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You Need a Quilt Retreat in Your Life

This blog is about a subject near and dear to my heart – quilt retreats you thought I would say fabric, didn’t you?

I love quilt retreats.  Overnighters, day trippers, you name a quilt retreat and if at all possible you can sign me up.  Why am I so crazy about these?  For me, a person who still works more than full-time, these are uninterrupted hours of sewing with a group of people who share my same passion and probably the same warped sense of humor.  Usually great food and wine involved.  Annnnnnd chocolate.  What’s not to love?  Seriously, if you never heed one other word of my quilty advice, if you have a chance to go on a quilt retreat, do it.   It’s so much fun. 

You’ll have a great time, but you will also get a great deal accomplished.  All those projects you never really have time for – you can start on those at a quilt retreat.  However, it’s important to remember a quilt retreat is a little different from a vacation and it’s pretty imperative you plan accordingly.  And that’s what this blog is about – how to plan for a quilt retreat and implement that plan. So, without further ado, here’s Sherri’s Plan of Action for Quit Retreats.

  1.  Read your registration and keep a copy with you.  The registration form usually comes with some key information, such as the address of the location (so you can plug it into your GPS), mealtimes, check-in time, and location of the sewing space.  If you worry you might lose this piece of paper or it may be shuffled somewhere you can’t find it, do what I do:  Take a picture of it with your phone right before you leave.  This way it will be the first picture on your camera roll, and you’ll always have easy access to it.
  2. Start Prepping Early.  Just like a retreat is different than a vacation, so is the packing.  Besides the clothing and other essentials, you also have to pack your projects.  I’ll go over how I pack my projects in a bit, but now I want to talk about how important it is to prep your projects before you pack.  There are a couple of ways to approach this subject.  If you want to spend a good chunk of your time prepping your applique pieces and cutting things out at the retreat, you may want to breeze over this section.  However, if you’re like me and want to maximize your sewing time, try to prep as much as possible at home.  My prep plan goes like this:
  3. For machine applique, I have all my applique pieces traced on my fusible web.  Time permitting, I will have these fused to the fabric.  Ideally, I would like to have all my pieces cut out, bagged and tagged, and ready to fuse once I’m set up at retreat.  I also like to have the pattern traced onto the background.
  • For prepared edge applique, either by hand or machine, minimally I like to have all my applique pieces prepped, bagged and tagged, and ready to sew.  Ideally, I would also like to have my pattern traced onto the background fabric.  In a perfect world, I would have my applique pieces pinned or glued to the background so I can pick it up and start sewing.
  • For pieced quilts, I do all my cutting at home.  I’m more comfortable in my cutting space.  I also bag and tag the units for ease of construction – i.e. all the 2 ½-inch squares for one block unit go in one bag, the squares for HST construction in another.  Then I label the bags so I know what I’m grabbing. 
  • If I need to press any fabric (such as backing or other large quilt pieces or fabric before it’s subcut), I do that at home.  It’s no fun spending valuable sewing time on pressing fabric.   
  • I begin prep work about a month before the retreat.  Why so early?  Well, I still work a full-time job, so my time is limited.  If I begin early, I can make sure I’ve prepped correctly and well.  Also, if I make a mistake, this gives me time to make a mad dash back to my LQS or order additional fabric online and get it before I have to leave. 

Once everything is prepped, you can start packing your projects.  My favorite way to transport my retreat projects is in project boxes. 

I use one box per project and label each box.  In this box I place the prepped pieces, the fabric (just in case I make a mistake, I can cut additional pieces out), the pattern, any matching thread or specialty thread, and any special notions or rulers.  If I’ve already begun work on the project, I also make a note of exactly where I’m at in the construction process.  Usually I mark this on the pattern.

