solution.

3. Know how and when to drop out. If the commitment becomes too much to handle, bow out gracefully with direct communication to all members.

I hope you can form and/or participate in a round robin bee that you love and benefit from!

Further Reading: