Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thoughts on Mini Quilt Swapping

If you’ve been hanging around Instagram long enough, you’ve probably noticed people posting about mini quilt swaps. Maybe you’ve recently joined a mini quilt swap. Maybe you’re addicted to mini quilt swaps like me. Or maybe you’ve been on the fence about joining, because you’re worried you don’t know all the rules, that your skills aren’t up to par, or that buying extras will break the bank. Well, this one’s for you!

I’ve been involved in a number of swaps, and I’m currently hosting two. The first swap I’ve hosted is the Rainbow Mini Swap. I posted about the idea back in December to gauge interest, and my Instagram account exploded. Folks were interested, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it. Nearly 600 people signed up, and it’s been a blast! The rainbow goodness is out of control! (If you’re not familiar, check out the hashtag #rainbowminiswap). In February, I decided I didn’t have enough to do (ha!) and opened signups for the Anna Maria Horner Mini Quilt Swap. It’s a smaller group (around 280) and so far, much more manageable.

So before I get into all the details of mini quilt swapping, please remember that I do not make the rules for all Instagram swaps. But I do set my own rules and expectations for the swaps I host. So please don’t take everything you read below to mean that this goes for any and all swaps you enter. I think most of following ideas are good ones, but every swap host should provide a detailed outline of what they expect from you during their swap. Some swaps are more relaxed. Mine are very much controlled — in a good way, I think. My requests are always for the greater good, a smooth swapping process and, most importantly, to ensure every swapper receives a beautiful mini quilt in the end.

FINDING SWAPS: So you want to join a swap, but you don’t know where to find them. These two options are your best bets. First, check out the hashtag #sewingandswapping. Many swap hosts will use this hashtag when posting about a swap idea to gauge interest and/or when their signups open. Second, start following folks on Instagram who seem to join lots of swaps. When people signup for a swap, they usually write a “here we go again…” or “are eighteen swaps too many?” post. Find out who’s hosting, read the details provided about the swap and signup if it sounds like a good fit.

SIGNING UP FOR A SWAP: Most swap hosts will either post a Google Docs form in their IG profile, or they’re fancy and have a website for you to visit. When you fill out the questionnaire, and I cannot stress this enough, read through your answers before you click “submit”. Here’s why. When I had nearly 600 people sign up for the Rainbow Mini Swap, I cannot tell you how many people gave me partial information, incorrect information (wrong IG name, wrong email address, etc.), and misspelled information. Having to contact 75+ people to get corrected information takes A LOT of time, and it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. So do your due diligence and proofread all of the information you enter into the questionnaire before submitting it. Your swap host will love you for it. Also, now is the time to spill the beans about yourself. Don’t leave a single question blank. If it asks about your quilting and fabric likes and dislikes, write it all down. If you don’t like the color green, write down that you don’t like the color green. But then go on to explain whether you don’t want any green AT ALL in your mini or that a little green is okay. The more information you provide in the questionnaire, the better! And folks always ask about which skill level they fall under. Your guess is as good as mine. My best advice: be honest with yourself. Are you a beginner and know only the basics at this point? Or are you a rockstar quilter who creates crazy EPP designs and can FMQ with your eyes closed? Me, personally? I’m neither. I’m in that grey zone called Intermediate. Trust me, we are ALL at different skill levels. So choose the level you think fits you best, and go with it. In my swaps, I tend to match partners using two bits of information (look at me giving away all my secrets!): skill level and willingness to ship overseas. I start by first pairing beginners who only want to ship domestically, then those who only want to ship internationally if they really have to, and finally those who don’t mind either way. All that other information you provide is great, but it’s not really for me. It’s for your partner.

YOU’RE ALL SIGNED UP. NOW WHAT? Well, you wait. This is where your patience with the swap host is beyond appreciated. I nearly killed my eyeballs trying to partner 586 swappers – and email them their partner info – within three or four days. While waiting, I recommend scoping out some quilt inspiration on Pinterest and taking screenshots of those that you’re drawn to. Then get yourself a collage making app (if you don’t already have one) and put together a little collage/mosaic for your future partner who’ll be making for you. Don’t like creating/posting mosaics? Oooooh, you’re one of those. (Just kidding.) That’s fine, unless the swap host has specifically required every swapper to post a mosaic. If mosaics are required, and you knew that before signing up for the swap, grit your teeth and make the mosaic. By breaking the rules, it shows disrespect for your swap host and whatever he or she is trying to accomplish. Also, the second most common complaint that I’ve received in my swaps: “My partner hasn’t posted a mosaic. What am I supposed to do?” Most partners haaaaaaate when the person they’re making for doesn’t make a mosaic. So do your best, follow the rules, and your partner (and swap host) will appreciate your effort. One other piece of advice while you wait: clean up your Instagram feed. Look through your past posts and delete all those old giveaway posts you didn’t win. Evaluate what’s left. Do you have lots of sewing and quilting posts, or is it primarily a dear diary of posts about your kids/dogs/cats/boyfriend/job? If you find that it’s heavy on life and light on sewing, you might consider remedying that pronto. Don’t get me wrong, we love seeing your adorable kids/dogs/cats/boyfriend, but we need to see your sewing and quilting projects. It gives your future partner a better idea of what you enjoy making, your style and fabrics you tend to gravitate toward. 

