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A Writing Retreat Reflection in Three Parts Quilt Journeys, Class of 2024

Join instructors Lauren DeLuca, Mary Fons, and Frances O’Roark Dowell as they share their favorite moments and key takeaways from Quilt Journeys, our first in-person writing retreat that took place in Winterset, Iowa, June 13-16, 2024.

On Togetherness
By Lauren DeLuca

I have been either a tutor, a teacher, a writer, or an editor for the past 15 years. There have been busy seasons where I juggle all four roles at once—and quieter ones, where I have the luxury of focusing on just one or two. For the past four years, it has been the latter. In the summer of 2020, I transitioned from writing persuasive business proposals and teaching composition to adult learners, to writing and copy editing for Quiltfolk. I love every minute of it; this community of makers never ceases to amaze me. 

But, once a teacher, always a teacher, so when a Quiltfolk Writing Retreat was suggested, the “instructor” within me perked up at the possibility. 

You see, I work from home. And as a mom to two young boys, I wouldn’t have it any other way. (I am a homebody at heart.) But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t occasionally dream about hitting the road with the team to meet some amazing quilters in person—getting to know them beyond the computer screen, beyond the pages of the magazine. So, when Quilt Journeys became official, I said, “Count me in!” 

I loved planning the event; venturing to the small “Stars-Hollow-esque” town of Winterset, Iowa; and having heartfelt conversations with smart, creative makers from all over the US. And the feeling was mutual. I think it is fair to say that everyone cherished the “togetherness.” 

No writing experience was required, so we welcomed folks of all levels. And even though some were intimidated and admitted that they even considered canceling, they were so glad they didn’t. Established and aspiring writers alike made memories, developed friendships, planned future writing endeavors, and shared personal perspectives and experiences. Some left with a goal to journal and blog more regularly; others left determined to seek publication. We all supported one another’s goals—and will continue cheering each other on from afar.

Favorite Moments 
  • Meeting the Marvelous Megan Barrett. Megan is a long-time Winterset citizen, and she served as our local logistics coordinator and so much more. I enjoyed getting to know her and watching her hard work in action. Megan is the reason our event went so smoothly, and I can’t thank her enough for her time, commitment, and positive energy!
  • Visiting Quiltfolk Studios. Quiltfolk has a brick-and-mortar studio on the second floor of the Iowa Quilt Museum. This is where we kicked off the Quiltfolk Foundry project and filmed Finishing School 101. I loved visiting the space in person and hosting the writing retreat in this historic building that overlooks the town square.
  • Foundry Quilts and Tops. To celebrate the studio’s connection to the Foundry, we hung never-before-seen Foundry Quilts from our forthcoming summer collection as well as a variety of unfinished quilt tops. It was incredible to see these quilts in their element—and to share them with writers.  
  • Iowa Theater. After the Thursday evening welcome reception, we walked over to the historic Iowa Theater to watch a private showing of The Bridges of Madison County (filmed in Winterset). It was relaxing to sit and snack on popcorn and Junior Mints. And the staff were incredibly friendly too!
  • One-on-One Conversations. I thoroughly enjoyed the one-on-one conversations I had with our writers. I personally wrote to each attendee after the event, and I hope that we will continue to stay in touch. It was also wonderful to finally meet Mary Fons in person as she and I have worked on countless projects together over the years (at a distance) and to work alongside Frances O’Roark Dowell for the first time. They are both funny, smart ladies. And last, but certainly not least, I had the pleasure of meeting Marianne Fons and discussing food, literature, and small-town living with her. I will cherish these conversations for years to come!
On Taking Risks & Climbing Ladders
By Mary Fons

At the first-ever Quilt Journeys Writing Retreat, my co-teacher and friend Frances O’Roark Dowell dropped some wisdom that instantly made everyone in the room, including me, a better writer. I’ve paraphrased her here, but this was Frances’ message: “Every writer will hit a wall eventually. A lot of beginner writers, when they hit that wall, they give up. But if you’re serious about your writing, you don’t give up; you find a ladder. You use that ladder to climb over the wall. And you keep going.”

This morning, when I sat down to write a little something about the retreat, I was surprised to find myself stuck. A wall was before me, somehow, and I couldn’t figure out how it got there. The retreat was incredible. It was one of the most satisfying gigs of my life (and I’ve done a lot of gigs.) From the welcome reception to the farewell party, believe me when I tell you that no one involved could’ve asked for more. But gushing does not equal good writing. Good writing is more about specificity, details, and action. Then I remembered Frances’ sage advice. I needed a ladder. And I found one. The ladder is wide and made of wood and there’s a word painted on it in pink: gratitude. 

When I consider how grateful I am to all the students who made Quilt Journeys a profound experience; when I reflect on their truly exceptional writing; when I think about the tasty charcuterie platter at the opening reception; when I recall the marvelous, thoughtful conversations I had with everyone there and especially with my co-teachers, Frances and Lauren DeLuca, well, the words come pretty easy. Wall, meet ladder. (Thank you.)  

On Being Brave
By Frances O’Roark Dowell

We took a field trip to the International Quilt Museum in Nebraska, and a tornado chased us back to Iowa. For a lot of us, that wasn’t half as scary as showing up to the first Quiltfolk Writing Retreat in Winterset two days earlier.  

What’s scary about a writing retreat, you ask? How about sharing your writing with a group of people you’ve only known for half a day? Or having professional writers give you feedback on your work? 

And yet, 21 brave people closed their eyes and jumped in. My fellow teachers, Mary Fons and Lauren DeLuca, and I were already in the pool, but we were scared too. People had paid good money to be there. Would we give them the experience they’d come for?

I hope we did. I know those 21 amazing writers gave me an experience I’ll never forget. From the insta-bonding at Thursday night’s opening reception to the morning writing exercises that everyone knocked out of the park, to the fact that no one seemed to ever stop writing, everything felt magical. 

During student conferences on Sunday, Mary, Lauren and I were presented with drafts that shimmered with warmth, insight, and gorgeous sentence-level writing. By that time, none of us were the least bit surprised. We knew we had a group of real-deal writers on our hands and that our most important job was to encourage everyone to keep writing once the retreat was over. 

I hope they do. I really hope they do.

About the Authors

Mary Fons is a writer, editor, and livestreamer who specializes in quilt history and the life of quilts in popular culture.

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Frances O’Roark Dowell first combined her love of storytelling and quiltmaking in her 2016 novel Birds in the Air, followed by the short story collection, Margaret Goes Modern. In 2018, she created the Quilt Fiction podcast, where she posted chapters of a novel-in-progress, Friendship Album, 1933.  Frances also writes about quilts for magazines such as Quiltfolk, Quilting ArtsQuiltCon Magazine, Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting, and Curated Quilts.

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Lauren DeLuca has been a writer and copy editor at Quiltfolk since 2020. She served as the primary copy editor for Quiltfolk Life: Volume One, Quiltfolk issues 16-20, and the second edition of Roderick Kiracofe’s book Unconventional & Unexpected, American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000. She currently focuses her time on writing and editing marketing content, Quiltfolk Journal posts, and more!

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