Quilting Gallery Blog

Running a Successful Quilt Along by Ebony Love

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Ebony Love, as she shares with us some great tips on hosting a quilt along.

I am not sure where Quilt Alongs originated, but ever since I’ve discovered them, I’ve been fascinated by them. How hosts come up with the ideas, how people find out about them, and how to get people to participate.

In my own case, I’m a new quilt pattern designer, and I’ve been designing quilts based on the AccuQuilt fabric die cutting system. There aren’t a lot of resources for quilters who have these machines, and I wanted to create a place for people to find information, videos, projects, and supplies that are geared toward this tool. So I launched QuiltPossible.com to centralize those resources. I’m still building things out, but I’m really encouraged by the response I’ve been getting, and I’ve started releasing my own patterns under this name.

I’ve participated in Quilt Alongs in the past, and although many of these quilts can be adapted to be cut on an AccuQuilt machine, I didn’t see anything out there that would make it really easy for someone to do so. Also, many people don’t have the time or energy to convert quilt patterns for die cutting, so I set out to start a Quilt Along of my own to fill this gap. I thought I’d share with you my experience at hosting a successful quilt along, and I’m also going to reveal the project that one of my Quilt Along groups has been working on since mid-February. None of them have seen the final project and they are all anxious to see what all those blocks will turn into!

What is a Quilt Along?

If you’re new to the Quilt Along scene, a Quilt Along is essentially a quilt or other project that you will make along with the host of the quilt along. It could be an already finished project, or a mystery quilt that you won’t see until the end. Usually the host will post instructions on making particular blocks, and give you assignments to finish in a specific time frame before the next block is posted. Joining a Quilt Along is usually pretty straightforward, and you can sign up any time.

Come Up With a Theme

A Quilt Along starts with an idea. What type of quilt is it? What size will it end up being? Will it showcase a particular block, technique or tool? What type of quilter would be interested in your Quilt Along? In my case, I belong to a group of quilters who own an AccuQuilt fabric die cutter, and many people said they owned dies that were still in the packaging because they either didn’t know how to use them or couldn’t think of a project to use them on. So I decided to come up with a Quilt Along that would help people use the dies that they own.

AccuQuilt actually makes several types of die cutters, so I decided to simultaneously host TWO Quilt Alongs – one for Studio owners, and one for GO! owners. I found out which dies people owned by conducting a short survey, and then I designed two quilts that would make the most of the dies that people had.

A quilt along project doesn’t have to be that involved or complex; I participated in a Quilt Along last year that was just about making 9-patch blocks with sashing:

If you do a search on Google, you will find many examples of Quilt Alongs, and you’re nearly guaranteed to find a project that appeals to you. If not, consider hosting your own!

Design the Project

A lot of Quilt Alongs are based on quilts that are already made. Sometimes, a host will have posted a project that enough people have asked about, and they decide to make that project again and invite others to make it too. In my case, I had a list of dies that I needed to incorporate, and based on the timeframe, I didn’t have time to make the finished quilt and show it beforehand, so I turned my Quilt Along into a mystery quilt. I used EQ7 [Electric Quilt] to design both quilts, but you could also do a simple sketch or line drawing to help people visualize the finished project.

You’ll want to have fabric yardage requirements, and suggest color combinations if it will impact the final look of the quilt. For my Quilt Alongs, I suggested guidelines and gave them a color chart to fill in so they could keep track of what color substitutions they made when they varied from my own.

Figure Out the Timing

For any Quilt Along, you need to establish a start and an end date, and also the frequency of how often you will post steps in the Quilt Along. To determine how long your Quilt Along will take, you need to take your quilt design and divide it into logical steps and manageable chunks. If you’ve designed a quilt that needs 100 9-patch blocks, you may want to break it up into a 10-week project, and ask people to make 10 blocks each week. When you break up a project that way, you may discover that 10 weeks is too long, or 10 blocks are too many to ask people to make in a week. For a 9-patch it might be OK, but for something more complex it might not be. For my Quilt Alongs, sometimes I had participants make 2 different blocks in the same week, which was possible when the blocks weren’t that complex.

You might provide all the cutting instructions up-front, or post them each week as blocks are made. In my Quilt Alongs, there were different types of blocks every week, so I had to post cutting intructions with every new block.

No matter what, each week (or whatever schedule you’ve set) you’ll want to post something and talk about your own progress (or lack thereof – it happens!). It is encouraging for people to see others making progress, and if you haven’t made progress, it relieves some of the guilt that participants feel when they haven’t made progress either.

Because I was doing two Quilt Alongs simultaneously, I decided to post new blocks for each quilt on alternate weeks. This really extended what could have been a pretty short Quilt Along into a 3 month project! For my participants, it was OK for them to get blocks on this schedule, as many of them decided to do both quilts, and it also gave them time to purchase new dies if they wanted to do a block and chose not to use the rotary instructions. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you tell people up-front how long the project will take, so they can figure out whether the project is really feasible for them.

I also started out by saying I would post new blocks on a Thursday, but a lot of times life would get in the way and I wasn’t able to do that. So I changed my block schedule to between Thursday – Sunday. This gave me additional flexibility, and didn’t bother the participants at all. Most people will be understanding if you keep them in the loop.

Establish a Community

Participants like to interact with each other, so you should give them a way to do that. Some Quilt Along hosts just ask people to add comments on each block post; others create Flickr or Facebook groups for participants to interact. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are responsive to people when they ask questions or need help; there’s nothing more frustrating for someone than to get stuck on a step and not be able to get help. I have a Flickr group for each Quilt Along, and participants can follow me on Facebook for Quilt Along updates.

