What is a Crafty Swap?

Monday, January 12, 2015

*Dramatic newscaster voice* It's the trend that's sweeping the nation. It's going on right under our noses, a secret society of crafty ladies. It's crafty swaps! You may have heard whispers of these circles on Instagram, but do you know what a crafty swap is? Well hold on to your butts, I'm about to give you the 411.

I got a surprisingly number of comments during sign ups for the #StudioGhibliSwap from people who had never participated in a swap. "How does it work?" they wrote. Cut to me staring at my screen, nervously wondering how the hell I'm supposed to answer that. I figured a blog post would be best as there can be a lot of points to go over.

The Technical Details

In a nutshell, a crafty swap is like a Secret Santa exchange. A host organizes the swap by setting up the rules. For starters, some swaps revolve around a theme like the #StudioGhibliSwap or #KittyMiniQuiltSwap. Participants in a themed swap make items relating to that theme. Some swaps are non-themed like the #SchnitzelAndBooMiniQuiltSwap.

Other basic rules include what kind of item are you making. Some involve a variety of project types. The #StudioGhibliSwap is open to quilters, general sewists, embroiderers, knitters, and crocheters. The #KittyMiniQuiltSwap was a mini quilt swap, as the name implies. Some swaps involve a specific pattern, like the #DumplingSwap, in which all participants make a dumpling pouch.

The host sets up a hashtag for the swap so participants can share their progress on Instagram.

Participants join the swap via a sign up, conducted via a sign up form or through email. You fill out a questionnaire that includes your mailing address, contact info, likes, dislikes, etc. This info is given to your partner who will use it to make you something you'll enjoy!

Swap partners can be secret or non-secret. Secret swaps are usually indirect (Person A makes for person B. B makes for C. C makes for A) to keep things exciting. Secret swaps seem to be far more popular in modern IG-based swaps. I've only participated in one non-secret swap in which it was a direct trade (A makes for B. B makes for A).

Swaps can be a lot of work to organize, which is why hosts usually call on the help of swap mamas or moderators. Hosts may divide participants up into teams that are supervised by a swap mama to keep things running smoothly. Swap mamas may preform a variety of duties. They may help assign partners, act as liaisons between secret partners, and monitor their swappers to make sure participants don't flake out.

Swap mamas help enforce the swap timeline established by the host. At the minimum, the timeline will consist of a shipping deadline. Participants are expected to mail their packages to their partners by that date. Swaps with international participants may have an earlier deadline for participants that are sending their package across borders. That gives their packages a little more time to get to their destination.

It is common for swaps to have a do-not-ship-before date. For example, the shipping deadline may be May 10, but the host will ask that you do not ship before May 1. This measure is meant to discourage flaking. The worry is that a naughty participant will receive a package way early, and decide they got their package already, so why bother sending anything out?

Some swaps may include progress checkpoints like the #StudioGhibliSwap to make sure people stay on track.

Swap Culture & Etiquette

Extra Goodies 

Swaps are commonly organized around the exchange of a main project like a mini quilt, but most participants generously include other goodies with their packages. Questionnaires may include a place for you to list a few suggestions for extras you may like. Popular extras include fabric scraps, washi tape, lip balm, candy, and small sewing notions.

Extras aren't always mandatory, but are almost always encouraged. Some people spend lots of money and time on extra swag to make their package like pinata of loot. Some may pick out a few cute goodies at the dollar store. Others may include another small handmade item like a needlebook or pincushion. I don't see many photos of packages with no extras. Even if money is tight, people seem to do their best to share the joy within their means.

Sharing Photos

All of the swaps I participate in are Instagram-based, which means sharing pictures along the way. In addition to the info you provide in your sign up questionnaire, lots of swappers share inspiration collages to help their partner get a feel for what they like. (See Stalking below for more on this.)

Sharing and viewing WIP photos of your projects is half the fun of swaps. Browsing the swap hashtag helps keep people excited and motivated. Sometimes you may even find something that sparks a creative idea for your own project.

Most importantly, you will definitely want to share a photo of the package you receive. Some swaps include this as a mandatory rule. It's an opportunity to say thank you to your partner (and you should!) for their hard work and let them know you received the package.

Partner "Stalking" & the Public/Private Debate

For secret swaps, "stalking" is a way of life. Abandon all fears of being a creeper and start creepin' on your partner's social media accounts to see what they like and don't like.

Stalking efforts are sometimes hampered by participants with private IG accounts. Some people feel that private users take the fun out of swaps. Private users argue that they shouldn't have to compromise their privacy to participate. I did a blog post about this debate a while back. There isn't a right answer, but it's something to consider.

Bad Partners and Swap Angels

The downside of swaps is the occasional bad apple. The majority of swappers are wonderful, but jerks do exist. I've organized them into rings of swap hell.

The worst, deepest ring of swap hell includes the thieving buttheads that feel no shame in accepting packages of goodies and never sending anything out. That's just plain stealing and those people should be called out for their crap. My friend Karri (unofficial swap goddess) keeps a black list of these jerks.

The next ring of hell is home to the inconsiderate swappers. Swap questionnaires are provided so you can get a clear picture of what your partner likes and dislikes. Some people, who I call Honey Badger Swappers (they don't give a shit!), don't care what you want. They do as they please. You say you hate 30s repro fabric? Too bad, because Honey Badger loves 30s repro, so you're getting 30s repro.

I think most of these cases are the result of laziness or financial constraints rather than maliciousness. You may love modern fabric but your partner might have a 100% traditional fabric stash. Most people would make the effort to purchase materials you would like, but some don't. This also includes effort and craftsmanship. Some people take no pride in their work and send out poorly made projects.

Next level of hell is for the late swappers. Yes, emergencies happen, but some people just don't respect shipping deadlines. Some are minor oopsies and go out within a few days of the deadline. Those people are okay in my book as long as it isn't a trend.

Then there are the super late or chronically late participants. I'm taking about the people who start their project on the shipping deadline. The people who for whatever reason take weeks past the deadline to get their dang package in the mail. The people who are a week late for every swap they join. Just because you eventually send your package does not a good swapper make.

But don't fret about these people because there is hope: swap angels! These are amazing, kind, generous people who volunteer to make sure everyone has a good swap experience. Swap angels will make a package for people who had a shitty partner and did not receive a package. Those people are the real MVPs!

Further Reading...

If you want to know more about swaps, check out Karri's blog for lots of great posts about being a good swapper, what NOT to do, and just plain sassy truth.


  1. I got a honey badger maker - I was sent an apron. I do not bake or cook. I have no pictures of me baking or cooking in my photostream. She wanted t make an apron and thus I got an apron. Even my 6 year old laughed and asked why someone sent me an apron.

    1. Ah, that sucks. Maybe you can use when you sew to keep all the thread mess off your clothes?

  2. I'm really interested in joining a swap. They look like a load of fun, but I seem to suck at "googling" out any swaps. Can you point me in the right direction for a few options? I'd be so grateful!

  3. Super post! Thanks for the info. Thinking of organizing a swap but needed some know how!