Podcast Episode 21 – Craft Retreats

The Craft Room Podcast, Episode 21 - Craft Retreats

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Hello, welcome to The Craft Room Podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today, and if this is the first time you are joining us, a very special welcome to you. Today we are talking about craft retreats.

I went on a craft retreat with my friend Marni a couple of months ago. It got me thinking about all the amazing retreats I have been on, ones I would like to go on and the differences between them. Craft retreats come with different durations, different price points, different levels of structure and different kinds of accommodation. You can expect a different experience from different types of retreats. So I thought we could have a chat about them.

1. Day Tripping

The very first craft event I attended was a day event. It was international scrapbooking day, and my friend invited me to a big Creative Memories event held in a community hall. We started in the morning and finished in the evening. I travelled light (mostly because I didn’t own many scrapbooking supplies at the time), and spent the day creating a few layouts for my family album. It was super affordable … around $25 for the full day, with tea & coffee and some lovely home-made cakes, slices and snacks that each of the consultants brought along. While a day event isn’t exactly a fully fledged craft retreat, it did provide a great location, ample room, snacks, tea and a whole day to craft, uninterrupted by small humans asking for juice! It was the perfect starter event to attend, and definitely gave me a taste of the joy of crafting away from home.

2. Cheap and cheerful.

I love me a cheap and cheerful craft retreat. For starters, there’s a lot to like about the price point, and while the accommodation is usually quite basic, they are a lot of fun without breaking the bank.

The very first craft retreat I went on was held over a weekend at a school camp site out in the bush. I was invited by the same friend creative memories consultant, and it took a while, but she finally convinced me to scrape together the money and book my place. My kids were really little at the time, and I was desperate for a bit of a break … so I made it happen. It ended up being really fun. I met a bunch of new people, there was a lot of laughing, tea drinking and crafting. I loved it so much that I went to three of those retreats.

When you attend a cheap and cheerful craft retreat, there are a few things to know. Firstly … it has that lower price point, because it’s not going to be a 5-star experience. Your accommodation, the food and the setup will be quite basic. You just bring your stuff, do whatever you want … no schedule, no teachers, no workshops … just work on your own projects at your own pace.

I love this type of retreat, because it allows me to wake up naturally (and when I had little kids, that was a serious luxury!), and work at my own pace on whatever I fancy on the day. I don’t always necessarily want to take a class or follow a tutorial, or have to work to someone else’s schedule. I just want to work on the things that I’m working on, so that I can achieve what I want to achieve.

Let’s talk accommodation at a cheap & cheerful craft retreat. They’re often going to be at a school camp site, perhaps a guide or scout camp ground … and when I say camp ground I don’t mean tents! It may be dormatory style accommodation, or rooms with bunk beds with foam mattresses. It is quite basic. I went to these types of retreats about 16-18 years ago … I was a lot younger and in better shape back then, so sleeping on foam mattresses and clambering about on bunk beds was a lot easier than it would be for me today! One year we got smart, and with 4 of us in a room with 8 beds, we pulled the top bunk mattresses down to the bottom bunks and had a very cushy sleep (that’s a great hack for you right there). If you have one of those roll up mattress toppers, that’s a great thing to bring along with you. Also check with the organiser to see if you need to bring a sleeping bag or sheets … and I always bring my own pillow! It is also very likely to be a shared bathroom scenario as well. An ensuite would definitely put up the price, although sometimes that is an option … it depends on the camp site. When I was at our cheap & cheerful scrapbooking retreat, we had to go outside and wander down the walkway to get to the bathroom, which can be a bit spooky in the middle of the night. Thankfully we crafted until really late, so when we hit the bunks to sleep, we were really out to it.

Let’s talk about the working space. For me, a good retreat is on a relatively flat plot of land, where you can essentially pull up your car at the door, unload all the stuff out of the boot, set up at your table and just start crafting. A great retreat organiser will allocate an appropriate amount of space, and at this camp we all had a whole table each (because when you’re scrapbooking, you are spreading out). Sometimes there will be activities, but nothing too complicated. One year we had a little bit of a competition. Every time you finished a scrapbooking layout you got a mark on the board. That was the year I was really organised and was doing my house album (all the renovations we had done over the years) and I was working with templates. Consequently I was knocking over pages left, right and center so I had a lot of points on the board. Sometimes there’ll be fun quizzes and little prizes they’ll give away during the day. But my favorite thing about this cheap and cheerful retreat was that it was just a free for all. You could work on any project that you liked. It wasn’t super structured, you could work as late as you wanted to and get up as early or late as you liked. You could go for a bush walk or you could just sit at your table and craft, which is what I did.

