Hosting Sewing Parties for Pulse: What I Learned

Six people sitting around a table at a bar and sewing
One of my sewing get-togethers at a local bar

Sorry for the posting drought! I’ve been busy with a bunch of stuff, not least of which was my #QuiltsForPulse efforts. I hosted some get-togethers during which friends and acquaintances sewed pieces of my rainbow hearts quilt. It was great fun, but this was a new experience for me and I learned a lot about hosting sewing parties. In case you ever want to do something similar, here’s what worked and what didn’t.

Before I discuss lessons learned, let me first explain the basic setup. My quilt top is 36 blocks, 6 rows of 6 blocks. Each block consists of a 10-inch square of background fabric and then one or two heart appliqués per block. As a reminder, here are some blocks from a previous WIP post:

3 quilt blocks with hearts cut out of different fabrics appliquéd on

For my get-togethers, each attendee received their own block to sew. With this context in mind, here is what I learned.

Prepping everything ahead of time worked well

In preparation for my shindigs, I cut out the blocks and appliqué pieces, and then started sewing each block just a little bit (maybe an inch around the appliqué’s perimeter). In this way I could hand each newly-arrived attendee a pre-started block, demonstrate a few more stitches, and let them go from there. This seemed to work well as people were able to quickly get going.

Attendees took it seriously

I had expected my events to be light hearted, social affairs, but instead they were rather quiet and focused. I think this was due to a combination of the seriousness of the cause, people wanting to make something nice for those affected, and just about all of the attendees having no experience sewing.

I hosted one event at my house and then a second event at a local bar. I figured a mid-afternoon bar meet-up would be low key, allowing folks to relax with a drink and chat while they worked. I was so wrong! Almost no one ordered an alcoholic beverage and everyone concentrated on their sewing with relatively little chit chat. Next time, I’d do both events at my house and then maybe celebrate our hard work with drinks or coffee+snacks afterwards.

Interestingly enough, as the second sewing event wrapped up, I talked to one of the bar’s servers and gave her an extra tip (since I felt a bit guilty that our bar tab had been so low). She asked about the sewing and I explained that we had been sewing for #QuiltsForPulse. She and the bartender then got super enthusiastic, saying we could come back anytime for events like this. This leads me to my next point…

Don’t be shy with your invites!

I was surprised that everyone I talked to about my Pulse quilt wanted to contribute. None of my friends sew, and therefore I figured many would appreciate an invite but might want to show their support for the Pulse shooting victims in other ways. Instead, every single person I asked was enthusiastic about contributing. (This included even casual acquaintances from my gym!) The most common response I got was “I’d love to! But you’ll have to teach me.”

Next time I would limit my group size to 4 unless I had help

As I mentioned above, my prep work paid off and getting everyone started was relatively simple. However, as a group got going, issues tended to crop up (knotted thread, fabric that was bunching up, how to sew curves, etc.), and in larger groups you’d have multiple people getting stuck all at the same time. Then, it would take me a while to help everyone, so some people wound up sitting around and waiting. Next time, I’d either limit my group sizes to at most 4 people (plus me) OR I’d make sure to include one or two additional knowledgeable sewists to help keep the group moving.

People’s sewing stamina was generally 1-2 hours max

It wasn’t that people didn’t care, I think the issue was they actually cared too much. People were really concentrating and then got tired. Some people were able to finish their block within that time, but others didn’t. Be prepared to finish your attendees’ blocks.

Your blocks won’t be perfect, but they will be made with love

Not really a shocker, but if you are going to do this, you’ll need to be zen about having blocks that aren’t perfect. Some people did amazing stitch work, especially given that it was their first time, while others had stitching that clearly showed their novice status. If you construct a quilt this way, it isn’t going to win any awards for technical excellence. On the other hand, you will have a quilt assembled by a community of people who want to tangibly demonstrate their love and support for the intended recipient(s). I think this has its own unique appeal.

Have backup materials if possible

One other side effect of having novice sewists is the potential for blocks ruined beyond repair. Try to have backup blocks in case anything really goes off the rails. (This only happened with one block out of my 36, but I did have to scrap that block altogether.)

And you’re gonna have to trim those blocks

I’m sewing all my blocks together now. In order to get them all back to being square and the same size, my blocks have gone from 10-inch squares to 9.5-inch squares. So don’t have your design go right up to your block edges unless you are prepared to trim bits off.

I’d absolutely do this again

I was genuinely surprised and touched by how enthusiastic people were about helping with the quilt. While this group effort involved more work and time than just completing the quilt myself, it really lifted my spirits to see how eager my friends and community were to make something beautiful for others. I’m betting you would have the same positive experience.

2 thoughts on “Hosting Sewing Parties for Pulse: What I Learned”

  1. I LOVE this post!! What insightful takeaways. I love your comments on the concentration, level of beverage drinking and talking, thoughts about tea&coffee&snacks at your house another time, connecting with the bartender, and teaching people how to sew by hand! Wonderful project, wonderful cause, wonderful post.

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