Heading to a quilt retreat? Read this “think big” story

Mary and TracyWhen heading for a quilt retreat, Think Big!

In March, I was invited to go on a Leavenworth Quilt Co. retreat at Ingalls Creek Lodge in Peshastin, Washington, about a 2½-hour drive from Martingale in the Cascade Mountains. (That’s me on the left and Martingale’s customer service manager, Tracy, on the right, taking in the scenery by the lodge).

Usually when I go on a retreat, I pack at the last possible minute, come up with some vague idea of what I want to make, and throw a bunch of fabric and books in a bin (or two!). Then I have to concentrate at the retreat on what fabric will go where and spend time cutting it all before even starting to sew. I usually come home with one (almost finished) quilt top.

Meanwhile, my friend and coworker Karen Burns is always busy sewing her precut quilts. She finishes five or six quilt tops on retreat!

This time I was determined to be more like Karen. I spent a couple of evenings beforehand planning and cutting out all the pieces for four quilts, so all I’d have to do on retreat was sew, sew, sew!

Think BigI don’t know about you, but when I go on retreat, I find it’s best to work on something that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. With all the chatting and sharing and EATING (and maybe a few adult beverages too), I like to work on fun, easy projects, or else too much time is spent “unsewing!”

One of the books I chose for this retreat was Amy Ellis’s Think Big. Besides the great designs with large blocks (and hence large quilts!), what I really love about this book is how Amy gives the fabric requirements for each pattern. Not only does she list the yardage needed for six different sizes in one chart; she also tells you how many of each shape to cut from the yardage in another chart.

Example of materials chart from Think Big
Example of materials chart from
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I chose to make a pattern from Think Big called “Building Blocks.”

Building Blocks quilt projects
“Building Blocks” from
Think Big. You can make a pillow, a runner, or one of several sizes of quilts. The cutting charts make it a snap to find out how much fabric you’ll need for the project you choose.

Most of my stash consists of precuts. So instead of yardage, I worked with a fat-quarter bundle of Central Park by Kate Spain for Moda Fabrics. Amy’s charts make it SO easy to figure out just what you need. The math is spelled out for you!

Using the charts for “Building Blocks,” I figured out that I could cut all but one shape, the center square, from one fat quarter of light fabric. So I just fussy cut the center square from a different light fat quarter for all the blocks, and it worked out great! I had enough fat quarters to make 16 blocks, right in between the throw and twin size on Amy’s chart.

Partial cutting chart for Building Blocks
Example: a portion of the cutting chart for “Building Blocks.”
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Here’s my 16-block version of “Building Blocks.”

Mary's Building Blocks quilt

So how many quilt tops did I finish? Three! I probably would have started a fourth, but the mountain setting was so beautiful I ended up spending a lot of time on long walks outside, enjoying the scenery.
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Scenery at Ingalls Creek

Next on my list from Think Big: “Filmstrip!” All cut out and ready to go.
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Filmstrip quilt
“Filmstrip” quilt from
Think Big


Do you plan and cut ahead for retreats or are you a “throw-it-all-in-a-bin-and-figure-it-out-later” kind of retreater? Tell us in the comments!

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