Activities Requiring Work Prior to Guild Meetings

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Homework activities are projects that are assigned in advance so that members can work on them at home over an assigned amount of time. Often, members are given themes, prompts or ideas about items to sew, either for themselves or for others. These activities can be both creative and challenging. Many guilds find that the participants are excited to share and discuss what they’ve made, and that non-participants are interested to see what is being shared. 


Swaps and challenges encourage members to try out new ideas, get their creativity flowing and finish something on a deadline, which can be a good motivator! Swaps and challenges both feature a specific project or theme, but are differentiated by who receives the finished item.

SWAP: More than two participants. Each makes an item to meet the swap specifications, and the items are exchanged between the participants.

CHALLENGE: As many participants as want to participate. Participants make an item to specifications and keeps what they make. Because participants are going home with their own item, there are fewer considerations on setting expectations for timelines and what is required in the finished project. Much of the material in this section will concentrate on swaps, although it can also apply to challenges.



Swaps can be set up and organized in a few ways: 

  • Within your guild 
  • With a nearby guild
  • Nationally or internationally under a specific guild or group of guilds

The further your swap participants are from each other, the more time and more organization is required from the organizers of the swap.



For each swap or challenge, a swap or challenge organizer should be identified and should set the ground rules for the activity. These might be slightly more loose for a challenge than for a swap, since participants go home with their own work, but the structure should give participants some direction or guidance for participating in the activity.

It can be helpful to have several members facilitate with the swap (including a coordinator who assigns the swap pairs and helps participants find each other, answers questions, and reminds and prompts participants to keep deadlines). Some guilds have made this part of the duties of the program coordinator, but it can also be done by a volunteer from outside the guild’s formal leadership. 

In some guilds, those that help with the organization of the swap are known as “swap fairies,” while in other guilds, “swap fairy” refers to people who are willing to make an extra swapped item in the event that some members do not receive the item from their assigned partner (sometimes also referred to as a swap angel).



For both swaps and challenges, the time frames to make items can vary — members may want or need more time to complete bigger or more complicated items. Suggestions for advance timing are noted below, but they are only suggestions. Try to take into account the due dates of other guild tasks, such as bee blocks, and also quilt show deadlines (especially local) to stagger the due dates accordingly. Some guilds find that having too many swaps or small challenges take away time from sewing bigger or long-term projects, and can discourage participation. Challenges typically take place over several months, and some guilds provide ribbons or prizes.



Not every member will want to be involved in a swap or challenge, and that’s okay! Some members may be busy with outside interests, or a particular theme may not be to their taste. It is important to encourage all swap participants to create items for the swap that have a modern style and are made of good quality materials, so that members see value in participation. However, when interest is really waning, it may be time to ask members why they don’t participate. Reasons may include:

  • Some guilds have members whose styles range from very modern to kind of modern, to not modern at all. In these cases, it will be of great help to allow the swap coordinator to pair members with like-minded styles! 
  • Some guilds have found that members don’t want to be involved if they are going to spend a lot of time and effort making something only to receive something that is not suited to their style or liking. Try to vary the swap and challenge activities to broaden the appeal.

If (or when) you find low interest in swaps and challenges in your guild, it may be better to move away from swaps while you survey your membership or have a discussion with a few key members on what could be improved.



When it comes time do do the actual swap, it can take an enormous amount of time, or little to no time. Some guilds prefer to let each person open the item and inspect it, then reveal the maker and have them talk about it. Others do it with less ceremony and move on. Try both and see what your guild likes.



  • Random swap with unknown partners (also known as a blind swap): Everyone who brought an item goes home with an item, and depending on the swap, members may be allowed to bring two or more items to swap, leaving with the same number of items. This method is the easiest to coordinate by the swap coordinator, as it ensures that everyone who completed the project will go home with something. Encouraging members to create items that would be appreciated by a variety of partners is important to a successful swap.

To facilitate the swap, consider one of the following methods:

  • White elephant/Yankee Swap – Participants draw a number and choose their swap in that order. Subsequent participants can choose a new swap item or “steal” one already chosen. This style of swap can sometimes become quite emotional; it may be helpful to put limits on the number of times a swap item may be stolen or have other rules or limits that participants must follow. It can also be time consuming, which may not be of interest if not all members are participating.
  • Blind Swap – Members bring items in wrapped in a brown paper bag, and are asked to put their name into a draw. Names are picked one at a time, and each participant is allowed to pick an item from those wrapped up.
  • Scrabble blocks – As swap items come in they are given a letter. Participants draw a scrabble block and they receive the item corresponding to their letter.
  • Random number generator – Each quilt is assigned a number, and participants are assigned a quilt using a random number generator (access via cell phone or via random draw). This can be a bit time consuming depending on the meeting size. 


