How to Manage a Quilt, Fabric, or Block Exchange

Inspirational quotes were the main feature of this block swap.
Inspirational quotes were the main feature of this block swap. | Source

Exchanging Quilts

Many quilters enjoy trading fabric, quilt blocks, and even finished quilts with other quilters. There are many benefits to trading:

  • camaraderie with other quilters
  • getting more variety of fabric
  • making friends from other parts of the world
  • getting fabric from other parts of the world that may not be available locally
  • getting fun squishy things in the mail

If you have ever wanted to be a hostess of a quilt swap, here are some considerations to keep in mind.

Types of Quilt Exchanges

First, you need to decide what it is that you want to swap. This decision may be based on a type of quilt you want to make, or a group decision that is made by chatting in a newsgroup or a poll on a website. Many different kinds of things can be exchanged. Here are just a few ideas:

  • fabric - usually squares of a certain size such as 5" or 10" or fat quarters
  • blocks, such as signature blocks, a certain specified block, or a certain specified size of blocks
  • quilts, especially little ones such as artist trading cards, postcards or small quilt hangings limited to a certain specified size
  • gift packages containing a variety of items including quilting supplies or fabric

Ways to Exchange Quilts

The item that is being exchanged will affect the methodology of exchanging the item. There are two main ways that fabric and quilts are exchanged.

Central Location

In this way, everything comes to a central location. Each participating quilter is required to make or send a certain number of items, one for each of the participants. She can generally make the same item for all of the participants. She then sends the package to the hostess. The hostess will receive all commitments and packages, and distribute them among the participants to make sure that the quilter receives an item back from each of the participants.

Many signature blocks from around the world were exchanged in this block swap.
Many signature blocks from around the world were exchanged in this block swap. | Source

The central location method works best for fabric and quilt blocks. Sometimes quilters sign up to participate and then life gets in the way, and they cannot deliver on their promise. With this method, the people who haven't delivered the blocks within the deadline simply are not participants. All of the people who did participate are guaranteed that they will get the same number of items they sent back, even if sometimes it means they will get some of their own blocks back.

One drawback to this method is that it effectively doubles the cost of the postage. The participants have to pay to mail the package to the hostess, and also provide return postage for the package they will receive in return. This is particularly difficult in international swaps, since stamps are not universal. Usually international quilters will provide a fat quarter or other payment in exchange for return postage.

Another drawback is that the actual number of participants is not known until the signup period is closed. A quilter may find it tiresome to make many of the same blocks if a particular swap becomes very large. Often the hostess will limit the swap to a certain number of participants to avoid this issue. If a swap does not garner much interest, the people who signed up may feel obligated to follow through even though it means they will not make or get enough blocks to make a whole quilt.

One on One

The one on one exchange can work when two quilters decide to trade something, but it also works in a group format. Each participant only has to make one item and sends it directly to her swap partner.

In a group setting, each participant signs up to participate, and the hostess chooses the partners and provides them with their partner's address. The hostess continues to keep track of the exchange and makes sure that each of the participants has received his or her item.

The one on one swap saves money on postage, since each item is only being mailed once. It also does not require the quilter to make multiple sets of any item.

Common Quilt Swap Problems

People drop out of the exchange

Some people may need to drop out of an exchange if their life circumstances change. This should be taken into consideration in the rules. In a central location exchange, a participant who does not send in their package simply will not get a package back. The participants may get their own fabric or item back or you can simply make smaller exchanges amongst the participants so everyone gets all different blocks than the ones they sent.

Late swappers

Some people may want to join the exchange after the sign in deadline, or they may be delayed in sending their package. While some allowances for these delays are generally permissible, there does come a time when you cannot take late items. If this happens, tell the people trying to sign in that it is too late, and return the package of swappers who turned in their package after you had already finished exchanging the items.

Insufficient Postage

You may get some swap items that do not have any return envelopes, any postage, or insufficient postage to fulfill the swap. There are several ways you can handle this. You can send an email to the person and ask her to send you some stamps. You can send the package along with a note to pay you for the difference, or you can simply pay for it yourself. Your action will, of course, will be based on the amount of the issue. Remember that a swap should not cost the hostess any money.

Creating a Clear List of Rules and Expectations

Creating the rules is a fine art. The rules must be simple enough and short enough for everyone to understand and follow. Yet they must be precise enough to take into considerations some of the things that can happen.

They must take into consideration the quality of the fabric, the varying skill level of the participants, and the level of workmanship. While most quilters want to do good work and want to do their best to produce a quality swap item, some quilters may not be aware of or may not be able to afford the same quality fabric. They may not have the skills or workmanship ability to produce a quality block. By choosing blocks that can be made by beginners and specifying the type of fabric that can be used, you can save some trouble when you receive the blocks.

Deadlines must be close enough so people won't forget and far enough that the participants have time to complete their blocks of quilts. Some people will need prodding and reminders.

