You Really Need a Quilt Retreat in Your Life…Seriously

As hard as it is to believe, it’s almost Autumn.  In a few weeks, not only will the days get noticeably shorter, the temperatures will begin to hover in the blessed range of the 70’s and 60’s – at least where I live. Fall brings visions of pumpkins and Halloween and Thanksgiving.  But for me there’s an added event that adds extra spice to my Autumn experience – my annual quilt retreat. 

I’ve written about my guild’s “Drop Everything and Just Quilt!” experience several times.  It’s an event that I look forward to every year.  As of this blog, it’s 63 days, 22 hours, 33 minutes, and 35 seconds until it starts (not that I’m counting or anything).  It’s noticeably smaller this year, as there is another quilt retreat held on the same date, but I believe it will be better than ever.  I love quilt retreats and go on at least two every year.  If you get a chance to attend one, go for it. It’s at least several days of uninterrupted sewing time where you don’t have to plan for meals, nor does it matter if you wear make up or a bra.  Quilting is the name of the game and it’s the only game in town.

Packing for a retreat can be a bit daunting.  Unlike the last minute get-away trip that may fall in your lap, packing for a retreat takes some thinking and some planning.  It’s not something you can wait until the last minute to do.  So, in this blog I wanted to share with you how I pack for an overnight quilt retreat that can be reached by car.  Any quilt retreat you have to fly to get to requires an entirely different planning scenario. 

Example of a Quilt Retreat Brochure and Itinerary

First, let’s deal with some standard logistics.  Find out if you need to bring your own linens and if meals will be provided on sight or do you have to go out to eat.  Are the meals included with the price of the retreat?  Will there be trips to local quilt shops or will workshops offered? All of these play into how you map out your time, what you bring, and how much cash you need to have.  If workshops are offered, there should be a supply list.  Be sure you have all the items on the supply list that you need.  Depending on the teacher and the workshop, some of what you need may be provided by the instructor.  It’s not unheard of for teachers to have some of the supplies available for purchase. 

Next, read through all of the retreat information.  I know you did this when you registered but go through it again.  This time look for cutting and ironing specifics.  These may not have crossed your mind, but they are important.  Regular irons pull a lot of wattage, and having multiple irons plugged in can throw a breaker or blow a fuse.  There may be ironing stations available, so all you may need to pack is a small, travel iron and an ironing surface.  Cutting stations may also be available.  If that’s the case, you need only pack a small cutting mat to use at your machine, the rulers you will need, and a rotary cutter. 

Another thing you may also want to do at this point is find out what the room set-up will be.  Will you have a long table to yourself, or will you have to share it with another quilter?  Will you have a smaller table to yourself?  All of these will help you plan how you can most efficiently and ergonomically set up your sewing station.  If you have your own sewing table that you’ve specifically set up to meet your needs, ask if you can bring it.  I know that as I’ve gotten older and have more back issues, I need to have my table at a certain height to reduce stress on my neck and shoulders.  Lots of quilters I know have resolved that issue with the Ezy-Quilt tables that not only adjust for physical needs but are also convenient to transport.  It never hurts to ask and usually the answer is “Yes.”  Just remember, you’re sewing for hours a day, for several days.  Make it as comfortable for yourself as possible.  Keeping comfort in mind one more item you may want to throw in your car is a cushion for your tushie.  Standard padded chairs and (God forbid) folding chairs aren’t comfortable after about two hours. 

After all of those questions are answered, go into your home quilting area.  Take a look around and make notes of the items you use every time you sit down to piece, applique, or quilt.  Those are the items you want to pack up first.  I have found it super easy to keep all of these together in one place at home.  When I’m packing to go class or a retreat, all I have to do is grab this…

Picked up this little caddy on the Clearance Shelf at Office Depot! Great $3.00 find!

And this…

This is an antique candy dish. The center holds a pin cushion that can be popped out and the tiny holes are perfect for scissors, screw drivers, and stilettos.

At this point, I know I have my essentials covered.  I also make sure I’ve packed this:

Combo Pin Cushion and Thread Catcher. Small quilt beneath courtesy of my good friend, Susan Pierce.

It’s a combination thread catcher and pin cushion.  This helps me keep my work area tidy.  The pin cushion is Velcroed on, so I can move it if I need to. 

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  You’re attending this retreat to get some projects completed or at least on the path to progress.  The next set of questions that need to be answered concerns the quilts you plan to work on.  The first obvious question that needs to be answered is how many projects should I take?

When I’m considering what to take, I begin with a timeline.  This is where finding about meals and any “field trips” comes into play.  If you have to leave the retreat area, you need to allow time out of your day for this. So, if you plan on quilting from say 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. that night, if you must go out for meals, you want to deduct about 2 hours for each off-site meal (if a sit-down restaurant is supplying the meals).  More for shopping excursions. 

Once the actual amount of sewing time is determined, it’s time to decide what projects to take.  As a rule of thumb, I have found it’s better to have more projects than you may need – for two reasons.  First, you may hit a stumbling block on a project that you just can’t get around.  It may need to be put in time out until you get home and in your own sewing space.  Second, it’s absolutely miserable to be at a quilt retreat and run out of things to sew.  However, don’t bring so many projects that you take up half the sewing room space with all your stuff.  There’s a fine line between being adequately prepared and being unrealistic.  After you get a quilt retreat or two under your belt, you know what your fine line is.

