The Guild Movements

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the current quilt revival has been the development of guilds. Although craft guilds have been around for centuries, quilt guilds at the end of the 20th century have distinct qualities.

Historically, craft guilds were highly structured organizations that weilded great influence over their members and sometimes held significant political power. These guilds were hierarchical and designed to enforce an exceptionally high level of craftsmanship through apprenticeship programs and inspections. The quilt guilds that began surfacing in the 1970s share the formal organization of craft guilds, but they are based on a more democratic system of teaching, sharing, and community service and encourage more informal structures of teaching and support.

Guilds separate themselves from other less formal quilting clubs and groups by creating sets of by-laws, electing officers, and setting membership dues. They also have a tendency to be much larger with less focus on the social aspects of quilt clubs. As many guilds grow and acquire diverse memberships, members have chosen to create small groups (often called bees within the guild).

Guilds serve as non-profit organizations that promote the craft and art of quiltmaking by passing along the tradition to members and to the wider community. Meetings usually include presentations on quilt history or contemporary techniques along with a member “show-and-tell” and standard business. Many guilds have circulating libraries of quilt books, hold workshops and retreats, organize yearly or biannual quilt shows, and do community outreach through charity quilt projects and “living history” exhibitions at special events.

During the 1980s and 1990s, quilt guilds across the country helped preserve historic quilts through county and state survey projects sometimes as organizers of projects, sometimes as volunteers.

Like much of quiltmaking in the 21st century, the quilt guild has gone online. Quilt guilds, particularly large, urban ones, maintain websites that allow members to stay up-to-date on meetings, events, and groups. Some quilt guilds are beginning to form online allowing quiltmakers to connect across geographical boundaries.