So you've set up a local guild — what next?

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By Sarah Ashford, South West MQG

You may have read my first article about setting up an MQG a few months ago, encouraging quilters who don't have a guild near them to set up their own. It was something I decided to do when I returned to the UK last year, and I want to share my journey and hopefully encourage others to start up Guilds too. It isn't as daunting as it sounds, honestly!

Well six months in, and I'm proud and delighted to say that the South West Modern Quilt Guild in the UK is going brilliantly. We are at maximum capacity of 30 paid members for the year; friendships have already been made, and as we get to know one another more, our identity blossoms and strengthens.

But once you've got the members, the venue and the dates in the diary, what next? What can you do to ensure that members keep on coming back, and more importantly, want to come back, every month, hopefully year after year?

I've listed a few things that our committee did to get things off the ground and are continuing to do to keep things fresh and exciting every month.

Launch Day

As founder of the Guild, the most important thing for me was for people to feel welcome and at ease from the start. Many of our members travel a long way to be with us, and from the moment they step foot in the door they need to feel welcomed and included. I made sure I introduced myself straight away, explained where everything was, introduced people to one another and gave them the all important goodie bag (more on that later). First impressions really do count, and we want everyone to have a great experience every single time.

Name Badge Swap

We decided to organise a name badge/lanyard swap prior to launch day, so that everyone attending the first meeting had a badge to give to someone, and they would receive one in return. It was a great icebreaker. Members had the opportunity to discuss any preferences in colour and style through our private Facebook page, so relationships had already been formed before they met in person. This worked really well, and now everyone proudly wears their badges/lanyards at every meeting. It is a great way for everyone to learn one another's names too. I would highly recommend doing a swap of some kind to kick things off, and as well as making new friends it's a great opportunity to get creative right from the start.

Goodies For Everyone

As quilters, we all love to receive free fabric and quilting related stuff, so we decided to organise goodie bags for the first 30 members. We went one step further and had SW MQG tote bags made up – ready to embroider and personalise! In the bags we had a plethora of gifts from generous sponsors, including; a magazine, fat quarters from local quilt shops, threads, tape measures, and charm packs. In return, our sponsors were able to include promotional materials for their businesses and members were encouraged to share their goodie bag contents on social media, tagging the sponsors. It goes without saying they were a hit! In terms of organising them, it was a case of approaching companies and asking them if they would be able to donate in return for free, targeted promotion. It really is worth sending that email, and seeing what companies have to offer. If you don't ask, you don't get!

Let There Be Cake

Our guild sessions run from 10am–4pm on a Saturday, and lunch is a huge part of our day. Everyone gets involved and is asked to bring a contribution, and the homemade cakes are always incredible. It's a wonderful social time, and often a chance to sit and chat to different members to those you may be sitting with for your sewing. Whether you have lunch depends on the time of day of your guild. If it's an evening meeting, you may want to skip the lunch and go straight for the cake!

It's Good to Talk

A big part of being in a guild is sharing skills and continuing on your own personal, creative journey. We have such a wealth of talent amongst us, and so we decided to kick off each of our sessions with a talk, either from one of our members, who have so much to offer in terms of skills and experience, or from guest speakers. So far we've had talks on topics such as fabric auditioning, a day in the life of a quilting magazine editor, how to become a quilt shop owner and the process of writing a craft book. We've managed to secure speakers for every month that we meet this year, and it's always been a great, informative start to our meetings. It's something that I would encourage every guild to do, even if it's not every month, as listening to others can be such a valuable source of information and often a great starting point for ideas and inspiration too.

Show and Tell

Of course every guild has show and tell each month. It wouldn't be a guild without it! What better way to celebrate the work we do and the talent we have than to share our favourite projects, latest projects, and works in progress. As well as being an opportunity to show off our quilts, it's also a great time to ask for advice and opinions. 'How could I quilt this?' 'What backing should I use?' 'Should I add a border?' It can promote interesting and lively discussion and often provide ideas that we as individuals would not necessarily have come up with ourselves.

Giving Something Back

From the outset, our guild has been working hard to make blocks for a charity quilt. This year our guild members are making two economy blocks per month, following this tutorial from Rita Hodge of Red Pepper Quilts. Making this block has been a good opportunity to use up scraps and play around with fussy cutting prints — and they don't take too much time either. Soon we are going to spend some of our guild time stitching the blocks together, forming our very own, modern sewing bee! We are yet to decide on a charity, but are all in agreement that we want the quilts to go directly to local children and families who need them the most. If your guild is going to make a charity quilt, I would suggest that you choose a design or block that allows members an element of choice, but also something that is going to look cohesive when it is all put together. Also, choose a design or concept that is not too time consuming, as it's something members will hopefully contribute to month on month and it shouldn't be seen as a chore. We've also stressed to our guild members that it is optional. After all, being part of a guild is meant to be fun and no pressure!

Learn New Skills

As a committee we've decided to run a workshop day with a high profile quilter once a year. This year we have the very talented Jo Avery of MyBearPaw coming to teach us. Jo has an array of workshops we can choose from and we will collectively decide what we want to learn nearer the time. When choosing a workshop, you could consult the guild members to see if there is a particular quilter that they would like to come to teach, or whether there's a particular skill that they want to learn or develop. Many quilt tutors get booked up a year or more in advance, so they would need to be booked in well ahead of time if you are going to stand a chance of getting the tutor that you want. Members may also have to contribute to the cost of a workshop, or the guild may be able to subsidise it; it all depends on how much money the guild has and how much the tutor charges for the workshop and other expenses such as travel and accommodation. It's best to be transparent with guild members about the costs from the outset, and if the spaces on the workshop aren't all filled, you could always consider opening it out to non-members and charge a higher rate. Ultimately, it's a great way to learn new skills and techniques and have some fun.

