Sears, Roebuck Comes Calling
Looking for ways to diversify and increase production and profits, the women turned to corduroy pillow shams, and Sears liked what they saw. The Bee landed a contract with Sears in 1972.
During their busiest time, the women produced 30,000 shams every six months, 5,000 a month, and 200 a day. In 1980, the Bee did $7,500 in business, $5,100 of which was from Sears. By 1982, sales had increase to $200,000, the majority of which was sales to Sears.
Not only was FQB’s work prized by Sears and its customers, but art collectors and artists such as Diana Vreeland, Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner acquired individual full-size quilts as works of art.
Between the Sears contract and the attention of collectors, the quilters were able to provide for their families, express their personal artistic visions and gain the pride of accomplishment.
In fact, as noted by author Callahan, “The first two years in the life of the Freedom Quilting Bee, 1966 and 1967, were amazing in terms of job orders and volunteer energies. Between its founding in March 1966, and the end of the calendar year, the co-op provided $5,500 in profits to its members, amassed mostly from the sale of $20 and $25 quilts…the co-op raised family income for some by as much as 25% “ in just its first 10 months.
Today, quilts from the artists of Freedom Quilting Bee are exhibited in museums across the globe and are highly prized by collectors, going for thousands of dollars.
Although FQB went strong for more than two decades, it didn’t survive into the 21st century, allowing the history, stories, innovation and incredible courage and accomplishments of a group of determined black women artisans to all but disappear. Our new organization, Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy, was created to right that wrong.