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Retreat Story: The Quilted Forest

One aspect of our ministry which brings in perhaps our widest variety of guests is hosting retreat groups. From a single person or family staying for a weekend getaway to over 200 teens and young adults testing for their black belts in Tae Kwon Do, and lots of groups in between, we spend many weekends during the school year hosting various groups and weekends in the summer hosting families. Today, we are sharing the story of one of those groups as I sat down to talk with Shelley Robson, the owner of The Quilted Forest in Forest City, IA and main contact for one of three groups who come to camp twice a year to quilt.

Shelley first was introduced to IOLBC in the mid-2000's when she dropped her son off for a week of Confirmation Camp with her church. It would be nearly a decade before she returned bringing along an entire fabric and quilt supply shopping experience! Initially, Shelley came to camp as a vendor for a different quilting group before starting her own retreat a few years ago. The first year she brought the shop to camp, she remembers loading up multiple cars and minivans in an attempt to get everything to Okoboji in one trip. She quickly learned that life would be MUCH more simple if she loaded everything into a UHaul!

Twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, Shelley, with the help of her husband and some other quilting friends, go through her store in Forest City and load up hundreds of bolts of fabric, project kits, patterns, notions, and various quilting tools along with personal sewing machines, projects, and luggage to spend nearly 2 weeks at camp. Personally, my favorite thing to see are the samples she brings to display each time! It's almost enough to inspire me to convert from paper crafting to quilting!

Her first time bringing product and transforming the south dining hall into a quilt store most certainly included some lessons learned. The first, as was already mentioned, was renting a UHaul to bring stuff back and forth. The next was to not underestimate the time it would take to unpack and set up once you got to camp. And finally, that there was a lake just 1 block away from where she had been quilting and working all week!

As we talked, we reminised about two stories of particularly memorable times at the retreat over the years. The first was a year where a serve thunderstorm came through the area as they were driving over to Okoboji. Shelley gives a lot of credit to her husband for keeping the UHaul on the road and making it safely to camp that year! And, once they did arrive, the power at camp was knocked out by the storm so much of their unpacking and setting up had to be done by flashlight and battery powered lanterns. As it turns out, it is not easy to match colors in super low light so the next day they had to re-sort those items meant to be displayed by color! (As a sidenote, God must have decided we were feeling nostalgic as the power randomly went out at camp for about 2 hours just last night!)

A second memory involved an encounter with the local wildlife. With many retreat guests comes the repeated opening and closing of doors and a few years ago, a bat managed to sneak into Thomsen Center. As it swooped upstairs and into the dining hall around 10pm at night, its presence was greeted with screams and shrieks causing a couple of staff members wrapping up an evening meeting to come running to see what was happening! The bat was quickly caught and taken care of and, between the noise and the excitement, alertness for several more hours of late night quilting was restored!

When I asked Shelley why they kept coming back to Ingham Okoboji, she said it is because it is a place where they are well-taken care of, they feel welcome by the staff, and it has a calm and peaceful feeling to it. Because of this, both herself, and the quilters who attend her retreats are able to relax, and experience God's presence while they explore their creative side, build up exsisting relationships, and make new friends through a shared hobby. For them, it is so much more than a retreat, it really is coming to "Quilt Camp" each fall and spring!

Fun Facts:

  • Shelley's daughter served as a member of our summer staff for 2 years as she was finishing high school.

  • You can check out Shelley's regular shop by visiting her Facebook page.

  • Shelley's shop was chosen as a "Top Shop" in the fall 20212 issue of Quilt Sampler Magazine.

  • In addition to running her shop and organizing quilting retreats, Shelley also designs her own patterns for quilting projects which you can purchase instructions for at her shop!


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