Participating in an Online Exchange or Swap - Suggested Guidelines

The Internet has opened up quilters to connecting all over the world.  Where quilting used to be limited to either a solitary art or one within your physical community now we can share and gawk with artists from nearly anywhere.

One of the interesting products of the Internet + quilters is quilter based swapping.  Using the mail service as our transportation we share with quilters in any chosen area.  It may be a swap of fabrics, of blocks, or of artistry styles.  It may be a completed product, or just the tools to do so.  Sharing by mail this way allows us to collaborate with people and in a way never before available.

You can find swaps on a lot of sites.  There is Facebook, Flickr, yahoo groups, Google +, blogger, even a site called swapbot!  If you are not sure where to start, I would recommend finding a online group of quilters and just share ideas for a bit.  Swapping generally comes up in discussions often and if it doesn't maybe you can start one!

Swaps might be for notions, or for fabric.  Often it is for a specific block.  Other times it is for a color scheme.  We have round robin swaps where we build on a block already created and send it along til each swapper has a quilt top.  Maybe it's a collaboration where you send your UFOs and each participant plays with your unwanted blocks and sends back a new creation.  Maybe it is a swap of a finished wall hanging or other quilted item.  Sometimes it is a swap of art ideas, challenging each other to create something new.

Swapping is VERY fun.  Getting your swaps out is like wrapping gifts at the holidays.  And getting swap mail is always a treat to bring a smile to your face and may make you run for the sewing machine to play with something new.  I have participated in many swaps over the years with many themes.  I have hosted, I have been a participant.  I have been disappointed when I did not get a swap and I have been the cause of disappointment.  I have learned what to look for in swap participants, swap guidelines, and my own expectations.

The basic outline of a swap is the following;

  • 2 or more participants 
  • Items being swapped
  • Timeline of swap

In my experiences the following the what I look for in joining or hosting a swap;

  • Participants with varied skills and art styles
    • This is a sharing of skills.  I want to learn something from the people I swap with and I am hoping they will learn something from me
    • If it is a swap of notions - I want something that is new to me, not something I already have!
  • A result I will use
    • I joined a few swaps many years ago with blocks that had butterfly and hearts in them.  The received blocks are all lovely - and so totally NOT me.  Someday I may use them in a baby quilt or something, but its hard for me to look at those blocks and appreciate the artistry in them.  I learned when making something to chose a swap that is both challenging and useful.
  • A block or item I want to make X amount
    • There is nothing worse than joining a swap where you will have to make 20 of the same block - and hating it by block 5.  Make sure you will want to keep making the product.
  • A reasonable timeline
    • This is very much up to your own preference.  For me I have learned I prefer a fairly fast turnaround - I am constantly working on quilting items and lose interest.  But we don't want a timeline that is impossible to meet and will just be stressful.  Generally speaking I want at least 2 weeks before a mailing.  I also put it on my calendar for the dates I want to meet - when I have to have items created and when they should be mailed.
  • A reasonable cost
    • Make sure you can afford the fabric or other items involved.  Yes, you will get things in return but you have to initially invest.
    • Make sure you can afford the postage.  It adds up.  Remember, if it is not letter sized it will cost even more.
So that's a starting point.  Then, there is the actual swapping actions;
  • Enjoy the process
    • Get fabric for the swap or blocks you love.  Put on good music, play your favorite movie, touch the fabric, love the block or item you are making.  It's going to someone you may never meet, and there is a joy to be found in that!
  • Do you very best work
    • I learned early on, part of this process is to do the little steps you might skip if it was just for you.  Square at all steps.  Make the points meet.  Cut your fabric with precision.  Trim the threads.
  • Don't sweat it if you make a mistake
    • Own up to your errors if you can't meet the commitment in timeline or item to send.  Your fellow swappers are a very kind group but we always like to know what to expect.
    • Even with careful swappers, you might see imperfections.  It's ok.  Part of the joy of this art form is the little things that make it unique - like an error.  A swapper sent me a block where a section of the block was backwards.  I love it.  It is a unique version of that block no one else got to enjoy.
  • Forgive others for their mistakes
    • Maybe one of your swappers has fabric that has a lose weave.  Or an unattractive print.  Or points don't meet.  Or the block isn't squared.  Maybe they mail late, or not at all.  Life happens.  Forgive those errors.  We all make them, and they are part of a quilter's journey.
  • Have fun with the mailing
    • Put a smiley face on the envelope.  Put a small note inside with the days happening.  Use fun stamps.  Whatever.  Just have fun with it and put an extra smile on your recipients face.
    • Keep track of who you have sent to.  Maybe your swap is all at once, or in various times.  Either way keep track of your sends so if someone doesn't get something you can tell them when you sent it and if needed - send a replacement.
Tools I have on hand for swaps;

  • A basket or container of choice
    • Keep your swap fabrics, tools, and mailing supplies in one place for the duration of the swap.  Like any project organization is a gift when you are trying to finish things on a deadline, or in snippets of time.  I keep all my ongoing projects in baskets - each swap I am participating in gets it's own basket.  I keep the items in the basket until all the blocks I have sent are confirmed received.  I keep my addressed and stamped envelopes in the basket.  I also put the items I receive from the block in that basket as the swap progresses.
  • Extra fabric
    • If the swap is for 5 inch blocks, or fat quarters, or whatnot - always cut at least 1 extra.  Just in case.  If it is for something created make sure you have extra.  Just like any project, but chances are you might need it, and if you do not - after you give most of it away you might find you want some later!
  • Rulers 
    • This might seem obvious, but anytime you are making multiples of something I like to have a template ruler.  I have a collection of rotary rulers in a variety of sizes and when I am involved in a swap I pick out the ruler I will use for all squaring and cutting of fabric and stick with that ruler.  
  • Stamps
    • Stamps are so cool.  They come in a variety of amounts and pictures.  So play with that!  I keep a selection of stamps on hand so the envelope is a visual treat.
  • Fabric pen
    • Often part of the swap is to do a signature block of some kind.  I keep a selection of brown and black in permanent fabric pens on hand for that need.

When it comes down to it, make sure you have fun, and keep sewing!


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