Quilt Guilds — What They Are, What They Aren’t, and Why They’re Important (Take One)

Today I want to go back and explore a sub-topic introduced in my blog on 1970 quilts (  Towards the end of it, I mentioned the folks who became quilters during this decade formed our quilt guilds.  It’s this group – the guilds – I want to focus on this week:  What is a quilt guild, what’s not a quilt guild, and why these guilds are beneficial to quilters. 

Let’s start by taking a look at the history of quilt guilds.  Historically, guilds have been around for hundreds of years.  Guilds were groups of craftsmen and artisans who met together for the purpose of safeguarding their craft or trade.  Each group had certain standards for their members and if you hired one of these craftsmen to do a job, the project was completed thoroughly and accurately.  A craft guild guaranteed a certain quality of work.  Sometimes these guilds even had uniforms or “dress codes” for their members, which meant you knew who belonged to what guild on sight. 

 Each occupation had its own guilds.  There were guilds for masons, brick layers, stone cutters, butchers, etc.  These groups weren’t like our modern labor unions, but they did protect their craft and their membership.  Quilt guilds – or at least quilt guilds as we know them – really didn’t form until the late 1970’s.  You must understand where these seventies quilters were historically.  Quilting took a hit in popularity from 1940-ish until the mid to late sixties.  As more and more women entered the workplace, they had less and less time for quilting.  The 1970’s ushered in a renewed interest in all handcrafts and the Bicentennial’s emphasis on early American arts such as quilting, pushed our craft back into America’s consciousness.  An entirely new group of people became interested in quilting, and by the end of the decade they had become extremely proficient in the art.  As a result, the seventies transformed quilting almost as much as the 1930’s.  New tools, new fabrics, and new quilting standards were embraced.   As the eighties dawned, these now-proficient quilters realized two things.  First, they had to teach the next generation of quilters, and second, these beginning quilters needed time to meet with the advanced quilters to learn the art, be supported, and have the same type of fellowship the 1970’s quilters had.  As a matter of fact, two of the larger quilt guilds in my area were formed in 1981 and 1982, directly as a result of the 1970’s quilt revival. 

The outcome of the 1970’s quilt revival was two different types of quilt groups.  There were bees and sit and sews, and then there were quilt guilds. Both types of these groups are beneficial to quilters in many ways, but quilt guilds are different from sit and sews and quilt bees in at least seven different areas.

Guilds have a democratic system of teaching, sharing, and community service, although most of the teaching is very informal.

Everyone is welcome to share information, offer tips and tricks, and become involved in the guild’s community service projects.  This usually also occurs in other non-guild quilt groups to varying degrees.

There are by laws, elected officers, and dues are collected.

A guild is not guided by an individual’s or group’s preferences.  When a guild forms, they write their own “rules” called by laws.  If changes to the by laws need to be made, amendments can be issued by the elected officers and voted on by the guild.  The guild also charges dues to become a member.  The funds collected from the dues are used for speakers and other fun stuff the guild wants to do.  The amount charged for dues is suggested by elected officers and voted on by the members.  These are usually only paid once a year.

There’s less of a social aspect in a guild than in a sewing group. 

Here me out, because I know a lot of you guild members are thinking, “No…I have a great time with my friends at guild meeting!”  I hear you…I feel the same.  However, think about this:  At a sit and sew or bee you can chat with your friends, conversation trends from one topic to another, there is no agenda, no goals, no real schedule other than you have to leave by a certain time.  With a guild, there’s generally an agenda.   You have a social time, a speaker or program, a business meeting, show and tell, and announcements.  There’s limited time for chit chat. While a great time is had by all, a guild meeting is different than a sewing group.

Guilds have an active charity program.

Bees and other quilt groups may decide, from time to time, to undertake charity sewing.  The biggest example of this is the recent COVID pandemic.  When the virus first reared its ugly head and there was a shortage of masks, it seemed everyone jumped in and sewed masks.  Masks were made by the thousands by individuals, quilt groups, and quilt guilds.  When supply met up with demand, sewers backed off on the mask making.  Some quilt groups will make quilts or other needed items as asked or when they see a need they can meet, but it may not be an organized, consistent effort. 

Quilt guilds are a little different.  Within the mission statement or in the by laws, generally you’ll find a statement about their charity program.  The guild is plugged into one or more organizations they supply quilts or quilted items.  The charity quilt program has its own committee, its own chair, and (at least in my local guild) has its own line item in our budget.  It’s an on-going guild project which never stops and starts.

Guilds promote quilting, pass on the tradition, and embrace and encourage the new.

Personally, I think no other group of folks promote the art of quilting more than guilds.  If presented with an opportunity to educate anyone about what quilts are, their place in history, and how to make quilts, a guild will jump on it.  Like most crafters, we are acutely aware we’re one generation from losing the art to history.  We love seeing our guild numbers grow because the increase in membership means we’ve gotten more people excited about quilts and quilters. 

