Online quilting bee creates community

Small Towns

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I’ve worked from home for many years, and I have some pretty serious homesteading tendencies. I’m an extrovert, but I’ve built a lifestyle for myself that happily keeps me home most of the time. All that said, when COVID-19 really began to affect this country, although my day-to-day actions didn’t take much of a hit, my mental health went down fast, and my focus and energy dwindled. Social media seemed more addictive and toxic than ever, and I felt hope and purpose crawl under a rock. Bye-bye now.

Insert Snowshoe & Company’s community quilting bee concept. Return hope. Return purpose. Return sense of community.

Snowshoe & Company is a small business that runs a beautiful homestead-inspired online storefront and blog. Owners Ali and Scott Yahnke got their start by specializing in seasonal caramels and have since evolved to selling other local goods and value-added products. You can learn more on their website.

Like myself, Ali was already spending a good chunk of her time at home prior to the COVID-19 crisis. When the virus entered the scene, she too felt overwhelmed and yet drawn to increased social media and screen time.

“There had to be something else, something creative, something more hopeful than getting sucked into the vortex of the internet,” said Ali. “I wanted to inspire people to use their hands and to make something together. I started to think about what I could do with my platform as a small business to start something that was a collective project while we were staying home.”

Ali has sewn and pursued other crafts since she was young, and thinks of sewing as meditation.  Knowing of the long and rich history of quilting bees in this country, she wanted to give people—regardless of skill and experience level—a guide to connect remotely to take part in an alternative type of bee. With the help of a friend, she produced a free online toolkit which has tips for sewing as well as for organizing a group of people to work on a quilting project together.

I’ve been quilting for a few years now, and when I saw an Instagram post about the community quilting bee from Snowshoe & Company, I jumped at the idea. It sounded like the perfect way to occupy my time and (now slowly returning) energy while making something and checking in regularly with friends, new and old.

One of my co-workers, Kirstin Bailey, and I formed a “Quilt Block Party!” group on Facebook (yes, I see the irony in social media being my demise and my savior), and put a call out to folks to join. It worked like a charm pack. In our group, we have 35 members, and 16 who have committed to the first block swap, which is in progress now. Many of the members are friends of friends, and location, age, and level of experience cross many borders.

As we got our plan together and each of us began to work on our first blocks, we posted updates, and the supportive atmosphere quickly blossomed. I know I wasn’t the only one who no longer dreaded refreshing my timeline to see the latest news and commentary. Now, we all had something fun and reassuring to look forward to, and we didn’t have to wait months for it.

With the number of people we have in the group, there are updates and conversations happening daily. We can swap ideas and advice, swoon over beautiful prints and patterns, and cheer each other on, as many of us break out of our comfort zones and learn through trial and error.

We’ve found that wonkiness is welcome and a little bit of joy goes a long long way.

No, of course the Quilt Block Party has not made everything instantly, magically better, but honestly, it’s given many of us a new lease on our home and mental life. The bee holds members accountable in a very positive way, and binds us together in this time when we are physically isolated. There is such support and respect for other members, and the surge of cheers when a member posts a picture of their accomplished block is everything.

And, while most people in the group have sewn at least a little in their life, by and large we are challenging ourselves to try new things, and we’re certainly all new to this roller coaster time. We are all coming together to take on a project, embracing a coping mechanism that no doubt has already been spilled over to other parts of our lives.

I’ll end with wise words from Ali: “We take better care of things that are made with love and have a story. It makes us more mindful humans when the things in our lives are meaningful and made with care. I see this having a ripple effect of positivity on our society, environment, and our own personal lives.”

If this story resonates with you in any way, I’d encourage you to seek out a community group, however small or large. It might be a quilting group (newbies welcome!), or maybe it’s a cooking club or a musician’s forum. It doesn’t have to be through social media, but it can be. You might find yourself wanting to create a new group, or maybe there’s already something out there that will suit you well. Let us know if we can help you, and we promise, however you feel and however you cope, you’re not alone.