Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Plan a Quilt Retreat

How often do I dream of being able to sew surrounded by other people who have a passion for quilting? Most times I sit down to my sewing machine the telephone rings, my two little girls declare world war 3 on each other or the cat decides to roll around on all my quilt block pieces.

I've searched for Quilt Retreats in my area but have never found anything. When I lamented about this to Krista from Poppyprints she told me tht she runs her own quilt retreats and would be happy to share her experience with us.

So get a cup of tea and read all about how to run a quilt retreat and you never know perhaps you'll find yourself running your own!

To Retreat, or not to Retreat….?

Are you a home-based quilter who socializes via the internet? Do you work full-time, quilt, run a household and raise kids simultaneously? Would you like an entire day, or better yet a whole weekend, free from family/work obligations to just SEW, EAT, LAUGH and (possibly) SLEEP?

Then you need a quilting retreat!!

For five years I’ve been hosting a day retreat for 25 women every 7 or 8 weeks. We are together from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. I cater the food, provide coffee/tea all day, set-up 3 ironing stations, an iPod loaded with chick-approved tunes, 2 large cutting mats, raised tables for basting/cutting, door prizes and goody bags. As is standard retreat protocol, every quilter gets her own table with plenty of room to spread out. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the success of this retreat – it has become a great small business that pays for my fabric obsession annually. Participants pay $65 Cdn for the day.

Once I’d had all my retreaters in training for a couple of years, I decided we should take the plunge and make a long weekend out of it. The biggest challenge was finding an appropriate venue. Luckily, a lodge on a local island fit the bill and off we went. We’ve been for three years now, every November, and it’s a cherished weekend for us all.

If you would like to start retreating with some friends, I have lots of ideas and recommendations for you…first and foremost: DO IT! The amount of work you can accomplish is incredible, the camaraderie priceless and, if you plan it well, the food amazing! Start small and watch your group grow as friends invite friends. I advertise my day retreats via email distribution list on a Sunday evening and am typically sold out by 5 p.m. the next day.

Here are some considerations when planning your retreat.

Bowen Lodge By the Sea


• Church or community halls are ideal for day retreats – they are inexpensive and typically have tables/chairs included in the rental. Find out if the caretaker will help with set-up and if this costs extra. My husband helps me set up the room the night before.

• Is it far enough away that your family won’t be tempted to visit, but close enough to be accessible to most participants? The hall I use is 25 minutes away by car.

• Be sure to confirm the electrical situation: we’ve blown our fair share of fuses! Irons are a massive draw and should be on their own breaker. Three irons/boards is plenty for 24 people.

• How is the lighting? Washrooms? Kitchen & cupboard supplies?

• Is there a sound system? If you plan to have music, make sure your participants know this ahead of time – believe it or not, this can be the most contentious issue at retreat.

• Is there enough parking? Always encourage carpooling.

• How early can you get in and how late can you stay?

sandwiching Chinese coin quilt


• Be very clear with your participants as to start and finish time. I do not assign seats (too complicated), nor do I let people in early to save spots for their friends…it’s first come, first serve and when I open the door at 9:00 a.m., it is a stampede!

• Morning baking (scones, granola bars, muffins) are available upon arrival. Lunch is served at 12:30, dinner at 6:00, wrap up and departure at 10:00 p.m.). We usually have show and tell around 4:00 and do door prizes at that time as well.

• My retreats are all ‘UFO’ style, meaning everyone works on their own projects independently. Sometimes one of us will do a brief demo of a new technique, or show a new notion/quilting tool we have discovered.

retreat view2 2009


• Start with people you know or who have been referred – they will be more understanding and appreciative of your organization and effort. It can be a challenge to have a room full of disparate folks who do not know each other, or you. An extraordinarily needy participant can suck all of your energy and, quite honestly, really ruin the day.

• Be clear about what you are offering – will you be available to give advice and help? Will you assist people basting quilts? Will you carry machines back and forth to cars? Can you accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions? Do you provide extension cords & power bars?

Retreat Feet


• The key to happy participants, is well-prepared participants. Create a checklist of ‘Items to Bring’ for your quilters. The most devastating item that is inevitably forgotten by a home-sewist is their foot pedal!

• Everyone needs: sewing machine, rotary cutting equipment, a desk light, cushion to sit on (or their own office chair!), extension cord/power bar, all project supplies.

• At my retreats we have a swap zone for sewing room items no longer wanted – my only proviso is that whatever doesn’t get scooped up must be taken home by it’s
original owner!


