Western quilting retreat offers camaraderie, tips

Ponoka’s annual quilting retreat attracted 63 women, ranging from beginners to master sewers


Ponoka’s annual quilting retreat attracted 63 women, ranging from beginners to master sewers, from across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan for four days of quilting.

“Some of them are new, some have never been to a retreat before,” said host Kathleen Mennell.

The retreat started at 7:30 a.m. each morning from Aug. 13 to 16 and the sewers would work on individual projects until 10:30 at night at the Ponoka Legion.

There were two show and tell nights where the sewers were able to show up to three projects and tell their stories. “You get everything form very basic sewing to very elaborate quilts,” said Mennell. “There’s a real diversity of project ideas and it becomes your family after a while.”

Home economist Veronica Longmuir, who’s also the owner of Veronica’s Sewing Supplies, travelled from Kindersley, Sask. to show her wares.

Longmuir has been running her store for 33 years and it’s the longest running single proprietor store in Canada. She was one of four vendors and according to her and Mennell, it’s an achievement to have all four at the retreat in Ponoka.

‘This is a huge retreat. The food is excellent. I really like Ponoka people,” said Longmuir.

Before she had her store, Longmuir was a home ec teacher. “I had a great home ec teacher, she inspired me.”

When she retired she needed something new. “And then I thought it’d be great to have a store.”

Some sewers at the retreat have been sewing and quilting most of their lives, such as Lois Nysetvold, while others, like Darlene Pfahl started much later.

Nysetvold stared sewing when she was 11 years old. She once took her sewing machine in to be serviced and saw an embroidery machine. Form there her love of embroidery grew.

“I embroider. I quilt because I love to embroider.” Nysetvold has two sons whose shirts she embroidered over and over again. She eventually needed something else to do. “I’m not typical of the people here.”

Nysetvold lives near Lloydminster and a mutual friend helped introduce her to Mennell.

It normally takes Nysetvold three months to finish a project but more elaborate ones can take up to a year.

“It’s not like a job. I do it for fun.”

Pfahl took sewing in school until Grade 12 but it wasn’t until she retired from her Grade 2 teaching job that she got into quilting. “I had some home ec friends and I said I’ve always wanted to quilt.”

They helped Pfahl cut the pieces and she did the sewing. Without their help, Pfahl says she wouldn’t have been able to do it. “But then I was hooked.”

Pfahl likes making lap quilts better than the full-sized ones, like her first quilt. “It’s smaller and knowing myself I’d get it done.”

Pfahl likes quilting because it can be a social hobby. Mennell believes it can also be a charitable one.

Mennell created a wall hanging for the Slave Lake Fire Department. From it they were able to make postcard replicas and other items to sell.

The wall hanging represented the flames, the forest that burned, the animals, houses and businesses that were lost and a helicopter that went down with a man inside.

Despite the social aspects and tips and greetings flying across the room, the retreat can be hard on the sewers’ bodies. Many wore supports to save their shoulders and backs, and a registered massage therapist was on site to give half-hour massages.

Quilting and sewing can also be hard on the wallet. Four women who attended the retreat each had a machine that cost $1,000. One also brought 600 spools of thread with her.

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