kw: musings, culture, pastimes
I've never observed a quilting bee, but my grandmother was a great fan of them. With the help of a gaggle of friends, she made quilts for all my brothers and me (we have no sisters), in this double-wedding-ring design, but with a white rather than green background. This image came from a Google Products ad.
Born in 1899, she was 55 before she ever saw a television set. When a woman had leisure time, she was expected to occupy herself with handicrafts, usually sewing. Such tasks, and indeed any tasks that did not require one to be home-bound, were turned into social occasions. The quilting bee was (and for many it still is) the cream of one's social life.
Piecing a top can be a solitary activity, but it doesn't have to be. My wife was in a quilting group when we lived in Oklahoma. She and several others would sit in a loose group, each piecing together their sections (usually squares). In my grandmother's day, it was all hand stitching. More recently, machine piecing and assembling is more common, but it still lends itself to cameraderie; they just have to talk louder over the sounds of the sewing machines. As I understand it, piecing is putting together the tiny pieces into larger units, which are then assembled to make the quilt top.
Once the top is assembled, the quilting step is the greatest fun. The assembled top is attached to padding and a sheet backing, mounted on a quilting frame, then the quilting patterns are stitched in. While machine quilting has become more common, the intricate patterns of traditional quilts are still best produced by hand, by a half-dozen or so skilled women, stitching, gossiping, and enjoying one another's presence. (To be fair, I understand there are men who participate in quilting bees, and all-male quilting bees. I'd enjoy that if I had any hand control at all. No way can I make twelve stitches per inch!).
As this close-up shows, a traditional quilting pattern is lovely. It's function is to hold the quilt to the batting and backing; without it the batting will wad up.
It also shows that one cannot produce the double-wedding-ring pattern based on pieced squares. I can think of two ways to put it together, one using alternating circles and smaller white squares, plus dual-arc edge sections; another using congruent shapes with two in-arcs and two out-arcs each, plus a set which are full circles, to be put along two edges. Either way, this is a more challenging pattern than almost any other.
I love quilts. I grew up sleeping under antique quilts. Most quilts are rather thin. When we lived in South Dakota, my wife and I made a thick comforter with a quilted top (much less elaborate than nearly any other quilt, as you might imagine). It is overly warm in this area.
I've obtained dozens of photos of quilts, which I use in my "photo show" screen saver. The endless imagination of quilters everywhere amazes me. It it the premier folk art form.