The food was basic, but so good. We had a simple breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea dinner, supper and everyone bought snacks. It was a beautiful community event. I attended a lot of camps at similar locations as a child (my parents were often involved in running them), and it brought back a lot of awesome memories for me. I appreciate it may not be the same for others, and that is something you should take into consideration when looking at a craft retreat. If you had an awful experience at a school camp, or if the idea of shared bathrooms, bunk beds with foam mattresses and no structure doesn’t appeal to you … then perhaps this isn’t the style of craft retreat for you.

However … if there isn’t a craft retreat like this nearby to you, then perhaps you could arrange your own cheap & cheerful craft weekend.

A couple of years ago, my friend Marni and I did exactly that (you met Marni back in Episode 5 when we talked about the top 10 things that you need for quilting). We took ourselves on a craft retreat. We were both working full time, were up to our eyeballs in magazine commissions and trying to work out how to turn our patterns into PDFs. We were both surrounded by construction noise (me at home and her at work), and we needed some peace and quiet with no interruptions to think clearly and get some work done. So … we booked a very gorgeous Airbnb for a couple of nights. It was far enough away from home that we felt like we were away, but it was close.

enough that we weren’t driving hours and hours and hours to get there. We chose this particular place because it had two separate bedrooms, it was an incredibly quiet location and there was ample working space. We were very excited about getting away to this beautiful quiet place. The real drawcard was the massive island that separated the kitchen from the dining room. It was a great way for us to lay out quilts and fabrics, come up with designs and do a lot of cutting. We took our sewing machines, fabric, notebooks and laptops and we worked all weekend.

The upside to this was it was super affordable. It cost us $180 for the two of us for two nights and included wifi and plenty of pantry and fridge basics. Sure … we had to take our meals, but we planned them out in advance and cooked for ourselves. It was quiet and comfortable, and we got a lot of work done. The down-side was that there was construction on the main house going on during the day, so it wasn’t the serenely peaceful getaway we had hoped for, but the owners were fantastic. They actually refunded us most of our fee, because the construction wasn’t supposed to be happening while we were there, so it ended up being a very cheap weekend for us, but we still were able to get loads of work done. Would we book that place again and go back? Absolutely. It was a great location for crafting.

For us it was more of a working weekend, but if you and a friend (or a couple of friends) are looking for an affordable crafting weekend, this is a great option. It doesn’t have to be some professionally organized thing. You can just grab a friend book an Airbnb and go and sit and crochet and chat or embroider, take your sewing machines, take your spinning wheel, whatever it is that you’re into. Take it with you, sit and craft, binge some Netflix or take a stack of movies, or just completely unplug. Listen to music, have a glass of wine, work on your craft and chat. And if you want to do that on your own, absolutely go for it. I have done that. I was in desperate need of a retreat, probably about eight years ago now. I found a really cute little place so I went on my own. There was no Wi Fi and no mobile reception. I was completely unplugged for 3 days & 2 nights. I sat out on the verandah and painted, or in front of the log fire and journalled, and I sat in the huge bath and read a book with a glass of wine. It was unstructured, uninterrupted, unplugged and pure bliss.

3. Mid-range retreat

Now let’s talk a little bit about the next tier up and that’s what I like to call a mid-range craft retreat. This is going to have nicer accommodation, great food, possibly more people and usually more structure.

A couple of months ago I attended a fantastic sewing retreat, which was run by a couple of teachers from the sewing machine store where I teach sometimes. There were some similarities to a cheap & cheerful craft retreat, but there were also a bunch of upgrades.

