Craft retreats are treats for the crafty

Last year I attended my first craft retreat. Though it was organized by Trips for Knitters, there was so much more than just knitting going on. Billed as a “stitch-makers retreat,” it was an ideal introduction to craft retreats for me. In the almost week-long stay, each of our days was split in half, with work on one type of project before lunch and then a different type of project after lunch. Even with some daytime (visit to a yarn shop, natch!) and evening outings (live music at a local general store), this structure allowed for ample time to finish one project completely and get a very solid start on the other. And the variety of projects meant I never felt bogged down or bored, as can sometimes be the case when stitching a larger garment.

Our retreat took place at the very cozy Thomas Shepherd Inn in Shepherdstown, WV. We were a group of seven, plus the two organizers/instructors, coming from areas such as New York state, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, the Washington D.C. area and even as far as Nova Scotia, Canada. What I found really enjoyable was the different level of experience each person brought to the retreat. There were two sewing projects to choose from–either a pair of custom-fit blue jeans or a project bag–and two knitting projects–a top-down sweater with a colorwork yoke or a colorwork cowl. I’ve been knitting for almost 20 years, but am not yet that comfortable with sewing. Others in the group were very skilled at sewing but kept to simpler knitting projects. Some didn’t make the cowl or the sweater, but just brought along other knitting projects to work on while the rest of us attacked the colorwork garments.

We ate all of our meals as a group, from breakfast in the morning at the inn to our lunches and dinners in and around Shepherdstown. The times just before and after meals, especially first thing in the morning and after dinner, were spent in the inn’s lounge working on whatever we wanted, at our own pace, and falling into some really enjoyable conversations. The discussions ranged from politics (thank goodness we were all largely on the same page on this topic), to books, to what we were binge watching lately, to just the sort of random stuff you talk about when getting to know a group of new people. Everyone was very congenial and friendly; we laughed a lot and enjoyed learning from one another and seeing the progress we were all making on our projects. As an introvert, I often struggle with the group dynamic, but this and other gatherings of knitters have proven time and again that, as a whole, we’re just a lovely bunch of people, we knitters.

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Our hosts were also outstanding. They were extremely accommodating, considering our need to basically take over every available space for our projects, what with all the cutting of fabric, sewing on multiple machines, and ironing on boards set up wherever we could find room for them. At times it looked like a disaster area in the inn’s lounge, with knitting bags, swatches and balls of yarn strewn all about, but our hosts took it all in stride and never faltered in their gracious, hospitable manner.

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It’s hard to describe the value that week in Shepherdstown brought to my life. At that time, work had been causing some stress, spring was still a long way off in upstate New York, and it had seemed more and more difficult to carve out time to just relax and knit. I often get jealous of people who can pursue their craft as a career, without the need for a nine-to-five job that takes so much time away from creative work. But I’m sure for them, there’s also little time for relaxed crafting. They must also struggle with deadlines and pressure to be constantly coming up with new designs, patterns and other ways to monetize their craft. So even they could benefit from something like a craft retreat–where they don’t have to teach or be leading workshops. All I know is, from the moment I arrived on a Saturday afternoon–a day ahead of the official start of the retreat–to the time I left the following Saturday afternoon, I felt happy, at ease, fulfilled and positively joyful. Spending five solid days and then some working on creative projects with like-minded people was both energizing and nourishing. And I can’t wait for my trip next month to do it all over again.

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