Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top 10 Tips: Being A Good Swap Partner/Beemate

Hi all! Today I'm back with another Top 10 (actually, Top 18!) list on a very important topic: participating in swaps and bees. My quilty bestie Renee of Quilts of a Feather visited New Jersey all the way from New Mexico last week, and we had some conversations about all the swaps and bees we have been a part of in the last couple of years. As a result, we came up with this list together as a guideline for being the best partner you can be. Warning: this is a lengthy post, but we've bolded the most important parts! We've also included lots of pictures of our own swap quilts, to break up the text. :)

For reference, you can access mini quilt (and other sewn goods) swaps on Instagram (IG) if you have an Instagram account and follow a lot of quilters (they will pop up - there are always a bunch going on! Right now, #sewmystashminiquiltswap and #lovewinsminiswap are popular, and it's always smart to check the  #sewingandswapping hashtag).

You can also access swaps through Flickr, and you can organize them within your quilty group of friends. To be a part of a bee, you can join a Flickr group like do. Good Stitches, find an Instagram bee, or just round up a bunch of your own quilty friends. Check in your area guilds to see if you can participate in a swap or bee. I participate in monthly swaps and bees in the Central Jersey MQG, and Renee and I are a part of a private bee, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts.

*This list is not addressed to our (Jess's and Renee's) past and current swap/bee partners. It is a general list of reference points and opinions inspired by the online community. We are also not the "quilt police," and we have written this list with positivity in mind! Finally, some of these points are required by each swap/bee, so make sure you read each set of rules carefully when you sign up.

Top 10 (18!) Tips for Being a Good Swap Partner/Beemate

1. Take time to consider your commitment. If a new swap pops up, don't sign up immediately. Sleep on it! Many swaps start new rounds later in the year, so you can always join in a later round if the deadline is a busy time for you. You also need to consider your other sewing commitments (bees/swaps/what have you), because each one you take on becomes a lot more work. While it is fun to get to know other quilters, make something for someone else, and receive something in the mail, you need to seriously think about whether the swap is right for you.

2. Give all the information you can. Fill out the sign up form fully, post at least one mosaic to Instagram, or make a Pinterest board that shows quilts or colors you like. This will help YOUR partner create something unique and lovely just for you!

3. Keep track of all communication and refer to it whenever in doubt. Your "queen bee" (quilter in charge of that month's quilt) or swap mama will likely send you an email that includes ALL the details about the swap or bee. If it's a swap, all the information about your partner will be there.

4. Save your partner's mosaic to your phone or computer for easy reference. In an Instagram swap, you will most likely be required to create a mosaic (or group of pictures) of quilts you like. Your partner will have one or two as well - internalize them and really consider what your partner likes before proceeding.

5. Make you understand how to use Instagram or Flickr. Tagging photos and people, using hashtags, and following people in your swap are all fun parts of participating within your group. You can also look through the group photos/hashtag frequently to guess which mini might be yours and to encourage other sewists. If you don't know how to do these things, play around with Instagram or Flickr, or ask your friends or swap mama for help. Active participation is required in most Instagram swaps (checking in, posting progress, etc.), so this is really important! And yes, you can be kicked out if you don't engage with the group or post progress. Don't be that swapper!

6. Once you have a plan, double check that it corresponds with with your partner's likes and dislikes (and that you didn't get them mixed up!).

7. Use quilt shop quality fabric for the whole quilt, including backing and binding. Ask your beemates if you're not sure what would be appropriate or preferred. For swaps, research your partner's likes and try not to just to use their favorite color. Quality is a hugely important part... see #9 for more info.

8. Be prompt/don't be tardy! This is the cardinal rule for any swap or bee. If you sign up for one, you are making a commitment (usually one that you don't really realize the extent of until you are knee deep in the project) - see #1! A swap will have anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 or 4 months before you have to send out your package. 

Here are 2 tips:

      1. Make yourself a schedule leading up to the deadline. Figure out by which date you'd like the top pieced, then quilted, then bound, and when you'd like to have everything packaged up to mail. It's all about time management, especially if you are involved in more than one swap. Create reminders on your cell phone or planner.

      2. If something comes up, speak up! You must tell your swap mama if you are moving or something serious happens in your life that will hamper your ability to participate in the swap on time (or at all). Same thing for bees - your queen bee expects to receive her blocks on time, so you need to communicate with her immediately if something unexpected happens. Everyone understands that things happen; there's a big difference between being upfront about your difficulty and flaking out.

9. Quality > making a deadline. You should be creating something of excellent quality (quarter inch seams, straight, well attached binding, pressed fabrics). Renee and I also believe that if you are participating in a mini quilt swap, you should be adding enough quilting to improve the quilt top. This could be straight line quilting, echoing designs with free motion quilting, hand stitching, etc. If you do not consider yourself a proficient quilter, it is perfectly okay to practice before you try on the quilt. "Quilt it to life!" says Renee. Simple is good but your partner will know if you did not put effort into the quilting. Imagine how your partner will feel if they've put their heart and soul into their own project.

"Circus Tent" - Modernista Homemade Swap 2012 by Jessica - the only quilting is around the cathedral windows (to tack them down). It makes a statement, takes some time, and makes the quilt look even better.

10. Authenticity is important. Your swap partner wants to receive a piece of you. The goal shouldn't be to mimic your swap partner's styles. Do what makes you happy and what you are good at while making something that you know your partner will appreciate. Do what you love and it will show! For example, I love to free motion quilt my mini quilts, so I always do, no matter what. It might vary from simple free motion to more dense quilting, based on my partner's tastes.