For starters, it was more than double the price of a cheap & cheerful craft retreat, but that was for good reason. Instead of kicking off on Friday night, we were set up and sewing before lunch on Friday afternoon. We stayed at Tocal, which is an agricultural college in the Hunter Valley. The weekend was really well organized, it was quite structured, and the food was amazing.

Let’s talk accommodation. I shared a room with Marni, and we had our own ensuite bathroom, which was nice and roomy. The beds were incredibly comfortable and overall the rooms were simple, but still an upgrade from a bunch of bunk beds and communal bathrooms! We had a little fridge, tea and coffee making facilities, and air-conditioning. The food was amazing! Breakfast was really simple, but then there was a beautiful morning tea and afternoon tea provided by the organisers and some of the other ladies attending. The lunch that the college provided was delicious and plentiful, brought over to us from the dining room so we didn’t have to take too much of a break from working on our projects. For dinner, we did wander over to the massive dining room, and the food was excellent with huge portions eaten at big communal tables.

Let’s talk about the space where we were sewing. Each of us was assigned half a trestle table, because when you’re working with a sewing machine, unlike scrapbooking, we didn’t need all that room to spread out. There were several elevated cutting tables in the centre of the room, and at least 3 ironing boards around the edge of the room. I met some new people and I got to see some clever techniques. Also, as I am a teacher at the store, occasionally people would come to me and ask for assistance or input. I helped to reverse engineer a re-useable lunch bag, which was really cool (I’m making some myself). Sure … I didn’t quite finish the project I took with me, but I was able to travel light. The workspace was well lit, it wasn’t too hot. It wasn’t too cold. There were around 26 ladies there, a variety of ages, all at different levels of experience. Everyone was working on different things and we had some show and tell,which was a really nice part of the weekend. There was a bit of fun on the Saturday night, we did some fundraising (which I was expecting when I booked the retreat) with raffles and a sale table. I came very close to finishing my Mario quilt, and if I’d not made a silly mistake, it would definitely be done. Ah well … I’m close! I’m very happy that I went. It was a wonderful experience. I was really comfortable, I slept really well, I met new people and I got a lot done, which was the aim of the retreat for me this time.

4. High-end Retreat

I’ve been to an amazing, more high-end retreat when I was a member of the FDAA (Folk and Decorative Artists of Australia). They held these amazing annual retreats, and they had a big price tag, but for good reason. I loved it. I would go to one of these again in a heartbeat, even though I haven’t painted for a long time. I love to paint. I really should paint more often, because every time I do I’m reminded of how fun it is. At the time, I was doing a lot of folk art painting. It was my main focus, and I saved and saved and saved so that I could go to this retreat.

We were at a gorgeous boutique hotel in the New South Wales highlands. I think it’s the furthest I’ve travelled for a craft retreat, and I carpooled out there with someone else, then my husband brought the girls to pick me up on the last day. I shared a room with two friends, and it was really lovely. We had our own own ensuite bathroom, mini fridge, tea & coffee facilities, and it was very comfortable. We had large light-filled rooms where we painted during the day, and one of the biggest differences was that meals were in the dining room in a separate part of the hotel. The food was amazing, and I had never eaten so many restaurant quality meals in a single weekend before!

During the day this was not a free for all, where you just bring any old project and work at your own pace. This was a structured event where you signed up for workshops. The teachers had to pitch their classes, all suitable classes were offered, and there was a minimum number of sign-ups required for that class to run. As an attendee, I knew what the workshop options were, and was able to book into them before the retreat. During each session there were two, three or four options, and you could choose a technique, subject matter or teacher that appealed to you for each session. I learned some really fantastic techniques and I still have a lot of the pieces that I painted on that weekend.

I specifically attended this event because of the workshops, because it gave me an opportunity to learn a variety of techiques from a number of different teachers. The teachers were paid per student who signed up to their workshop, and this is one of the things that made this more of a high-end craft retreat. It was tons of fun. I won something in a raffle (it’s a beautiful handpainted Christmas sign, which I absolutely adore) and our evenings were our own to socialise and rest our eyes and weary painting hands. It wasn’t something I could afford more than once when the kids were young, which is why I only ended up going to one of them. But I learned a lot, and I’m very glad that I went.

