We just wrapped up our second sewing retreat.
Whew. It feels so good to say it’s wrapped up but really, there’s still work to do. For one, this blog re-cap needs to be written, sponsors need to be thanked, survey’s need to be completed and Tessa and I need to meet to discuss our successes and areas of improvement for next time… not to mention if there will be a next time.
Spoiler alert- there will be a next time
That is, if my team is willing and able. That’s my number one tip on how to plan a sewing retreat– get help. Don’t do this alone. Having someone else also invested in your event means you don’t have to make all the hard decisions, make (sometimes uncomfortable) phone calls/emails, and do the physical labor of setting up and taking down the event.
It also means you get to share the excitement and joy. Excitement at seeing people line up at registration, so obviously happy at getting away from it all to just sew. Excitement and joy at learning something new about a hobby they love. Joy at seeing 50+ perfect strangers get along so wonderfully just because they share the same love of sewing. It sounds so corny but it’s pretty magical! I’m so glad I could share the work and the joy with my team.
I’m going to use this post as a little peek behind the scenes in what goes into planning one of our sewing retreats. We’ve been told by other guests who have been to other sewing retreats that ours is quite different, it’s an experience. I’m always so happy when I get that feedback. That is the goal when we start to plan. I want to offer an actual retreat, as-in ‘withdraw to a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax’ but with the emphasis on sewing. So with that in mind, I start to consider my venue options.
Tessa & I are located about 45 minutes south of Chicago in the suburbs. We have to be able to visit a venue possibility in person before we’ll commit. So far, we’ve visited both locations for our retreats at least twice. You can learn a lot about a location through their website and by talking to the event coordinator but there’s nothing like seeing it in person yourself. That’s a must for us. We have very specific needs that are sometimes hard for non-sewing people to consider so getting that in-person contact is necessary.
For our retreats we want a location that is interesting in some way and not just a typical conference hotel. For our fall retreat in 2018 we choose a lodge with a barn out in the middle of the cornfields. It was a great fall location and really met the secluded place in which to relax aspect. For our summer retreat this year we tried to find a venue that felt summer-y and relaxing and resort-ish. I think we nailed it on that front. Illinois Beach Hotel is set within a state park literally right on Lake Michigan. We had some gorgeous views and really serene beach walks. So that’s tip #2- decide what kind of vibe you want and set the tone with the venue location.
A lot of times deciding on your vibe will dictate the time of year. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily want to host a fall or winter retreat at Illinois Beach Hotel. Although, I’m sure it is lovely, we just wouldn’t be able to enjoy the outside options nearly as much. Along the same line as timing– tip #3 is look into hosting your retreat during the week and not on the weekends. For a couple of reasons- first, if you choose a weekend date you’re competing with weddings which also means much higher pricing for lodging and catering. Like, a LOT higher. Also, weekends are just busier at hotels in general. Retreats are not cheap to host, you will save a considerable amount by choosing dates in the week. Depending on the size of the venue you may even have the place to yourself. That seemed to be the case for our summer retreat. It was hosted on a Monday through Thursday morning and we didn’t see many other hotel guests.
Some other tips and things to think about:
- How convenient it is to transportation. Will guests be driving, flying, sharing rides?
- The actual meeting space. You need more room than you think! Most of our guests brought more than one machine. We had around 5,000 square feet of sewing space at our summer retreat and that was pushing it for our 56 guests. You also need room for ironing stations, cutting stations and pattern tracing stations.
- Consider the power capabilities. This will be a question for your event coordinator. You need lots of outlets and access to them. And don’t even think of operating a heat press on the same circuit as the irons!
- Accessibility- will you have guests that require elevators, ramps, easy in and out of spaces, etc.
- Food- plan on spending about half your budget on food. If you don’t include meals (or not every meal) take into consideration what other restaurant locations are close by and price point. For our fall retreat we provided all the meals since we were out in the middle of nowhere. For our summer retreat we did have an on-site restaurant and fast food/small restaurants within easy driving distance so we choose to have one dinner on our own. Looking back, I think this was a miss. We didn’t take into consideration those who traveled by air and didn’t have a rental car. They were pretty much stuck at the hotel restaurant which turned out to be overwhelmed and pricey.
- Lodging- there are several options regarding lodging. Our fall retreat was in a large family home built like a lodge and meant there were several people to a room. Our summer retreat had hotel style lodging. While most people probably prefer their own space (and bathroom!), that does generally come at a higher cost.
