‘Retreat’-ing to a quilting getaway

It could have been dubbed “the great escape” as 25 women from across Northwestern Ontario set up camp at Trail’s End Lodge last weekend to focus on their favourite pastime–quilting–without having to put up with the normal day-to-day interruptions.
For many, it was a four-day break where the only commitment they had was to their sewing table–in the company of those who shared their interest.
Armed with sewing machines, irons, and other necessary tools of the trade, Thunder Bay quilter Joyce McKinnon instructed the group on how to capture their favourite landscape photos on fabric.
“It’s just a different technique. Most of us have done piecing and other techniques,” noted Barb Ross, a quilting guild member and co-organizer of the retreat, adding those involve a pre-set pattern.
But with landscapes, there’s no pattern to follow–it’s up to the quilter to draw it out. They first draw the landscape onto small grid paper, colour it, and then draw the design on larger grid paper.
The quilter also has to choose the fabric that would suit the scene, and complement each other.
And in their construction, McKinnon said the quilter must build the elements of the design. All that comes from the fabric (she suggested using both sides of it), and then from the quilting.
“It’s a lot like painting only you’re using fabrics instead of oils,” Ross explained.
“This is a lot freer and a lot more artistic,” agreed Cheri Whatley.
“We wanted something that was different, that would interest these women. This was new to everyone in our club,” Sew ’n Sews president Sandy Wepruk said, noting many members had been on retreats to Minnesota and enjoyed the “get-away” atmosphere where they could sew with friends (old and new) until the wee hours of the morning.
“I think it’s a way to be creative, and also there’s a practical side,” Wepruk added.
Although she had been sewing for years, landscape quilting is something McKinnon first got into in 1991 after her son was killed.
“I needed to lose myself,” she said, admitting she’s run around with a camera capturing different landscapes she can put on a quilt.
Since then, the award-winning quilter has entered numerous competitions and won some cash prizes, along with the honour of having her quilts displayed at provincial and national exhibitions.
This year, one of her national winners, “Cedar on the Point,” will join the “Pacific Connections” tour through Japan.
McKinnon also teaches courses on quilting techniques.
“[Quilting] certainly is a very relaxing thing,” she said. “There’s a huge interest in quilting and it just keeps growing.”
Julie Lowry first picked up the quilting bug 19 months ago and already has finished four quilts, placemats, and various other projects.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” she enthused, adding she’d reached a point in her life when she could do it.
In fact, Lowry was so focused on learning how to quilt, she opted out of her regular three-night-a-week curling season because she didn’t know which night the quilting course would be offered and she didn’t want to miss her chance.
Her first project was “Lover’s Knot.”
“I hand-quilted it. It was a big job but I did it,” she grinned. “I find the more I get into quilting, the more there is to learn. Each quilt, you get better and better.”
“[And] once you start, you don’t want to stop,” echoed Whatley, who picked up the hobby two years ago when she decided to make a quilt for a wedding gift.
The fun part, she added, was putting together the quilt tops, which she found was addictive for her.
And some admit it becomes somewhat of an obsession as they hunt through stores trying to find the perfect fabric for some future quilt.
“And then you become a fabri-holic,” Ross laughed, joking they shared ideas on how to stash fabric so family members weren’t aware more was coming into the house.
But it’s not all fun and games, and the pastime certainly requires a tremendous amount of concentration.
“There’s a lot of precision involved. A lot of us don’t like doing the math,” Ross admitted, noting if the quilter was just one-eighth of a inch off, the project would be ruined.
“Quilting has been so revolutionized,” Wepruk added, saying there were many tools quilters could pick up to make their job quicker and easier. And she noted buying all the equipment could get expensive.
“But once you’ve got it, you’ve got it,” she reasoned.
While it isn’t a weekend away, the Sew ’n Sews continue the camaraderie during their monthly meetings (the first and third Thursday) at the Community Resource Centre here in town, where they share tips, pointers, and techniques with each other.
“You accomplish so much more because then you have the expertise,” Wepruk said, adding it was good to learn from those with years of experience.
One such person is Winnie Rousseau, one of the founders of the Sew ’n Sews, who made her first quilt 48 years ago when she was expecting her first child. Since then, she has made hundreds of quilts, giving many away or donating them to local organizations.
“It’s a way of expressing yourself. And I enjoy it,” she said, grinning she was one of those people who picked fabric up wherever she went.
And for those looking to learn how to quilt, Rousseau will be teaching three courses–two for beginners and one for intermediates–at the end of September through the new Crazy Ladies Fabrics store on Scott Street.