My guild has a retreat twice per year, and I haven’t missed a retreat since we started having them. I always have a good time, sleep terribly, and make new friends.
Packing for the retreat is always an adventure, because I have a tiny little car and a LOT of stuff to bring along. I offer Mr. T. up every year for retreatants, and I pack the car according to the dies they request.
Die Cutting at the Retreat
Mr. T doesn’t mind traveling, but there are a couple of things I do to pack him up and reduce the possibility of damage. I take off the handle so he’s more compact (don’t laugh; that thing sticks out 5 or 6 inches and if it breaks off you can’t use it) and remove the roller guards around the center roller. I know they say not to do that, but I’ve broken two sets and I’m tired of replacing them at $20 a pop.
This year’s die requests were pretty interesting. I always bring the 2-1/2″ strip die, but other dies I brought were:
- 2″ strip die (Studio)
- 3-1/2″ strip die (Studio)
- 4″ strip die (Studio)
- 4-1/2″ strip die (Studio)
- 6-1/2″ strip die (Studio)
- 2 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ rectangle (Studio)
- 3-1/2″ square (Studio)
- 5″ square (Studio)
- 6-1/2″ square (Studio)
- 9-1/2″ square (Sizzix)
- 3-1/2″ drunkard’s path (Studio)
- 7″ drunkard’s path (GO)
- Winding Ways (Studio)
- 6-1/2″ tumbler (Studio)
- 1-3/4″ hexagons (Studio)
- 9″ hexagon (GO)
- Equilateral triangles (Sizzix)
- 3″ finished QST (Studio)
- 6″ finished HST (Studio)
- Critters (GO)
Plus all the trays, cutting plastics and adapters to use with the dies. Lots of heavy stuff!
It was great to be able to include Sizzix and GO dies to use on the Studio this time around. The only drawback is that the adapters are the size of the dies rather than the size of the tray, so if the die slips it won’t cut that edge. Very annoying I have to say. Plus I think the Sizzix dies are longer now than they were when AccuCut produced the adapter for them, so if you have a 6 x 24 die it hangs off the edge of the adapter.
I charge my guild members $10 for the weekend to use the machine; it’s not really a money-making venture but it’s really great to introduce folks to die cutting and see them walk away happily with perfectly cut pieces. One of the members didn’t think she’d be able to sew on her project at all, but she got everything cut and most of the quilt top pieced.
Projects I Planned
When I first packed up the car, I had a respectable number of projects to work on – only 5. By the time I left, the car had about 12 or 13 projects in it. I just kept finding more stuff to bring. It’s terrible because I knew I needed to stay focused, but I always think I can get more done at a retreat than is possible. It’s not at all like sewing in my own studio; there are lots of people to catch up with, you always have to stop for meals, and there is a fair bit of socializing going on. The projects I brought along were:
- Hexagon Quilt for Benartex Spring Market
- Drunkard’s Path Quilt for Benartex Spring Market
- Strip Quilt for Benartex Spring Market
- Alphabet binding strips for a customer quilt
- Stuff for my Sizzix tutorial
- Laptop case project
- Small pouch project
- Pleated skirt project
- Kate Spain quilt project
- Ziggy Cat quilt project
- Colorburst quilt project
In addition to that, I also brought three of the projects from my book to give to people who are pattern testing for me. Add to that my sewing machine, my pink rolling chair, my bedding, and my suitcase and my little Beetle was pretty well packed. There was room for my hand truck though, so I brought it too. This thing is a lifesaver, because it converts to a flatbed dolly and Mr. T fits on it perfectly.
Setting Up My Room and Workspace
Our guild retreats at the Siena Center, which is a convent for Dominican nuns up in Racine, WI. I don’t know what it means to be Dominican, but they are all very nice ladies and many of them pop in to our room to visit and see what we are working on. The retreat room overlooks the lake and has gigantic windows to look out of. It’s just very beautiful and relaxing.
My workspace is definitely larger than normal. Our guild president (and one of my dear friends) got sick and we weren’t able to fill her spot. I would gladly have traded this space though to have my friend there. She was dearly missed and it just isn’t the same retreat without her.
Because our retreat was full, Mr. T was only allowed to come if I supplied a table for him, so I brought his table and an extra one. It resulted in my having 4 tables to work with, so I put Mr. T on one, my sewing machine on the other, and then I set up an ironing station and rotary cutting station. I’m glad that I brought the extra table because I was able to get a rotary cutting station at my preferred height.
This is the last retreat in this room, because the Dominicans are building a new retreat center on the other side of the existing convent. They are doing a lot of construction on the property; they’ll be adding a senior living residence, a new residence for the nuns, and later on, an assisted living center. The only building that will remain of the old structure is the chapel. I’m really glad to see the mission thriving and growing!
Our current sleeping quarters are set up dormitory style; everyone gets their own room, but the bathrooms are communal. The new retreat center is supposed to have private baths in each room, which is amazing and will be a welcome change. It will also have an updated heating system. The one they have now pumps out so much heat that you have to open the windows, and it’s so noisy that I always have a hard time sleeping.
I rearranged the room a bit by turning the bed so one end is against the wall. Normally the bed just floats out there, and without a headboard, my pillow usually takes a flying leap off the bed in the middle of the night. This is the first year that I’ve had my official retreat quilt on the bed; on other retreats I’d been piecing it together, and I got to quilt and bind it last December. I want to embroider the retreat dates on it so I can always remember having been there. It’s a Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt that I adapted for die cutting. It’s not my usual color palette, but it was an easy way to use up fabric that I no longer wanted.