11. Send your package smartly. If possible, pay for tracking, sew a label on your quilt and include your IG handle/name (or include a note with your name with bee blocks), put it in a plastic bag to protect it from the elements while in transit, be discreet--don't make you package an attractive target for people looking for something good to steal (examples: writing #happymail, words that include "gifts," "presents," or "swap," covering your package in tape). As fun as it is to receive a decorated-to-the-nines package, it's better to be safe than sorry. Mini quilts have and DO go missing in the mail. Be smart!
12. Include a note! This lets your recipient know who made it and who to thank!  You can also explain your inspirations, or why you included some elements, or just a simple "I really enjoyed making this and hope you love it!" or just 'Happy Sewing!"  Be sure to sign it with your name, your IG name and #NameOfYourSwap. It's an easy, common courtesy that your partner will love.

13. Don't feel obligated to include any extras (unless it is required by the swap).  If you want to include extras, that's fine too!
14. Check in but keep it a secret. Show your progress but don't reveal your partner's likes/dislikes too blatantly! It's more fun if swappers are kept in the dark. :) See #5 for more info.

15. Post photos of your finished quilt/blocks in natural lighting (outside or under a window) before you send it!  You can wait to share the photo after your recipient receives it if you want. If you can take the time to make a time-intensive quilt, you can snap a picture in daylight (that is, hoping you haven't finished the night before the send deadline).

16. When you receive your swap item, share a photo on Instagram and tag the maker and your swap mama!

17. Make sure you THANK YOUR PARTNER! This is important because he or she will a) know you received it safe and sound and b) see that you are acknowledging all of the work they put into it. Regardless of whether you like or dislike your swap package, this step is an absolute must (plus, it's just common courtesy). If you are in a swap on IG, you will likely be tracked down by your swap mama if you don't verify that you've received your package. Same thing goes for bees - if your beemates made blocks for your quilt, you need to thank them. A simple email or tag (@) on IG will do.

18. If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it. Speaking of bee blocks or swap packages that didn't quite come out as you'd hoped, there are several things you can do (after you've done #17). You can fix or change/upcycle your swap mini quilt and no one has to know. You can also give it away if it's not your cup of tea. It would probably better serve someone else than being stashed away in your closet for years. No swap partner wants to think their work wasn't good enough for the person they made it for, but if you feel that passionately about it, so be it.

On a final, more positive note, swaps and bees make the quilty world go round. Go forth and make things for other people!

Additional reading on bees/swaps/etiquette:


  1. Any suggestions for those of us (me) that is participating in their first swap and do not know how to do intricate quilting? Any classes or courses you can recommend? I've only been successful at straight line quilting.

    1. Hi Mo-Ren! I can't reply to your comment via email because you are no-reply. Anyway, in addition to what Carri commented (2 comments below), there is NOTHING wrong with straight line quilting. There are many types (as Carri has listed). I suggest trying wavy quilting with your walking foot, playing with the decorative stitches on your machine if you have them, quilting straight lines evenly spaced (or not!) one after another. If you are looking to get into free motion quilting, try Angela Walter's books. She also has Craftsy classes. Christina Cameli is great, too! Also, FMQ is fun but you have to practice, practice, practice! No one becomes skilled overnight. Best of luck!

    2. Thank you so much for your comment. I have been watching 1 crafts class but I will check out the one you mentioned. I was just getting a little overwhelmed by looking at all of the fancy quilting and wishing it didn't take so much time and practice to be that good ☺

  2. There's some gorgeous eye candy here! Good tips too, many to keep in mind when simply giving a gift. :-)

  3. Mo-Ren - I've only sent off three swaps so far and they've all had just straight line quilting. I'm a new quilter and wanted to use swaps to get some practice and try new things on a smaller scale. For my first mini, I drew lines on with a Pilot Frixion pen and used my walking foot to quilt straight on the lines. I did turns and angles to make it a little more interesting, but still just straight stitching. Since them, I've used my walking foot to also do organic wavy lines as well as some curved quilting lines. I don't think you need to feel like straight line quilting isn't good enough!

    1. Oh good! I joined a swap to get more experience and practice too! Thanks so much for your feedback. I was getting a little overwhelmed looking at the mosaics posted for the person I was swapping with thinking I wasn't up to her level. I'm in the middle of practicing lots of new techniques to see if I can just trick myself into thinking I'm an experienced quilter 😉

  4. You have a great list here. For me, frequent and clear communication are so beneficial. I look forward to seeing how others respond or add to the suggestions here in the comments.

  5. P.S. Hand quilting rocks, too!

  6. Great tips! I love the last line: go forth and make things for other people. My house would be bursting at the seams if other people didn't take some of it.
    I have been guilty of not including a note because I learned that I could squeeze in an extra block but not a block and a note without hitting the next international postage rate. Notes go by email!

  7. I have a much less positive list running in my head... :D Soooo many of these are neglected, overlooked, forgotten. The horror stories Jo and I could tell.... My biggest advice to add to this: Act like an adult. The amount of childish behavior is astonishing. And personally, after moderating a swap, I will never join another. I've seen the 'seedy underbelly' and don't want any part of it. Not that all swaps are terrible, or all experiences negative, just for me, it's not worth it. It was a good experience though.

  8. Great tips! I love to read the note included and have had such lovely cards - nice to make the extra effort and it makes me look forward to my turn as Queen Bee even more!

  9. There are some very good points here Jessica . My quilting tends to the simple and I worry about thst , I tend to think stick to what I do best . My swaps and bees have been positive , up to now !

  10. Great tips. For me the label on the quilt means so much! Even more than a card or extras. I have received two swap quilts with no labels and one where there is a "label" written lightly in pen on the very busy background fabric - I looked at the quilt many times before I saw it! Wondering if you think it would be ok for me to make a label and send it to the maker(s) for a signature? I think its so important to document our work.


Let's start a conversation! I love comments and I'd be happy to reply to all who have an email address accessible. Thanks for commenting!


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