It’s a small, small world.

The quilting world sometimes feels like a secret favorite child of one of society’s mistresses. The world at large doesn’t seem to be too aware of us, and yet we toddle around the globe via the internet, and even cruise ships having the time of our lives. We chatter amongst ourselves about fabric lines and manufacturers and the latest shake-up in the industry. We gently stalk our favorite designers, and hoard fat quarters like they’re Beanie Babies. And how about shop hop events, guild meetings, friendly sew-ins, retreats, quilt shows and conferences? Over 50,000 people attend the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX each fall. Over 30,000 descend on the tiny town of Paducah, KY each spring for AQS Quilt Week. And while it’s tough to find the exact numbers, about 2,500 attend QuiltCon each February as it moves back and forth across the United States.

Depending on one’s perspective, those are big numbers or small numbers. Some are surprised there’s that much interest in what the world at large thinks is a “dying art.” Others are so immersed in the quilting world that they might think that number would be larger, and are shocked no one else in the grocery store is creeping up on Anna Maria Horner or Angela Walters for their autographs.

And then one enters the longarm quilting community. If people think the quilting community is relatively small, they should meet the longarm crew. Hello. We haven’t even been able to get the word “longarm” as one of Webster’s new words, and we’ve been using it for years, mildly annoyed by that red underline every time we type it. Never mind that autocorrect insists that we are seeing rather than sewing. And sewist needs to be a new word, too!!!!! But I have digressed.

When Juan was first delivered and set up in my studio, I found myself incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like my dealer was speaking another language. She spoke quickly and used terms I was completely unfamiliar with, and quite honestly seemed to assume that I knew a lot more than I did. When she left I cried. It was about as bad as bringing home my first child. I had that hard, tight feeling in my chest warning me that I had made a decision that I could not take back, and that I’d better grab my bootstraps and get it figured out. Fast.

I hardly spoke a word about how I was really feeling, and I spent a lot of time telling everyone how excited I was. And a part of me was excited, but it was a very small voice, and it took some work for that voice to grow in strength and confidence. Especially when it was mixed with voices from others, and even from myself, degrading computerized work, the brand of machine I bought and longarming in general.

I started to hear of online support groups. Then about magazines devoted to longarm machine quilting. Then longarm quilting support meetings. Then quilt shows focusing specifically on longarm quilting. Then retreats. And even cruises. Who knew?!?

In the last couple of years, I’ve narrowed the groups I participate in as I have found some work for me and some don’t, for a number of reasons. I’ve attended two retreats, Statler Southern Belles, both being hosted by Joan Knight and Anita Shackelford in the spring at DeGray State Park in Arkansas.

While the lodge accommodations are average and the food is meh, the scenery is incredible. It is a beautiful location for a gathering, and the staff are friendly and kind. But the location is not why we are here.

These retreats are the only quilting related event I’ve ever been to that we don’t touch a piece of fabric or a machine pretty much the entire time. Ninety or so of us pack into a darkened conference room for 2 1/2 days looking at projected computer screens and furiously taking notes.

Joan and Anita are remarkably professional, and are incredible educators. They know the software and the machine inside and out, and break down every topic to its bare essentials and then build it back up again. I could not do what I do without their leadership and tutoring. Attending these events has made all the difference in the world to my work. I’m very grateful, and would recommend this retreat to every Statler owner- it’s totally worth it.

Just like every educational event, not everyone has the same experience. Some have a-ha moments. Some get more confused than they were before they got there. Some get frustrated because they already know this stuff. Some get frustrated because they are lost just trying to keep up with the lingo.

There are shenanigans. Door prizes. Lots of candy and Diet Coke. Laughter. Groans. People who break the rules. People who are annoyed with those breaking the rules. Applause. Guest speakers. Show and tell. Cake. And inside jokes.

There are evening gatherings that include comparing notes on everything from running a longarm business to what to do with grandkids over the summer. We pick the brains of our patient hosts and guest designers, as well as each other.

Some stay up late, but my brain is so tired at the end of the day, and quite honestly I’ve hit my social wall, that I’m grateful to make my way to my room. I also head there at lunchtime so that I can quickly work up some of what I just learned on my laptop before I forget it.

It is nothing like what I expected it to be. It’s a whole different world that I was never aware of in my 20+ years of quilting. And I still feel like I’ve only skimmed the top of it. There is SO much to learn- so many ways to progress, develop and grow.

And so many people to meet and learn with in this small, small world.