We’re home after a fabulous experience in Mississippi. Yes, there was a frightening tornado an hour away. And a thunderstorm with hail the night before we left. But the people in Mississippi were warm and welcoming.
And the retreat? Well, better than I ever dreamed.
But first we had to get there.
A photo to remember where we parked the car in the massive airport parking lot.
Watching Homestead Rescue on Southwest TV.
Spending most of our long layover in Baltimore at the Silver Diner, a favorite place to enjoy a meal.
Once in Jackson, we took a cab several miles out of town to a Holiday Inn. Great place with a sports bar and good food. Then next afternoon we were picked up by the conference’s shuttle and taken to the Eagle Ridge Conference Center way out in the country, a thirty minute drive from the hotel.
Somehow this was associated with a Junior College campus. The main drive into the center was under construction, so we went around the back way. By the prison.
We were assigned our room, then I set off to explore the sewing room and set up my rental machine. Others were doing the same as people trickled in. First gathering was to be at 6 PM for dinner, then an informal chat with China and Mary Ann afterwards.
There were forty of us, plus the calm and wise organizer Anne. And the Gee’s Bend Pettways. We had our pick of sewing tables–grouped in sets of four. Talk about organization? This was incredible. Nine huge bins of scrap fabric on long tables in the center of the room. Multiple ironing stations. Cutting stations in the hall, along with cutting mats on everyone’s sewing tables.
I’d never been to a quilt retreat before this one. I didn’t know what to expect–and I wasn’t the only one. Most of us came alone. Most were quilters, but some were newbies. And everyone was happy. Jubilant, even. I never saw anyone frown for three and a half days.
There had been a waiting list of 1200 quilters after Covid. We were the ones who had their plans cancelled due to the pandemic. Only 120 would be able to attend the three 2023 sessions. Were we happy? Yes!
Every place had a card with words of wisdom. We read them aloud to our tablemates. Excellent ice breakers.
Meals were served buffet-style at 8 AM, 12 noon and 6 PM. We were encouraged to switch it up and sit with new people at each meal. I had signed Banjo Man up for meals, so the only man at the conference had a great time chatting with forty women and making new friends.
They loved him. I confided to a couple of new friends that he had just completed radiation and that we were sticking very close to each other these days. I think the word spread, because I would walk down the hall to the coffee table or the sewing room and someone would ask, “How’s Glen feeling today?”
Most of the women knew exactly what they wanted to sew. Armed with photos of Gee’s Bend quilts and box after box of fabric hauled from home (many were able to drive to Jackson), they started to cut and sew with furious energy. The sewing room was open 24 hours a day, so many worked into the night the first day.
Others didn’t know much about quilting, but they produced all the new solid fabrics recently purchased and tucked into suitcases.
I had no idea what I was going to create. I had dug through my fabric closet and found some solid fabrics and some stripes to bring with me. But there wasn’t much of it. I cut 4″ squares out of much of it before I left, thinking I could make half-square triangles until I came up with a design idea.
This plan was not a good one. While I didn’t want to replicate a Gee’s Bend original, I should have splurged on solid fabrics to stuff in my suitcase. The Gee’s Bend quilts are modern, architectural and mostly created from bold, solid fabrics.
What was I thinking? I don’t know. Making a quilt or wallhanging was not my priority. Sewing wasn’t (I have plenty of time to sew here in my RI winters). I just wanted to see Mary Ann and China, hear what they had to say, breathe the same air, understand their creative process, see their quilts.
I was not disappointed.
To be continued tomorrow…