At this point, I begin to put my projects into boxes, if they’re not already in one.  I’ve found that boxes are the easiest way to stay organized, and if the projects are small, or the boxes are big, I can fit two quilts in one box.  I get these boxes prepared this way:

  1.  I make sure all the projects are cut out.  Even if there are lots of cutting stations at the retreat, I don’t want to waste valuable sewing time cutting a quilt out.  Also check your retreat information.  Some retreats won’t let you tie up a cutting station cutting your quilt out. 
  2. I begin to put everything I need for that project in that box – the pattern, any notions or tools that’s not in my general sewing caddy, or specific thread.  Since most quilters use either beige, white, or gray sewing thread, those are packed in my regular sewing supplies.  But if a specialty thread is needed, such as for machine applique, I make sure all those threads are in the box.  Remember when I introduced those small containers I found at Dollar Tree finds a few blogs ago?  They really come in handy at this point.  I can keep all my threads, special rulers, and other notions organized.  I have learned the key to packing for a quilt retreat is to remember you have to unpack when you get home.  If you organize your projects when you pack them up and keep them that way at retreat, you never have to wonder exactly where you stopped on the project when you get it out to work on it again even if it’s not until the next quilt retreat – not that I know anything about that. 
  3. I label each box with the project’s name.  I use an index card to do this.  That way if I need to make myself a note about the project (such as I need additional thread or yardage), I can write that on the index card.  When I’m unpacking, it will remind me what I need in order to complete each project or if I’ve run into any issues with quilt construction.   
  4. I pack a variety of sewing projects – big ones, small ones, machine work, and hand work.  This way if I get bored with one technique (because, let’s face it – after a few hours on one project, that’s all you can handle no matter how much you may love it), I can move to another.  I also like to actually finish something on retreat.  If I have a few small projects tucked away in a box, I can do this.  And if I decide I want to visit with a friend at retreat, I can pull my chair over to her sewing area and do hand work while we chat.

Now a couple of odds and ends before I end this blog. 

  • I take a back up machine.  Remember my little Juke I call Jenni?  She’s small and light and doesn’t take up an enormous amount of space.  While Big Red is a given (she’s going to go on retreat), I take Jenni just in case Big Red has some issues.  I also make sure that both machines are cleaned and oiled before I leave.  And if one of them is due for service, that’s done before I hit the road.
  • I find out if adult beverages are acceptable.  I love a glass of wine after dinner, but some retreats don’t allow alcohol.  I always check before I make a last-minute stop at the Teeter to stock up on 19 Crimes.
  • There are a few things that you may need that you’re not thinking about as you throw fabric and scissors into boxes.  Those are: pain killers, a water bottle, a heating pad, comfortable shoes, and Ziploc bags.  Sewing for hours a day can cause some physical discomfort.  The pain killers and heating pad go a long way in stopping any small aches before they turn into big ones.  Comfortable shoes are always a given, under any situation.  And stay hydrated!  After an hour of sewing, stand up, stretch, and drink some water.  Be as good to your body as you are to your quilt. Ziploc bags are handy for lots of things, from somewhere to stash your wet toothbrush to bringing home small scraps you may want to keep.
  • You may find one of these very handy:

These folding wagons are wonderful.  I have two of them.  One is only for beach use and has larger wheels that go across the sand easily.  This one is strictly for quilting use.  You can put a lot of stuff in one of these and wheel it to your sewing area.  It makes loading and unloading a breeze and I store my project boxes in it at retreats.  At home, it folds up neatly and takes up little storage space in my closet. 

  • There are lots of great quilt retreat packing lists on the internet.  I encourage you to search for one and use it.  There a couple of items you may want to add to that list just to make sure all your bases are covered:

Extra needles – both sewing machine and hand

Your cell phone and iPad and their chargers

Your foot pedals and power cords to your machine ask me how I know this.

Clothing that can be layered.  This is important, because temperatures can vary greatly – both yours and the rooms’. 

Lastly, make sure all of your paperwork is in order – any balance owed is paid, you have the roommate requested (if you have one), and you know the address of the location.  This last item is important for two reasons.  First (and the most obvious) is so you can plug it into your GPS.  Second, make sure your emergency contact knows where the retreat is located.  God forbid anything happen on a quilt retreat, but if it does, they will know where to find you.  It’s also a really good idea to make sure the Retreat Leader is aware of your emergency contact information as well as any food or medical allergies you may have.  Most retreat registrations forms have a space for this.  Make sure it’s filled out accurately and legibly.  And if you have any medications or special foods you need that require refrigeration, ask if there is a refrigerator you can stash your stuff in or if you can bring an ice chest. 

Whew.  I think that covers most of it.  Every time I pack for a quilt retreat, I learn something new.  But what I really want to leave you with is this:  if you have an opportunity to attend a quilt retreat – even if it’s just a one-day retreat – take advantage of it.  You will get a ton of stuff done, you’ll enjoy wonderful quilty fellowship, you’ll learn something new, and make new quilting friends.  Quilt retreats are truly worth every dime and every minute of preparation.  And if there isn’t a quilt retreat in your area, why not develop your own?  Grab a few quilting buddies, find a location, and set up for the day.  Everyone can bring their own lunch and order pizza for dinner.  If it’s a small group, someone’s house may work just fine.  If it’s a larger group, a church fellowship hall or library room may be available for minimal or no cost.  It doesn’t have to be fancy-smancy.  What counts is the fellowship and the progress on projects.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam 

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