Quilting on The Harmony

So what was it like living and working on the largest cruise ship in the world? It was amazing!

Several people had mentioned to me, that being on a ship with nearly 7,000 passengers, was not their idea of fun. All I can say is try it, the benefits and facilities far outweigh the numbers. I was impressed!

Royal Caribbean had embarkation well planned with no standing in line and once onboard there was so much ship to explore that it took me 36 hours to realise that I had not seen the third of the ship at the back!

The conference room in which the Stitching Heaven quilting classes were held was 4,000 square feet of space. A Bernina machine for each student and teacher, plenty of irons, water and ice and fresh cookies delivered daily.


I shared a cabin with a lovely teacher, Amy Ellis, and each evening we would go to a different show on board The Harmony. The musical Grease, a beautifully costumed ice show, a fantastic ventriloquist and my favourite the daring outdoor water show, The Fine Line, were just some of the entertainment available.

With over 20 restaurants to choose from, the eating choices were mind blowing, with many healthy eating options. It helped that Jackie Kunkel and I would do a 3 mile walk, most mornings, on the jogging trail deck 5. One morning Deb, the owner of Stitchin Heaven, had all three teachers taking part in a TRX training.

Jackie Kunkel, Amy Ellis and I taught on the three days we were at sea. The students were very appreciative and often could be found in the sewing room working until late at night. Sometimes we would join them, working on our own projects. There was a good deal of camaraderie and laughter. Some were on their 6th cruise this year and others were new to quilt cruising.

There were three ports of call on this Western Caribbean cruise. The first Labadee in Haiti was a beach resort, developed by Royal Caribbean, and looked pristine, the perfect island paradise. Amy and I spent a couple of hours swimming in clear blue waters and then browsed the craft markets.


The next day we docked in Falmouth, Jamaica. I joined an interesting 6 hour tour called, Native Jamaica which took me to the oldest church in Montego Bay, through fruit and vegetable markets, up to Mount Olive where we visited an elementary school and a plantation.  Here I am holding a bunch of very baby bananas.


Our third port of call was Cozumel in Mexico. Here I chose to try Segway touring. It was great fun touring around a residential area with no tourists, visiting a Mayan house and garden and tequila tasting. I finished the visit with the largest Marguerita I have ever drunk in Senor Frogs, a famous bar by the pier.


On our last night aboard ship we just had to try The Abyss, a 10 deck descent through an enclosed tunnel. You start off on a glass platform overhanging the back of the ship on Deck 16, before minutes later shooting out of the tunnel on deck 6. I hope my sons are proud of me!


Thank you Deb and Stitchin Heaven for a great week! And a special thanks to the super students and lovely fellow teachers on this quilting cruise.

I am now in Mount Laurel, outside Philadelphia spending a week with family before I leave for The Paducah Quilt Show on Monday.

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Magical Moments in Madeira

The penultimate day of our Quilting Retreat and we have decided to share some of our more memorable moments.  The group visited the local market in Funchal, in the entrance was a beautiful tile collage in the typical Portugese blue and white colours.  

There were so many varieties of flowers including Birds of Paradise at 50 cents each; shame we couldn’t fit them into our cases.  We sampled different flavours and colours of Passion fruit and custard apples to name but a few.


Funchal has an old area where students, young and old, design and paint the doorways – some of the imaginative ideas were stunning.


Some of the group decided to risk the famous Wicker Basket Monte Toboggan run, 2 kilometres at speeds of 48 KPH. How did we stop or slow down?  The Carreiros wore thick rubber boots that were used as brakes!


The Madeiran Folklore evening was at a restaurant above Funchal, the views on the drive up were spectacular, twinkling lights going all the way up the mountains. We were entertained by a local folk group doing traditional Madeiran dancing and a Fado.


The trip to Rita’s village Gaula, included a walk around Levada Dos Tornos and lots of history about village life before electricity and running water.  After a delicious afternoon tea, Rita’s aunt demonstrated spinning using a simple wooden implement.


The group have worked very hard on exciting projects including Bargello, Exploding Pineapple, Hexi flowers and little bags.  There was some time to enjoy coffee on the terrace and lunch in downtown Funchal.

This blog was written by Hilary Harrison(tour manager) and Karin Hellaby (expert).

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An Island Tour

Today’s itinerary was to see as much as possible of Madeira before we start our four day quilting retreat. We headed west from Funchal, along the southern coast stopping, at the picturesque fishing village of Camaraderie de Lobos. Here we stood on the spot where Winston Churchill had painted the delightful harbour.


Onward and upward to the highest cape in Europe. It was cold up there as we stood on the glass floor high above the sea. Did someone mention a crack? Many photos were taken here and little did we realise that the whole day would be full of the most amazing photo opportunities.



We descended once more to sea level for a coffee and pastry stop, before climbing up to 1500m on a narrow, windy road with lots of sheer drops and hairpin bends. Scary! Our stop at the top gave us views of both the south and north coasts from one spot.

We descended down to the north coast at Sao Vicente and followed the coast road west to our lunch stop in Porto Moniz. Here we were served a delicious three course meal with two bottles of wine per table of four. 

Afterwards, we staggered outside to admire the spectacular crashing waves! Can you see the rock pools in the bottom left corner?

Time for a siesta back on the coach, as we travelled east along the north coast, stopping frequently to photograph beaches, sheer drops, huge lushly covered mountains and terraced landscape.  This road is not for the faint hearted and we were thankful that there was hardly any traffic.

At Santana, we took a look at the famous A framed houses with thatched rooves. A few are still family homes. 


In one of the houses we came across a woman spinning.

We had to cross over the mountains once more to reach Funchal, this time climbing to 6,000 ft, passing through several villages perched on top of mountains with steep drops on both sides. Stopping at a trout farm, we fortified ourselves with the local ‘medicinal’ brew – Poncha, highly recommended by Lina, our guide.


