Vaune Pierce and Cindy Foose didn’t know what to do when the retreat center that hosted their Smockers and Stitchers retreat in Santa Barbara, Calif., closed.
After three years of gathering women from around the country, they had to miss last year. Pierce came back to her native Henderson, Ky., to visit family, and her sister-in-law urged her to contact the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center as a potential home. Pierce remembered coming to Maple Mount as a child for the Mount Saint Joseph Picnic, but she moved from Kentucky in 1984 after graduating from college, just a year after the Retreat Center opened.
From Aug. 22-27, 2018, Smockers and Stitchers from California, Texas, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri came to Mount Saint Joseph, and they have definitely found their new home.
“I’ve already booked it for next year,” Pierce said. “The people here are wonderful. It’s very peaceful.”
The Mount hosted 22 women, some of whom who were practicing smocking, which is embroidery on pleats that got its start in 15th century England.
“I started smocking when my son was 6 months old and he just turned 30,” Pierce said. “I’ve never stopped.”
Pierce and Foose, who’s from Greenwood, Miss., have been friends for 25 years and teach smocking all over the country.
“We’re mostly hired by sewing guilds or smocking guilds,” Foose said. “I’ve been teaching nationally since 1987 — I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand. We enjoy doing our own thing, so we started this event.”
Foose is a former school teacher who worked for Creative Needle magazine for 19 years. Teaching others this skill combines both of her loves, she said. “I’ve made 400 to 500 smocked dresses
,” Foose said.
The Mount Saint Joseph Retreat Center is “100 percent better” than the facility they used in California, Foose said. “How could you not relax and enjoy yourself situated in surroundings like this?”
Lenore VanBenschoten is from Danbury, Conn., and Charlotte Hallworth lives in Nashville, but she spends her summers in Maine. That’s where the two friends met years ago, and their love of sewing has helped them reunite. Having children is what got them started in smocking.
“It usually starts with a christening gown.,” Hallworth said. “Royalty has beautiful gowns.” With no supplies in Maine, Hallworth joined the Smocking Arts Guild of America and learned about the retreat in California, but it stopped before she could attend.
“Now it’s right in my backyard,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve been to the event or to Kentucky.”
VanBenschoten and the other participants were all learning to sew a specific jumper. The retreat offers the expertise of the teachers, but there are more benefits than that, she said.
“We’re all able to be together. We don’t have to worry about anything but sewing,” she said. “I like the creativity of it, coming up with an idea and seeing it through. It’s better than playing a game on your phone.”
About half the participants this year had been to the California retreat, Pierce said. That included two residents of the Golden State, Karla Weeks, of Mission Viejo, and Lupe Magallanes, of San Juan Capistrano.
They were practicing heirloom sewing, which is more delicate and involves sewing lace onto fabric, “like what the royals wear,” Weeks said. Pierce said smocking has had a resurgence since the birth of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who are often pictured wearing smocked clothing. But Weeks notes, “We were on the bandwagon before Prince George came along. This is what we do for fun.”
Magallanes said she loves being at the Mount and will definitely be back in 2019. “I’ve been going to Mass in the morning, it’s very nice,” she said.
Weeks noted how the Retreat Center staff does so much for them to make them feel welcome.
“They do everything for you here. We don’t have the interruptions of daily life,” Weeks said. “We have friends here and get to know new people. We’ve met women from St. Louis, Ohio, Houston. And I get to tell people I’ve been to Kentucky.”
Joy Welsh is from Houston and has been to the California retreat. She was practicing her skills at digitizing, which she’s been doing since the 1990s.
“I can draw a design with a mouse on the computer. A program turns it into stitches and the sewing machine can record it,” Welsh said. “It’s very addictive. It’s a whole new world of sewing.”
Welsh was a self-taught sewer who decided to travel and have fun once her children were grown.
“When you share the same common interests, you have fun,” she said. “This is my first time in this facility. It’s beautiful here, I get up and walk in the morning.”