How To Run An Online Exchange

Types of Exchanges:

Block: you trade pieced or applique blocks, singly or in sets, for other blocks made from the same pattern or fabrics.

Fabric: you trade raw cut lengths of fabric, typically a quarter yard or less, for an equal amount of fabric in another pattern or color.

Charm squares:you trade small pieces of fabric, or "charms", usually in a variety of fabrics. Typical sizes are 4x4, 6x6, and 8x8 inches. These are often used to make a Charm Quilt, where the idea is to have no two pieces of fabric identical. It is also a good way to collect small pieces for applique and scrap quilts.

Combination: Some combination of block and fabric swaps, for example, a pieced block accompanied by a charm of matching fabric to be used by the recipient to make another coordinating block.

Anyone can host a block or fabric exchange if they desire. All it requires is a committment on your part to do it.

Here are some general guidelines for developing an exchange of your own. These are decisions that need to be made when you announce your exchange. This is information that participants will use to determine if they want to join. Either post this information when you announce the swap, or have it ready to mail out to respondents.

-- Decide what you are going to exchange, blocks, fabrics, or a combination.

-- Set a sign up deadline. Allow two weeks as a minimum time for your post to distribute. Allow three to four weeks as a maximum time for participants to remain interested in joining. Ask interested people to email to you if they want to join or get more information, and not to post to the newsgroup or listserv.

-- Set an exchange deadline. Decide how much time participants with busy lifestyles will need to construct and complete enough blocks for the swap. This can be one to two months. Longer periods tend to result in high drop out levels due to loss of interest and intervening projects.

-- Will the exchange be centralized or distributed? In a centralized exchange, all participants mail their swaps to you, with a return envelope, and you are responsible for trading everything around and mailing it back out. This has the benefit of ensuring that everyone who participates gets something in exchange, while those who drop simply aren't involved. In a distributed exchange, the participants are each responsible for mailing their packets to the other members. This saves you a lot of hassle, but can result in uneven exchanges if dropouts don't respond.

-- If you are running a distributed exchange, you are responsible for collecting everybody's address and grouping them together. You need to decide how large the group(s) will be, and how they will be set up. It is a good idea to look at everybody's home state and spread participants out so all the folks from California aren't in the same group. This helps insure that swappers receive fabrics and meet quilters from other regions.

-- If you run a centralised exchange, you must be willing to give out your home or business address for participants to mail to.

-- Be prepared to spend an hour or more at your computer sorting through email from people who want to join, or who are just asking questions about the swap. It helps to have software that can help you manage the lists of names and addresses, keep copies of the rules, and generally tend to the time and communication committment.

-- Take a sample packet to the post office and have it weighed so you can give participants an estimate of the postage they will need to pay. Be aware that many internet readers from overseas participate in exchanges and postage will be higher for them, and us.

-- Decide what type of fabrics are acceptable. Do they have to be 100% cotton or are blends also allowed?

-- Will the fabrics need to be prewashed or not?

-- Expect dropouts who don't notify you. Expect dropouts due to last minute emergencies.

-- It is generally a good idea to have the swaps wrapped in plastic or sealed in a plastic baggie or envelope when they are mailed. This has the advantages of keeping sets/packets together, preventing the fabrics from becoming soiled if the envelope rips or gets wet, and adding an extra layer of identification (with the help of a label inside the plastic) if the envelope becomes separated from the contents.

-- When you have a good idea of how many participants there will be, send email to everyone and let them know, especially if it is relevant to how many blocks or fabric packets they have to send out.

-- Keep in touch with your participants. Let each person know when you receive their packet. Send out notices as deadlines approach.


-- Decide what pattern or theme the exchange will follow.

-- Will the blocks be pieced or appliqued? Are either or both methods acceptable for the pattern or the theme you have chosen?

-- Provide the name(s) of the blocks, and a specific (in print!) book it can be found in. If the block is known by several names, give them also. If there are variations on the block, try to describe which one you expect participants to follow. Expect to provide copies for those who cannot find the book or pattern.

-- Determine what size the blocks will be. Is this the finished or unfinished measurement?

-- Decide what color(s) --if any-- will be required. Will you require a specific fabric pattern, or type of pattern? (plaids, metallics, designer prints)

-- Should the blocks be embellished with beads, ribbon, or embroidery?

-- What level of skill is expected? Is this a basic pattern, or one more suited for advanced sewing skills? What will you do about poorly constructed or off-size blocks?

Fabric/Charm Swaps:

-- Specify a color, pattern, or designer line of fabrics which will be exchanged (Green, stripes, Hoffman prints). Does the exchange follow a theme? (Spring, plaids, cats)

-- Specify a size to cut the fabric to. (fat quarters, 6" squares,etc) Are these realistic cuts? For example, 6x9 inch pieces can easily be cut from a regular quarter yard cut of fabric, with little wastage, and less fuss on the part of the cutter. A 10x10 piece gives you more fabric, but also requires a larger investment of the participants. Ask participants to cut selvedges off before cutting their fabric, unless they are exchanging quarter yards or larger.

-- How many pieces is each participant to exchange? Take a moment and figure out how much of an investment this is for the swappers. Will they need to purchase more than a couple of yards?

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