Not only that, but as the field of quilting changes, quilters tend to embrace that change.  An example which comes to mind is Modern Quilting.  For years pieced and appliqued quilts were very traditional, even if new fabric lines were used.  Along came Modern Quilting and gave traditional quilting a shot in the arm.  Blocks were deconstructed, negative space was celebrated, brash solid colors like orange dominated the palate, and straight-line quilting was the star of the show.  I remember reading the quilt magazines at the time.  They would explain the movement and how it was changing quilting.  The art world, at least for a while, didn’t know what to make of it.

You know what group did embrace it?  The guilds.  They listened to the quilters tell their story about the quilt – why they made it, what appealed to them about the quilt.  They examined the quilts..  Ohh’ed and ahhh’d over them.  Encouraged these quilters and welcomed them to the wonderful world of quilting. 

For us, it wasn’t a lot to understand.  It was a group of folks who loved making quilts.  They may make them differently than we did, but they were quilters.  That’s all that mattered. 

Show and Tells are PHENOMINAL.

Usually with every guild program, there’s a “Show and Tell” segment.  During this time quilters bring finished quilts, quilts in the middle of construction, or simply some blocks.  They stand up in front of the guild (it’s not as scary as it sounds), and briefly talk about their project. 

This is wonderful for two reasons.  If you’re the person showing your project, and you need some suggestions on anything (such as how to quilt it, does this color work with the palate, etc.,) you will get honest answers with a great deal of quilty wisdom behind them.  Second, these show and tells are incredibly inspiring.  It’s really so motivating to see other quilters’ quilts.  I know we can go online and look at some beautiful quilts, but to see gorgeous quilts up close and personal, made by folks we know just ramps up the inspiration.

Guilds offer libraries, workshops, retreats, and quilt shows.

Some guilds have lending library.  In this library are books, magazines, quilting tools, stamps, patterns, and other items you can check out just like at a “regular” library and return at the next monthly meeting.  This is a wonderful system and is helpful to quilters at all quilting levels. 

From time to time, guilds will offer workshops.  These are usually day-long or half-day classes with a quilting teacher.  Sometimes a pattern or quilt is taught, sometimes techniques are.  Usually the guild charges a separate fee for the workshops, as this fee must cover the teacher’s mileage, meals, and hotel (if needed).  One of the good byproducts of COVID is Zoom classes and workshops.  When the virus shut us all down, quilting teachers were still booked for classes.  With a little ingenuity and practice, most of those instructors moved their workshops to the Zoom platform, meaning guild members could take the workshop from the comfort of their own studio and the quilt teacher didn’t have to pack everything in her studio up and spend the weekend out of town.  Guilds didn’t have to pay for mileage, meals, or hotels, so the workshop fees remained at a reasonable rate.

Guilds also may offer quilting retreats.  I will be completely transparent at this point:  A quilt retreat is good enough reason to join a guild.  Seriously.  My local guild has two a year.  The one in the spring is a day retreat.  We meet somewhere locally, sew all day long, go back home and sleep, get up the next day and do it all over again.  This goes on for three or four days.  In the fall we have an overnight quilt retreat at Haw River State Park in Brown Summit, NC.  I’m throwing out the park’s name because they are used to quilters and will set up the rooms especially for them.  For four days, we sew.  Meals are provided at this retreat, so we literally don’t have to lift a finger.  We sew, eat breakfast.  Then we sew and eat lunch.  Then we sew and eat dinner.  Then we sew until we’re too tired to stitch another stitch and go to our rooms there at the park and sleep until the next morning so we can get up and do it all again.  The park fees are extremely affordable. 

I get so much accomplished at these retreats.  And what’s even better, we have such good, quilting fellowship.  We teach each other and encourage one another.  I come away refreshed and renewed. 

Quilt shows are another event guilds participate in.  Sometimes a guild is large enough to hold their own quilt show, and if your guild does, plan to participate.  For most guilds, their quilt show is the major fund-raising event for two years.  Attending other guilds’ shows is something nearly all guilds do. If there’s a guild quilt show that’s fairly local, it’s nothing for members to load up and all attend the show.  They’ll shop the vendor mall, gaze at the quilts, and then generally a meal is involved.

The same goes with shop hops.  This may be an organized effort between quilt shops which are located within an hour or less of each other or it may be an “unorganized” effort between guild members who want to visit several LQS’s together.  Either way, a lot of fun is had (and a lot of fabric is purchased).  Again, there’s usually at least one meal involved. 

In other words, a guild will offer lots of opportunities for fun and quilty fellowship for their members, as well as educational opportunities.  You don’t always get that in a quilt bee.

The guild is conducted like a business.

