Subtopic: Quilting Bees

Grade Level: 4th-5th

Author: Kathy Tuft




Quilt making has been around for a very long time, as early as 1750. But, between the years of 1830 to 1870, quiltmaking in America was at its height. Beyond the Mississippi materials were lacking, so many of the individuals on the prairies would turn their old calico dresses into the famous patchwork quilts. Economics made the patchwork quilt popular until the ascendancy of the machine industry of the nineteenth century.

In Colonial day, when every piece of cloth was brought from Europe at an opulent cost, each scrap left from the cutting of clothing was worth as much as its equivalent to the garment itself. Thus the "Crazy Patch," quilt was invented. Each piece of cloth was fit together so that not a strand of the valuable material was wasted. It mainly consisted of silks, ribbons, wool, and velvets. It not only was the humblest of all bed-coverings, but it served the purpose of keeping the family warm on those cold winter nights.

An individual who did not make her bedding and an abundance of it was practically unknown. Even when the household could afford to cut the larger scraps of material, the woman of the household was required to make the bedding for the home.

Soon the trading of scraps became a social event amongst neighbors. Persons in a local area would trade their scraps to make the quilts unique. Everyone would buy from the general store from the same bolts of material out of necessity. Many of the quilts found in that region would contain the same materials, but would be pieced together differently.

Soon no function was more important than the quilting-bee. Before inviting any quests, the woman of the house would usually piece together at least two to three quilts before her neighbors were invited to attend the quilting bee. Then she would borrow any extra quilting frames needed to get the job done. The whole, countryside was invited to come early, and make a day of it. The quilts were put in and finished. Usually, the girls would have relays to show off their crafty needle work. Then the evening would start with a feast; all men, women, and children were invited to attend the party. They had dancing, singing, kissing-games, and courting which followed their supper.

Many of the quilts received high honors at fairs such as the Medina fair. Out of eighty --five firsts, second, and third prizes awarded for craftsmanship; twenty-six firsts and second prizes were won by women. The prizes won were either books or money.

The dower chest for the bride was supposed to hold at least a, "baker's dozen," or more quilts. Twelve were made to resemble the view of everyday use, but the thirteenth was a, bride's quilt, a piece so elaborate that it was a pain to make. The bride's quilt was started only after a girl was definitely engaged. Top after top were pieced together, they were laid away to await quilting, or until the bride announced that she was to be married. The reason for this custom was the cost of the wadding or backing. This expenditure was pointless until a new home was about to be furnished. So to invite quests to the quilting of a girl's "tops" was like announcing that she was to be married.

Due to the economical stresses of the mid-eighteen hundreds, the quilting-bee became a celebration amongst neighbors. It was a way to socialize and to accomplish their tasks at the same time. Women received much recognition for their ornate needle work. Some even announced that they were to be married at such events. Over all the quilting bee is an exciting part of American history, and many of the customs have carried over to our day.



Finley, Ruth E. (1929). Old Patchwork Quilts. Philadelphia and London: J.B. Lippincott Company.


Callahan, Nancy. (1987). The Freedom Quilting Bee. Tuscaloosa and London: The university of Alabama Press.


Forrest, John and Blincoe, Deborah. (1995). The Natural History of the Traditional Quilt. Austin: University of Tesas Press.


Holstein, Jonathan. (1972). American Pieced Quilts. New York: The Viking Press.





* Students will recognize that quilting-bees are an American celebration.


* Students will recognize that certain customs have carried on to our day. (Quilts that are made for weddings.)


* Students will be able to recognize different patterns used in quilts.


* Students will be able to make a quilt pattern on a piece of graph paper.


* Students will be able to have their own quilting bee in the classroom.


Time Allotment: Approximately 3 to 4 class periods plus homework.



Resources Needed:


* Graph paper, worksheets, crayons, pencils, and markers.


* Material, batting, quilting frames, needles, scissors, and thread.


* Patterns on paper that they can look at for an example.


* Magazines, books, and pictures of quilts and their patterns.




A. Brainstorm. Have the students list the type of things they would do at a quilting bee. Then ask questions like:

-What type of things would they talk about, at a quilting-bee?

-What type of food would they bring?

-Who would they invite?

-What is the special occasion for the quilting bee?

-How is this an American celebration?


B. Mini-lecture. Have the students plan their own quilting bee. Let them choose a pattern that they would like to quilt, such as: Anvil, Does and Darts, Old Tippecanoe, Log Cabin, Honeycomb, Grandmothers Fan, Churndash, Buggy Wheel, and Yankee Puzzle.

Then let them decide who will be in their quilting bee. (Help them to divide into groups of 6 to 8 people). Have them list the types of things they will bring for the quilting bee.


C. Graphing. Have the students choose four patterns that they can draw on graph paper. After they draw them have them color them in with markers or crayons. Be sure you go around the classroom and help them with their drawings. Have them complete at least one per day.


D. Quilting. Set up a quilting frame that the students can work on during free time or after they finish their homework. Have one specific day set aside to have the quilting bee celebration. Invite the parent to help the students with their quilts. Parents may also bring food for the celebration. (Plan to give them more time if needed).




Graphing patterns of quilts completed, and colored.


Quilt finished in class time. Divide class into groups and give them time to work on the quilt.


Ask questions pertaining to quilts discussed in class.





Dear Parents,


We are discussing the celebration of the quilting-bee. We will be making a quilt in class. If you would like to help us with the needle work we will have a day set aside to accomplish this task. Also, if you have any quilts that have been handed down or have a special meaning, you may bring them to class and tell us about them. Our students will need to bring their own needles to class with a spool of thread. Please contact me if you have any questions, or would like to help with this activity. We will be starting the quilt next Monday.

Thank you for your assistance.


Sincerely, Miss Kathy Tuft

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