One your projects are prepped and ready to go, now it’s time to think about your machine(s) and the sewing notions you use every time you sit down to quilt.  Once you’ve decided which one (or how many) of your sewing machines you want to take with you, do a basic run-though before packing it.  This is especially important if you plan to take a machine you don’t use every day.  Set the machine up and do a practice sew session.  Be sure the machine is cleaned and oiled before packing it (and don’t forget to pack the power cord and foot pedal).  You may even want  to have it serviced prior to attending a retreat.  I normally attend a quilt retreat in October, which is several days long.  I make an appointment in September to have my sewing machine serviced, so I know it’s ready for a grueling four-days of non-stop stitching.  This has always worked pretty well for me. 

Now for notions.  It’s easy to forget something you use.  I have a plan of action which generally cuts down on my leaving something behind.  I put a bucket or plastic bin near my sewing machine a few weeks before the retreat.  Every time I use a tool or notion, I drop it in the bin or bucket.  When it comes time to pack my regularly used notions and tools, they’re all together.

Make sure you have bobbins for the machine you’re taking.  You may want to wind several bobbins in neutral threads and have them ready, or you may want to purchase some prewounds.  And it’s a good idea to pack a few empty bobbins, just in case you need them.  If hand applique is on your retreat agenda, you may find winding any colored thread on bobbins to be a space saver.  Bobbins take up much less room than spools. 

Finally take your rotary cutters and scissors for a test drive.  If either are dull, it’s a good idea to fix that bothersome issue before you leave.  Change the blade in your rotary cutters (and packing a few extra blades is a great idea) and either have your scissors sharpened or replace those. 

As you pack, remember these items:

  • A travel iron and pressing station
  • Portable lights – the light in the sewing room may be great during the day, but it may be a completely different story at night.
  • A small ruler stand
  • Extra feet for your machine – such as a walking foot, quarter-inch foot, free motion foot, and zipper foot.
  • Extra sewing machine needles in all needed sizes
  • Some kind of container to keep all your “normal” sewing notions together
  • Thread catcher
  • Pin Cushion
  • Small cutting mat
  • A mat for your machine to help keep it from vibrating or wobbling on those plastic retreat tables
  • At least one more project than you think you’ll get completed – you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll finish
  • Tool caddy
  • Extension cord and power strip

These are standard retreat supplies.   However, the following are some items I’ve found pretty handy to have:

  1.  Pain reliever.  You will be sitting hunched over a machine for much longer stretches than you are at home.  You may need something to help with the aches and pains.  And while we’re on the subject of our-backs-and-butts-are-not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be, let me encourage you to ALWAYS (not just at retreat), take a break after sewing for an hour.  Stand up.  Stretch.  Hydrate.
  2. A heating pad/extra zip-lock bags for ice.  I’ve found both helpful for my neck and shoulders.
  3. Minimally, a cushion for your chair.  Ideally your own sewing chair.  No matter how wonderful your retreat location and facilities are, chances are the chairs used are not made for people who spend hours at a sewing machine.  A cushion can help correct this situation.  Your own sewing chair can solve it completely.
  4. A planner/list.  By the end of retreat, I want to have some projects complete.  The others I really hope to have constructed to a certain point.  If you have a general idea of what you want to do, a list can keep you on track – which projects need to be finished, and what stages you’d like the others to be at by the time you leave.

Lastly, as a good friend of mine once told me,“A retreat is for fun – not a four-day sweatshop.”  In other words, don’t feel you have to sew every minute.  Fellowship.  Eat well.  Enjoy the time away from home and the opportunity to be with people who share the same passion as you do.  Take care of yourself while you’re there.  Try to keep a regular sleep schedule.  It’s so tempting to stay up all night sewing (and it’s not like I haven’t done that before at retreat either), but remember you reap what you sew.  If you do this, you won’t feel as well the next day.  And eventually retreat has to end – even though we don’t want it to – and we must return to the real world and pick up where we left off.

If you have the opportunity to attend a quilt retreat, I encourage you to give one a try.  They’re so much fun and you do get a lot done.  Always remember you can plan your own mini-retreat.  Talk with some quilty friends and plan an out-of-town get away or a day retreat at a church fellowship hall or some other location – someone’s home works just as well.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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