Tips for a Great Quilt Retreat

My guild, Sarasota Modern Quilt Guild, just held its first very successful modern quilt retreat.  I worked with several wonderfully talented members of the guild to plan and run the retreat and I thought I’d share some of our major lessons learned, along with lessons I learned running my own retreats.

Happy and Tired at the end of the Retreat!
Happy and Tired at the end of the Retreat!

Keep it Small? or Large?

We had 42 attendees–so our retreat was ‘medium’ sized.  Because of the room arrangement and the icebreakers, we had a very friendly atmosphere.  There was a lot of visiting and chatting, and people mingled a lot at lunch and dinner as well.   When you get 50 or more people, it can get a bit impersonal.  We tend to stick with the people we know.  And, if a person attends on their own, they may end up feeling isolated and left out of the social side like lunch and dinner.  Make sure you have several activities that help people get to know each other.

Room Requirements–SPACE and Arrangement!!

Some guilds try to maximize the use of the space and require attendees to share a 6 or 8 foot table.  That may let you pack more people in, but it definitely has a negative effect on the quilters and their ability to work comfortably.  Venues also tend to pack the tables way too close together so the aisles get a bit dangerously cluttered. Quilters bring a lot of bins and rolling bags with all our wonderful Stuff.

Find a venue that has a very large room and meet with the room/maintenance staff so they understand exactly how you want to set it up. They may or may not be used to quilt retreats and assume you want the tables in rows, classroom style.  We set our tables up in sets of four.

For our retreat,  we made sure everyone had a large 6 foot table all to themselves.  We also left PLENTY of walking around space between the tables and large open areas in the middle for cutting tables, ironing stations and big trash cans.

Everyone had a long table. They were spread a good distance apart.
Everyone had a long table. They were spread a good distance apart.


quilt reatreat room set up
We even had an area with just a semi-circle of chairs to gather for demos!

Ice Breakers and Lunch/Dinner Buddies

Even if you think that everyone knows everyone else, I always suggest having an opening ice breaker.  This was really important for our retreat because we had about 30% non guild members and some fairly new guild members attending the retreat.

I created a Quilt Signature Bingo game with several prizes.  The game required everyone to get up and walk around around the room to meet and get signatures.  You had to walk up to an individual, chat for a few seconds and then see what space they could sign on your card.  I’ve uploaded  a PDF version of our card here– Quilt Signature Bingo 4-9-2016   If you’d like the Word document, contact me directly and I’ll be very happy to email it to you.

Lunch Buddies or Dinner Buddies is an idea I’ve used at other events, especially where most people don’t know each other.  Assign people in groups of 3 or 4 to go to lunch on the first or second day (not every day!).  This means you have to know the ‘friend’ groups and make sure you form groups that don’t know each other well.  I would only do this once during the retreat because we also want to gather with our friends during the retreat.

Quilt Retreat Photo Gallery

And, here’s a few more photos of some of the action! Everyone was helpful and coached each other during the quilt retreat.  We all learned a lot through the tutorials by Lou on liberated blocks, Pat on modern wonky birds, my impropmptu tutorials on no-pin curved piecing and Jann’s one day workop on fabric dyeing.  What a fabulous quilt retreat–we’re all looking forward to 2017.

One of my previous students won a ribbon for her quilt at a local quilt show!! She took the pattern and techniques and created her own improvisational version! Love it!!
Some of the Give-Aways. Of course we gave away fabric too!
Pat taught a modern Bird Block min-workshop. Here’s part of her flock…
quilt retreat modern quilt in progress
I worked with a participant to create an alternate grid layout for the blocks she made during the retreat. Notice that lovely curved block! Love the curves!!
Another participant took her conventionally pieced blocks and cut off the outside borders randomly. She then used the strips to make an alternate grid layout. Sooo creative!!
A memory quilt in progress using shirts and ties from a relative. Creative and beautiful.
Blocks made using Patchwork City book and now we’re creating an alternate grid layout. Love her colors!

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5 thoughts on “Tips for a Great Quilt Retreat”

  1. I found it so interesting to read about the retreats and retreat sizes. I’ve only been to one, it was in France for a week with tuition from Sandie Lush. There was only 8 of us including Sandie and it included trips out and an evening trip to a restaurant. Did I have a good time.

    1. Well…a quilt retreat in France sounds like heaven to me. And the small size of the group made it extra special, I’m sure. For many years, I attended the Quilt Design Symposium and took intensive classes that were small size. I’m thinking I’d like to lead some small retreats like this in 2017….we’ll see!!

        1. Hi Penny, I am not planning a retreat in 2017–and thanks so much for your kind request! However, there are some other options.
          The Sarasota Modern Quilt Guild [] is having a retreat first week of April. We may have some spots open. And…there’s QuiltCon in February in Savannah GA.

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