Friday 3 April 2015

Is it Worth Attending a Quilting Retreat?

It's not cheap to attend a quilting retreat. There's the overall cost of the retreat, plus an additional cost for each kit used in the workshops. Add to that accommodation, travel expenses and incidental, must have fabric purchases and you will have racked up a reasonable sum of money. Having recently attended a three day quilting retreat, I thought I'd share my experiences. 

The benefits of attending a quilting retreat ~ Threading My Way

A phenomenal amount of work goes into organising a retreat. Much of its success depends on this organisation (most of which we probably don't see). Ten out of ten, Anne Sommerlad Designs!!! Everything ran seamlessly.

Foundation Paper Piecing - this is the side you sew from. Later on you tear the paper off.

There were almost 60 people in attendance, organised into 3 rotating groups, with a new workshop and different tutor each day:
  • Miniature Foundation Paper Piecing - table runner - Anne Sommerlad
  • Fussy Cutting and English Paper Piecing - sewing tote bag - Rachael Porter
  • Three Dimensional Appliqué - brooch or Autumn wall hanging - Petal Davies

Foundation Paper Piecing - the front side before it's trimmed. See how tiny it is. That's less than 4cm if you talk metric.

I'd previously done a little Foundation Paper Piecing, but never in miniature. Thankfully all the fabric was cut into the required tiny sizes. I swear there must be 100s and 100s of little pieces of fabric!!! 

Clover Finger Presser

I often finger press instead of getting up and pressing individual seams with an iron. Well, guess what, I now have a very handy gadget called a Finger Presser. I'd never heard of one before the retreat.

Foundation Paper Pieced Flying Geese

As the projects are quite large, there's obviously not enough time to finish an entire project at the retreat. Detailed instructions for each project are included, along with email addresses for each tutor. We also received a goody bag with extra patterns, notions, quilt labels and a handy sewn wine coaster.

English Paper Piecing - 8 diamonds sewn into a star. Fussy cutting mirror enables different designs to be created easily

I find hand sewing quite therapeutic and that's how English Paper Piecing is done. You take perfectly good fabric, cut it into small, geometric shapes and then sew it back together with tiny, stitches. Everyone was given the same fabrics, but thanks to a fussy cutting mirror, we all produced different designs.

English Paper Piecing - back of project. Papers are removed later in the project

It's always good to learn new techniques, especially if it's something you might shy away from. Glue and fabric and not something I usually put in the same sentence, but I'm getting used to glueing fabric instead of basting like I normally do.

When researching online, I'll pick and choose what techniques to use. A workshop with a tutor sometimes forces me out of my comfort zone - using glue on fabric being one such case.

More EPP done since coming home - a long way to go yet.

There were no rules to the third workshop and that in itself can be hard. Sometimes structure can be easier than freedom, but once you get used to it, the creativity starts to begin.

Three Dimensional Appliqué - using small scraps of fabric, free motion stitching, an embroidery hoop & water soluble stabiliser.

My natural way of learning, in most areas of my life, is to teach myself - do my research, practise the new skill, make a few mistakes, extra research and more practise until I feel I know what I'm doing. Sewing is no exception. With ready access to knowledge online, in books and patterns, combined with a good grounding in sewing, I find it's relatively easy to expand my sewing skills.

Using information gained online, you do sometimes have to be selective, though. As with other things in life, sewing is slowly changing and evolving and I think that's a good thing. Creativity brings out original ideas and new ways to do things. However, in amongst the many, many good ideas and creativity online, there can sometimes be found less than stellar tutorials and instructions. Does this matter? It's controversial. One day I'll devote a whole post to this topic. It's a tricky one.

Never the less, online is where I source most of my information. Experience does help in knowing how to navigate and which information to take or disregard.

Back of Autumn leaf showing monofilament holding the scraps together.

However, at a retreat, you are guaranteed reliable information showing how to sew with correct techniques. Yes, there'll be variations between tutors, but that's more a matter of style.