THE ART OF STALKING: You got it! You got your partner email! The email you’ve been waiting days for and checking your email religiously for! You’ve been given the green light to stalk! Well, several things can happen at this point. The first, you end up devastated to find that your partner has a private profile. Hopefully your swap host and/or swap mama will be sending an email to everyone on your team with a listing of who else is on the team. That way everyone can follow each other and there’s no real suspicion to send your partner a follow request. If a list isn’t provided, don’t hesitate to contact your swap host/mama to request one. The second, you’re thankful to find your partner has a public account, and you immediately hit “follow.” Not always the best idea. I’m usually suspicious of the first few people who follow me after partner emails go out. Let me tell you another secret: I don’t usually follow the person I’m making for. Sometimes, it works out that I’m already following them, but most of the time not. And why do I need to? Their account is public. I can see everything they post. I have their name on file and can check in periodically to see what they’re creating WITHOUT following them. Usually, when I tell people this, it’s like a little lightbulb goes off in their head. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but for some reason, swappers seem to feel they MUST follow their partner. You don’t. Oh, and the most common complaint I receive from swappers? “I’ve followed my partner and have liked a ton of their posts, but they haven’t followed me back. What am I doing wrong?” The only thing you’re doing wrong is worrying that they need to follow you back. The more you egg them on to return the IG love, the more suspicious you make yourself. (Again with the lightbulb.)

MAKING THE MINI QUILT: So now you’ve got (usually) several months to create your masterpieces for your partner. Try to remember that you’re essentially making a gift for someone. You’re making a mini quilt with THEIR interests and tastes in mind, not yours. This is a great time to think outside your comfort zone. I always prefer when my partner has different interests than my own. It pushes me to try something new. And you have some time to practice new techniques and patterns before making your final mini quilt, so by all means, be brave! Also, be sure you’re using high-quality quilting cottons for your mini quilt. Not to sound like a fabric snob, but there is a BIG difference between cotton fabrics you can find at your local quilt shop or in an online shop and fabrics found in a chain store like JoAnns. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some cute stuff at JoAnns, but I don’t tend to use those in the mini quilts that I gift to people. If you hold a high-quality cotton in one hand and a fun print you found at a chain store in the other, you’ll notice a big difference in the way it feels. High-quality quilting cottons may cost a little more, but the quality and durability is far greater. It’s also the time to do your absolute best work and put your heart and a good amount of time into it. Don’t rush this project, because it’ll show. And if you’re a procrastinator and like to wait until the week of the shipping deadline to make your mini, then you’d better be good at producing quality work under pressure. If you’re not and you’re just trying to meet the deadline, it’ll show. Mark my words. And we both know your partner deserves better than that. 

ALL ABOUT THE EXTRAS: Extras are so tricky, am I right? Most swaps don’t require you to send extras to your partner, and if you prefer not to, that’s totally fine. But let’s be honest, most people love the extras. So how much is too much? Too little? What to send at all? Well, that’s totally at your discretion, but I’ll make this as clear as mud. I don’t recommend sending so much that it seems you bought out all of Target and fit it into a flat rate mailer. Your extras shouldn’t overwhelm and outweigh the true star of the show: your beautiful mini quilt. Now, that being said, a few extras are generally welcomed and appreciated. Here are a few examples of extras that I like to send (not always for the same swap): a FQ/HY of my partner’s favorite fabric, a scrap bag from my own stash, sewing notions (bias tape, piping, pincushion, Clover clips, etc.), pretty notecards and/or pens, washi tape and candy or chocolate. Also be sure to include a handwritten note from you letting them know that you’ve enjoyed creating a mini quilt for them. Include your name AND Instagram name so your partner can easily find you and tag you when they post a photo of their goodies on IG. 