Offer Prizes or Incentives

If you want to reward your quilt along participants or give them incentive for participating, offer them a prize. Prizes could be something as simple as giving away a bundle of your own fabric or a pattern, asking participants to donate a fat quarter or a charm square for participating (and then have a drawing at the end), or finding a company to sponsor your Quilt Along. For my Quilt Alongs, I contacted AccuQuilt since the quilts used their products, and they offered up one free die for each Quilt Along. As an incentive for people to finish their quilts, I will enter them in a drawing to win the die if they post a picture of their finished quilt top to our Flickr group.

Get People to Participate

If you already have a pretty steady blog following, you could just announce that you are having a Quilt Along right on your blog. If you want to get more people to join, there are several ways to advertise your Quilt Along. You could create a badge for others to put on their website to advertise your Quilt Along; you could post on forums or message boards, or if you are a member of a group or guild, you could get participants that way. [Editor’s note: or send the info to me at the Quilting Gallery, see below.] In my case, I was already a member of several groups who had expressed interest in the Quilt Along, so it wasn’t hard to get people to sign up. In the end, I had over 200 people sign up between both Quilt Alongs, which I thought was a pretty good turn out for my first try. I also made the sign up list public (names only) so that people could see how many others were participating.

The Quilt Revealed

And now, for the moment that hundreds of people have been waiting for since mid-February: the final layout of the GO! Quilt Along quilt! Every other week, participants have been making blocks for this quilt, and trying to guess at how the blocks all fit together. To keep the quilt a mystery (and to help people fit their blocks together at the end) I didn’t post cutting instructions for any of the open spaces. These open spaces allow each quilter to personalize their quilts with applique shapes if desired, and use up leftover fabric.

I’m really excited to reveal the final quilt here, and next week, between Thursday-Sunday, I’ll be posting assembly instructions for the GO! participants to finish their quilts. I really have enjoyed hosting this Quilt Along, and I can’t wait to start another!

Speaking of, the next Quilt Along I am hosting will start on July 23rd, and the quilt will be made primarily from circle & hexagon shapes. This won’t be a mystery quilt, but the quilt photo won’t be posted until July. If you are interested in signing up, you don’t need to own an AccuQuilt cutter because I will provide cutting templates. Anyone is welcome! To sign up, just go here:


Another Tip from Michele

In addition to Ebony’s great tips, I wanted to share something else too. All blogging software has some way to allow you to assign key words to your blog posts so that a reader can see all posts that have the same set of key words, often referred to as a tag. In your software, this might be called categories, tags, labels or even something else. If you’re hosting a Quilt Along, one of the reasons you do so is to increase your site traffic and gain more followers. That’s fantastic. What’s not fantastic is when new visitors to your site can’t easily find all of your related posts for the quilt along.

Ebony’s done a great example of this. If you click this link: Go Quilt Along, you’ll see all the posts that she’s tagged with those key words. This makes it super easy for new site visitors to jump in and participate. Also, she’s tagged the other quilt along as such: Studio Quilt Along. You’ll see me using the tag, Weekly Themed Quilt Contest, here at the Quilting Gallery, which is the one link needed to see all the posts for our weekly contests.

One final tip, if you’re blogging software is template driven, like WordPress, look into serving up a different template for your archive pages. An archive page is, simply, the page that is shown when one clicks on the tag, category, label, month or year that’s been used. Both Ebony and I have created custom archive pages for our tags. Not only is it easier for site visitors to use, but this will help greatly to avoid duplicate content on your site that the search engines, specifically Google, frown upon. (This is a much larger topic, and I’ve already added way more than I intended to Ebony’s fabulous post!)

Finally, if you’re hosting a free quilt along on your blog or web site, drop me a short email with a brief description, a link to your posts (i.e. the label or tag you’ve created) and a photo/graphic, and I’ll do my best to include it in one of my Bits and Pieces from the Quilting Web posts. (Oh, look another Tag!)

Thanks Ebony for your great tips!

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This post was published on May 18th, 2011. Post topics: Free Projects, Guest Bloggers.

5 Responses to “Running a Successful Quilt Along by Ebony Love”

  1. Deborah says:

    Thank you, Ebony for all this wonderful information! I just may try this next winter or maybe this summer or….

    Thank you, Michele for your added tidbits, too. I’ve learned so much from your site in a such a short period of time.
    Thanks for all you do!
    Deborah

  2. SewCalGal says:

    Ebony did a great job with the Quilt Along. She is very creative and very talented, plus always willing to go that extra mile to help others learn and have fun. This post is another example of Ebony’s desire to reach out and help others.

    Great post Ebony and Michele. Quilt-Alongs are great fun and a super way for quilters to learn too.

    SewCalGal
    http://www.sewcalgal.blogspot.com

  3. Mishka says:

    Thanks Deborah and SewCalGal, I’m glad you found the post helpful.

    Michele

  4. Laura says:

    Y’know, the first time I saw this article, I didn’t read it because I thought “I’ll never host a Quilt Along.”

    But as Wentworth County Quiltworks grows and evolves, I just might! Thanks for the info!

  5. Jessica says:

    This is a great article that offers tons of help for first time Quilt Along leaders like me. I have been planning on doing a Quilt Along for awhile (been kinda scared though). I hope some of you will join when I get it posted.

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