Quilting Bee Etiquette

A couple of months ago I joined my first quilting Bees.I had been thinking about joining a Bee for a while, and then the opportunity to join two different bees presented itself.   For those of you that do not know what a quilting bee is, it is basically a group of quilters who join  together (in person or virtually) to make blocks every month which are then made into a quilt.

A search of the web showed me there were dozens and dozens of different types of Bees, and lots of opportunities to join Bees.  There are short burst bees (like the 4 x 5 Bees), there are Charity Bees (like do.Good.Stitches), there are virtual Bees, Quilting Guild Bees and of course the “group of friends who want to set up a Bee” Bees (like the ScrapBeeLicious Bee I am part of).  What I could not find on-line was advice about being a “good” Bee member.  What is the etiquette for quilting Bees?

A couple months into my Bee block making This is what I have learnt so far…


Use good quality fabrics.  I always pull from my stash 100% cotton quilters quality fabric.  There are some Bee’s out there that specifically state no Joann’s or other chain store fabrics, but I tend to bend that rule a little when it comes to fabrics like the DS Quilts range and the Cloud 9 Organic range I bought at Joanns.  In my opinion it is about the quality of the fabric not where you bought it.

Just for fun I try and fit in Lizzy House’s Pearl Bracelets or Michael Miller’s Mirrorball into my Bee blocks, if I can.  I have a friend who tries to get Denyse Schmidt’s Chickopee into her Bee blocks.

Lizzy House's Pearl Bracelets

Lizzy House’s Pearl Bracelet

Queen Bee:

If you are Queen Bee – that is if it is your month to set the blocks there are some extra etiquette steps you might want to keep in mind.

1.  Make sure your instructions for your block and how to make it are clear and include the block’s finished size, colour preferences and ideally a sample block that you have made.

2.  Respect other people’s copyright.  For my turns as Queen I made sure I used a free, easily accessible pattern.  Do not set a block out of a book unless you are sure that everyone in your Bee has that book.  It is frowned upon to copy a pattern out of a book and distribute it without the author/originators approval.

Always credit pattern or inspiration and/or quilter and link to the original source.

3.  When setting your block understand that you may be forcing people out of their comfort zone. I personally feel this is a good thing.  I set my do.Good.stitches Bee a paper piecing block which was a challenge for several people.  If it is a new or challenging technique make sure you include links to instructions on how to do that particular technique (paper piecing, curves, quilt as you go etc).

4.  If the previous month’s Bee block has been particularly challenging, consider making your block a little easier (this is particularly relevant with ongoing Bee’s like Do.good.Stitches where you do not want people to burn out too quickly).

The Blocks:

Follow the Queens colour inspiration/directions as closely as possible.  If you are struggling with a lack of a certain colour in your stash, reach out to your Bee.  I have found that members are more than happy to help if they can.

Make sure your finished blocks are accurately sized to the specifics the Queen has set (which is usually 12 1/2 x 12 1/2).  If in doubt, leave them un-trimmed and drop a note to the Queen that you were unsure so did not size them up.  Remember you can cut a block down to size easily but it is messy to try to size a block up.

Make sure your finished blocks are presentable – pressed and trimmed of loose thread.  I take this opportunity to apologise to the recipients of my first lots of Bee blocks because they were a hot ugly messy.  Sorry.

Exhibit A

The perfection I am striving for… not there yet


Communication is everything.  Whether you are communicating via email or Flickr make sure you are keeping your Bee informed. If you are communicating via Flickr make sure you check the Groups discussion boards regularly (this was a rookie mistake I made with one of my Bees).

If you are struggling, have questions, need fabrics or your block is going to be late, let the Queen Bee know.  No one will be angry with you, especially if you are communicating.  People become frustrated when there is radio silence and no reply to emails or discussions.

If your blocks  are not going to show up (everyone has bad months) let the Queen know.  The sooner you can let your Queen know that the blocks will not be arriving the better, as she will then have to make replacement blocks or re-adjust her design.

If you are going to miss more than 2 months in a Bee cycle, step down from the Bee, or suspend your participation for a cycle.  It is the polite thing to do.

Include a little note in with your blocks (another one of my rookie mistakes).  A little piece of paper with your name and a short note helps the Queen Bee identify who the blocks have come in from and is a nice personal touch.  Remember this is a social activity.

Posting your blocks:

Make sure you post your blocks with plenty of time to make the deadline.  With most Bees it is assumed the blocks will arrive by the end of the month, usually with a 2 week grace period.  Your blocks are considered late by the 15th of the following month.

Make sure you are accurate with your postage.  Most Bee blocks cost around $2 + to post out – if your envelope  has any sort of bulk to it the USPS considers it a parcel and charges more.  I have had to pay extra postage on a couple of envelops in the last month or so and now have a stack of change next to the door so I can easily pay the post person.

Now onto pretty…

To wrap up things up here are my November Bee blocks for Alyce of WonderlandbyAlyce, who requested the X plus block.

x plus quilt block

I had been wanting to try this block for ages and even though Alyce just asked for 2 blocks I got a little carried away and made 4.  I am not sure what the etiquette is on doing more than the number of blocks requested but I kind of figure you can use the extras for the back if you want.

