Participating in an Exchange

What are the various types of exchanges? How do they work?

The two main types of exchanges are Round Robin and Exchange. In general, in a Round Robin, Person A sends something to Person B, who sends something to Person C. In an Exchange, People A and B send things to each other.

Fabric Exchange: You send a predetermined amount of fabric to each person in your exchange. You receive the same amount of fabric from everyone else. The organizer specifies the size and shape of the fabric (for example: fat quarters, 6" squares, 2 1/2" squares) as well as what type. (for instance: specific colors; a theme such as holiday, floral, or cat print.)

Fabric Round Robin: A package containing fabric (in whatever size/shape pieces the organizer has specified) is sent from one participant to the next. She takes what she wants, replaces it with the same amount of her own fabric, and sends it to the next person on the list. Some Round Robins go around and around. Others stop after one go-round.

Block Exchange: you make as many blocks as there are people in your group, keep one for yourself, and mail the others out by the deadline. Exchange groups can be anywhere from 6 to 14 people. Smaller groups are for bigger or more complicated blocks, larger groups for easier blocks such as 9 patches.

Block Round Robin: involves making one block per month, for a specific person who will specify whatever they want.

If you're interested in a low-pressure exchange, wait for the Monthly Round Robin Exchange post, which comes out in late April, August, and December.

Keep in mind postage costs for the exchange - if you are in many exchanges this does add up.

Are beginners welcome to take part in exchanges?

Definitely! Fabric exchanges are usually a good place to start, as are nine-patch exchanges. Be careful not to over-commit yourself. It's best to start slowly with one exchange at a time, rather than signing up for everything you see all at once. (Tempting though that may be!)

How will I know if a particular exchange is too difficult for my level of ability?

Some exchanges are designed for beginners, and are listed as such. If you are interested but in doubt, contact the organizer for assistance.

You might try making a similar block before you commit.

One of the major pitfalls to an unsuccessful exchange is that people rush into an exchange based on desire and enthusiasm without first considering if they can really handle the required skill level and the time constraints. After watching exchanges for quite some time, it's clear to me that there are few exchanges that only happen once. If it worked well or was a great idea, the theme tends to get repeated. Give yourself time to assess your ability - if you're not sure, sit it out until the next one.

I signed up for an exchange! Now what happens?

Each exchange has an organizer who is responsible for getting information out to the participants regarding exchange requirements. You should receive instructions shortly after the signup period ends. If you have any questions regarding about the instructions, email the organizer.

I have done mainly hand piecing. Will others mind a hand pieced block, or should I use a machine?

The time frame of any exchange is posted with the exchange rules. Each person must judge whether she can meet her commitment for the exchange plus whatever else she intends to do during that time frame.

From some experienced hand piecers:

"I ONLY do hand work - and while I rarely (if ever!) have gotten hand work back, I frequently have had people write to acknowledge my block, "impressed" that it's hand work - I don't think it matters as long as all the participants a. do their very best and b. are willing to accept either hand or machine work."

"As a person who strictly hand pieces, I think the question of whether a person can keep up should be handled on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the blocks, no. of blocks, and speed of the quilter (not to mention time available to the quilter!)."

"I hand pieced many of my round robin blocks (I did those for about 2 years) and everyone was very appreciative--I usually had curved seams in them which is why I hand pieced them. It turns out to be quite a time commitment, one block a month doesn't seem like much but it adds up."

If the exchange is for n number of blocks, do I make identical or different blocks?

It's entirely up to you. An exchange is mostly a way of getting a collection of similar blocks made with mostly different fabrics -- a kind of instant scrap block collection. But if you make a bunch of blocks with all the same fabric, you can use speed cutting and piecing techniques, which will stream- line your work considerably.

Again, every exchange is different. Sometime you have to exchange all unique blocks, sometimes you send two of the same block to each person, etc.... The "rules" will be determined by the organizer or the group.

Depends on what you want to do. Many of the "bigger" exchanges I've been in have had some minor variance in the end blocks (24 exact fabric combinations can get pretty dull for the maker) - plus sometimes fabric constraints have an impact on this "decision".

This first exchange I was in was simple 9-patches, &I knew I would go insane from boredom if I had to hand-piece all 14 blocks exactly the same. It's kind of fun for the handpiecer, who is generally receiving blocks sooner than she can send them out, to make different ones and send each different design to the "right" person, matching up each one she makes w/ one received. (Does that make sense?) Since no "rule" on this subject was stated, I just figured that I would make several different blocks, and if that wasn't ok, well--I figured no one would ever be the wiser!!

Can I (or do I have to) sign my blocks?

Check the "rules" for the exchange. Sometimes it's specified. Sometimes it's up to the quilter, and other times up to the recipient.

What if I sign up for an exchange and can't complete my commitment?

Let everyone in your exchange group know what is going on. If you will be late, give some idea of when you will be able to complete your commitment. We are generally a forgiving bunch, if we are told what is happening. We all know life gets crazy sometimes. If you are completely unable to fulfill your commitment, contact the organizer of the exchange. Offer to either return the materials you have received in the exchange to the people who sent them to you, or return them to the organizer so s/he can find someone to take your place and send them on to her/him.

