Michelle spinning cord with Belinda
I’ll warn in advance… this is going be a long entry with lots of pictures. :)
The quick-quick version? I had an absolute blast. Good company, great class, fun shopping, lots of stitching. It was exactly what I wanted (and needed)!
I went to Mystic as part of group two. The demand had been large enough to add a second getaway, and to my surprise – our little group of Rhode Island stitchers were not the only people there. Our class had 14 people in it, which was just the right size. It allowed for one on one time with both the teacher and each other, but large enough that there was some variety and a good mix of different stitching styles and interests. My understanding is that there were double that in the first session – I can’t imagine fitting 28 people in the room we were in, but apparently they fit! Honestly, I think our class size was perfect, though. A larger group may have intimidated me.
Belinda Karls-Nace of Blue Ribbon Designs was our instructor. She has a unique, crisp style of stitching design that appeals to me that blends the tradition of samplers with a more updated, casual style that I love. If you ever have an opportunity to take a class with her, please do. She was wonderful – completely approachable and laid-back, encouraging creativity and experimentation and had no hesitation to help one-on-one where needed. The detail and thought she put into her classes was fantastic – she gave each of us a wonderfully organized binder with step by step instructions (including photos) of everything we covered in class for later reference. And outside the class, she stayed right with us, chatting with everyone and getting to know us. I tend to be a bit reserved with people I don’t know (particularly in group settings), but felt completely at-ease with her from the get-go. At the end of the retreat, my group of friends were having a slightly rowdy dinner conversation with Belinda – she now has groupies. We’ve nicknamed ourselves the BG’s (Belinda Groupies). All Bee-Gee and disco snarky silliness is implied and encouraged. Tweets have been exchanged over the silliness. I imagine they may continue.
Jill, Michelle, and me - just a bit hungover on Day One
Belinda’s class focused on finishing techniques, particularly for ornaments and creating twisted cord. She used her upcoming design “Pocketful of Peppermints” as the teaching piece, with an adapted ornament that we worked on in class, to teach the techniques. It’s exactly what I was looking for – I’m not afraid to learn new specialty stitches (which half of the stitches on the ornament were for me), but I’ve been intimidated and frustrated with finishing. Since I don’t own and don’t know how to use a sewing machine, I’m going to be finishing everything by hand. I’ve seen other people’s work, and it just flat out intimidated me.
Guaranteed – I’m not anymore. I’m ready to tackle ornaments. I’m ready to tackle biscornu. Bring it all on. :)
My friends and I arrived at the hotel Sunday afternoon. I was running late, so Lisa, her mom Kathy, and our friend Jill were already over at Mystic Pizza (and nearly done with dinner) by the time I got there. Thankfully I’d already eaten specifically because I’d been running late. We headed back to the hotel. Kathy went to her room to relax for the evening. Lisa and Jill came over to mine for some proper retreat-starting partying (because I had the couch in my room). Michelle joined us later – she opted to take a little side class on beading on Sunday night (which I thought was pretty, but not really my thing). The four of us were incredibly rowdy – I’m shocked no one came to complain. I can only imagine that no one was next to my room because really… we were that bad. At three a.m., I finally kicked everyone out so I could attempt to sleep.
Teaching Ornament Sample
So Monday morning came and oh god, the hangover! But I got up – I got coffee and breakfast, and I was ready to tackle the day (with three Aleve in me for the headache). Monday, the first day of class, was essentially the stitching day. We started on our ornaments and worked throughout the day on the specialty stitches and to get a piece ready for the meat of the teaching on Tuesday. The ornament we worked was a cute little band ornament – a top and bottom row of fan stitch, surrounding individual rows of rice, standard cross-stitch, four-sided stitch, long armed crosses, smyrna and diamond cross stitches, plaits, satins, and montenegrin stitch. Due to my hangover, I decided to stick to something really, really basic at first – backstitching the outline for the piece. It took me far longer than it should have. Honestly. The entire outline was only forty-odd backstitches on each side, and it took me at least three hours to do.
