No Modern Quilt Guild in your Area? Then start your own!

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Interested in starting your own local chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild? Sarah Ashford, a new founder, walks you through her process of setting up the South West MQG in the UK.

I've had a blog for several years. I've got a modest following on Instagram. I've got quilting friends all over the country and in far flung places. But having recently re-located to the South West UK, an area completely new to me, where I knew no one, it was even more important to get to know and connect with like-minded people face to face. And with only more traditional sewing groups and sewing bees in the locality, I felt there was a real need for us modern quilters to have the opportunity to meet up, connect and have a voice. And what better way than to set up a Modern Quilt Guild.

I was lucky in that I had already been actively involved in the Jersey Modern Quilt Guild (UK) in the Channel Islands where I used to live. It was set up in November 2015 by President Sue Bone, and I was there from the start; I led the show and tell demonstrations, took photos for social media, demonstrated techniques for make-and-take sessions, and I organised a full day workshop with guest quilter Jo Avery, which was a huge success. So I was lucky in that I was able to draw on my experiences of being a member of a guild, and that gave me the confidence to set up my own.

I thought I would share my experiences of starting a guild, with the hope of inspiring some of you to take that leap of faith and do the same. We are due to have our first guild meeting in January 2017, and I wanted to share my journey, both before and after we've launched, and then report on our (hopefully!) successful first meeting next year. So below is my guide to setting up a local chapter of the MQG, which I hope you will find informative and useful.

1) Make connections with local people

The first thing I did was contact my local quilt shop (LQS) and tell them of my plans. Owners Joan and Debby of Dotty Dolly were really keen to be involved, and I quickly enlisted Joan as part of the guild committee. They were able to advertise the guild to their database of customers and through social media such as Facebook and Instagram – a great, free way to get local quilters involved!

If you don’t have a supportive LQS, don’t worry, you can still do it! If you are a member of your traditional guild, there may be one or two people who may be interested as well. Reach out to those members individually, but be sure you show your commitment to the traditional guild to avoid ruffling feathers.

2) Use social media to find other modern quilters in your area – get them interested and involved

Even when the guild was a small seed of an idea, I put a call out on Instagram asking for anyone interested in joining to contact me via direct message. I was overwhelmed with the response. Local quilters were really keen for an MQG chapter, with many saying that they had been waiting for a long time for something like this to be set up. People shared my post on their own social media pages, which spread the word even further. I was also pleasantly surprised at how far people are willing to travel for a monthly meet up. So never underestimate your catchment area. Getting this initial expression of interest was also a great way of getting an idea of numbers for our first meeting.

3) Contact local businesses – get them involved too! 

Having our LQS on board was great. But I wanted to get other local businesses involved too. Having been blogging for several years, I've got to know a few people in the industry, and I was delighted when owner of The Sewing Directory Website, Fiona Pullen wanted to be involved. It just so happens that she's local to me, and she's been an invaluable support. Fiona also organises South West Stitchers meet ups three times a year, and has lots of experience organising events. So it was worth taking all the advice she had to offer! I also knew that one of my favourite UK magazines, Love Patchwork and Quilting have their offices just over an hour from where I live. So I decided to contact the editor, Alice Blackledge, to see if she would be interested in being involved with the guild. I was delighted when Alice not only wanted to join, she was happy to be on the committee! It just goes to show, sometimes all you have to do is send that email. The worst that can happen is that you don't get a reply or you get a 'no.' But you won't get anything if you don't ask!

As well as contacting other local businesses, I would also recommend contacting presidents of other guilds, who are sure to offer words of encouragement and provide some tips and do's and don'ts. They have been in your shoes after all. It's all about making connections, and in the future your guild may well end up doing a swap with another guild, so making connections early could lead to exciting happenings in the future.

