Generations ago, women sat in a circle and quilted while exchanging stories about kids, relationships and marriage.
Today, a new crop of girlfriends still gathers, but instead of quilting, they create scrapbooks of their lives.
Cropping — the art of filling albums with photographs, memorabilia and creative printed art — is a growing industry that draws hundreds of women to crop parties all over the country.
In Hillsborough County, about 60 women recently returned from a cropping cruise. And today, more than 800 avid croppers are expected to begin descending on scrapbook stores in six counties for a 10-day Scrapbook Treasure Hunt.
It's a world dominated by women who use their creativity to preserve their families' history by embellishing mounted photographs with items like stickers, buttons, ribbon and lace.
They work for hours, choosing themes and creating custom pages of their lives, all while laughing with their girlfriends over the latest family drama.
"It's like the old fashioned quilt circles of long ago," said Brenda Lewandoski, who runs crop parties nationwide and is owner of Scrapendipity Retreats, a scrapbooking event company. "The women talk about everything under the sun. They talk about their kids and their families, whatever they might see in their pictures."
Lewandoski, 40, connected with a woman who later became her best friend through cropping.
Their children attended the same preschool.
"Do you scrapbook?" the new acquaintance asked.
"I do!" Lewandoski answered.
Soon, they were cropping at the dinner table, at parties and at scrapbook socials.
Lewandoski, who lives in Land O'Lakes, plans to host a scrapajama party in New Tampa over the summer. Scrapbookers will crop for 48 hours while wearing their pajamas inside a hotel ballroom.
And on April 30 and May 1, Lewandoski is putting together a two-day Spring Fling Crop at the Westshore Marriott. She also works for Scrapbook Expo, a national organization that puts together group crops at hotels throughout the country.
Her introduction to scrapbooks began a decade ago when her mother attended a scrapbook party. Attendees created a page to keep. In this case, her mother created a page for Lewandoski's new baby girl.
"When I saw what my mom had made at this party, I said, 'I love this. I want to do this,' " Lewandoski recalled.
The hobby can be both expensive and addicting. Much like a candle or Tupperware party, scrapbook parties offer a wide range of supplies for sale. Scrapbookers also frequent specialized stores that have opened in recent years. Supplies such as stickers can cost pennies. But then there are pages and albums and machines. The latest popular product is a Cricut machine (pronounced cricket), which cuts out intricate shapes and can cost hundreds of dollars.
Some have turned scrapbooking into vacations. Julie Bateman, owner of the Scrapbook Shoppe in South Tampa, hosted about 60 women on a cropping cruise recently. Instead of the usual onboard activities like bingo, hanging out by the pool or going to the spa, the women spent their time cropping.
And this weekend, more than 800 people will begin a 10-day trek to visit 11 scrapbook stores in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Polk and Sarasota counties on the fourth annual Scrapbook Treasure Hunt.
They paid $10 a ticket, which qualifies them for discounts, goodies and prizes.
"Scrapbooking is about creativity and preservation," said Bateman, who came up with the idea for the treasure hunt. "And it's just a fun time."
Whether it's an organized crop event or just a host clearing her table for an informal gathering of friends, cropping nurtures friendship and solidarity, Lewandoski said.
"There's so much to talk about and we're able to get a lot of cropping done," Lewandoski said. "Getting creative, crafty people together is a really neat experience."