Besides the facts there are by laws and elected officers, guilds do operate like a business, because in many aspects they are – or more specifically, a nonprofit.  Dues are collected.  Additional fees may be charged.  Fund raising is performed.  What matters is each and every member of the guild has “skin in the game” – their dollars and their work.  For this reason, the guild treasurer should present financials to the guild on a monthly basis and to the executive board as needed. These financials should detail income and payables, and let members know what is in the bank account at the beginning of each month. 

The executive board puts forth a budget which the membership will vote on for the beginning of each fiscal year.  Ideally, the treasurer should supply a budget v. actual worksheet for the membership on at least a quarterly basis.  If special fund-raising events occur (such as a quilt show or raffle quilt) the membership may request additional profit and loss statements on those. 

The guild secretary takes minutes at each meeting and those minutes are made available to the membership either through email, the guild’s website, or they’re published in the newsletter.  Everything is all very business-like and probably differs a lot from most bees and other sewing groups. 

There is one point where quilt guilds may specifically differ from quilt bees and even other guilds, and this is their nonprofit status (501C3).  Truthfully there is some disagreement whether a guild needs to obtain this status.  To become a nonprofit, there’s quite a bit of hurdle-jumping and a whole lot of paperwork and a substantial fee must be paid to the Internal Revenue Service.  This is a decision each individual guild must decide and vote on for itself. I will offer two pieces of advice at this point (since I filled out the papers and did the filing for the High Point Quilt Guild).  First, if your guild wants to ask for donations – either monetary or goods-in-kind (such as batting for charity quilts), having a legal 501C3 status allows the donations to be tax deductible, which may help generate donations.  Second, it’s much, much easier to get the nonprofit status when your guild is just starting out.  There are more hurdles to jump over when the guild’s been established for a number of years. 

One more thing about the 501C3 status – you don’t need a lawyer or accountant to do this for the guild if the guild is new and establishing itself.  Yes, it takes time and a good bit of patience.  Yes, the IRS will ask you for clarification and additional information.  However, if I could successfully undertake this task for my guild, I think most people could, too.  I was happy to save my guild the money an attorney or accountant would charge – especially since we filed for nonprofit status the first year we began meeting and funds were low. 

All of the above details what a guild is.  And from these, it’s easy to see how a quilt guild is different from a quilt group.  However, there is one bit misconception about guilds, and I’ve seen folks confused about this misunderstanding.  Unlike a quilt bee, where quilters bring their work to sew on, you don’t actually quilt or learn to quilt at guild meetings.  I’ve seen this misunderstanding work against guilds in a couple of ways.  Trying to find a meeting place can be difficult for a guild unless you specifically tell your landlord there will be no sewing machines or irons or any sewing at all during meetings.  The folks who own a building or church may worry they don’t have enough electrical outlets or room for machines or the floor will be left covered in fabric scraps and thread.  Let them know pretty quickly in the initial conversations, the group only needs a place to meet and listen to speakers.

Second, people who want to learn to quilt are often disappointed no actual quilting takes place during meetings.  Guild meetings consist of speakers or demonstrations about quilts, tools, etc.  Guild meetings cover that type of education.  However, I also want to add I think it’s super important guilds have meetings for these beginner quilters.  The membership of guilds has changed drastically since Covid.  Let me use my own local guild as an example.  When we had our last meeting before the virus shut us down, the majority of our members were past the beginning quilter stage.  Enter Covid, which closed our doors until November 2020.  During this time stores sold out of sewing machines as folks either wanted to return to sewing so they could have something to do or make masks.  When we re-grouped as a guild, about a third of our members (primarily our new ones) identified as beginners and were requesting beginning quilting classes on our annual survey. 

This is way too many folks to leave floundering in the waters of “How do I do this?”  If a guild has members who want to learn the basics, it’s a great idea to teach them.  Workshops can be offered, perhaps taught by older members who have been around the quilt block more than a few times.  If the guild breaks out into bees, a beginners quilting bee could be formed.  If those two options don’t work, try starting a mentor program, pairing up a newbie quilter with a seasoned veteran.  Bottom line:  Don’t let the beginners walk away in frustration.  Find a way to teach them.

We’ve spent a good amount of time and a lot of words explaining what a quilt guild is and how they’re different from bees and sit and sews.  I’ve explained how guilds operate, what they are, and what they aren’t.  Next week I want to give you all the reasons you should join a guild.  And if there isn’t a guild near you, I’ll give you some ideas about starting one. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,


2 replies on “Quilt Guilds — What They Are, What They Aren’t, and Why They’re Important (Take One)”


Thanks for a wonderful. thoroughly documented piece. Please sign me up for your blog/newsletter.

Barbara BERDY

I can’t subscribe to my blog for you, you have to go through the process. It’s not difficult. When you pull my blog up, simply click o the follow button and it will subscribe for you. You’ll get an email everytime I post — which is usually once a week on Wednesday mornings.

Thanks for reading! And I am so glad you liked the blog!


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