Sewing Machine Needles Don’t Last Forever!!!

Damaged sewing machine needle

Image magnified 1000x.

The needle is not a permanent machine part.
Needles get dull from use.
Needles are meant to be changed.

Clues to Changing the Needle
– Shredding or broken threads –
– Skipped stitches –
– Puckered or damaged fabrics –
– Wiggly squiggly seams –
– Popping, clicking or clunking sound –



Joanne Hillestad – Fat Quarter Gypsy

Joanne Hillestad Photo by Bonnie McCaffery.

Joanne Hillestad
Photo by Bonnie McCaffery.

Joanne Hillestad, of Fat Quarter Gypsy, has a motto: “Life is too short not to have chickens.”

Eleven years ago, Joanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing surgery and chemo, she says, “Something like that impacts your life. No way around it. It took me a few years, but I finally stopped worrying about how long I was going to live and started focusing on enjoying life, my family and all the happy things around me. In 2013, I woke up on my birthday and my first thought was to follow my dreams! I called my husband, Mike, and told him I was going to start designing quilts! He said GREAT!”

So , what do chickens have to do with designing quilts? Joanne always wanted chickens. She yearned for chickens! She felt like her life was not complete without chickens. But, even though they live on acreage in the country — her husband was not on board with the whole chicken thing. Shortly after Jo’s “follow my dreams” epiphany, Mike went out of town. That usually meant Jo would paint a room or dig up another section of the yard for a new garden. But, this time , she contacted a young man who was looking for a home for chickens from his 4-H project. When Mike got home, Joanne calmly introduced him to Phyllis, Bob Ross, Buffy and Jane.

Joanne and Mike have been married for 24 years, and they have two sons, Ryan (21) and Nick (19). They live in Stacy, Minnesota on 55 acres of mostly swamp. “It is a little heavy in the mosquito department . . . but we love it.” Besides Jo’s beloved chickens, they also have Bugsy, their faithful golden retriever, and two cats — Sam and Barney.

Joanne worked as a database/business analyst for 22 years, but her creativity impacted her life every day. “I became known as a problem solver. When a complicated project presented itself, my boss would sometimes ask me, ‘can you sleep on it?’ I would consider the issue and often figure out the steps needed to help solve the problem.”

Being creative has always been at the center of Joanne’s life. She loves to garden — she has way too many flowers and every summer grows enough vegetables to feed an army. She also loves nature photography, camping with her family, and glamorizing her vintage camper (Shirley). But sewing has always been her #1 hobby. “My mom taught me to sew when I was five. We made a red and white striped pillow. I was instantly hooked. I sewed a lot of clothes from middle school through high school including my prom dress. After I became a mom, I sewed clothes for my boys. They had overalls for every holiday. I also made a variety of storage solutions for cars, LEGO bricks, coloring, etc. I cannot imagine my life without sewing.”

She was in her 30’s when her mother-in-law introduced her to quilting. “My first two quilts were hilarious. I cut all the pieces with scissors and had no clue about using a ¼” seam allowance.” But it really didn’t matter. Jo was in love . . . she had found her passion.

Lacy Runners make stunning holiday tables.

Lacy Runners make stunning holiday tables.

For many years, Joanne has attended a Girl’s Weekend with a small group of friends. In the beginning (10 years ago), Jo was the only one sewing — everybody else was scrapbooking. Jo loved to bring her sewing machine, and a basket of fabric. She would experiment all weekend, putting together different combinations and patterns. During those retreats, her friends were always saying, “You should design quilts! You should start a business!!” On the morning Jo had the “Follow Your Dreams” epiphany, it was like somebody hit her in the face. That day she created her business — The Fat Quarter Gypsy.

The Fat Quarter Gypsy took up residence in the upstairs of Mike’s wire forming business, Nu Design, in Pine City, Minnesota. Their building is an old dairy creamer and dance hall from the 1920s. It even has a ghost named Ed. Jo and Mike car pool to work every day and they take their dog, Bugsy, along. The Fat Quarter Gypsy has a lot of space — including an office, a longarming room, a sewing room and a big storage room.

The Fat Quarter Gypsy was doing fine. Joanne was designing quilt patterns, she had a website, and she was building a customer list of independent quilt shops. She attended business workshops and met other quilt designers. Her business was growing. THEN, as often happens in this life, there was a moment of convergence that nobody saw coming.

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Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 6

What Sewing Enthusiasts are Saying About Their Retreat Experience

People who sew are a special lot. You have chosen a hobby that is all about giving. You make things to give as gifts. You sew Easter dresses for your grand-daughters, or t-shirt quilts for your grandsons who are graduating from high school. After you’ve made quilts for every relative, friend or casual acquaintance — you look around and start sewing for charity. You make quilts for Quilts of Valor, or you sew pillowcases for children in cancer wards.

You know who you are. You are thoughtful, kind and generous. Maybe it’s time you directed some of that towards YOURSELF. Take advantage of this hobby you love — SEWING — and go on a retreat. Invite sewing friends to join you — or go by yourself to make new friends. Consider your next retreat a gift you are giving yourself.

Because you’ve earned it . . . . Still on the bubble? Here are some of the comments from people who have attended a sewing retreat or two.