Nothing beats learning with an experienced teacher to fill in all the little gaps that might be missing. Over the course of the two quilting retreats, I have learnt many new things from the instructors. Funnily enough, the skills I am most excited about, are little things, such as how to tie a quilter's knot and how to stop and start with a sewing machine without a knot or backstitching. 

Maybe Google could help me find those techniques, but I'd have to know they existed in the first place to search for them. These little, incidental techniques and skills are rarely found in patterns and tutorials, whether they be free online, or purchased from brick and mortar shops. Accomplished tutors take the hit and miss out of sewing.

Embroidery hoop with pantihose and Free Motion Embroidery

Reading my blog, I may appear to be reasonably confident and in some situations, I am. In social settings, however, I lack confidence. Once I really get to know someone, you can't shut me up, but I take a LONG time getting to know people to the point where I feel comfortable.

I'll be honest and say I am in awe, and sometimes a little jealous, of the social butterflies who can easily talk to people they've never met before.

Curling gum leaves with pantihose backing

In the days leading up to the retreat, I'll admit to being quite nervous. However, I know that once I get there, I'll be OK, even if I'm still reasonably shy. And, as with anything else, it gets easier the more I do it. 

Attending a quilting retreat really takes me out of my comfort zone, but it's so, so good for building confidence - the sewing side, yes, but more so the social side.

Gum leaves created by friends. They chose not to add them to their projects, so will be added to my wall hanging. Thanks, guys!!!

Last year three of us travelled up to Blackheath by car each day, whereas everyone else stayed for the three days. (We live much closer than everyone else.) This year four of us rented a cottage and had a girls' weekend away. It was FABULOUS - very relaxing and good fun!!! Days spent sewing, followed by an evening with wine, chocolates and chick flicks, in front of a log fire. What could be better? Thanks Rob, Sharon and Steph!!! Hope we get to do it again next year.

So, to answer my initial question, is it worth attending a quilting retreat? YES, YES & YES!!! Sure, it's not cheap, but to me it was worth every cent. It's not just the sewing, it's the whole package - fun, friendship, girls' weekend away and for me, stepping out of my comfort zone. It's an experience I look forward to repeating again, next year.

And, I just have to mentions the delicious, yummy food which was provided by the Blackheath Rotary Club - morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea each day. I'm sure I went home with a little extra weight!!! Time to step up the exercise.

Have you been lucky enough to attend a sewing retreat?

... Pam


  1. When I lived in TX, I went on an informal quilting retreat and it was only $50, we all just split the price of the rental. I was the youngest attendee and learned a lot from the older ladies. I wish I could find something similar around here.

  2. I took on the job of organising a twice yearly retreat for my quilt group and we have a great time. It's the complete break from household chores and cooking and the opportunity to sew as long as you like with a great bunch of people. We found a venue a short drive away and it has now become our ideal escape. I find that the group really appreciates the work I put in organising it so I am pleased when they all enjoy it so much.

  3. I've never gone on a sewing retreat - I get together with sewy friends every month or so - so that's my version of a retreat! Much junk food gets consumed, much laughter ensues, and usually, very little sewing gets completed - it's a blast, LOL!

  4. I have often wondered about going on a quilting retreat as I love going to classes, you have convinced me that I need to add this to my travel list Pam :)

  5. retreat?? All that learning in three days sounds stimulating and exhausting!
    When you say retreat around here, it's three days of peaceful sewing with friends at a center where someone else cooks for you and you sew your own thing. Still... what a cool set of really different skills were taught. I'm happy you went and gave us a review. I just love hand sewing on paper but don't like the idea of gluing instead of basting. Don't like glue much. How did you like it compared to thread? Faster isn't always better right? Leeanna at not afraid of color

  6. Loved this post! You seem to have had an amazing experience. The skills learnt, the fun had, amazing... Wishing you many more of such experiences.

  7. I would love to go along to one, but I have a feeling it's something that will have to wait till little ones are a little less little! Your experience looks amazing, and I'm sure there are hundreds of things that I don't know to look up in the first place. Who would ever think to look up sewing on pantihose like that for starters, what an amazingly creative idea, I'm sure there must be other applications for that too. And I hope we get to see your wall hanging when it's done.


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