Quilt barns, exhibits, small-group retreat sites

Kelly Ryan of Minneapolis and Marilyn Zilic of Madison don’t know each other, but they have something big in common: a penchant for small-group retreats. I enjoy this type of outing, too, but “church,” “bunk beds,” “hiking” and “contemplation” come to mind – not “scrapbooking” or “quilting.”

Kelly wrote shortly before heading to The Trails Retreat in St. Croix Falls, her twice-a-year pilgrimage. “We have 18 women together for a few days,” she explains. “Everyone gets a big table to do whatever they want … scrapbooking, beading, knitting. There is a fully equipped kitchen, five big bedrooms with single beds. Lots of laughing, eating and drinking.”

She also has worked on scrapbooks at the two-story Whispering Pines Retreat, St. Croix Falls, where up to a dozen people work and chatter downstairs, away from the simple but cheerful sleeping rooms, where twin beds are covered with pretty patchwork quilts.

Marilyn finds relaxing respites farther south, at places that include Homestead Cabin Retreat near Hillpoint, a big and earthy log home with loft and other bedrooms, a fireplace, wide porch and rocking chairs.

This retreat’s “things to remember” list includes a sewing machine, other quilting supplies/equipment, “a great smile and attitude to match.” On the “things to leave home” list are husbands, pets, children, cigarettes and TVs/radios.

At Blooming Escapes, a retreat near Wisconsin Dells that Marilyn has frequented, attractive extras include a hottub, 3.5 bathrooms, continental breakfast and baskets of snacks to share.

It is not unusual for these retreat settings to be redesigned houses, with good lighting, a lot of elbow room – and no pressure to produce anything during the getaway. Décor is homelike, amenities aren’t over-the-top, and prices are designed for the budget-conscious traveler.

In-house equipment (such as die cut tools, ironing boards) is available to all, and there may be a mystery project to which everyone contributes. The getaways tend to be in serene surroundings, with participants making their own meals or retreating to a restaurant.

If nobody would mistake you for Martha Stewart, don’t count yourself out from these gatherings too quickly. Bringing a book, sleeping in or taking a hike often are acceptable ways to pass the time. More important than what you accomplish is doing what it takes to unwind or invigorate – the choice is yours.

Some retreat operators charge a flat fee for facility rental, including overnight accommodations. Others have ways to accommodate individuals or groups not large enough to book the entire retreat space.

Early next year, 85 of the world’s best examples of contemporary quilting come to Wausau. Quilt National entrants turn their stitches into art, and this juried work will be in place at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum from Jan. 24 to March 29.

Expect unusual quilting materials and techniques as well as brilliant colors and patterns. Quilt National and Bead International occur every other year, as organized by The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio.

Quilts and other art/artisan creations are displayed all year at the Dairy Barn, a 1914 structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places. This nonprofit arts center contains gallery and workshop space.

More Midwest counties have begun to use barns to hang colorful quilt patterns that are painted onto 8-foot wood squares. Racine, Lafayette and Green counties are among the most recent Wisconsin participants in a nationwide barn quilts project, which celebrates agricultural roots, rural architecture and respect for quilting as an art form.

Use a barn quilt map as a country drive guide, and you’ll likely revel in the beauty of back roads, little-known lakes and meandering wildlife. Racine County aims to have 45 barn quilts in place by the end of 2010; so far 15 are erected and mapped. Walworth County has just begun barn quilt project discussion, and more than one dozen states participate in this project that began in Ohio in 2001 and has been described as the National Clothesline of Quilts.

For more:

The Trails Retreat, St. Croix Falls: www.thetrailsretreat.com, 715-268-5247 ($1,650 for two-night weekend rental; room for 18).

Whispering Pines Retreat, St. Croix Falls: www.whisperingpinesretreat.com, 651-437-9175 ($1,110 for two-night weekend rental; room for 12).

Homestead Cabin Retreat, Hillpoint: www.homesteadquilting.addr.com, 608-986-4154 ($210 for two-night stay, per person, including meals; share a bedroom with two or three others).

Blooming Escapes, Wisconsin Dells: www.bloomingescapes.com, 608-576-3623 (rate depends upon size of group; room for 18).

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau: www.lywam.org, 715-845-7010.

Quilt National: www.dairybarn.org, 740-592-4981.

Wisconsin Barn Quilt projects: www.greencountybarnquilts.com (13 barns, so far), www.uwex.edu/ces/cty/lafayette (10 quilt sites selected) and www.quiltsonbarns.com (15 barn quilts now, 45 by late 2010).