- Classes and free sewing time. It helps to go into planning with a specific goal in mind as far as sewing goes. What do you want your guests to come away with? For our summer retreat we decided we wanted to ‘Focus on the Details’ by doing small sessions about trickier construction techniques. You could also just offer a retreat solely devoted to free sewing time. We’ve found there’s a good balance between the two.
- Sponsors- who in the sewing community and industry can you contact to see if they’d like to help with your costs/giveaways/swag bag/etc. in the exchange for something, usually a mention and logo on promotional material, tagging on social media, etc. You don’t have to have sponsors to host a sewing retreat but they sure do help! I am so thankful for our sponsors this year.
- Decor- what will you do to make your venue stand out? The hotel for our retreat had a mid-century modern vibe that we went with. Tessa sourced several vintage sewing machines and suitcases to use as decoration. They were the perfect touch.
Now for the why you should go to a sewing retreat…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- sewing people are the best people! It has been true for both of our retreats so far and I don’t see that changing. We could throw the most dope (channeling my 15 year old right now) retreat but it would mean nothing without the amazing attitudes and kindness from our guests. THEY are the ones who make the retreat what it is.
Most guests did not know each other but they came wanting to get away and focus on something they love to do. I would guess every one of them is glad they came and that had a lot to do with the new people they met. Even our self-professed introverts were able to make connections. Spending time with other sewists is just SO fun! You can talk about challenging projects, discuss new to you techniques, chat about what patterns you like or what they might like, talk about fabric, machines, notions… the list goes on! When else can you do THAT for 3 days straight?!
I think Carrie Burnett said it best:
“With the craziness of day to day life- work, mom, wife things, I tend to put myself last. I put aside the things I love doing to make sure everyone else has everything they need and when I finally get time I’m exhausted. Having this break to spend time with amazing people who just get it and share the same love was incredible. Spending some time away from the things I often put first gave me time to really enjoy and rekindle my love for sewing. Would hands down go again!! Thank you!!”
This year we invited a dealer to the retreat
Thimbles Quilts in Lockport, IL is my local Babylock Dealer. They brought us 18 Babylock Brilliant sewing machines that guests were able to rent. They also provided a bank of Victory sergers and BLCS2 coverstitch machines for everyone to use. Not to mention the pop-up shop full of notions, thread and tools we were able to shop from all week. At the end of the retreat we had several new machine owners who were able to confidently purchase the rental they had been using all week. What a great opportunity that was for them. They were able to test drive a machine all to themselves for 3 full days before committing. Jane and Tammy of Thimbles did a little presentation for us one evening. They really had us all in stitches! Or maybe we were all just loopy after sewing all day. 😉
Joe, the service technician that works for Thimbles, also came out for a few days. What a great addition he was! Before the retreat began, we surveyed our guests to see who would like to have their machine(s) cleaned while at the retreat. Joe came up for a couple days and worked on 30 (!) machines. He worked until midnight both nights and then partied with a few guests afterwards. It’s safe to say he had a great time and we really enjoyed having his expertise available to us.
Sew-cation retreat sponsors
We are so grateful for the swag bag items they sent, the fabric that was sent to make our lanyards, the prizes they sent and for their continued support. We loved putting the swag bags together, it totally reminds me of stuffing stockings on Christmas Eve! I hope our guests think of each of our sponsors as they continue to use the items gifted to them in their swag bag. I know just looking at the pictures brings me such joy knowing that brands out there like Oliso, Riley Blake, Clover, Fiskars, Shannon Fabrics, Olfa, Therm-O-Web, PDF Plotting, Aurifil, Birch Street Clothing, Sly Fox Fabrics and Kylie and the Machine support my small business. Not to mention my fellow indie sewing pattern designers who contributed to our special coupons or our prize table. It may suprise you to know that most indie pdf pattern designers are VERY supportive of each other! Rising tide lifts all ships.
It was so good to see some familiar faces![/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.22″ custom_padding=”0px|||||”][et_pb_row use_custom_gutter=”on” gutter_width=”1″ _builder_version=”3.26.5″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” width=”100%”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.25″ custom_padding=”|||” custom_padding__hover=”|||”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.26.5″ custom_margin=”-23px|||||”]
Have I convinced you to host a sewing retreat or attend one yet? Maybe these photos will help
Also, be sure to check out Chris’s blog post and stay tuned for a guest post by Caroline coming in a couple of weeks.
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