This past weekend I attended the Fat Quarterly Retreat in London. It was my first time to ever attend a retreat, and my first time meeting so many quilters in one location. It was pretty exciting to get to meet so many wonderful and talented people. At first I was worried about going to the retreat because not knowing many quilters in real life, I was actually a little scared and self-conscience about a gathering where I was sure to be the most un-educated, the most ridiculous, and the shortest quilter, well, maybe ever (I'm only 4"11). In the months leading up to the big day, I imagined terribly embarrassing scenarios where I would ask a question about something, and there would be a break-out of cackling from everyone else in the room and I would have to run off in shame and humiliation. Fortunately, I had a little push from my friend Kelly who encouraged be to stop being a chicken and worrying so much.
One of the main reasons I wanted to attend was to meet Amy Smart of Diary of a Quilter. I have adored Amy's blog from the moment I started quilting, and am always surprised by each new quilt she reveals. When I first started learning to quilt, her blog was the first I came across (I didn't know quilt blogs existed at that time), and by using her tutorials and her Hourglass pattern, I managed to successfully complete my first quilt--and I made it exactly like she did. And since then, I've been a huge fan--and my desire to meet her was borderline unhealthy. And she was going to be teaching two classes at the retreat, so I really, really wanted to go. But I still felt that normal everyday me wasn't really impressive enough, so if I was going to meet all of these wonderfully tall and talented quilters and sew-lebrities I needed to prepare so I could at least make a positive first impression.
I bought some new jeans in the right size instead of still trying to squeeze myself into the wrong size in hopes that I will somehow magically become thinner, got a haircut to trim my scraggly long hair that 99% of the time is usually in a bun, and I bought some new sandals online only to discover that they weren't exactly wide enough for my hobbit feet. I even tried out some new make-up, but ended up looking like a drag-queen, so I decided to forget about the make-up. But I was hoping the clothes and haircut were enough to go out in public and meet my quilting idols.
When I arrived at the retreat, the first person I recognized was Lynne Goldsworthy of Lily's Quilts. Being a longtime fan, I tried not to look too eager, and tried to casually make eye-contact without staring. The registration area started filling up quickly, so I signed in, was given a sticker with the number 2 to wear on my shirt, was handed a goody bag, and was pointed towards the cafe where lots of people were starting to meet-and-greet. In the cafe, I met up with my friend Kelly, who introduced me to her friend Nick from Quilts in the Attic. Those first few moments in my memory are a little fuzzy, but the conversation was pretty easy and comfortable, and so far, no one had looked at me like I was crazy, so I was feeling pretty happy. I had met Kelly initially online, and this was my first real-life meeting with her, but she immediately made me feel at ease. She is the President to the South Bay Area Modern Quilt guild, and has been to lots of retreats and has no problems talking to new people. Her friend Nick is from Wales, was very nice, modest, calm and such a cutie without the typical "I'm too good-looking for you" air that some attractive guys (in my experience) have been known to have.
We sat around the table, looked through our goody bags, and made trades for things we wanted. After a while, I excused myself to find the restroom, and when I was just about to walk through the doors I saw through the tiny cutout window that Amy Smart was standing on the other side talking to a group of people. I told you before that I love Amy Smart and I was completely star-struck. I ran back to where my new friends were and told them what was going on. Even to me now (just days later), it sounds completely silly, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion I didn't know what to do. My friends told me to act like a normal person and say "hi" and just go to the bathroom already. So I did. But I couldn't say hi, because when I walked by Amy, she was turned away, so I played it cool, took care of what I needed to take care of, and then made my way back to my friends. A few minutes after returning to my seat Amy Smart walked by, and my friend Kelly, possessing much more courage than I did, waved Amy over and introduced herself. I jumped up, blubbered out something stupid, and then the moment was over. Amy was gone before I knew it, and I was feeling a little dazed by how quickly it happened and I couldn't even be sure of what I said. I didn't have long to think about it though, because the room was becoming loud with chatter and laughter, then the Fat Quarterly power trio (Tasha, Lynne, and Brioni) made the opening speech and sent us off to our first classes.