Be sure to tell the participants whether you need a self addressed stamp envelope for the return package. It is best to use actual stamps on these return envelopes to be sure that the post office does not have issues with the metered mail.

Waiting for the Packages

While you are waiting for the deadline date, you will spend a great deal of time answering questions. Some of these questions will already be addressed in the rules, while other questions will be things you may not have considered. You will have to decide what types of allowances you are willing to make. Feel free to tell the participants no to some allowances, especially if causes undue burden on you or may cause an issue with the other participants.

When it comes closer to the deadline date, you will want to send reminders to the participants.
You will often find that there are people who wait until the last minute, and are delayed in sending the package. There are also issues with certain post offices and postal systems. I build in time for myself to prepare the outgoing packages, and within that time, there is some allowance for delayed mail. I can generally plan for the late packages and prepare a contingency for what to do if that package doesn't arrive.

Black and white fat quarters were exchanged in this fabric swap.
Black and white fat quarters were exchanged in this fabric swap. | Source

Managing the Exchange

One on one exchange

In a one-on-one exchange, the hostess may have two people exchange things with each other. With this method, Participant A makes something for Participant B and Participant B makes something for Participant A.

She may also choose to make a chain, so the person the quilter sends to will not be the person who makes the item the quilter will receive. With this method, Participant A makes something for Participant B who makes something for Participant C who makes something for Participant A. The hostess can decide whether to make one long chain with all of the partners or break up the work with several smaller chains.

Another hostess I know posts the quilts anonymously on her blog and lets the participants choose some that they would prefer to receive. There is no guarantee that the participants will get what they asked for, but at least she has an idea of what they like. She then goes through the choices and decides who gets which quilt and then mails the quilt to them.

Central Location Exchange

The exchange is generally easier for a central location exchange. Simply open each package one at a time and divide each of the blocks or fabric into different stacks. It is important to keep organized so you don't lose track of where you left off. If you have a large number of participants, it may be cumbersome to make that many different stacks. When you are finished, you may want to count the pieces to make sure that each participant received her fair share.

Small art quilts made up this quilt exchange.
Small art quilts made up this quilt exchange. | Source

Follow-up

The final hostess duty is to thank everyone for their participation and make sure that everyone received the package they were expecting. You may have to deal with some complaints about the quality of the blocks or fabric a participant received, but you can generally avoid these types of complaints when you exchange the blocks.

Managing a Quilt or Fabric Swap

Managing a quilt swap can take a great deal of time, but it is generally an enjoyable process. Most quilters are very gracious and may send small gifts for you in addition to their swap packages, especially for a centralized swap because they realize the amount of work that you are doing for them. Sometimes when problems arise, other quilters will step up to help make amends. Often times, on a one on one swap, if a package does not arrive, another quilter will volunteer to create a second mailing to ensure that no participant is left empty handed.

Creating clear rules, being patient and adaptable, conducting the exchange fairly and keeping in communication with the participants will make your swap successful.

© 2013 Shasta Matova

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Comments: "How to Manage a Quilt, Fabric, or Block Exchange" 7 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comment, vote, and share moonlake. I recommend joining an exchange - they are fun and they help push you to try things (techniques, colors, style, etc.) that you may not have considered. You can meet other quilters - it really helps to know that there are other people out there who enjoy cutting up fabric only to sew it back up again in another arrangement.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

I have never been in a block exchange. Interesting, love that art quilt. I'm trying to get Christmas quilts made for the family. Voted up and shared.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your input Glimmer Twin Fan. Unfortunately, that is a possibility that someone will either get carried away with life's circumstances, disorganization or deceit, and not follow through with the swap. To avoid that, you may want to participate only in centralized swaps or make sure that the round robin type are only small things you can afford to lose.


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

Interesting hub. I love fabric swaps. I am always blown away by all the different fabrics out there. Unfortunately I had a bad experience once on a round robin type block exchange and the person kept the blocks and the partially finished quilt, never to be heard from again.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for your support Bill.

Thank you faythef. I know what you mean about postage being a real problem with these types of exchanges. I really enjoy the exchanges, but am now limiting myself. I usually buy charm packs for variety, but if I want the community, I can participate in exchanges at my local quilt guild. From time to time, I will participate in the one on one exchange, because at least this way you only have to pay postage one way, and you get to interact with quilters from around the world.


faythef profile image

faythef 3 years ago from USA

I have been in several quilt type of exchanges..Loved it..but then postage started becoming a problem......but I really did enjoy it...good article voting up


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Honestly my friend, I don't have a lot of interest in making quilts. :) I thought I would just stop by and give you some support and say hi! Hope you are doing well.

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    Shasta Matova (Millionaire Tips)969 Followers
    195 Articles

    Whether you call it art or craft, Shasta Matova enjoys making artistic, applique, pieced, traditional, miniature, modern, and crazy quilts.



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