Wonderful Things for Retreats
Writing my home retreat post had me thinking about a few of the items I own that make it a whole lot easier to quilt in places other than my studio. So if you’ll indulge me in some delusions of Oprah, here are two of my favorite things. And no, nobody’s getting a car.
Although I only participate in a few events per year that require me to have portable quilting supplies, the following products certainly were in use in my dining room for the home retreat weekend and are among my favorite and most highly valued sewing-related purchases of all time:
Although I have a design wall in my studio, made of felt covering a piece of foam housing insulation and mounted to the wall, it’s only 4′ x 8′ because that’s how much wall space I have available in that tiny 9′ x 9′ room. It’s great for smaller projects or for individual blocks, but when it comes to a larger project it’s great to be able to break out the big gun. I actually bought the set of three Cheryl Ann’s Design Walls at Quilt Blossom Festival a few years ago: 6′ x 6′, 3′ x 3′, and 18″ x 18″. They came as a set for a show special price, which I recall being around $220. I probably should have just bought the 6′ x 6′, as it’s the only one I’ve used repeatedly, but I’m a sucker for a deal.
My initial thought was that I would use these for classes and retreats, plus the occasional setup in the upstairs hallway for a big quilt layout, but the sad reality is that my 6′ x 6′ design wall pretty much lives in my narrow little upstairs hallway full-time. I take it down only when someone is coming over for whom I like to maintain the pleasant fiction that I’ve grown up enough not to leave my toys out. The cats also enjoy it; we refer to it as the Fabulous Kitty Fun Tunnel. (I’ve written a jingle. And no, I’m not going to sing it.)
This design wall is one of those amazingly well-designed and -executed things with which I like to surround myself. It goes together and comes apart very easily; the corner pieces have a tendency to slip off but that’s easily fixed with a little wrap of electrical tape around the tips of the frame poles. The flannel came preshrunk and is washable, which is very nice considering one of my most frequent uses of the wall is for spray basting. And for the (rare) occasions when it isn’t standing in my hallway, it comes with its own carrying case and breaks down nicely into a portable package. The manufacturer has recently come out with a new accessory that they have made available as an add-on to previous purchasers, a move that always endears a manufacturer to me: stabilization rods that will help keep the easel-style support poles from slipping on wood or tile floors. I haven’t bought them, as I’ve only used the support poles once, for a workshop; I just assemble the frame and then lean it against the wall. But it’s nice that I could get them if I needed to.
I coveted one of these for years, but the $249 price tag kept me away. Then I went to MAQ in 2007, spent all weekend sewing happy little taupe winding ways blocks with my sewing machine up on one of their tables, and came home with horribly sore shoulders, neck, and back. A few weeks later I attended Quilt Odyssey, bit the bullet, and made one of the wisest investments in my quilting ever. The Sew Ezi table is light, collapsible, portable, easily stored, and once again, very well engineered. It is customizable to any machine so that the acrylic insert surrounds the machine bed, creating a flat, smooth surface conducive to machine quilting and placing the machine bed at a very ergonomic height. On ordering, you tell the company what machine you have, and they custom-cut the acrylic insert based on information from the manufacturer; you don’t have to measure your machine. You can also get multiple inserts to use the table with multiple machines, as well as an insert to use the table as a lightbox.
It was very easy to initially assemble, and continues to be virtually effortless to set up and put away. The wheels make it very easy to transport to and from the car, but are tucked neatly out of the way during use. I use it at retreats, at classes, in order to sew in rooms of my own house other than my studio, to sew with my mom at their house, and I even set it up in front of my studio sewing table when I’m machine quilting a large quilt, for extra support. Love it!
It’s easy to fall into the trap of shopping for quilting supplies instead of actually quilting. There are plenty of quilters out there who manage to have the time and money to acquire all the state-of-the-art notions, tools, machines, and accessories, but never seem to get around to actually quilting. (I’m trying not to be one of them.) But at the same time, there is no denying that having the right tools makes quilting far more enjoyable. Perhaps our foremothers quilted by candlelight with just a needle, thread, and a pair of scissors, but I don’t think they’d have turned down an Ott-Light, a Bernina, and a rotary cutter!