Last month, I spent a weekend in Denver at Fancy Tiger Crafts sewing jeans with 12 other sewing obsessed ladies. Even though I’m not new to jeans construction, sewing a finished pair of jeans from cutting to wearing is a tall order for me in 2 and a 1/2 days. There’s no time to agonize over pocket placement or a wonky topstitch. You have to just let go and sew. And really, that’s what makes it so much fun!
Gathered around a table covered with neatly folded sample jeans in every size, our instructor Lauren (of Lladybird fame) began the workshop with a little goal setting for the weekend. Yes, we were going to learn her hard-won jeans construction tricks she’s developed over the years. But, this class was not about sewing a perfect pair of jeans. It was about proudly walking out the door in a completed pair of handmade jeans and feeling great about it.
Reflecting back on that crazy weekend, Lauren had it spot on. Whether you’re taking a multi-day class at a local fabric shop or flying halfway across the planet for a multi-week retreat, the reason we take these workshops is almost never about achieving sewing perfection. When I asked my sewist friends about their “why”, this is what they told me.
Building new connections
You can’t help but to feel a special bond with your fellow sewists when spending days together on a sewing marathon.
At my first jeans workshop in 2017, I was lucky enough to meet Stephanie (aka Vivid Voltage) who hails from Austin, TX. She explained to me that she finds a special kind of camaraderie when sewing with others. “There are so many sew alongs and classes online, but there’s something about being in a space with other sewists that’s really empowering,” she said. “Our practice is one of solo work, it’s rare that we get to commune with others as we sew – take advantage of that!”
(By the way, Stephanie’s sense of personal style is on point. Of course she sewed RAINBOWS on her pockets in our class! I hope a little bit of her playfulness rubbed off on me!)
You-time for personal exploration
Christina Bain, both an amazing knitter and sewist who traveled to Denver from Austin for last month’s jeans retreat, found that “making it part of a vacation meant I could focus only on sewing without distractions.” She opted to stay in a nearby AirBnB so she could walk to class and explore the neighborhood afterwards.
On the fence about a maker vacation? Christina says “Do it! It’s rare to get the chance to set aside life responsibilities and leap into a sewing technique, but it is so refreshing as a maker. I recommend choosing a shop that has hosted workshops before if you’ll be out of town, and choose a place where you’ll enjoy stepping away from the sewing machine in the evening to recharge.”
Get out of your comfort zone
Of all the sewists I know, I think Molly takes the cake when it comes to adventure! I asked her to share some highlights from the many maker tours she’s enjoyed over the years.
“I have traveled to Fujino, Japan twice, now, to work on traditional textiles with Bryan Whitehead, a silk grower and textile artist, who has immersed himself in a community of aging craftsmen,” she recalled. “On my second trip, I made a traditional fireman’s jacket (hanten) from start to finish– dyeing, stenciling and stitching it in the manner as instructed by a master kimono maker. I also enjoyed my trip to Luang Prabang, Laos to work on weaving with women of many different communities who have gathered at Ock Pop Tok, a cultural arts centre in this UNESCO heritage town.”
When it comes to embracing new experiences, she attributes her success to the setting. “Getting out of my comfort zone within a controlled environment (like a small group tour with Ace Camps) makes taking risks creatively easier! I might never have tried weaving if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of the environment amongst the women in Laos. Ultimately, I found out that that wasn’t really “my” craft– but even if it’s not something I’ll ever do again, I walked away from the experience of a better understanding of my creative pleasures.”
Regenerate through making
Traveling for a maker workshop is a great way to break out of your daily routine to open up a clearing for your creativity. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to simply step outside your every day space and practice your craft.
For some, it can be a life saver, especially when you have a high stress job like Molly. “I find it to be a tremendous mental health break– my work as a pediatric ICU doctor in the hospital is very stressful and workshops make me completely separate from that world. I could never go to a yoga retreat or mindfulness retreat where I would be forced to breathe- the catharsis of MAKING is that meditation to me.”
How to plan a maker vacation
Sold on the idea of maker tourism? Fantastic! Now for the planning part.
For seasoned advice on maker tourism, I turned to my sewing friend and fellow Coloradan Amanda. She’s traveled all over the US and abroad for workshops like the Archer Shirt with Jen Beeman at A Gathering of Stitches in Maine, the Harriet Bra with Amy Chapman at Craft South in Nashville, and even a Sew Over It trouser class in London!
To get started, she suggests identifying either a technique, project or destination and begin your online research there. For example, if you start with a project, then “maybe there are specific teachers or shops that are associated with that project and can be a starting point for finding classes.” For me, my personal quest has always been about pants, so I started with “jeans” as a project. That led me to Closet Case Ginger Jeans with Heather Lou as a teacher.
Likewise, if you know you want to head to a certain city (or stay local), Amanda recommends you “find area sewing shops and check out their class offerings. You might notice a regular cadence to what they offer.”
What about the budget?
Workshops are a significant investment in time and money. Amanda thinks it’s a good idea to establish a budget in advance and plan your destinations around it. “I have a spreadsheet with possible future destinations listed. Some require more expensive airfare/lodging than others. So, depending on my budget for a given trip (both timewise and money) I can look over my list and pick a good option for further research.”
If possible, I’m also a big fan of tacking on sewing workshops to existing travel plans, like work trips or family visits. More bang for the buck.
To lug or not lug
Amanda suggests being mindful of what tools will be provided during your class. “I don’t care to travel with my sewing machine, so I’m always careful to find classes where they provide machines at a minimum.” When traveling afar with pointy sewing accoutrements like scissors, she’s had them drop-shipped to her destination when she didn’t want to check luggage. “Any equipment I bring I label with my name and secure in a small hard sided transparent case. I’ve found this easiest when going through TSA. Although you can leave this in your luggage, I find security quicker when I can pull sewing items out and place on the conveyor belt separately.”
By the way, Amanda does a lot of her maker traveling paired up with her sewing buddy Jaime she met at a Made by Rae workshop in 2013! How cool is that?
If you have any fun maker retreat experiences or tips to share, please do so in the comments!