I spent last weekend at quilting retreat with some of my friends from work (one of whom no longer works for Purple Systems, but we still all keep in touch). Due to one thing or another, I hadn’t been able to go up to the retreat house since fall of 2010, so I was especially ready to join the ladies for a couple days of sewing and chatting and eating and hanging out. I’d planned to take Friday off so I could take my time driving up, maybe make a few stops along the way (I haven’t been in a quilt shop in so very long it’s hard for me to believe), but my department is so busy that I ended up working until 2 in the afternoon on my vacation day. There’d been a winter storm come through Thursday night, but my commute into the office Friday morning wasn’t too bad, just slow, and by the time I hit the road to drive north a few hours for the retreat, the roads were pretty much clear, with just a few windblown drifts to contend with. I made it to the house in plenty of time to make dinner (the meal I’d signed up for; we take turns cooking during the weekend, which in my case means heating things up and setting out a mini-salad bar). After dinner, there was sewing and hard cider and sewing and chocolate coconut martinis and sewing. Fortunately, I wasn’t doing anything especially complicated, just assembling squares into rows.
The squares I was working with were those for the very long delayed calendar quilt, which I’ve mentioned here before, pretty much every time I update my quilting to do list. It was inspired by an article I read in Threads by Nancy Halpern, who’d made a small quilt block for every day in a year, a sort of fabric diary. I started my version of the project on the summer solstice in 2000. I didn’t wait until the calendar year started because I wanted to incorporate the fabrics that had come out for the millennium, many of which had 2000 printed on them. I had no idea that as the year of my project progressed, my mom would have breast cancer and my dad would die of throat cancer. I documented those events in fabric along with normal everyday stuff like talking walks around the lake by my office and having pizza for lunch. But when the year was over and it was time to sew the blocks together, I faltered. I’d put them up on the felt wall and then take them down, not wanting to deal with the feelings they brought up. Eventually I packed them away in my closet so I didn’t have to see them at all, and I stopped putting the project on my quilt to do list when I updated it. When thinking about what to work on for the retreat, I remembered it, and the time felt right. It took me a little while to recall where I’d put it, and a bit longer to figure out what layout I’d decided on. I’d obviously decided on something, as the squares were stacked neatly in groups of 19 with scrap strips between them, with the four square for the season changes pulled out on their own. Once I refreshed my memory, I was off and sewing. One woman said she’d never seen me sew so much at a retreat—I usually spend a fair bit of time seeing what everyone else is working on and offering advice when asked. By late Saturday night, I had the center portion of the top assembled. I’d felt sad during some of the sewing, but I also got happy and amused and surprised. I think the retreat was the perfect place to work on this project again, with friends around me, some of whom were the same friends who were there for me when my mom was sick and my dad was dying.
I hadn’t brought any fabric for borders of the calendar quilt, partly because I wasn’t sure I’d get that far and partly because I couldn’t find the ones I was looking for when I was packing up. So Sunday I worked on my usual retreat project, the scrappy strippy foundation pieced blocks. I’m pretty sure I’ve brought these to every retreat I’ve ever been to. I’ve incorporated scraps from the other ladies at the retreats into them (and I’m not above going through the trash by the cutting board to get more, either). Someday I do plan to make a quilt with them, and I even have a layout in mind, but for now I’m content to just sew more of them. It’s a low stress, hard to mess up project that gives me plenty of mental bandwidth left to chat while I work on them, making it a great retreat project, when I’m routinely sewing late into the night, often while a bit tipsy. Eventually we did have to pack up our projects and machines and clear out, even though we’d brought enough food to last at least another day or two. It was great fun, and I hope it’s not another two plus years before I can go again.
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