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Quilting Bees and Quilting Parties


A quilt is more than a blanket. A quilt is more than just a bed-cover. An old quilt has family history inside and beauty and practicality outside.

Quilt-making has been traditional in North Dakota since territorial days and continues today through quilt guilds, including the North Star Quilters of Grand Forks; the Minot Prairie Quilters; Bismarck’s Capital Quilters; and Fargo’s Quilter’s Guild of North Dakota.

In bygone days, auilting-bees and quilting-parties combined work with recreation as women gathered to make quilts for a bride-to-be, for a housewarming, or for a hope chest. Needlework and sewing were practical skills for generations, making children into capable adults.

It was on this date in 1933 that the Bismarck Tribune published a notice that a quilting bee would be the main activity for the next women’s group meeting in Menoken. The author, Mrs. Jennie Dance, wrote that this quilting-bee would take place at the home of Mrs. Paul Holmes.

The Menoken women’s nimble fingers flew, stitching the fabric through and through, just like thousands of women before them. Their needles moved as fast as their tongues as they visited, drank coffee and stitched patterns old and new.

Crafting a quilt formed part of the social side of community life throughout American history, mixing work and pleasure to do a big job in a short time.

A quilt, as defined by Webster’s 1828 dictionary, was a bed-cover “made by putting wool, cotton or other substance between two cloths and sewing them together.” As Kay Asche, born and raised in Milnor, explains it, “a quilt is pieced. We sandwiched the wool batting between the quilt top and the backing and stretched it taut on the quilt frame. We basted the top and backing together and then quilted with a needle and thread. The quilter wore a thimble on her finger to push the needle through the multiple layers. Sometimes instead of quilting the layers to hold the batting in place, we tied the quilts with yarn. When the quilting or tying was done, we removed the quilt from the frame, removed the basting stitches and stitched a length of bias-material onto its edge, and then turned over the edge and hand-stitched it in place.”

Quilting was an art. According to Michelle Bolduc Roise, quilting was “patchwork lives and loves stitched into warm memories for generations.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: Jennie Dance, “Menoken,” Bismarck Tribune, December 22, 1933, p. 2.

“Revival of Quilting Bee; Patterns New and Old, Williston Graphic, May 28, 1903, p. 2.

Note from Kay Asche, originally of Milnor, ND, to the author, December 2, 2014.

Note from Michelle Bolduc Roise, Barnesville, MN, to the author, December 2, 2014.

“Evening Recreation for the Old Folks,” Ohio Cultivator, December 1, 1857, p. 13, 23.

“Community Bees,” Circular, August 5, 1867, p. 4, 21.

“Rustic Recreation,” Ohio Farmer, February 12, 1870, p. 19, 7.

E.P. Powell, “Social Side of Country Life,” Outing Magazine 57, no. 6, March 1911, p. 722.