It has been a long 9 hour sightseeing tour but we feel we have had a brilliant insight into this spectacular island!

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Madeira – the island embroidery

I am here on the beautiful lush green island of Madeira teaching on a quilting retreat. Where is Madeira? It is much further out in the Atlantic then I thought and although under Portugese rule, the island is off the coast of Africa.

It is famous for Madeiran wine, Madeira cake and hand embroidery. This morning we visited Patricio & Gouveia, a factory in the centre of Funchal. They are producers and exporters of Madeira handmade embroideries and tapestries. We were warned not to mention ‘machine’ in this building.

After entering the large shop, we climbed the beautiful wooden stairs, lined with old cork wall covering, and entered the tapestry department which then led into the design area. Here we were introduced to the lady who creates the embroidery designs. She showed us how she drew on paper and behind her was a wall full of card boxes, full of patterns.


We then climbed up another floor to the stenciling room where we were shown how indigo is used to print the perforated pattern onto the fabric. 
Piles of fabric from mats to coasters to handkerchiefs were printed and then made ready for the chief embroiderer from the villages to collect. They are distributed to the hand embroiderers all over the island, approx, 10,000 of them. At each stage the quality of workmanship is examined and if rejected no payment is made. The payment for a 1000 stitches is approx. 20 euros.

Each piece can take between four weeks and a year to complete depending on size and complexity! When the embroidery is completed they are returned to the factory to be washed, ironed, starched and wrapped.


When we reached the shop again, having seen the labour intensive processes, we could only admire the beautiful work.



A short walk away is the embroidery museum. Here, beautiful historic garments hand embroidered in detail were on display. There were also furniture pieces, incorporating tapestry, and small portraits of famous people such as Winston Churchill. I took this photograph before I realised that I should not have done so, but it does show why you should visit this lovely museum. 


We met the museum director who kindly gave us each copies of books written in English on both Madeira hand embroidery and Madeira Needlepoint. We would like to thank you Isabel for your incredibly generous gesture. 

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Mekong Quilts

Whilst walking around the old historic quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam, I came across this lovely shop. Just from the window display I could see it was well worth a visit!


Founded in 2001, Mekong quilts employs over 300 quilters plus support staff. The women living in rural Vietnam have been trained to produce handicraft items. They are paid a fair wage and other employment benefits. The quilts they produce look familiar but with many original twists. Do take a look!
I really enjoyed the building too.A characteristic of Vietnamese house are that they are narrow, as they are taxed according to width. The large hole looking down from the upstairs to the ground floor is for hauling up furniture in case of a flood. Such a good idea.


Have you ever seen bicylcles made from bamboo?


I have found a smaller Mekong Quilts shop in Hoi An. This is an organisation which is worth supporting.

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Sewing on The Portugal Retreat

After spending two days in Lisbon we arrived at our quilting retreat hotel, Marriott Resort – The Praia D’El Rey, near Obidos. 

The Belengas conference room was an ideal size for 18 students and the views, stunning. Twelve Bernina machines were provided by the Portugese distributor and we made good use of during the four days of sewing.


We could sit out on balconies hand sewing, looking out at the noisy Atlantic rollers or the large pool below. 


When class finished several of us went swimming, relaxed on the sun loungers, walked along the beach and paddled in the sea.


Breakfast and an evening meal were included and voted as the best food we have eaten on a quilting retreat. They were both buffet style with superb fruit and salads, followed by fresh cooked main courses and desserts to die for. We often tasted three or four, but our excuse was that they were delicate small portions!



Drinks were included and the wines were good, using local Portugese vineyards.

We were very well looked after by the hotel staff, Ana looked after our ‘conference facilities’ and she could not have been more helpful. Our lovely large bedrooms had balconies overlooking one of the golf courses. 

I had prepared five projects to teach – Mariner’s Compass, Curved blade pinwheels, a Circles quilt, a quilted bag and a hand stitchery project. The latter was a reindeer design and the fabric kit was a free gift from the tour organisers, Arena Travel. We had beginners in the group as well as more experienced and on every retreat we have several who are new and they were made very welcome.


I also like students to bring their own projects and the teaching can become very diverse. It is all good fun and relaxing!

If you have never joined one of The Stitchtopia quilting retreats before, do consider them. I will be teaching on a quilting retreat to Madeira, 1-8 February 2017, an ideal time to leave the UK. There are a few places left but hurry to avoid disappointment.

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Cherries and Chocs

At 9am this morning 19 of us climbed into 3 specially arranged taxis to take us to the nearby medieval town of Obidos.


We walked through the arched gate to be met with narrow cobbled streets. The first one was full of tempting shops. We resisted the temptation until after lunch as we wanted to see the castle, churches, thick stone walls and ramparts. 

It was not a good idea to climb up and walk along the steep ramparts we had been told by Helen, our tour manager. But some of us were a bit naughty and we were rewarded by stunning views. Can you see the ocean in the distance? That is where we are staying.


A coffee stop on a terrace was chosen, shaded as the sun is hot, and with more lovely views.


A plate of freshly grilled sardines and salad with half a litre of cold beer was just the thing to refresh us after a delightful wander around this ancient town.
Next we hit the shops. A favourite was the bags, belts, shoes etc made with cork fabric. Portugal produces 50% of the world’s cork and we have found this fabric really interesting as it is durable, waterproof and unbreakable. Below are a few of the items purchased by the group.


We had to taste the famous cherry liqueur served in a small chocolate cup with a tiny spout for just one euro.



As you can see we do know how to enjoy ourselves on these well organised quilting retreats. Thank you Stitchtopia!

Written by Karin with input from Jennie, Carol and Mary.

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