What I Accomplished
Usually the idea is that I come back from the retreat with less than I came in with, but I managed to come back with more this time.
The nuns were giving away some fabric and offered us a chance to go through their fabric drawers and make some selections. I came away with a couple of interesting things (including some home dec samples) but the most thrilling find was this piece:
It’s a very lightweight woven fabric from Kenya. I’m going to wash it and turn it into a summer scarf. It’s certainly too pretty to cut up, and also too thin to turn into a quilt.
I spent most of Friday afternoon just chatting, unpacking and visiting with all the people. I did manage to get one small project done that I didn’t plan to do; I had to repair the strap on one of the tote bags that I used to carry in projects!
On Friday evening and Saturday morning, I worked on a hexagon quilt for Benartex for one of their upcoming lines. I had this elaborate plan to use facing on the exposed raw edges of the hexagons, when Jacquie Gering walks by (yes, THAT Jacquie Gering) and says, “Why don’t you just piece in more hexagons?” This is why it’s good to quilt with other people, folks. Sometimes you’re so close to a project that you start crawling down a rabbit hole and forget that you can turn around and crawl back out.
I’m grateful to her for the suggestion, because the change made a huge difference in the complexity of this quilt (it’s SUPER simple now), and resulted in a magazine selecting it for a future issue. So sorry – no pictures!
After piecing this quilt top, I quickly whipped up the binding for it and also made binding for another customer’s quilt (yup, I still have a few of those in the backlog.)
These triangles got turned into an awesome pouch which I finished very late (or rather, very early Sunday morning. I went to bed at about 3:30am.)
I woke up on Sunday morning quite groggy and out of sorts, but my guild friends know how to take care of me. I always miss breakfast and so they bring me boiled eggs from the dining hall. We usually have so much food at the retreat that you can cobble together a meal pretty easily, and Sunday morning was no different.
But beauty usually comes with a price. It’s a rare week that I can escape injury, and this was not to be one of them.
While I was installing the snap for the pouch, I smacked my thumb with the hammer. My thumb is okay but my manicure was completely ruined. So much for being video-ready this week!
After I finished the pouch, I die cut the drunkard’s path quilt for Benartex and did a little bit of piecing. I discovered that my blocks would finish at 15″ instead of 21″ so I didn’t get very far; I needed to be home so I could pull up the design in EQ7 and make some adjustments. Luckily I had enough fabric for most of the work, but I needed 2 more yards of a critical fabric. Thankfully Benartex had it (they don’t always have enough advance yardage for my crazy requests) and it’s on its way. To bring the quilt back up to size, I needed to add 8 blocks and go from a 3×4 layout to a 4×5 layout. Craziness.
I spent the afternoon getting organized and packing up things I was no longer using; we have to be out of the retreat center promptly at 5pm, and it’s tempting to work until the very end. I started die cutting my Ziggy Cat quilt, but I didn’t get very far when it was time to leave. I got help from a few people to pack up the car, and it only took about 20 minutes to get it all put away.
All in all, I think I got a lot done, although it’s never as much as I would like. I did a pretty good job of staying focused, and although most of the sewing I did this weekend was work-related, I still managed to slip in some fun too.
So of my original list, here’s where I stand:
- Hexagon Quilt for Benartex Spring Market – Top and binding done; still needs a back
- Drunkard’s Path Quilt for Benartex Spring Market – completely cut except for the missing fabric
- Strip Quilt for Benartex Spring Market – didn’t have the pattern with me so I didn’t cut it at the retreat (I cut it yesterday though and it is ready to stitch!)
- Alphabet binding strips for a customer quilt – DONE
- Stuff for my Sizzix tutorial – DONE
- Laptop case project – didn’t even look at it
- Small pouch project – DONE
- Pleated skirt project – didn’t even look at it
- Kate Spain quilt project – didn’t even look at it
- Ziggy Cat quilt project – partially cut (I will finish that up today)
- Colorburst quilt project – didn’t even look at it
- Repair tote bag – ADDED and DONE
So it looks like in a retreat weekend, I can work on about 5 projects if they are a variety of small, medium, and large projects. Clothing projects should stay home in the future; I really need to be able to try on things for fit, and it’s not appropriate to dress and undress in the middle of the retreat room.
I will try to keep the number in mind, but after going on 4 or 5 retreats plus dozens of sew-ins, I know myself pretty well and I will likely always bring more than I can actually do.
What I really need to do though is create a checklist of things to bring, because I forgot a couple of pretty important items. One, my shower shoes AND my slippers (I hate walking around barefoot on floors); earplugs, and the extension table for my sewing machine. Good thing I didn’t actually need to quilt something, that would have sucked.
Unpacking Back at Home
The one brilliant thing that I did do before I left home on Friday was have a cleaning service come in and clean the house. So I came home to a freshly cleaned home, with the bed made, all the floors vacuumed and mopped, and I also straightened the studio after packing up the car.
The next brilliant thing was unpacking the car a little bit at a time when I got home, and putting those things away before unpacking anything else. That has enabled me to keep the studio pretty neat, which will be important for video recording later on this afternoon! I still don’t have everything out of the car yet, but I’m pretty close. I still have one more bag of dies, two tables, my chair, sewing machine, and suitcase to take out.
Do you go on quilt retreats? What’s your favorite place to retreat and who do you go with?