PACK IT UP, PACK IT UP:  Most swappers take their packaging of swaps to new levels. Think of your swap package as a gift. Though certainly not required, consider taking the time to wrap your mini and extras like you would a birthday gift for someone. Use some pretty tissue or wrapping paper, tie it up with string and your partner will most assuredly appreciate your efforts. Do not wad up your mini and a hunk of chocolate and throw it into a mailer bag. (Yes, that has happened.)

SHIPPING YOUR HAPPY MAIL: Truth be told, I’m not the person to give much advice on this topic. I’ve shipped swaps overseas several times, and I’ve always had a pay an arm and a leg. So if you’ve got some advice on shipping internationally, please feel free to help me and everyone else out by leaving some tips in the comment section of this post. Please and thank you! Shipping domestically is always easier (and cheaper). What I will say on this topic, is that I do recommend doing whatever you can to make the package more fun. This isn’t required, certainly, but who doesn’t love a brightly decorated box with #happymail scrawled across the top? I like to use brightly-colored tapes and markers to decorate mine. And this goes without saying (but I’ll say it), double check your addresses before dropping it off to the post office. If one bit of mailing information has been copied down incorrectly, it can cause massive problems and headaches. In the swaps I host, I require swappers to email me once they’ve shipped. This allows me to stay organized and track who has shipped and who hasn’t. 

INSTAGRAM ETIQUETTE:  Most swaps require swappers to post a photo of the goodies they’ve received from their partner. This serves two purposes. First, it’s ever so important to take a moment to thank the person who made a mini quilt for you. They’ve hopefully put plenty of time and heart into your beautiful new mini, that a thank you on Instagram is the least you can do. Make sure to tag the person who made your quilt so that they’ll see you’ve posted on IG. The second purpose is that it allows your swap host and/or swap mama to track who has received their swap package. We spend the last few weeks of the swap process tracking who has shipped, who has received and who hasn’t. It helps if you tag your swap host and/or mama in your IG post as well. Another idea when you receive your package? I, personally, like to send the person who has made for me a DM (Direct Message) on IG before I post a photo of all the goodies. It’s a far more personal message in which I can let them know just how much I appreciate everything they’ve sent me. Once I see they’ve read the message and responded, I then post on IG for all the world to see. Again, not required. Just something I like to do. Thank you notes via snail mail are always a good idea, too.

And now I’d like to move on to what I prefer to call “the touchy subjects.”

SWAP EXPECTATIONS: When I host a swap, I try to be as upfront about what I expect from swappers throughout the swapping process. Before signups even open, I list out the requirements of the swap in an IG post. This has included requirements such as posting three progress photos throughout the swap. Let me be clear, a swap host’s requirements are not suggestions or guidelines. They’re actual requirements. If you have an issue with any of the requirements stated before signups, don’t sign up. It’s as simple as that. If you think that you’re the exception to the host’s rules and expectations, you are wrong. If you lack the commitment and courtesy to follow the rules, swaps are most likely not for you. Swap hosts don’t make any money from hosting a swap. Rather, they’re a volunteer who has offered to oversee a potentially large event, manage hundreds of strangers they will most likely never actually meet face to face, and will devote countless hours to organizing, tracking, emailing, DM’ing, encouraging – and sadly, hunting down – those strangers to ensure one end goal: that you receive some epic happy mail. If that’s not reason enough to be kind, considerate and patient with your swap host, then I don’t know what is. Swap mamas aren’t any different. They’re volunteers selected by the swap host to help moderate a smaller group (or team) of swappers. They deserve every bit as much kindness and patience as the swap host. 

THE MANDATORY CHECK-INS: Throughout a swap, you’ll most likely be asked to check in with your swap host and/or swap mama. The request will be sent as a mass email to your swap team. It may require you to provide a status update of your project. It may simply ask you to confirm that you’re still involved in the swap. These check-ins aren’t optional. Your prompt (and kind!) reply is greatly appreciated. When the six Rainbow Mini Swap teams were sent their first mandatory check-in in early March, there were dozens of swappers who we found had literally disappeared from Instagram. Poof! Gone. Their accounts had either been deleted or neglected for eight weeks. When I tried following up with each of them, I received no response in return. I sent emails. I sent DM’s. Nada. A few of them even read the DM’s, but lacked the common courtesy to acknowledge that they had decided to drop from the swap. Instead? Crickets. Radio silence. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that will anger your swap host/mama more than a swapper who refuses to communicate. And those who refuse to communicate are promptly kicked out of the swap and replaced. Finding replacements takes time and more organization. It’s a headache. And while you’re enjoying a seemingly smooth swapping experience, there’s a whole lot of stress happening behind the scenes. Another reason your quick and courteous reply is more appreciated than you realize. 