  • Random swaps with known partners: Each person has a partner, but partners are not necessarily paired with each other, and in some instances, may not be known to the recipient who has been assigned to them. In this type of swap, Mary may sew for Sue, Sue sews for Ben and Ben sews for Stephanie and so on. If the partner is not known, it may be useful for a swap fairy to coordinate communication between partners for key details and helpful hints about the partner’s taste. 


This swap style requires advance sign-up so members know who they have been assigned. It also requires good communication in cases where members cannot follow through on their commitments. On the other hand, because the swap is more personal, members may enjoy making something specific for their assigned partner.


Some guilds have utilized the website to coordinate these types of swaps. It allows you to anonymously ask questions of your partner and create wish lists so you have an idea of what to get your partner. Your swap fairy can also set up parameters like one person can’t get the same partner twice. 


  • Two-way partner swap with known partners: Members sign up and the swap fairy assigns a partner, perhaps matching participants based on criteria or prior knowledge of the participants (the international MQG swap is in this style).
    • One method of assigning partners is via Google Doc: The membership is sent a link to a Google Doc for sign up. The Google Doc can be limited to names only or those signing up can be asked specifics, like favorite and least favorite colors, styles, potential use of swap item, etc. Specifics are helpful for more likelihood of swappers walking away happy. 


In a swap with advance sign up, good communication is required by members if they cannot follow through on their commitment. Consider having one or more people be willing to make a backup item if a swap item is not received by the deadline, especially if your swap is with another guild or you are shipping the swapped items somewhere else. 


Suggestions for Swaps and/or Challenges

Any of the following suggestions can be used for swaps or challenges. Details and tips have been listed along with any definitions that may be needed

  • Bags, Pouches – This challenge can be broken down further into themes like sewing or embroidery or travel or makeup. Item swapped is very important to determining length of notice.
    • It may be advisable to be very specific about size or pattern so that the results are uniform and no one feels like they got less than someone else.
    • You may also want to specify if there should there be something extra in the bag or pouch, which is especially useful and fun with certain themes — eg: sewing notion bag — but if items are included, rules about cost often need to be established.
    • Many designers of bags and purses have free patterns that your guild can use. It may be worth making a sample in advance to determine skill level and pattern accuracy.
    • Many guilds like to make the “One Hour Basket” or the “Wide Open Pouch,” (the patterns for which can be found online). Some guilds ask that participants fill the bag with something related to the challenge.
  • Mug Rug Swap Each participant makes a small quilt of a size suitable for a beverage and small treat. Some guilds have also included a mug in the swap. You likely want to specify whether something extra should be included in each mug. Your mug swaps could be themed, and you may wish to set parameters for size. If the swap is designed for a specific individual, you may want to ask during sign up if the person drinks tea or coffee. Time recommended is a 2- to 4-month notice.
  • Ornament – Holiday, but may need to be adapted if a portion of your guild does not celebrate Christmas. Some portion of the guild may choose to swap general winter themed ornaments instead.
  • Pin Cushion – 1-2 month notice.
  • Mini quilt – Typically under 24 inches in width and height. 2-5 month notice.
  • UFO blocks – bring in a UFO and let someone else make something with it. 3-6 months. 
  • Brown Bag – Bring four fat quarters in a brown bag and someone else will make a mini for you using your fabrics. Providing your own fabric often leads to happy recipients. 2-5 months.
  • Embellish Me bring in a small item for a partner to “embellish” - a pouch, a scarf, etc a pillow cover. Can be embroidered, buttons added or applique, etc. 1-2 months.
  • Coffee Cozy – 1 month.
  • Book /Journal Cover – 1-2 months.
  • Luggage Tag – 1 month.
  • Tote Bag – 1-2 months.
  • Ipad Case – 1-2 months.
  • Scissor Case – 1 month.
  • Phone Holder – 2-4 months.
  • Name Tag – 1 month.
  • Pillows – 2-3 months.
  • Thread Catcher – 1-2 months.
  • Table runner – 1-2 months.
  • Pot holder – 1 month.
  • Unconventional materials – 3-6 months.



Within the category of each swap or challenge there can be specific themes or limitations, such as:

  • Inspired by a work of art – Inspiration can be anything: paintings, sculpture, ancient, modern, favorite piece of music, something seen on a guild trip, etc. To swap, have the participants bring in a bag with a postcard size picture of inspiration artwork, a fat quarter or some scraps that represent their personal style, and a sheet of paper with their name, address, email, etc, and a blurb written about:

1. Why they chose the art, and 

2. A bit about their likes, dislikes, quilting style etc. At the meeting, bags are swapped and participants make a mini quilt based on the info provided.