4) Find a venue

Finding a place that is right for the group is very important. You’ll need meeting space, which generally just has enough space, chairs, maybe basic kitchen facilities (cup of tea anyone?!) and decent toilets. Also keep in mind sew-day and retreat spaces. After all, at some point you’ll want to all sew together! It needs to have the space, tables and power sockets (think lots of sewing machines all going at once!). Both spaces need to have easy access for both disabled members. Your sew-day space should make it easy for everyone with heavy sewing machines and supplies to load in. The meeting space must also have availability on the dates that you want throughout the year. Members want to go to the same place for every meeting. Parking is another factor too. One of the key things about meeting space, is be sure you have room to grow! We were lucky in that we have found a space that has all of these things, and it's close to the motorway, so easily accessible from several directions. You will also need to check that they have public liability insurance, and if not, this is something that you will have to organise. The MQG has discounts on insurance for guilds.

5) Design a logo

You will feel very quickly that your Guild needs an identity, and so creating a logo early on is a great way of doing this. It makes you look professional from the start. I enlisted the skills of my husband, who was able to put my very basic sketch into a graphics design package. My advice would be to keep it simple, try and relate it to the local area, and use colours in keeping with the main MQG logo. We went for the rolling hills of Somerset in the MQG colours. Simple but effective.

6) Have a meeting – over dinner!

Most things these days can be organised over email, but you can't beat sitting down with people face to face. Given that our newly formed committee had never met altogether, I felt it was really important for us to meet in person. Meeting over dinner and wine was a great way to relax and get to know one another on a personal level, and we had an agenda and outline of the guild's plans so far to ensure that we covered all we needed to talk about. We discussed membership numbers, membership fees, and a job description for everyone on the committee, to be clear who is responsible for doing what.

During dinner, we agreed that all communication with members should be via Facebook to keep admin to a minimum and maintain a sense of community and belonging. We also discussed the format of each guild meeting. We decided on having a show and tell, a monthly 'talk' from guest speakers (we have lots of exciting people lined up already) and then the opportunity for people to sew and work on their own projects. We will also work together on a charity quilt throughout the year, and members will choose the charity. As well as being a great opportunity to all work on a quilt together, it's also a really good way to become involved in the wider community. The MQG resources page also provided a wealth of templates, ideas, articles and info from budgets to meeting programming. Deciding all of these things over dinner was much quicker than emails back and forth, and much more fun and sociable too!

7) Set out a plan for the guild year ahead

It's important to have a yearly plan for the guild so you can see the direction it's going and its progression as it becomes more established. We have a date for every meeting for the first year, and plans for each meeting. We've included a trip in the summer to the American Quilt Museum in Bath and a Secret Santa swap in December. Not only does this help us with our organising, it will also give members the opportunity to plan ahead, and hopefully come to as many meetings as possible throughout the year. We've also come up with some ambitious ideas for future years, once we have become more established, such as swaps with other guilds, and maybe even an exhibition!

8) Contact the MQG

Of course the whole point of being a Modern Quilt Guild and not just a local guild is to be a part of the wider MQG network. So you need to tell them about your plans! The MQG will provide you with guidelines on things to consider when setting up a guild, and if you have less than 10 members when you first start up, you can be a 'starter guild' — a title that you can maintain for two years. There are no dues for starter guilds, so don't hesitate to tell them of your plans to set up a local guild in your area. You will get all the help and support you need.

9) Set up a bank account and write a constitution (UK), bylaws (US) or similar

Not as scary as it sounds — honestly! As with all community groups, you will need a community bank account. It is up to you as a committee to decide who you bank with, and each bank will have financial information that you will need to provide in order to do so. They may also want to see a constitution or set of bylaws. Some local guilds provide their constitutions or bylaws online, and there are examples on the MQG Resources page, so you can use these as a basis to write yours. You will need to make sure these guidelines are relevant to your guild and reviewed at your annual guild meeting.

10) Have your first meeting!

Now that you've done all the hard work, that's when the fun begins! Our first meeting is in January 2017, and we are very excited to meet everyone we've been in contact with over these last few months as we've planned our group. We are going to start with a lanyard/name tag swap, so everyone can get to know each other, and we will discuss our plans for a charity quilt. Then it will be time to sew, quilt and chat!

I hope this guide has been useful and has given you the encouragement to make that first step to setting up a guild in your area. For me personally, I've met so many wonderful 'quilty' people already, and the guild's not even started yet! I believe the more guilds there are around the globe, the better, as encouraging people to get together to sew, quilt and connect can only be a good thing.