THE QUILT POLICE: Oh, I’ve seen the posts from swappers regarding those they call the “quilt police.” I’ve seen the whiny, complaint posts written hastily out of anger (or more likely – guilt!) about the swap host that rules with an iron fist. And my favorites? The posts that are just as quickly deleted, because they’ve thought better of it. Too late! When you’re tracking nearly 600 swappers, your free time pretty much revolves around Instagram and you miss nothing. Does it bother me? Well, I’m human, and hurtful words are just that. The words don’t really bother me though. It’s the lack of consideration and respect that’s more upsetting. But does it truly upset me? No. Unfortunately, negative people are a part of life. They feel the need to spew their negativity in the direction of others, when in reality, the problem is theirs. And sadly, they’re the folks who will most likely never understand that last sentence. There are no quilt police. I don’t spend my days looking for ways to call swappers out. I simply want to ensure everyone is on track to ship and receive a gorgeous mini quilt. That’s it. That’s my entire goal. 

THE FLAKERS: These are the folks who simply don’t complete the swap. They flake. They disappear. And in lots of previous mini quilt swaps, they receive a mini quilt, never post a thank you and never ship a package of their own. Think about that. Let that sink in. How does that make you feel? That someone would receive a beautiful mini made just for them and never create a mini for someone in return. It happens, and more often than you think. Do you know what’s sad? Every week, I see someone finally receiving a swap package for a swap that has ended MONTHS previously. The original person making for them had obviously flaked, so the swap host had to, at some point, finally give up on any hope that the flaker would send a package and then find an angel to make another mini quilt for this swapper who had been left high and dry. This is exactly why I’ve taken a different tactic with the swaps I host. Some last-minute swappers have grown accustomed to getting away with sending their packages weeks – perhaps even a month! – late. I’m not okay with that. I’m giving swappers one additional week to complete and ship their mini quilts. After that date, anyone who hasn’t shipped will be replaced with a angel. Nobody should have to wait months to receive their swap package, and in my opinion, nobody should be allowed to complete their mini quilt a month late. These issues are occurring more and more frequently in mini quilt swaps. More often than most swappers are aware of. It’s disheartening, and it’s requiring swap hosts to be a bit more strict with their rules and expectations. So if you’re one of those folks out there who thinks we’re just power hungry or ruling with an iron fist, I’m sorry you feel that way, and you’re mistaken. There’s a very real reason behind every rule in swapping. 

THE BLACKLIST: Yes, there is a blacklist. It’s more of a suggested list, and certainly not enforced. Each swap host makes their own rules and uses their own discretion regarding swappers. But, yes, there is a list that is floating among Instagram swap hosts and is updated regularly as needed. This isn’t a power play. No one sits down and says “I just can’t stand this swapper, so I’m adding them to the list.” It’s simply a list of flakers. A heads-up, if you will, to other swap hosts about who has a record of quitting swaps for ridiculous reasons, dropping right before shipping deadlines or simply disappearing/flaking. In my opinion, it’s sad that such a list even has to exist, but it is helpful. Again, think “greater good.” If a record of those who flake is kept for future swap hosts, the odds that you’ll receive a partner who flakes is less likely. And let me be clear, not everyone who drops from a swap is added to this list. If you need to drop from a swap due to an unforeseen circumstance, most swap hosts will understand. Life happens, and while mini quilt swaps are fun, they’re rank pretty low on the list of life’s true priorities – as they should. So if you provide a good, valid (and true!) reason for needing to drop from a swap, it’s fine. However, dropping towards the end of a swap with the excuse “if I’m going to make something this nice and time-consuming, I’d rather just keep it for myself” is not okay, and you obviously don’t understand the concept of a mini quilt swap. And yes, that happened. 

So there you go! If you’ve made it this far in the post, bravo! Hopefully you’re not passed out and drooling all over your keyboard/tablet/smart phone. And hopefully, I’ve answered some of your questions and provided some insight into what goes on behind the scenes in a swap. 

I’ve had a great time hosting this week on 52Quilters. Thank you for following along! Enjoy your weekend and happy quilting!

Where you can find me:
Instagram: @katebasti

Post by Kate Basti - Week #12:   Kate lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and three-year-old daughter. Though a graphic designer by trade, she's currently a stay-at-home mom. When she's not chasing after her feisty kiddo, she enjoys sewing, knitting, cooking and baking. She's not ashamed to admit her addiction to Instagram and all things colourful. And shiny. Follow her on instagram


  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post Kate! You have done a wonderful job with this Rainbow mini swap! Thanks for all your hard work. Mine will be posted on time, on the ship date, which is Monday! With a mini, a mug rug and plenty of little extras, all wrapped like a gift 😉 because that's how I like to receive them !

