Quilting bees served a dual purpose for women in the 1800’s and beyond – they created a necessity, a warm quilt, and created an opportunity for women to socialize. Quilting bees were a time when women would gather to help each other complete quilts, tell their personal stories, exchange recipes, and give advice on children and family. In addition to the socialization, women could exercise their creativity and share their creations with other women.
Outside of quilting bees and church gatherings, the lives of women who attended quilting bees were usually quite insular. The heavy demands of life kept them in the home much of the time, secluded from other women.
Today, the heavy demands of life, inside and outside the home, still often keep women secluded from each other. While quilting bees remain in some form in the United States, the number of women who participate in them is limited. Many woman still desire the type of social interaction that quilting bees offered. And so, they have found other social and creative outlets. One of these relatively new outlets is scrapbooking.
In the 1990’s many women began to create photo albums that were more than simply photos stuck in magnetic albums. Using albums and materials that were specially designed to preserve precious photos and memorabilia, they began to create albums that were works of art that also told stories. Journaling – the practice of writing stories and memories along side of the photos - became important.
As more and more women began to take up the hobby of scrapbooking, they began to form groups who would gather together regularly to work on their scrapbooks. These gatherings are commonly known as “crops” because of the cropping of photos that occurs during the gatherings. As the women sit around working on their albums, they socialize.
Much in the same way that women socialized during quilting bees, women socialize during crops. They talk about their days, share advice on family and children, exchange recipes, health tips and most importantly tell stories. Scrapbooking crops offer a unique opportunity for women to tell their personal stories. Their stories are all laid out right in front of them in photographs, and as they place their photographs into albums, they naturally begin talk about the stories that are behind them.
The women share the stories of their lives while cropping and it often forms powerful bonds between them. Their relationships will frequently go beyond these crops. They become a network of friends who enjoy each others company, help, encourage and comfort each other in times of need.
Consider a group of women in southern New Jersey who came together when one of their fellow scrapbookers was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When their sick friend was no longer able to work on her children’s albums, her fellow scrapbookers gathered together in her home while she was in the hospital to put albums together for her grade school aged son and daughter. Then those closest to her would take the albums to the hospital and help her journal in them.
During this time, women laughed, cried, shared memories of their sick friend as well as their own personal stories. They were able to help their sick friend in a practical and meaningful way. Now that she is gone, her children have albums with their mother’s memories in them.
With over four million women in America now scrapbooking, stories like this are not uncommon. Scrapbooking has become a social and creative outlet for many women, and a way to connect them in important and meaningful ways.