So needless to say, I was very slow on Monday. But I kept plugging away. And mixed in with our stitching, Sue (who organizes the retreats) had door prizes flying fast and furious to the stitchers in the room. Seriously – I’m in awe of what I came home with. The donations from individual stitching companies were incredibly generous and varied. And Sue was kind enough to include a thank you note already addressed to the individual companies so we could just write and send away – no address trackdowns needed!
Best. Santa. Ever.
Class broke at 5 for a quick break before dinner. (and let me digress on the food for a bit – my selections from the caterer were fantastic. The prosciutto & mozz sandwich on day two was particularly wonderful). After dinner, we returned to the classroom for a little bit of stitching, some gifties and goofy instruction from Sue and a visit from Santa. It was no surprise to us, but Santa put our little crew on the naughty list. :)
After festivities ended, we all decided to be good that night (hah – not really… we just all needed to recover!) and headed back to our own rooms. Now… here’s where the silliness comes in for me. I’d come to the retreat a bit under-prepared, both financially and supply-related. Stupid me had only bothered to pack the 11-inch Q-snap that I normally use for stitching, never thinking that I might be stitching something smaller in class. So about halfway through the first day, I’m starting to debate whether I’d make a quick drive home to grab supplies for day two (since it’s only 45 minutes from home). I also was trying to figure out how I’d afford the stuff I really, really wanted to buy from Chris, who had set up a great little shop in one of the hotel rooms that we popped down to during breaks. The pounding headache, however, said no. No driving to Providence and back that night for me. So then my attentions turned to asking my husband whether he’d grab stuff from the house (particularly my smaller hoop, since I’d been using Lisa’s Q-snap all day), should he still be thinking of coming down for the evening (a discussion we’d had jokingly for a couple weeks).
mmm... husband in kilt...
So around 8:30 or 9, I get a knock on my hotel room door. I open it to find Erich – decked in his (and my) cold weather standard New England Patriots jacket, the shirt he’d presumably worn to work, and… his wedding kilt! Totally mis-matched, but still my husband. And he’d brought chocolate. FIVE BAGS of chocolate. I quickly sent photo messages to Lisa and Michelle to announce how awesome my husband is. Michelle came over to goof off for a bit and chat. After she left, we chilled out, ate way too much chocolate, watched Castle (during which I continued to stitch), and cuddled on the bed. :)
He left a little after 11, and I went to bed shortly after midnight, fighting off that urge to do just one more stitch (over and over and over…)
Tuesday was our big instruction day – we headed into the classroom at about 9:30 and quickly got to work. Belinda started by teaching us how to twist our own decorative cord, either using a little hand corder or by using a pencil. I was surprised, honestly. It’s so easy! As with anything stitchy, it just takes some patience and practice to identify the tension you need to get the cord to, and ta-dah! Cord created – and in the color you actually need it, as opposed to the ”sorta-but-not-really matching so I guess I’ll default to gold or silver” cord that I always wind up with at JoAnn’s Fabric.
My finished ornament for the class!
After the cord instruction, Belinda moved onto cutting and finishing our ornaments using a whipstitch through the backstitches method. And seriously – Belinda commented about loving her students having that “a-ha!” moment? Yeah, there was mine. This method was so much easier than what I’d been doing, and honestly much less labor intensive (for far better results) than what I’d done in the past. It took me a little while to get into a groove with the technique, but once I did, I was moving steadily. Beads on, stitches going. I knew I wasn’t going to get all of the rows on the front done, so at one point I quickly stopped the beading/whip stitch process and threw a rough “2010″ date on the front of my ornament so I’d fill the empty space at the bottom. Yep, a little off-centered – but hey, I threw the thing on there with no template in about four minutes.
By the end of the afternoon – I had an ornament! And it’s all hand done by me – right down to the beading and the twisted cord. Seriously, you have no idea… I can’t believe I made this thing. (but I can’t wait to make more of them!)
