A Virtual Retreat During a Pandemic

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On October 2-4, 2020 the Fraser Valley Modern Quilt Guild held its first ever virtual retreat.  We are a guild of approximately 60 members who meet monthly in Abbotsford, BC, Canada.  We had been planning for our 10thAnniversary retreat for over a year and were terribly disappointed when COVID-19 hit and we had to cancel. However, we are an industrious and determined group of quilters and we were not willing to let a world-wide pandemic stop us from holding our retreat.  Our committee began meeting in the late spring and drew inspiration and lessons from the Silicon Valley MQG’s virtual retreat in the spring of 2020.  

Screen shot of our activity "Which quilt block are you?" - all blocks to be donated to our community quilts projects


The committee met many times over about four months, either once or twice a month over Zoom.  We made learning how to use Zoom and breakout rooms a priority for our committee as we knew that our comfort level with the technology would directly impact the success of our event.  We also provided opportunities for our members to practice with us on Zoom so that the retreat time would be less interrupted by tech questions.  Our guild had been holding Zoom meetings in place of our normal in-person meetings since April, as well as Zoom monthly sew-ins and Friday night sew-ins so the technology was not completely new to most members.  


The homepage of the special website we created for our retreat.


We planned a full schedule of events starting with opening the Zoom room at 2:00 on Friday and going right through until 4 pm on Sunday.  Our event was open all hours of the day and night for members to come and go as their schedules allowed or stay up all night sewing! We were incredibly excited to have 51 members join us for at least part of the weekend, including two members who had moved to far flung reaches of our amazing country.  One member created a special website for us to enable members to find our schedule, sponsors, activity links, etc.          

Swag bag pickup with guild and retreat committee members.


We asked members to pay $25, and our guild contributed some funds as part of our 10th anniversary celebration.  Before the retreat we had a drop-in time for members to pick up their “swag bags” which were stuffed with a variety of items including donations from sponsors, seam rippers, tweezers, Hawkins Cheezies (a Canadian tradition), a mini charm pack, chocolate (of course), etc. We worked hard to connect with local and national sponsors who were incredibly generous donating items including fabric, gift cards, books and notions for both prizes and our swag bags. Guild members (some who had their own businesses and some who did not) also donated prizes.  There were many opportunities for members to win terrific prizes (for various activities as well as daily “door” prizes) which thrilled them to no end.

One of our many prize packages that were won over the weekend.


Included in each participant’s swag bag was an activity box.  As well as coupons, they had information and supplies for a variety of activities including two different challenges to create blocks to support our Community Quilt projects, Quilters Bingo, and a crossword puzzle to get to know fellow members.  At the retreat we featured yoga/stretch breaks, an exciting and fun pop up shop, several different speakers, a project demo from a local on-line retailer and more. Naturally there were “happy hours” planned as one of our many social activities which included recipes for various beverages.  We even had a retreat scorecard for participants to keep track of their activities throughout the weekend and possibly win a prize!  One of our most popular features was the use of breakout rooms of 6-9 people so that we could chat and get to know each other better.  

"Happy Hour" - recipes and umbrellas were included (but not the ingredients)


Following our retreat, we asked members to complete a survey and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  We had members who had never been to retreat before and loved it, and seasoned members who enjoyed the benefits of not having to pack everything up and not having to worry about forgetting things.  A guild member created stunning cards to use for personalized thank you notes for our sponsors and we will continue to highlight them throughout the year at our virtual meetings and on social media.   


There are a few minor things which we thought we could change to make a future virtual retreat even better but overall we believe it was an unqualified success.  If your guild is thinking about how to continue to meet through the pandemic, we highly recommend going on-line.  Many thanks to our retreat committee members for their time and effort ahead of time and throughout the weekend, to our Executive for supporting us in having this events, to our incredibly generous sponsors, and to our members for being brave enough to try something new and for making it so much fun!!