Go On An Adventure

One thing you might like to consider is organising a trip. Our guild is just over an hour away from the American Quilt Museum in Bath, so we thought it would be fun to go and visit. We've been able to organise a private tour of textile part of the museum, and the rest of the day we will be able to look around at our leisure and of course enjoy a lovely lunch and socialise. To make it easy for members, we are organising a coach, but whether you organise transport depends on where your destination is in relation to your guild venue. I would advise that you book well in advance so that everyone can be catered for, and be transparent about the costs from the start. Hopefully it will be a lot of fun and a day to remember.

Showcase your work

We have such a wealth of talent in our guild, it seemed only fitting that we make plans to exhibit and showcase our work in the future. Although our guild is in it's infancy, exhibition space is something that needs to be booked many months in advance, and so we have already made arrangements to exhibit at the end of 2018. We have given ourselves 18 months notice, so members can create a specific exhibition piece, if they so wish. We've made it very clear to everyone that contributing is optional, and that there is no pressure to exhibit if they don't want to. This goes back to my main message, that being part of a guild shouldn't be seen as a chore or something to stress and worry about. It's meant to be fun, and yes and opportunity to challenge yourself, but only if you want that challenge! Many of us are really excited to see our work exhibited, and it's a great way to raise our profile and connect with the local community. After all, quilts are meant to be used, seen and admired, and bring joy and pleasure to those who see them.

If you do consider putting on an exhibition, you will need to think about the space carefully. Will there be enough space? Will there be enough light? When will it be open to the public? For how long? Does the exhibition need to be manned, and if so by whom? Are the quilts for sale? How much commission does the venue take? It's also likely that a deposit will have to be paid upfront to secure the space. There's lots to consider and organise, but I have no doubt that it will be worth it.

Getting Social

Social media is a great way for us to connect with one another and with the wider modern quilting community and an integral part of what makes us 'modern'.

We have a closed group on Facebook where we can communicate important messages to one another, and as a committee we prefer to use this instead of emails, as it allows everyone to comment, share photos, ideas, questions. It's our online meeting place for when we can't be altogether. We also use the 'events' facility on Facebook, asking members to indicate whether or not they will be attending the next meeting. This gives us a good idea of numbers which helps with practical arrangements.

We also have our own Instagram page (@southwest.mqg), where we can share photos of our sessions and our lovely quilts with the rest of the modern quilting community. It's always fun to receive comments and compliments from other quilters about our work! It's a great way to keep in touch with other Guilds too. We like to see what they are doing, and I know they like to see what they are up to as well. It's a good opportunity to network and raise our profile.

You can also use the MQG hashtags like #showusyourmqg and #themqg to connect with the wider MQG community.

Planning ahead

One of the key things when running a guild is planning ahead. Having the dates for a year in advance not only gives members plenty of time to keep the dates free, but it also means you've secured availability of the venue, speakers, and you can map out events, talks, swaps etc. It's also useful to have a general idea of what the plans are for future years. We are going to have an AGM at the end of this year to discuss what has gone well and what we would do differently, as well as planning for the following year. It really is surprising how quickly the months pass by, and being organised and prepared well in advance is the key. An annual AGM is good practice and a useful way to reflect and review before moving forward. It's also an opportunity for the committee members to review their roles and responsibilities.

Use the MQG Resources

There is a wealth of knowledge on the MQG’s Resources page about guild programming and all the ins and outs of running a guild. There’s a whole leader support section and a section for guild ideas and social sewing where you can find tools to help you in your journey. You can also use the creative resources for programming — like quilts of the month, block of the month, webinars, or segments of Fresh Quilting, which are available to all members on demand. The possibilities are endless!

So that's my advice and experience of running a Modern Quilt Guild so far. It may sound like a lot of work, but remember it is distributed between everyone on the committee, and almost all of it is a lot of fun. There are so many benefits to being a part of a Guild, namely the friendships that are made, the skills that are learnt and hopefully a few quilts made along the way!

If you would like to see more of our work, please do follow us on Instagram @southwest.mqg and I can be found at @quilt_candy.

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Peer Review Addition: Kelly Bowman, Coastal Carolina MQG

“In our area we have several traditional guilds. At first they felt a little threatened by the formation of our modern guild, so I personally gave programs to the two main guilds on what it is to be a modern quilter. I have also taught workshops for them at no charge. They were very well received, and we are currently hosting an event and inviting them all to join us for a trunk show. It takes an intentional effort to let them know that we are not competing with them but offering an alternative learning venue that centers around modern quilting.

As far as governance goes, we also have a quarterly Board of Directors meeting to guide the guild. Together we  plan and develop the short-term and long-term happenings of the guild. We toss around ideas and set the schedule for the calendar.” Something to think about when starting your own guild!

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Peer Review Addition: Erin Monfort-Nelson, Central Iowa MQG

The Central Iowa MQG is new as of 2017, so we have had many similar experiences to Sarah’s, and some differences. In addition to all the great points made above, we are attempting to schedule a speaker digitally using the MQG Zoom platform to save money during our first year. (Interested? Email info@themodernquiltguild.com to talk dates!)

We have also created small, quarter-page leave-behinds for our local quilt stores advertising our guild with all of our social media information (Instagram, Website, Pinterest, email, etc).

As for meeting times, we try to keep the business meeting short — only two hours on a weeknight, but we invite people out for social food and drinks before or after the meetings. We also schedule day-long sew days to get some social sewing time in. Enjoy starting your new guild!