  • Holiday or month-specific You may need to provide guidance on religious holidays or split challenges and exchanges into two groups to accommodate those who don’t celebrate religious holidays (i.e. Christmas and Winter (no Christmas); Easter and Spring) 
  • Size Mini quilt under 12” x 12” or 20” x 20”, etc.
  • Limited or specific palette Monochromatic, black & white, etc.
  • Block shape or pattern — Half-square triangles, plus sign, drunkards path, etc.
  • Fabric-specific Solids only, florals, etc.
  • Text Incorporation of a meaningful word or phrase 
  • Improv only 
  • Applique 
  • Small piecing
  • Strip quilts
  • Precuts Use of charm squares and jellyrolls, etc.



Some guilds do this monthly, while others alternate between challenges, swaps and block lottos. Those interested bring a block based on the requirements given. Each block is worth one raffle ticket. Members are allowed to bring more than one, and can generally bring as many as they like, with one entry per completed block. (See “constraints” section in Swaps and Challenges for theme ideas.)

  • Coordinator should let members know what is expected for fabric choices. Most guilds will want only fabrics with a modern design in a block lotto. Others restrict certain block lottos to solids only, or solids with a small pattern, or tone on tone.
  • A color palette or color inspiration is a often a good idea to unify the overall look of the combined quilt (see the list of constraints, above, for ideas). Some members may not mind a scrappy look, while others prefer to work with a more restricted color palate, so try and balance both ends of the spectrum throughout the year. As a general rule, you should try and have at least one common element required in each block in order to unify the finished quilt.
  • Establish rules around whether (and when) a winner needs to have their blocks completed into a quilt top. Some guilds have a rule that a member cannot win a second time unless their previous winnings have been completed.
  • Encourage members to keep in mind that either they or someone else will be taking home a block to incorporate into a larger piece so keeping blocks true to size is important.

The MQG Block Study is a great source of inspiration and a chance to try out new ideas. Along with the block pattern, there are often different quilt layouts showing how a block would look with different colour values and colourways. This also provides a chance for your members to use the free content that being an MQG provides.


This is a great way for members to get to know each other, because members are grouped randomly rather than grouped by who they are already sitting with. If your guild is getting too big for a monthly ice breaker, this may help to keep the feeling of community and fun in your meetings.

Quilt Olympics ideas:

  1. Identify the quilt block: Show photos of well-known quilt blocks. Members must identity what they were called. 
  2. Identify the fabric designer: Post pictures of fabric and ask members to guess the designer. Try to use fabric that is fairly recognizable like Tula Pink, Amy Butler, Alison Glass, etc.
  3. Who is this? Post pictures of the actual designer and ask members to guess who they are. This one can be fun because you many times can immediately recognize a designer’s fabric, but if they were shopping next to you at Target would you know? 
  4. Speed! Teams cut out sixteen 4 ½” squares and sew them into half square triangles. Iron and trim them, and make a 4x4 block. We let the teams start this round in the order that they were ranked after the first three rounds with 1st place getting a 10 second advantage over 2nd place and so on. 


Everyone brings in forty 5” charm squares of one color and exchanges a specific amount with another member (for example, five each).


Participants are grouped together into a quilting bee. Each month (or you can decide on other time frame), one of the participants is identified as the leader. The leader selects the block that the others will create and set guidelines for fabrics, colors or themes. Each month, participants create a block based on the requirements of that month’s leader. The leader collects the blocks and makes their quilt project using the blocks created. A different participant then becomes the leader the next month. There can be an overall theme, or the leader can direct the changing themes and focus every round. 


In a Round Robin, a quilt top travels between participants, who each add their own section to the quilt. This type of activity is a good way for people to expand their abilities. Organizers set parameters such as:

  • Timing between rounds
  • Whether the initial participant should include extra fabric with their block
  • Whether other participants use their own stash

How To:

  • To begin, the participant contributes a block (and their own fabric if necessary).
  • Participants add on to a quilt based on the starting block/area and any parameters set by the organizer, including whether or not the starting block must be the center.
  • The first participant’s now growing quilt gets sent to another quilter who adds another "round." A "round" is any addition to the quilt. Guidelines typically say that at least one side should be added. 
  • Timing is up to the organizer, however, most guilds allow two months per round. 
  • Members drop in and out of the rounds based on their own timing — if they will be busy, it is suggested that they remove their quilt from that round. 
  • Rounds can be randomly assigned, i.e. participants in a circle can pass left or right. 
  • This can also be done as a “Row Robin” so participants don’t have to make an entire “round” but each add a row of blocks to one side of the quilt. 


  • Organizers need to make sure participants are committed since the round robin could get stalled out if some participants aren’t able to keep up with the pace of the activity.     
  • Organizers may find that it is better to make smaller groups of like-minded quilters within the larger group, so that ultra mod quilters aren’t required to work on more traditional quilts or improv fans aren’t at odds with the more precision piecers and vice versa.


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