My first class was hand-quilting with Jen Kingwell--the queen of hand-piecing and hand-quilting and known for her Gypsy Wife pattern. Jen is very sweet and patient and even said "finger condoms" at one point and made it sound like the most polite thing in the world. She showed us a few of her amazing quilts and talked about her tips and tricks to successful hand-quilting. Everyone in the class was supposed to bring a mini-quilt to practice with, and earlier that morning, in a last-minute attempt to try to have everything prepared, I quickly basted a Thimbleblossoms "Red Letter Day" block that I had lying around. During the class with Jen, I looked around the room and saw a variety of original, beautiful, and a few very modern mini quilts--there wasn't anything that looked like it came from any pattern that I recognized, and I noticed that none of them even seemed to made using fabrics from all the same line. It seemed that all of these women knew how to be original, and knew it well. I desperately wanted to hide my Red Letter Day block in my bag and pretend that I had forgotten to bring anything, but the class was over before I knew it, and ran off to my next class, Touchdraw with Lynne Goldsworthy.
Touchdraw is an illustrator-type app for iPAD that can be used to make quilt designs and really great graphics. You can even add pics to make buttons or blog headers, and there is the capability to export in PDF, so you can even use it to make paper-piecing templates! In fact, that's mainly what Lynne uses to design most of her quilts. Not bad for $8, right? Lynne, in case you didn't know, is a total superstar, and it's easy to see why. She's quick to laugh, has a genuine smile, possesses the perfect amount of confidence and has an energy that makes everyone around her more cheerful. You can tell she's probably never had problems making friends, and she was probably the most popular girl in school. And to top it off, she's an amazing designer and quilter. One of those ladies you'd love to hate right? But you can't even hate her--she's just TOO like-able. After meeting her I loved and respected her more than I did before. She smartly taught us everything we needed to know about the app, helped us when we didn't know what we were doing, and kept us upbeat and smiling for the duration of the class and while we were all trying to figure out how to draw a triangle, we mingled and started to make friendships with our classmates. And then to my dismay, the class was over, and it was time for dinner.
Everyone decided to walk down to the Waitrose (a supermarket) to get their food, and bring it all back to the retreat location to eat out on the patio together. We sat around chatting about quilts, families, jobs, kids, and cats while eating sandwiches, salads, and pasta out of plastic containers. There was a moment of ironic laughter for me because lots of the women had decided to drink (beer that is) and had to take a pic to send to my husband who I had assured, before I left home, that there wouldn't be any shenanigans going on. Despite it being one of the hottest days in England so far this year (at least I think it was), there was good conversation, good food, and good fun. But the evening still wasn't over yet. We still had one more activity for the day--the block party for the Siblings Together quilts.
The goal was to split everyone up into groups, and each group would make a few blocks for Siblings Together. This is where the #2 sticker I had been wearing all day came into play. We grouped up with all the other ladies with our same numbers and then were given a bunch of donated scraps to sort through to make the blocks. There were 4 of us in my group, and we chose a random selection of bright, kid-friendly strips, and decided to make scrappy trip blocks. At some point each one of us had improperly lined our rows of strips, but the mood was very light, and we just laughed it off, corrected our mistakes, and sewed on. When we had fumbled our way though a couple of blocks each, we looked around the room and realized we were the slowest of all the groups. We were pretty amazed at what everyone had created--beautifully color-coordinated quilt tops that were almost complete. We looked at our not-very-well-thought-out blocks and started to feel really silly. Ours really was NOT pretty at all! There was no way we compete against the robots-disguised-as-quilters in the other groups that had pumped out an entire beautiful quilt top!!! We had enough blocks for half-a-baby-quilt and all agreed that we should've picked an easier block, AND done a better job at selecting fabrics. We laughed a lot, hid our blocks from everyone else's view, and promised to all go home (after the retreat) and make some blocks to donate for the charity. By this time it was around 10pm I think. I went back to the hotel room that Kelly and I shared, got ready to crawl into the bed that I didn't have to share with anyone else, laid there in an the silence and heat of the air-conditionless hotel, and dozed off into one of the best nights of sleep I've had in years.
...to be continued