Don’t forget school kids. They like to sew too!

Don’t forget school kids.
They like to sew too!

I have been to two retreats in Shipshewana IN. Quilt n Go quilt shop in East Leroy, MI has three retreats in Shipshewana: April, August and November. It is a well run retreat. Just bring your machine, projects and clothes. Everything is taken care of so you can sew.Gail M.

I adore sewing retreats and make them my holiday destinations. I choose retreats based on what I will learn if they are taught, as well as traveling distance and cost. Twice a year I attend retreats that are just “do your own thing” with friends for get togethers. We learn from and inspire each other.Bren H.

I will be teaching at the Sewcial Escape hosted by SewMichelle in July. Retreats are a unique experience – multi-days with those that share your passion!Lisa S.

I am hosting a sewing retreat this week in McCall ID! Looking forward to a great weekend of sewing and sharing!Beth C.

Went to my first sewing retreat with a friend. I loved sewing from sun up to sun down and someone else doing the cooking. Signed up again for next year!Patsy M.

I’m a huge fan of the Modern Stitching Affair. Wendy F

I get so much done because I have to get organized. There are no outside distractions… just sew, sewing, SEWING!Anonymous


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 1 – Private & Small
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 2 – Group Retreats
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 3 – Official Retreat Centers
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4 – All-Inclusive
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 5 – Interview with an Attendee
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 6 – Testimonials


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 5

An Interview with Laura Mendoza
Attendee, Pierce County CTA Sewing Retreat

An Interview with Laura Mendoza Attendee, Pierce County CTA Sewing RetreatHow long have you been doing your Sewing Retreat? My first one was 11 years ago at this same location.

Does it have a formal name? Pierce County CTA Sewing Retreat.

Is it always scheduled for the same time every year? Until this year, it had been the first weekend of February. We changed it to 4th weekend of March for better weather conditions……and it snowed this year.

How many people participate? 30-40. We have 39 hotel-style rooms with private baths. Each room has a queen bed and bunk beds, table/chairs, all linens. So if we go over 39, people need to share a room. The conference room where we sew really only can hold about 42 and all our stuff.

Who can attend? It’s for Pierce County CTAs first. After they have signed up, then we open to other counties CTAs and to friends. We always have Pat & Shirley from Snohomish County CTAs attend. My BFF has attended a few times too. Others have invited friends from other groups like ASG.

How long does it last? Friday at 9:00 AM to Sunday at 3:00 PM.

What does it cost? This year was $240. Our price hasn’t gone up much, as we stay at the same location. Ten years ago it was about $200.

Have you always used the same facility? For at least the past 11-12 years.

Does everybody bring their own equipment and/or projects? Yes. However, the retreat center provides all the tables and chairs. Most of us do bring our own chairs anyways. Three attendees will bring big ironing boards and irons for all to use. We elevate two of the banquet tables to use as a cutting center. Most of us get an entire 6 ft table for our own use. We usually group them together in groupings of 2-4 tables. The center also provides coffee/tea, industrial size coffee maker, microwave, small fridge, and there’s a sink in the conference room.

Do you all work on the same project? Sometimes a group project idea is set up that people have the option to do. Like this year, about 10 learned how to ice dye. Other years groups have done 60 degree table runners, pillowcases for charity, aprons.

Do you have Sew & Shares? Saturday night at 7:30 PM.

Do you have guest speakers? No.

How do you handle the meals? The retreat center has a separate dining hall and they cook yummy meals for us. We get dinner Friday, all three meals on Saturday, and breakfast/lunch on Sunday. They cook a great variety of quality meals. Every year, it’s different. Breakfast can be eggs/bacon/potatoes one day and French toast and sausage on the other. There’s also cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, bagels, and fruit. Lunch is usually homemade soup on one day in bread bowls. The other day might be sandwiches, Asian wraps, taco salad, etc. And there is always a nice salad bar too. Dinners have been pot roast, pasta, tacos, baked potato bar. This year we had Greek-inspired dinner one night. On Friday, we are on our own for lunch, so many of us go to the local historic café bakery about 15 minutes down the road.


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 1 – Private & Small
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 2 – Group Retreats
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 3 – Official Retreat Centers
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4 – All-Inclusive
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 5 – Interview with an Attendee
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 6 – Testimonials

Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4

#4: All-Inclusive, Luxury Retreats

All-Inclusive Luxurious Sewing Retreats

The ultimate luxury sewing retreats are taking place on board cruise ships. Depending on the length of the cruise, the location, or the size of the ship — the cost can be anywhere from $1500 to $6000. Kaye Wood has been quilting and cruising for years, and Jenny Doan was on a Royal Caribbean cruise as well. Most quilting and sewing retreats have a set agenda, with a particular project or theme. The attendees don’t have to worry about a thing — everything is included in the price. The machines are often provided by sponsors, and the price includes patterns, kits, teachers, maybe a goody bag — and those legendary cruise-ship buffets.


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 1 – Private & Small
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 2 – Group Retreats
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 3 – Official Retreat Centers
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4 – All-Inclusive
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 5 – Interview with an Attendee
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 6 – Testimonials