Quilting has long been a creative vehicle to gather together for friendship and community. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this manifested as a physical gathering. Today, though quilters still gather in person, the Internet has enabled quilters to meet and collaborate virtually. Where our grandmothers’ quilting bees were limited to women in close proximity to each other, today quilting bees transcend the barriers of geography. The Bee Sewcial Sewing Bee is an expert example of what can be accomplished when quilters reach beyond physical boundaries to connect and create in concert.
One of the first of its kind, Bee Sewcial is an international improv-only quilting bee. For ten of twelve months in each of the last four years, members of Bee Sewcial have engaged in a monthly improv challenge, selected by a member of the group who provides relevant expectations for the quilt blocks each member will make. As blocks are completed they are sent to the curating quilter, who then finishes them into a cohesive quilt.
Reflections by Karen Foster
Many of the Bee Sewcial quilts exude an air of maximalism. Yet even with the vigor and exaggeration of the maximalist style, there is organization and unity of thought that emerges in their overall composition once assembled. Bee Sewcial quilts are amazingly cohesive despite blocks made from different and diverse quilters. An ignorant viewer may not even realize the quilts are a collaborative effort .
In this artistic version of ‘e pluribus unum,’ I see a beautiful example of the “Yes...and” versus the “yes...but” principle taught by modern quilter Sherri Lynn Wood. Her point is that in order for a quilt to have a cohesive flow the collaboration must be one of acceptance and building on commonality; leaving space for others to add their voice to the overall creation, rather than by dwelling on the distinctions and differences between individuals.
“Yes...and” quilts become an expression of strength when quilting in numbers. The Bee Sewcial quilters have become experts at creating and presenting strong quilts by tapping into the power of team. And they have been recognized for it: several Bee Sewcial quilts have won major awards at national quilt shows including ‘Smile’ which won the award for Best in Show at QuiltCon 2019. Bee Sewcial hopes to one day have their quilts hang collectively in a special exhibit; their multiple wins validate that this is an attainable goal.
Smile by Leanne Chahley
One of my favorite Bee Sewcial quilts is ‘Baconrific’ by Debbie Jeske. Not surprisingly, Jeske’s prompt for the group was that most delicious and ubiquitous of foods, bacon. She encouraged the other makers to use a mix of fabrics: velvet, shot cotton, linen, raw silk, suede, and quilters cottons. The effect is a quilt that will leave your mouth watering for a crispy slice of bacon.
Baconrific by Debbie Jeske
In addition to inspiring individual quilters with their creations, the Bee Sewcial group have inspired other quilters to form their own improv quilt groups. You can follow individual present and past members of the Bee Sewcial Sewing Bee on Instagram by searching the hashtags #beesewcial and #inspiredbybeesewcial.
Leanne Chahley @shecanquilt
Stephanie Ruyle @spontaneousthreads
Debbie Jeske @aquilterstable
Karen Foster @capitolaquilter
Marci Debetaz @marci_girl
Felicity Ronaghan @felicityquilts
M-R Charbonneau @quiltmatters
Silvia Sutters @astrangerview
Ken Smith @thekingslacker
Kari Vojtechovsky @quiltsforthemaking
Anne Sullivan @playcrafts
Hillary Goodwin @entropyalwayswins
Diane Stanley @diane_stanley_sews
Melissa Richie @weshallsew
Latifah Saafir @latifahsaafirstudios
Learn more about the Bee Sewcial Sewing Bee and see more of their creations in Curated Quilts: Improv, Issue No. 05.
by Brittany Bowen Burton