Dinner on Tuesday, as I’d mentioned before, was where my friends and I really clicked with Belinda. :) I have a feeling some of the other stitchers may have been a bit annoyed with the rowdy, younger stitcher set my friends and I brought to the retreat, but Belinda welcomed us in and we had a great dinner laughing and flashing phones and pictures of our pets and such.
'Tis (not) Green, all finished
After dinner, we returned to the classroom for a couple hours for some final gifties and the traditional ornament exchange. It’s done in a Yankee Swap style at Stitcher’s Hideaway, so everyone brings the ornament in a gift back and then draws a number to pick a gift bag from the table. I brought my finished ‘Tis (not) Green for the exchange, paranoid that my previously sub-par finishing skills would be a bit of a detriment. Lisa was even planning on doing the “I’ll grab it if it’s still up for choosing if you feel that bad, Mel” save for me. I hope that Martha, who picked my ornament, does enjoy it, despite how simple and basic the finishing was. I do love the design – and I’m planning making a couple more of them now that I can be a bit more creative with them!
Belinda's ornaments - now residing with me!
I lucked out and managed to get Belinda’s ornament in the exchange! She also generously gave each of us a gorgeous snowflake ornament that she’s able to do on her sewing machine – each ornament was just a bit different, just like real snowflakes. Both will happily be added to my tree this year. :)
Lisa and Kathy had to leave a bit early as Kathy wasn’t feeling well. Michelle and I were the next to leave, shortly after the festivities ended (since we both were driving home). I drove home very happy, relaxed, and so happy I’d gone. Honestly – it was just what I needed this year, both from a relaxation angle and a stitching one. It’s been a rocky year. I didn’t even know if I’d manage to get to the retreat due to Erich’s job loss earlier this year, but all things happen for a reason, and this definitely was on that list. :)
So all told, it was a fantastic retreat. Sue puts a lot of organizing effort into them and it shows – everything’s well organized with plenty of instruction time and free-form time to socialize. I’d definitely go back again, and in fact Michelle and I are thinking of registering for the Sturbridge retreat that will happen next June, since one of Michelle’s favorite designers will be the instructor. So yes – I definitely recommend going to Stitcher’s Hideaway if you haven’t gone. It’s a lot of fun and a great, relaxing weekend of stitching. The only thing I think I’d change is that I would have stayed the extra evening in the hotel afterward, just to stretch out and relax. Without a hotel room to retreat to for a little lie-down the second day, I felt like I was a bit of a stitcher without a home. But hey, things to remember for next time.
Belinda’s going to be teaching next autumn up in Enfield, NH – and now I’m torn as to what I’ll do next year in the autumn. Clearly I have to win the lottery so I can attend a couple of different retreats! (is this how the insanity starts?)
Door prizes, our class kit, and Belinda's designs that I purchased
So… stash enhancement. OH DEAR GOD(DESS) THERE WAS STASH ENHANCEMENT.
First, we all received a big gift bag on the first morning with lots of patterns and goodies in the bags. I took photos of all of the stash enhancement and the retreat and put them up over on my Flickr Account for browsing. Seriously – it’s a ton. I’m overwhelmed. And mind you – most of this I didn’t purchase. I only bought eight charts and the fabric that goes with one of those charts:
- Creepy Crawly (Blue Ribbon Designs) – I fell in love with the little keeper casket!
- Black Cats and Flying Bats (Blue Ribbon Designs)
- The Witches Wheel (Glendon Place) – which goes on the crazy orange tie-dyed fabric
- Ghool School (Glendon Place)
- Thine is the Trick and the Treat (Prairie Moon)
- Have an Ice Day (Raise the Roof)
- Jenny Bean’s Halloween Sampler (Shakespeare’s Peddler)
- Peaceable Kingdom (Teresa Wentzler) – in my never-ending attempt to collect her designs
Everything else was free stash – whether in our initial gift bags or via door prizes or via the freebie box in the back. I’m seriously overwhelmed (and all in a good way).
So yeah – can I go back now? I was having entirely too much fun!