I'm interested in doing an exchange, but haven't seen one like it posted. Can I start my own? How?

Anyone can organize an exchange - including you! I recommend participating in a few before doing so, however.

If you get 5 or more nibbles, then you have to decide the following issues:

time frame, including deadline for signing up
color scheme, common fabric, etc.
size of block, specific pattern, etc.
how many blocks does each person send each other person?

After you've made these decisions, you send a detailed post. People will email you to join and/or with questions. Generally, an exchange for 12 1/2" blocks contains 6 people, a border round robin has 3 to 6 people, and an exchange for 6 1/2" blocks or fabric contains 12 people. But you can adjust this for the number of people who sign up. Give people about a month to sign up, and repeat your post a week or so before the sign-up deadline, to catch anyone who was on vacation during your first post. Be kind but firm with people who try to sign up after the deadline if all your groups are filled; there really are other exchanges coming all the time!

Make sure all the participants have sent you Snail mail addresses and working email addresses. Inform each person who the other participants in her group are, and distribute the email and snail mail addresses within each group. During the exchange, remind participants of deadlines.

You might want to look at the Exchange organizers' collective wisdom FAQ from Marina S

Are deadlines usually long enough to accommodate participants outside the US?

Here are excerpts from different people's replies:

The deadline usually refers to the mailing date rather than the delivery date so we are not at any disadvantage being overseas.

Blocks that I have received from outside the US have had to have customs declarations on their envelopes and at least one of the packages has been opened and inspected. To ease the burden of mailing costs for people outside the US, consider mailing all of the blocks to one person in the US and have them send your blocks with their own.

I've found that its much cheaper to send all the blocks (say 12) for an exchange in a parcel (Air-Mail) to the US to, say, the exchange organizer than to post them individually. I'm told the person who receives my blocks at the other end can stick them in with hers for no extra cost. I've done this quite successfully. The only problem is I really have to be on time other wise I delay 2 sets of blocks. I would take at least 10 days off the deadline for mine to allow for postage to the US as the blocks are in the post twice. Of course I usually include something extra for the volunteer who receives my blocks :)

I have only ever sent a few blocks outside of the US and have been able to use regular Air Mail envelopes and postage with no customs declaration- it recently occurred to me that this may not be wise and so I will check with my post office before I send anything else overseas.

I live in Ireland and I have never had any problems with deadlines. There has always been enough time to make the blocks, except when my sewing machine broke down but that could happen to anyone. The deadline usually refers to the mailing date rather than the delivery date so we are not at any disadvantage being overseas. Strange though it may seem the postal service is proving to be very efficient. For my last exchange everyone received their blocks within a week of mailing them and that is becoming quite normal. Even the last parcel which I sent surface mail arrived in Virginia within 3 weeks!!!

What do you do with all those charm squares?!

Well, I'm just going to sew them all together in rows and make a "charm" quilt. The interest will be in the different fabrics, not the design, although I will try to do something with color. I have a quilt like this that my great-grandmother made, and I have it on my guest bed even now. I remember when I was a child how much I enjoyed looking at the different fabrics. There's a piece that's a chess board with pieces that was my favorite. It's simple but a fun way to use fabrics I'd never buy for myself!

Some people use them for miniatures and I have also used some squares I have from another exchange as pieces in a block for a block exchange. You might also use them for just scrap pieces in a scrap quilt.

Well, since I'm acquiring a ton of 6 inch charms through the Monthly Fabric exchange, I'm planning on teaching myself to do a Cathedral Windows quilt. The instructions I have call for 2 inch squares, so I can get 9 windows out of each 6 inch charm. I'll probably just put all the little squares into a bag and pull them out randomly. Since I've never done handwork and this will be ALL hand work, I don't plan on rushing. On the other hand, since each little segment is complete in itself, it'll be done whenever I say it's done. And I can always add more later!

I know of one double wedding ring which is being made entirely from charm fabrics- only from exchanges, for the rings. They can be used for any scrap design or any place there is a small enough pattern piece to fit on the charm for any quilt design. I recently made a small wall hanging which called for 58 different greens and 32 different reds. Charms would have worked and would have allowed me not to repeat a fabric.

I haven't yet used any blocks or charms, but I'm sure that I will. I expect to cut up charms to use in quilts. I like to use lots of small pieces rather than large pieces. I would not expect to use charm pieces in the size I receive them. Nor would I make a special quilt from them. I'll just use them where they fit according to color. I keep a box of small pieces of fabric and last bits from larger pieces. That's where the charm fabrics go.

I'm making a "yo-yo" vest. Each 6" charm square can be cut into four 3" circles for the yo-yo.

How does one pack a block for mailing

? Padded envelopes may be needed if more than one 6" block is being sent. Best to wrap the blocks or fabric in plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag before sealing in the envelope.

Should the envelope be "openable" and reclosable for customs when doing an international mailing ?

I don't have a definitive answer on this one. One person mentioned that a package, coming to the US from abroad, had been opened for customs inspection. Until someone comes up with a better answer, I will suggest checking with the Post Office to see if a package going outside the country needs a customs declaration form or any other special mailing.

I would also suggest that International quilters who have experience with special postal requirements in their countries, make mention of this when they sign up for exchanges.

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