Once you are ready to take the plunge to overnight retreats, I think the two most important factors are comfortable beds and decent food. In my experience, participants are very happy to pay for these amenities. Also fairly important: will you have free reign of the venue so that you can quilt in your jammies into the night, or when you wake up at 5:00 a.m.? This is tough to do in a hotel setting, which is why small lodges typically run by non-profits, universities or church camps are perfect retreat venues.

If you have any questions or need more specific information on hosting a retreat (like sample dinner menu for 25), I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me via my blog!


  1. you are clearly destined to be my mentor! firstly on colour and contrast and now on the quilting retreat. I first read about these on Nancy's blog (With thead in hand) and wished i lived in the us and not over here in the uk. And then I got to thinking about organizing one. So I am in the process of planning one for next spring at home (am I mad?!). I could only cope with 8 people so it would be a small affair. And they will all be people who have become blogland friends. So they will know it's a home affair and not something more professional. But if it's a success, maybe I can follow your idea and do it more regularly! I may be back for more advice over the next few monts if that's ok. Sorry about sloppy typing. rotary cutter injury last night :-(

  2. I've been wanting to host a small retreat. I co-hosted a scrapbooking one once, and it wasn't nearly so professional as the one described--and I didn't charge money. I'd prefer to do a relaxed event with around 8 people and we'd all chip in for food from Costco or something simple like that. The type of things I've done have been very enjoyable, and I'd love to do a quilting one! What fun!!

  3. the foot picture is genius!

  4. What an interesting post! I am certain this is not a kind of event that could happen near my place, but it was very interesting nevertheless.

  5. What a fabulous post! Makes me want to start organizing quilt retreats! I attended my first quilting retreat very recently, and it turned out to be the best experience I've ever had. I had never met any of the women in person, but we were all fellow bloggers, so we got along great. We were up until 2am one night, sewing and laughing hysterically. I'm hoping we do it again every year.

  6. this sounds so fun! i started with a couple of classes this summer, but would love to move up to an all day event. i like that people would bring their own projects rather than me teaching the whole time.


  7. I have been attending various quilt camps in my area for the past 4 or 5 years. We have a great location that does all of the food and bedding. We go from Wed to Sun for about $200 and we do this one twice a year. I also do a quilt camp with 3 other ladies at one of their cabins about 2 hrs away from us - we preplan all of the food so its super easy and we always get a done of stuff done.

  8. What perfect timing for this post in my life. I have been thinking about this lately. My co-workers have their own established quilt retreats and I've never been on one, but I'd love to. So it makes me think that I just need to organize one myself. Thanks for all the great info!!

  9. I would love to do a retreat!! Great post.

  10. great information Krista! :)

    I need to think about doing something like this one day... ;)

  11. Wow, what wonderful information! I think I may have to journey down to the coast for one of Krista's retreats...sounds better (and easier) than starting my own!

  12. How interesting. I have never done a sewing retreat but it sounds like a ton of fun.

  13. Krista - this is fabulous! I've never been to a retreat, but I must find the time!

  14. I've been on several retreats and they are always SO MUCH FUN! One is at a hotel but we're able to stay in the room and sew all night if we want. One is actually in a retreat house in Wisconsin. We coordinate meals and bring lots of snacks and stay up all night and sing along with Sting and Barry Manilow. It's always an amazing time!!

  15. Thanks for all the information. I would like to organize a retreat one day. A weekend of sewing and creating would be fun.

  16. (Hi Lynne, first commenter) I love my retreats.. I go to one with a LQS, one with my quilt guild and at least two with a couple of friends on our own to a local resort. I LOVE THEM!! In fact, I leave Monday am for my guild retreat...and should be cutting kits right now...(and packing my foot pedal!)

  17. woops...forgot to say that I am always in charge of a the Mystery Project at my guild retreats...

    It's always a small project that can be finished in less than an hour and they only get a supply list...

  18. Reaching retirement age, my husband told me to get a hobby since I was not a sports fan and he was. Quilting was my first choice, and yes, I love it. I have been on a couple of retreats and just love it. I have a home on Lake Lanier,GA that is rarely used by the family, so I have decided to convert it into a Quilting retreat. I am able to house 6-8 people,4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms. I have a workspace that is 1200-1400 square feet. Any advise on the pros/cons of having a retreat in a home. I have looked into a business license and extra insurance.

  19. Had a great time at a quilt retreat on Lake Lanier Ga in August 2010. The private home converted into a retreat center was spacious, plenty of food and drinks.It was 2 full days of quilting and fun. During parts of the day, the host had a 5 minute yoga breathing/stretch segment which was wonderful. Kept our energy up with great music. The sleeping arrangemtents was so comfortable.All of this for $305.00 I recommend this to anyone who wants to have fun and a mini vacation. Phone # is 678-907-6752 if you want to reserve a spot on the calendar.

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