MyRye.com is working with the Rye Historical Society on Papers from our Past. The Rye Historical Society Archives contains centuries of stories, from everyday life in Rye to significant events in American History.
by Alison Cupp Relyea, Director of Programming and Education for the Rye Historical Society
The past year has been full of unexpected twists, with a resurgence of crafting among the brighter outcomes in Rye and around the world. While the gender lines that previously defined the categories of art and craft have dissolved, this advertisement for the Quilting Bee in Rye captures how crafts are an important piece of women’s history. The Quilting Bee, a store and tea room founded in 1913 out of a home near the Rye train station, tells a story of women coming together to continue traditions, share a creative space, and build a small business. It is a story from one hundred years ago that continues to unfold around us today.
From colonial days in Rye to the time of the Quilting Bee, women sewed, knitted, crocheted, quilted and cross-stitched to meet the needs of their families and to develop valuable skills to be passed down. Despite modern technology and access to all kinds of things at our fingertips, crafting has not disappeared. The Maker trend, already on the rise entering 2020, has exploded in the past year in the context of the pandemic. Hobbies serve a purpose beyond filling idle time. They are now cherished as ways to connect to others and create threads that bind to the past and future.
This past year has us asking the question “What is important?” Some answers to this are found in the Quilting Bee advertisement. Our grandparents and their values are important, even if they are no longer alive. Our children are important and need nurturing. Our homes matter, particularly those objects within them that bring fulfillment. With many people decluttering their homes during the pandemic, the items they kept included family heirlooms, knitted baby clothing, artwork and homemade quilts. These are the keepsakes people would save in an emergency, with an emotional value that is, to quote mastercard, “Priceless.”
Unlike individual crafts including cross-stitching, felting, writing and painting, quilting is a social art, the complexity of the process often requiring many hands. Will quilting bees emerge as a way to gather, now that a new generation of knitters and stitchers have honed their skills at home? As vaccines take hold and people are no longer as isolated, it will be interesting to see where this crafting trend goes. Perhaps it is time to sign a lease near the train station to start up the quilting bees and knitting circles once again, or start a tradition of craft nights at the Knapp House.
If you have taken up a craft during the pandemic, please share your story with us in the comments below.
To read more on quilting and crafting, in Rye and beyond, check out these resources.
The Quilting Bee is featured on page 23 of Paul Rheingold’s book, Postcard History Series: Rye.
The Quilting Bee is referenced in a timeline in this ebook, confirming its opening in 1913.
It is also referenced in the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection at UT Austin.
Articles about crafting during the pandemic:
Children’s books that feature quilting:
- Gibbons, Gail. The Quilting Bee. Harper Collins, 2004.
- Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Dragonfly Books, 1995.
- Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. Simon & Schuster, 2001.