Bee Blocks

Enough already…

I am sure that there are things that I have not covered, do not know about or have not yet encountered.  I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and advice on Bee Etiquette.

38 thoughts on “Quilting Bee Etiquette

  1. I love this post! The amount of trouble I’ve gotten from the bees I’m currently in has me almost swearing off them completely. Maybe if this gets circulated, they’ll improve over time! 😀

    I’ve always found extra blocks helpful – either for the back, or to cover for someone’s lack of block, USPS lost block, ones that come in just under the right size, etc. I’m sure Alyce will appreciate them.

  2. Those X & + blocks are just fabulous. I have often thought about joining a bee – but I feel that my fabric stash is not extensive enough to enable me to do justice to the blocks required and unfortunately probably my finances aren’t either

  3. Great info. Thanks for sharing. I have never joined in an “online” bee; probably because I would be afraid of breaking “unwritten rules”. I hope this gets circulated around! Rules would fit well in most “local guild” bees too.

  4. I’ve never thought of joining one, but if I ever do, I now have good guidelines to follow! And how do you deal with blocks which are just not up to scratch? Do you put them in and spoil the quilt, ask the contributor to fix or replace them, or substitute something else and then have to explain why their block’s not there? Tricky…

    • I got a couple of blocks that were too small for one of my Bees. I made replacement blocks for the front and am making the small blocks the focus of the back of the quilt. I have seen some Bee quilts were people have got really creative about making things work. If it is a charity quilt it is different than if it is blocks for a quilt for yourself.

    • In my local sewing group swaps, a little bit of tactful unpicking and resewing is ALWAYS needed to bring a few blocks up to scratch. It is just part of the fun. Sometimes, such as when you have to add in more fabric, you have to tactfully explain; often, the maker of the wonky or undersized block need never know.

      • I have not had to do this yet..but I can imagine there is an element of creative fixing with some tops, but as you said it is part of the fun. I have been lucky so far.

  5. Making more blocks is always welcome. When I first discovered the online quilting community I went a little overboard with bees and swaps and have a bucket of UFO blocks to prove it, ha ha. I kept my expectations sort of low on the product itself and felt satisfied if I thought my hive mates did their best. It is a great way to “meet” wonderful people which makes it worth whatever downside might come your way.

    • I must admit I did not have any expectations for my Bees other than to have fun and challenge myself. I have been so thrilled with all the blocks I have received so far. I must have lucked out because both my bees rock!

  6. This is such a great list! It is definitely the radio silence thing that kills me… I mean, I know life gets crazy sometimes and fun things like bees fall by the wayside. But I’d like to know instead of being kept in the dark if a block isn’t coming or is going to be late! I never get upset about it if something is late.

  7. thanks Cath this was very helpful as I have just joined my first swap DQS14 and am waiting to hear about another at the end of November and was very unsure of the correct etiquette….mostly people are very helpful and the conversation threads are good places to pick up the vibe….trying to not start another quilt but have wanted one of these quilts for ages (x-plus) your blocks are rockin’

  8. I love the colors of your bee blocks. And thanks for the advice! I’ve never been part of a bee, but it is something that I’d love to try in the future.

  9. Thanks, Cath, for the great advice. I particularly appreciate the mention of copyright. It is poorly understood. Good people, who would never dream of shoplifting a fat quarter, sometimes do very dodgy things with a photocopier.

  10. Well said; great suggestions for other bees. To this I would add: If your bee meets in each other’s homes and you’re unable to attend, call the hostess and let her know. Thanks for a great post!

  11. Great post would love to try a bee one day but was unsure of the requirements. Love the comment about the postman that person has my kind of sense of humour LOL

    • You should definitely try a bee… even if it is just one of the short term 3 x 4 Bees (which only last for a short period). I must admit the Postman comment made me laugh so much… it is definitely my sense of humor too.

  12. Thank you so much for this great post! Someone on the Modern Quilt Group boards just posted it as a reference for Bee Etiquette… So glad they did! I am still not brave enough to join a bee, but I am saving this post for when I do. Thanks for taking the time to write all this out. So helpful!

  13. Pingback: The Closet Quilter · My Bee Notes

    • Mary Jane there a lot if virtual quilting bees online which are short burst bees. 3 x 6 or 4 x5 being the most common. These bees will last for a quarter (3 months) and have a small number of participants (4 or 6 people). A lot of time they have a theme (eg. Stars or paper piecing) and each person in the Bee chooses a colour scheme and sometimes a mosaic of their quilting style. A block pattern is then chosen and you make a version of that block for each member of your hive in their style/colour. So, in total, you’ll create 4/6 blocks (one for each member) in 4/6 colors (that your members choose) using 1 pattern (that you choose according to the hive theme). Are you totally confused now?

  14. Pingback: 2017 Modern Quilt Bee Megapost

  15. Thank you so much for this post. After looking for a bee to join, I ended up finding 11 friends to create our own. It’s an even split between beginners and experienced sewists, so we are really taking it slow. Blocks sizes and colors are up to each month’s Queen, but I did create an extensive questionnaire to make sure everyone understood the commitment. Many of my questions were based off of your information! 🙂 We call ourselves the quiltbeenewbees

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