5. Conference

There are still a couple of kinds of retreats that I would love to attend. The first one is a conference, and I’m actually planning on attending my very first craft conference in a couple of months. I’ve wanted to go for over a decade, and seeing all the photos and videos in January this year, ,I made the decision that I would be going in 2020 to Creativation in Phoenix, Arizona. It kicks off with two days of workshops and then it’s three days of open floor where I get to meet a lot of the vendors so a lot of the people who supply my store. I’m really looking forward to meeting the owners of the different brands that I stock in my store like Lawn Fawn, Hero Arts, My Sweet Petunia, Tim Holtz and more. I’m also thrilled that Darkroom Door is an Australian exhibitor … it will be nice to have a friend in a place where I really don’t really know anyone. The workshops are going to be interesting because they’re designed for store owners like me, so I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve never taken a big trip like this by myself, and it’s my first time visiting the USA, so I’m excited to do a few other crafty things while I’m there … like visit Joann’s Fabrics, Michaels and Hobby Lobby stores, and catch up with some USA-based friends from my KennyK Stamps design team days when I head to New York for a few days afterwards.

6. Craft Cruise

Another style of retreat that I would love to go on is a craft cruise. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love cruises. I’m not even fussy. I love a basic P&O cruise, and where I’m going is less important to me than the fact that I’m on a cruise. I love that there are tons of things to do, or you can choose to just sit and do nothing. So when people say to me “Oh, you’re going on a cruise. Where are you going?” my answer is “Who cares? I’m going on a cruise!”. I LOVE cruising. Darkroom Door has run craft cruises in the past and frustratingly the stars haven’t lined up for me to be able to attend one, but it’s on my bucket list. I would also love to run a craft cruise … so if anyone working for a cruise company is looking for a craft coordinator for a cruise, I’m just saying, you should get in touch with me for sure.

7. Overseas Tour

The last type of craft retreat is probably the most ambitious of all … an overseas craft tour.  I’ll be honest, before I looked at this, I had no desire to go to India, but Rachel Greig from Darkroom Door (in conjunction with an amazing travel agent) has organized a craft tour through India. Now, like I said, I’ve never really been bitten by the travel bug, nor wanted to go to India, but when I saw the itinerary and the places they were going and the things that they would be doing, I was tempted. I mean, I was really REALLY tempted, but while I was thinking about it, the tour sold out (and it sold out FAST!). Some ladies from the FDAA created their own craft tour in Russia a few years ago, and it was amazing to listen to their stories and see the photos. They saw some beautiful folk art, like the proper Russian traditional folk art, learned some clever techniques, and brought home some real treasures. Honestly, I’m really looking forward to hearing about this incredible craft retreat that Rachel is doing through India. The photos are going to be magnificent and I’m just dying to see where they went. Maybe next time I’ll go … who knows!.

If you’re considering attending a craft retreat, there are quite a few things you need to take into consideration. The first is cost, and it’s not just the cost of the retreat, but also your travel costs, whether you need to purchase anything especially for a workshop or special project you want to work on. Also remember that there may be a fund-raising element to the weekend, like raffles, a sale table, etc. You need to factor that in as well. There will be times in your life when you feel like it’s just too decadent to go on a craft retreat … I know I was in that place when finances were tight and my kids were little. I got around that by selling some handmade scrapbooking embellishments on ebay and putting that money towards my first craft retreat. You could also do a little destash, and sell off some stamps, dies, tools or embellishments that you no longer use or need. Or maybe when you’re asked what you would like for Christmas or birthdays, you tell people you want cash to put toward going to a craft retreat during the year (and make sure you do put that money toward going … do not let mum guilt make you spend that money anywhere else). At some times in your life, cheap & cheerful will be all you can afford, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dream of a quilting tour of the USA, a folk art tour of Russia or a textile tour of India one day down the track!

The next thing to consider is what type of event you think you would enjoy most.  Would you prefer something where you’re left to your own devices to work on whatever project your little heart desires?  Or are you craving workshops where you can ask lots of questions, learn new techniques from incredible teachers and walk away with a finished project? Would you like a retreat with lots of people, or something smaller with just a few?

Also consider what you want to get out of the retreat. Do you want to be alone, or super social? Are you there to relax, or to work hard on a specific project? Are you there for creative freedom or to learn something specific? Do you crave a familiar environment or long for an adventure?

