St. Francis Retreat Center, San Juan Bautista, California
Author: Pam Holt
How do you adequately describe the joy experienced by 24 quilters during their first, in person SVMQG quilt retreat post pandemic? It was clear our quilters were up for a busy and somewhat competitive weekend full of activity and fellowship which included 24 negative, on site, covid tests, 24 smiling faces, 24 humming sewing machines, six busy irons, four ever changing design walls, 4 raffle baskets, door prizes, games, dance parties(Girls Just Want to Have Fun), charity sewing, and more.
Preparation is the key to a successful retreat and our committee took their responsibilities seriously. Ice dye tote bags held our SWAG which included donations from several merchants including The Granary Quilt Shop, Meissner Sewing & Vacuum Centers, etc. Each quilter received a name tag for their workstation, a monogrammed glass and other sewing tools. A favorite was a miniature sewing center in a hinged box hand-crafted by @small.town.vintage, complete with books, tools and a 3d printed sewing machine by @Jeff_and_rubytheredbone. The committee created a meet and greet face sheet with hand carved monogram stamps to mark our progress. Home made embroidered badges were created to mark accomplishments for early birds, late birds, project completion, exercise breaks and a host of other quilty activities.
St Francis Retreat Center was the home to our little gathering. While our group has been active on Zoom throughout the pandemic, this was the first time so many of us were together in person in over a year. We shared our projects, our hopes and dreams for future projects, our distinct disappointment about unfinished projects and delight over finished work. We created our own ever changing store in the lobby of quilting supplies and fabric that might find a home in somebody else’s studio. Quilters don’t like to waste anything. The retreat center catered breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we added wine and cheese, and snacks including sewing machine shaped cookies.
The vibrancy of our color choices was amazing to all. We had seen many of these quilts on zoom, but up close and personal is by far the best way to appreciate a quilt. In depth conversations about how a quilt design was conceived were freely shared. Inspiration was everywhere. Oh what fabric we fondled and we all cheered when a UFO was completed.
How lovely it was to have a chance to partner with another quilter to puzzle out the best way to finish a bias binding or create a 60° angle in a quilt block, and to cut it efficiently, and to arrange it in a pleasing fashion. What a coincidence to find two quilters, who were inspired by the same design, and both had brought that design to work on and complete at the retreat.
Some of us showed real persistence in coming with one project that they were determined to finish, whether it was piecing a complicated color palette or machine quilting a large quilt on their domestic machine. Tenacity was encouraged by all.
Pulling together to sew for charity was an important part of our gathering. Each time we visit St Francis we work on a quilt to donate to brighten their ascetic rooms; this retreat was no exception. Everybody did a little and volunteers were found to take the blocks home to piece and ultimately quilt our donation.
We also partnered with Sew For Love in keeping our scraps out of landfill. They supplied us with a Cubie Chair and we filled it with all of our scraps. By the end of the retreat, it was almost full.
Learning and teaching new skills is always a part of an SVMQG gathering. Michele taught us how to make fabric boxes:
We all left the retreat with a sense of deep connection to an extraordinary group of creative quilters. “You are my tribe”, said one new member. Joy, friendliness, support and inspiration buoyed us on our way home. We can’t wait for our 2023 retreat! Thanks to the organizing staff: Jenny, Renee, Michele, Cyndi, Pam and the consistent support of the guild president, Sarah.