Way way back many centuries ago…okay, many moons ago a suggestion was made: who would be interested in going on a sewing retreat? (Who can name the musical referred to here?!) This seemed like a dream come true – a weekend away, no cooking to be done, sitting sewing to your heart’s content. The deposit was duly paid, and the date was noted – the first weekend in December. As the first mention of the retreat was back in April, we had a while to wait. Fast forward to September, and we were reminded about paying the balance.
Then something else happened…a secret Facebook messenger group for those going on the retreat – with the exception of Sylvia Priest. This messenger group got very busy – planning some surprises for the weekend, as it happened to be Sylvia’s birthday on the Saturday. There were messages going backwards and forwards, pictures of goodies and our makes.
Very helpfully, there was a file on the Facebook page, so that we could make sure we had all the things we needed to bring – and there were quite a few extras, not including the surprises. There was no obligation to bring the extras, but we could if we wanted to. What were the extras? We had a 10.5” QAYG block for a quilt for a Women’s Refuge, 6.5” or 12.5” (orphan) blocks for Quilts for Christmas Dinners, toiletries for a women’s refuge, Secret Santa / Secret Quilter gift.
The messenger group – and the main Bloggerati page showed the excitement that was building; some of the ladies (and it was the ladies who were commenting) were planning on what to take at the end of September – which was far too early for me, as I had a number of other projects to get on and complete. I will confess that I was a bit of a party pooper – I couldn’t think about packing or getting things ready to take at the end of September, in fact I was lucky to get myself organised by the day before the retreat! By the start of November, those on retreat were already thinking about what time they would arrive, and then came the frightening thought about whether our machines needed to be PAT tested (yes, thank you for that Juliet!), and that would have implications for irons as well. Luckily, Jonathan had it in hand – and reassured us that we didn’t need to worry about PAT testing, and Helen sought out the official information from a Health and Safety Officer (it helps to have friends and family in high places!).
Jane Galley wrote a blog about her feelings in the run up to the retreat, which was published on 24th November – titled “Should I Go, Or Should I Stay”; if you haven’t read it, head there and read it (after finishing this one) – and it struck a chord with me, as I realised I was a bit nervous about attending a retreat with some big names from the quilting world, and feeling out of my depth. That feeling of ‘will I be part of the group or will I be an outsider?’, the (erroneous) belief that everyone else knows each other already.
Finally the day of the retreat approached, and boy did those in the messenger group know it! You could tell that people were getting a bit excited by it all, as the phone / iPad took up ‘dinging’ at all times of the day or night. The night before the retreat the messenger group was in overdrive – details of cars given so that people could meet up at the services, pictures of the packing – complete with a cat in a case. To give it some context, Nina summed it up perfectly with “HELP – 253 unread messages…what do I REALLY need to know???” . The messages continued with one at 2.30am, and then they started again at 6.30am.
The day had finally arrived, and the messages continued from early on. The phone dinged persistently during the drive up the M5 – I looked at the phone to see that I had 12 unread messages (just from the Messenger group). Later, there were an additional 5 unread messages and so it went on. As the phone continued with its relentless ‘dinging’, I commented to my husband that from the messages going on, one could be forgiven for thinking that this retreat was simply a gaggle of teenage girls going for their first weekend away together without any parents!
Finally, we got to the venue, and my husband helped me to get settled in to the conference room. He had come with me – not for moral support, but because a weekend away by ourselves is a very rare treat! The light in the conference room was fantastic, even late into the night – no need for any additional lamps (although I’d taken one with me). The room at that point was looking quite tidy, and each work station was signposted with a tote bag filled with quilting goodies!
I had arrived – and despite my thoughts about all these messages earlier in the day, I decided that it would be REALLY funny to post a message saying that I had arrived and was set up – just to hear the ‘dings’ that would then resound around the room! Soon after I had posted, the ‘dings’ were heard, and people were seen looking at their phones. More and more people arrived, and it was interesting to put faces to names. From the blogs and posts on the Facebook pages and groups, I had subconsciously assigned faces and personalities to the names – and was wrong on all counts!
A lot of talking went on, and a lot of sewing too. I managed to piece a quilt top, and also a wallhanging – both of which now need to be layered and quilted. Emma Bradford told us about the Women’s Refuge Quilt, Maggie Lloyd Jones told us about the Christmas Dinners project, and Helen Howes did some impromptu tutorials for 2 blocks. I also started to piece a quilt top for the Quilts for Christmas Dinners, and have brought it home to finish, along with blocks for another quilt. The Quilts for Christmas Dinners was far and away the most productive part of the weekend, and inspired a few more ideas in me, and also provoked some questions that I shall be chasing up too.
The weekend away was fantastic – and I hope I haven’t given too much away, after all – “What happens on retreat, stays on retreat” – except for the quilts, the blogs, the fun, the friendship. The venue was perfect, the food was amazing – the lunch included different items both times (I’ve been to training on consecutive days where exactly the same thing was served), the evening meal choices were varied and delicious, and the breakfast even included fried bread (which is rarely to be seen in establishments these days, and always reminds me of breakfast at Grandma’s house!).
By the end of the weekend we said goodbye to physical friends, having met as virtual friends at the start of the retreat. We had shared our triumphs, our stories, and some of our secrets. We had met and rubbed shoulders with some big names in the UK quilting world, and we achieved a lot. Having met the people behind the names, it has given me a new way of reading the blogs and comments – I can now picture the people behind the words.
If you haven’t been on a sewing retreat (and I hadn’t until this past weekend) – give yourself a present and a break you deserve. You will meet up with a bunch of people with a shared love of fabric-y goodness, and great fun will be had by all!