Friday, October 21, 2005

Retreating and Returning

There's nothing like a mini-vacation in your own home town. I spent the last few days enjoying a quilting retreat at The Bishop's Ranch right here in Healdsburg. It's probably less than 15 miles from my house, but I feel like I'm hundreds of miles away when I'm there.

The ranch is a retreat and conference center owned by the Episcopal Diocese of California. There are lovely old buildings like this one, which is the main house:

There are other buildings... some woodsy cabins, some more modern meeting rooms, a lovely chapel with the most beautiful and artistic stained (or painted?) glass windows I've ever seen. But it's the setting that is truly magnificent... It's all nestled in the hills, with views of vineyards and rolling hills, oak trees clustered around the property, and wildlife (besides the quilters, I mean) strolling through from time to time. The essence of peace just floats through the air there.

There were about 40 women at this retreat, I'm guessing. We were divided among three different buildings: the main house (where there were 21 people), St. John's Room, where I was with 5 others, and Harrison House, where there was a group of perhaps 8 quilters of the more traditional persuasian. We visited each other frequently (to see what everyone was working on, to share snacks and wine, and to otherwise tease and joke and be silly) and we share meals together in a common dining room.

My sewing crowd consisted of my buddies Rita, Janet, Pat (all of whom you've seen here before -- they're members of my art group and my guild, as well as especially wonderful friends)...and Pat's sister Mary Lou who comes out from Massachusetts to include this retreat in her annual California vacation. This year, we had a "newbie" in the room, a pleasant woman who came from several hours away for a quilting get-away. She kept strolling off to read, take naps, and check out movie times...I suspect that when she signed up for a quilting retreat, she didn't realize she'd be in with a bunch of loonies who were happy to hang out in the sewing room, talking incessantly, from morning until as late at night as we could manage.

Fellow blogger, AQ ring member and buddy Gerrie was there, although she wasn't in our room... She's enough of an old-timer at that particular retreat that she has a guaranteed spot in the main house. So, we visited often and saw each other at meals. Here she is, looking happy and busy.

Down in our room, we did a lot of sewing, although you wouldn't know it from my complete lack of sewing action pictures. Janet and Pat worked on challenge projects for our art group. We cheered Mary Lou on as she moved from using her subdued New Englander fabrics into wild brights and high contrast fabrics... She knows she'll get a shocked reaction when she shows her work to her local guild back there. She's had a hard time finding contemporary quilters in her area.

We laughed and joked almost incessantly. And we listened to good music, too. Oddly enough, when we pooled our CDs we found that we had quite the international assortment... Gypsy Kings, Beau Soleil, Andrea Boccelli, a singer from Brazil whose name I can't remember but whose voice was very nice) and more. Indeed, spontaneous outbursts of dancing occurred from time to time. Here's Pat:

And Mary Lou and Rita demonstrated proper ballroom dancing technique (although I never did see a dip):

Yes, I did get sewing done! I decided to use the time to work on my Karen Stone "Cinco de Mayo" blocks. These are the complex New York Beauty style blocks with something like 11 different fabrics in each block and lord knows how many points. They're fun, but slow going. I figured having a hunk of time to just plug away on them would be good. And it was, although I was a bit frustrated as the quilters around me were whipping out a quilt top a day while I was proudly announcing the completion of ONE block every 5 hours or so. Still, I was happy to get seven of them done at the retreat. Here they are, with the two I'd done before (in no particular arrangement):

I'm not sure how big I'm going to make the quilt. I'd envisioned something rather large, but geez, these blocks take a lot of time. I'm going to take a break for a while, then make a few more and then see how it goes. I'm thinking I want at least 16 blocks and probably more.

The other thing I accomplished at the ranch was that I did most of my "Brown Bag Challenge" quilt. Remember that challenge? About 6 months ago, everyone in our art group brought a brown paper sack with an unidentied object in it, and we put them on the table and each picked a bag. The challenge is to make an 18" square quilt inspired by the what's in your bag.

Here's what I got:

In case you can't recognize it, it's a seed pod from a Liquidambar tree. (I never knew until I went to link the tree name that it's all one word. Hmmm.)

As I was sewing on my Cinco de Mayo blocks, I was complaining outloud to my sewing roommates at the retreat that I didn't know what I was going to do for the challenge.

Pat gave me a bemused look. "A rounded shape? With points? Whatever could you do?"

I looked down at my blocks. Oh yeah. Round. Pointy points. Well, duh. So, I thought about doing another block and making it the center of an 18" square quilt.

But those blocks take so dang long! I opted for the fusing method (or, as we started to call it, the "slap and glue" approach). Here's where I am so far:

I'm gonna crop this way down so only the edges of the leaves show. And I'm thinking of doing some Gabrielle-type shading. We'll see.

I love how the pod turned out, especially the weird curly points. Here's a close-up:

So, now it's back to home and real life and work and laundry and such. But it's also back to husband and daughter and puppy and cats, so life is good.

It wouldn't be a retreat if you didn't have home to retreat from and return to, eh?!


  1. Anonymous4:48 PM

    Love the Cinco de Mayo blocks! I have a dream of doing a large New York Beauty quilt too but don't know if I have the attention span required. LOL.

  2. That spiky pod is awesome!!

  3. Hi, I'm new at blogging. I've just begun. I'm so glad someone besides me has tackeled that Cinco de is a link to mine.

  4. Those Cinco de Mayo blocks are very cool!!! It looks like you all had a lot of fun!