If you’re unfamiliar with the event, ask the organiser a lot of questions, and see if you can find some photos, videos or written reviews from previous events on Facebook, blogs, websites, YouTube, etc.

In my experience, the more you put into a craft retreat, the more you get out of it. Check your budget, check your calendar, and really ask yourself what you want from this event.

My pro tip for a craft retreat is to be prepared and get organised well in advance. It doesn’t have to be months of planning, but if you’re throwing things into a tub 20 minutes before you have to leave, chances are you’re going to forget something important (like your sewing thread, adhesive, acrylic blocks, crochet pattern or spare embroidery needles). About two weeks out from your retreat, start jotting down some notes for yourself about things you want to take, and projects you need to work on. This is the time you buy your pattern and print it out, buy your fabric, yarn, thread, paint or papers. Resize and print your photos if you’re scrapbooking. About a week out, get specific and start gathering the things you need into one spot so that you’re not packing in a mad rush at the last minute.

A personal example … when I went to my last scrapbooking retreat, I knew I wanted to work on my house album and our Fraser Island holiday album. I gathered all the photos together into 2 big zip lock bags. I pulled cardstock, pattern paper and embellishments that I wanted to use for my more eclectic house album, and went shopping for a fully coordinating range for my holiday album. I drew up sketches of how I wanted the layouts to look, and only packed what I needed to complete the albums. I did also pack my handmade tear-bear box of goodies so I had something to do if I completed the albums early. The same for the sewing retreat I attended at Tocal this year. My main goal was to complete my Mario quilt, so I made sure I had everything together well in advance. In case I finished early, I decided to print out the pattern and do the fabric calculations for my next big sewing project … a Minecraft quilt. I purchased the fabric, and packed it as backup. I figured if I finished the Mario quilt, I could start cutting squares for the Minecraft quilt.  I didn’t finish, but at least I’m organised and everything is together for the next project.

If you’re working on lots of small projects, start setting up kits … it helps you to travel light. If I’m going to a full day or evening event, I will pre-stamp or print a bunch of images the day before.  Then all I need to pack is my markers or pencils and my stamped images, and I can just colour to my hearts content. Then I have a whole lot of pre colored images that I can use on cards later on. Another good idea is to work on card bases, then you can colour images to match the card bases later. If you have a bunch of card bases already made, take them with you so you can colour to match. Or you could use one of my free templates … just print it off, and take along some card bases, pattern paper, cardstock & adhesive and make a bunch of cards to embellish later (link below).

If productivity is not the aim of the game and you’re there to be social, then you’re going to want to set yourself up for socialising. Choose projects that are simple, take things that are a bit of a conversation starter … and take snacks. If you’re sharing snacks with the people on your table, you’re on your way to making friends. When I went to the scrapbooking retreat, I took my dies and Sizzix machine. This was back when it wasn’t a very common thing to own. I was happy to share my dies and cutting machine with other people, and most people made a gold coin donation toward a new cutting plate (which I definitely needed at the end of the weekend!). It was a great way to meet people, and chat while they were cutting a title for their layout … definitely a conversation starter. Here’s the thing … you may be all about being productive, or you might be a social butterfly. Either way, it is important to remember that others may have a different goal than you. If you’re trying to strike up a conversation with someone and they are super engrossed in their project, then they are likely trying to get as much done as possible, so perhaps chat to them at meal times instead of while they’re working. And if you’re in productivity mode, try not to get cross at those who are chatting and having a grand old time. Pop in some headphones and crank up some music or a podcast, but don’t be constantly shushing others and spoiling their fun. If in doubt, ask the organiser where it would be appropriate to sit given your goals for the weekend.

Most importantly of all, when it comes to craft retreats … have fun.

LINKS

FDAA (Folk & Decorative Artists Association of Australia)
Unmistakable Creations Craft Cruises
Darkroom Door India Tour
My 6×6 template blog post (free)
One Sheet Wonder PDF (free)
Perfected One Sheet Wonder template
Mario Quilt pattern & instructions (free)
Minecraft Quilt pattern & instructions (free)

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