I love going to sew-ins and retreats! But what to bring? Aside from the obvious and usual things, I thought I would post a few of my favorite retreat/sew in helpers.

I already talked about my portable ironing board. That is a must for me! To go with that I have a Panasonic cordless iron. What I love about this iron is it comes in a caddy with a lid. You can put your still-hot iron back in the caddy, close the lid, and take it home without waiting for the iron to cool down. No worries about melting anything in your car on the way home!

If you have back problems, like me, and you arrive ready for a full day of sewing, only to see that your chair is a metal folding one, you might want to cry a little. Some people bring own chair and table, but knowing me I would probably tweak my back carrying them or wrangling them into my car.

Instead, I sit on an inflatable disc (a “Dyna Disc“) that is only partially inflated. It gives some cushioning, but it also shifts my weight around often so I don’t get as stiff and sore after a whole day of sewing in exactly the same position. It has a nubbly side underneath so it doesn’t slip around on the chair. I have sewn for almost 12 hours in a day sitting on this thing and barely been sore! If you are more frugal, a simple cushion to sit on will also help a lot.

Things to bring to a quilt retreatThings to bring to a quilt retreat


This next thing I probably wouldn’t bother bringing to a quick sew-in, but for a retreat I might. I like having a little step stool for my foot pedal to prevent sciatic pain in my back and right leg. I used to have one that was a tiny bench (below left), but then I found a much larger, sturdier, and angled one at a rummage sale earlier this year (below right). If you or someone you know is handy, you could probably make one like this, too.

Also, I taped a piece of non-skid liner to the bottom of my foot pedal so it doesn’t slip around.

I would also recommend bringing a couple of buckets or bins–one for threads etc. and one for scraps to keep your workspace tidier. At the last retreat I went went to, it was the first project I made. It was really nice to have a quick finish that I could then enjoy all weekend. These fold almost flat when empty. Mine is similar to Amanda Jean’s thread catcher. Super easy, super quick, and stands up by itself if you use interfacing.

Things to bring to a quilt retreat

If you decide not to bring your own iron and board, something that is very handy is a wooden seam presser, sometimes called a Little Wooden Iron. I picked one up in Duluth this year for about $4 and love it. My fingernails would always get very sore from finger pressing. The frugal alternative is to use a wooden spring clothespin that has been taken apart, but I find this one easier to hold onto. There are very fancy ones and seam rollers, which are also supposed to work well.

Things to bring to a quilt retreat

Something I have found to be invaluable for organizing (and is cheap) is quart and gallon-sized Hefty “Freezer” zip bags. I like the Hefty ones better for organizing stuff because the slide lock is much easier to close. I use quart size bags to organize all my threads and notions, and gallon size to organize blocks, fabrics, or whole projects. I always bring along a few extras to hold scraps etc. for the way back home.

Things to bring to a quilt retreatThings to bring to a quilt retreat

I also invested in a smaller cutting mat (12″ x 18″, which was very cheap with a coupon from Jo-Ann’s) that I put beside my machine. It fits on almost any table and that way I don’t have to get up to trim things. I wound up liking it so much it now lives beside my machine at all times. Since I try to pre-cut pretty much all my projects before I go to a retreat, it is really all I need.

Things to bring to a quilt retreat

And, one last thing I love to have is one or more portable design boards. These are washable and durable, and very handy for a complicated quilt. Download my free pattern for these cute design boards here.

Design boards allow you to lay out your block or project to audition fabrics and colors before you start sewing. They also help you keep all the pieces of a block facing the correct way as you sew and press. This is great in a social situation where it’s so easy to not be paying attention to which way things are supposed to be sewn together!