  3. Great post! Please let me know if you find you need another Swap Angel.

  4. Good post interesting I can't believe some of the things people do. I'm quite new to swaps and while I would love to do them all I know I can't so I have to limit myself so I can do a good swap and enjoy myself. Thanks to all the swap hosts out there

  5. Thank you for a great post. Until I joined the Instagram community I didn't know how many swaps were out there. I've been in swaps where my partner finished and sent their item the week after partner assignments. This means they didn't get to know me or my likes/dislikes. They just made something and shipped it as soon as they got my address. My worst swap experience was one hosted on Flickr where once the assignments were handed out the host fell off the face of the planet. There were no reminders, not follow-up emails, no checking up, nothing. I sent a cute little mini to my partner, who was very sweet and thanked me kindly. The mini she shipped to her partner and posted about was lovely. I still haven't received anything from my mystery partner. After almost six months the host still hadn't come back to Flickr to see what happened to the Flickr group. After that I didn't join swaps until I signed up for the Rainbow Mini Swap and the Sweet & Salty Easter Swap on Instagram. Thanks for the great post about the ins and outs of hosting a swap. I want to host a swap at some point and I know this post will come in handy.

  6. This is a really good post about swaps. I worry that the flakes and the rude people either won't read it or won't recognize themselves. Sigh. But it is still a great post for people thinking about joining, like me :) So, thanks! And if I do decide to join, I'll probably try yours first!

  7. Thanks for all the info! I was new to instagram when I entered the Rainbow mini swap.....and it is my 1st swap! My partner received her mini today. I can't believe for the life of me how you can be late sending out your mini! You have months to prepare! . KATE, THANK YOU! I am so much more knowledgeable and ready to participate in another swap! Thanks again. Debbie

  8. Thank you for your hard work and honesty. There are some excellent hints here regarding swap etiquette, how to be a good swapper and how to get the most out of the experience. Which, when all is said and done, should be the general goal.. Have fun, make something beautiful, make someone's day.

    I'm planning a blog post myself on wrapping and posting. Number one tip is to put your parcels into a plastic bag WITH a copy of the address, so, if the worst happens and your mailing bag is wet or damaged, your precious cargo should be dry, clean, and have a good chance of reaching its destination!

  9. Thank you for all the information, this was a lot to read. ;-)
    The rainbow mini swap was my first swap ever and I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for all the work, heart and energy you put in it. I like clear rules.
    Sorry, I was one of those who asked what to do if my partner wouldn't follow me on IG. ;-) Didn't want to ask a stupid question ...
    I hope you'll host another swap in the future! (I hesitated a bit too long for the AMH swap.)

  10. This is probably the best post on swaps I've ever read. Thank you so much!!! The Rainbow Mini Swap was my first swap and I would be thrilled if all swaps were run the way you ran it. Team Iron Fist for the win! ;)

  11. Wow! I had no idea AT ALL that people were mean to swap hosts or that so many selfishly flaked out. What on earth!! I'm so glad you generously gave of your time so that such a huge number of folks could enjoy swapping. Bless you!!

  12. Thank you for posting this Kate!

    Posting progress pics are helpful for the person who is making you a quilt. It encourages them to make you something wonderful (even though you're a stranger & their sister or BFF would really appreciate it too). It's discouraging to put your heart and soul into a mini for someone who can't publicly acknowledge being in the swap. When the person you're sewing for doesn't engage or show they put thought and consideration into their own work it does make you rethink what you're making for them.

    I personally join swaps to push myself creatively and to meet new people. I love the people I meet who are using the hashtags and posting pix along the way.

    This blog post has a lot of helpful considerations Kate! Thanks for taking the time to write it all out. Thank you also for organizing the swaps!!

  13. Thanks for this post - it's a very helpful overview!

    As far as shipping internationally, it really depends on where you are shipping from - if you're in the US, using the post office's provided box sizes will often be cheaper than using your own box, but ultimately you should expect international shipping to be fairly expensive and don't commit to doing it if that's going to be an issue.

  14. I package more for durability than for prettiness. I usually seal packages in plastic, then a tyvek padded envelope. I recently received a swap package that was a decorative box and only in a paper envelope, and the outside was damaged beyond repair. Fortunately the rest of the goodies were inside and protected.