“It Gives Me Pleasure” : The past and present history of quilting bees

Note: We're sorry about the radio silence on the blog! Due to technical difficulties, we were not able to post a blog post last week.

“The Lone Quilter”

I am what some call a “lone quilter.” Prior to this year, I did not belong to any quilting guilds, sewing bees, or swap groups. I started sewing when I was given a 1964 Singer 416Z by my mother in law, with my first quilt following a few months later. For a long time, I quilted by myself in hours stolen from my other hobbies (running, cooking, and sleeping). In perusing The Filson’s collections, I’ve found companionship with Mrs. Mae Threlkeld Young, a woman who was the face of “the lone quilter” in Mary Washington Clarke’s Kentucky Quilters and their Makers (1975, 746 C599). Though I’ve never met Mrs. Young and don’t know if she is still alive, I feel a sort of kinship with her after reading her story and about her quilts. Her sewing space was described as follows:

“On a typical day, Mae arranged herself near a Warm Morning heating stove between an antique bed and a television set. Her sewing rocker had its back to the bed so that she could face the television and a window looking out onto the front porch. On a second rocker at her left she arranged her materials – scissors, pincushion, a shoebox full of tiny cloth squares neatly segregated according to color, and the cardboard patterns she used when she cut the pieces.”

Now that I think about it, my sewing space is set up similarly to hers, with my machine set up at the end of the table and the area to the left is reserved for my fabric, patterns, and notions. Mrs. Young pieced and quilted most of her quilts by hand, and by the writing of Kentucky Quilters and their Makers, she had given up quilting and was only piecing quilt tops.

 “The Quilting Bee”

For a long time, I was a lone quilter not by choice, but by circumstance. Like Mrs. Young, I lived far from any active quilting communities during my early years. I also don’t know many quilters in my age demographic or social circle, and because of this, I have found myself alone in my quilty endeavors. But after years of being a solitary quilter, I’ve begun reaching out to the Louisville quilting community, and my blog posts about quilting in The Filson’s collections have brought me closer to the thriving Kentucky quilting community.

An example of one of my recent contributions to the Warm Hugs Quilt bee organized by Instagram user @stitchedconamar. My blocks are the top right and bottom left.

An example of one of my recent contributions to the Warm Hugs Quilt bee organized by Instagram user @stitchedconamar. My blocks are the top right and bottom left.

While I have not joined any of the local groups, I have become immersed in a new type of quilting bee found in the online quilting community. Through Instagram (you can follow me at @avivocasews), I have found a way to be involved in several quilting bees, quilt-a-longs, and swaps. The technological age has opened up a new way to connect with a variety of quilters as we stitch together. Like the women in the Good Neighbor Quilting Club and many others, “The quilting bee then filled a social need for the women.” And it has done so in my life as well.

If you would like to read more about the social nature of quilting and sewing, The Filson has the following books in our library collection:

Kentucky Quilts and Their Makers, Mary Washington Clarke [746 C599]

Quilt Stories: A Collection of Short Stories, Poems, and Plays by Bobbie Ann Mason, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, Sharyn McCrumb, Marge Piercy Harriet Beecher Stowe & Many Others, edited by Cecilia Macheski [810.8 M146]

As always, we’d love it if you came down to visit us at The Filson!

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at The Filson Historical Society. When she isn't working on publications for The Filson, you can find her behind her sewing machine or out on the roads training for her next big race.

2 comments on ““It Gives Me Pleasure” : The past and present history of quilting bees

  1. George Teasley

    We would like to rebuild a quilt from pictures. The original was hand crafted on an
    antique quilting frame by our family and friends years ago. The designs were simple
    geometric shapes with cotton cloth and matting. Would you happen to know if these
    services are available. Thankyou,
    George Teasley

    1. Jennie Cole

      Hi George,
      I’m asking some of our staff members who are involved in quilting – we will contact you directly with any information. Thanks!


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