why I’ll be going back to the makerie again and again

More than 100 years ago, a cultural movement swept the United States in which people would travel to a sort of a summer camp where they would take classes, attend lectures and concerts, and enjoy the surrounding beauty of nature. These communities were called chautauquas, and President Theodore Roosevelt called them “the most American thing in America.”


photo from the Colorado Chautauqua website


I had never heard of a chautauqua when I met Ali Dejohn last year during a trip to Colorado, and when she invited me to come at teach at a retreat she was organizing I didn’t really know anything about The Makerie, either.


photo by Teryn


photo by Linda


Turns out, The Makerie and the chautauqua have a lot in common. And, as it happens, The Makerie is held at the Colorado Chautauqua, a spectacular site on the edges of Boulder which is one of the few remaining chautauquas in the nation and which is located right at the base of the Flatirons. It’s really a perfect place for a creative, inspirational retreat, with adorable little cabins set at the base of the trails and community buildings nearby for meetings and classes. The scenery and location are breathtaking.


photo by Teryn


I tend to be a little skeptical of retreats. Maybe it comes from too many years of summer camp, too many forced group activities, or maybe it comes from living in New York for so long and developing a little bit of a New Yorker’s cynicism. I don’t want anyone tugging on my emotions and trying to get me to connect with a group–unless I want to do it. So I was a little suspicious when I arrived at the Makerie and walked into Academic Hall to pick up keys to the cabin I would be sharing with three other instructors.


photo by Teryn


While I might be a little suspicious of the retreat experience, I’m still a big believer in the power of a weekend getaway. Lots of good things can happen from a little change in scenery, a chance to to meet new people, and time to be inspired and to learn something and make something.


photo by Teryn


photo by Linda


photo by Linda


It turns out, the Makerie is nothing and everything like that. Yes, it’s a retreat. No, there’s no kumbaya or campfire or forced activities. Instead, it’s full of like-minded people (mostly women, with a few brave men–go, men!) who are enthusiastic about making things, about exploring creativity, and about being part of a new community. It’s a relaxing and energizing experience, and everyone can do what they want, which is enormously freeing in itself.


photo by Linda


photo by Teryn


I was hooked almost immediately. I learned new things. I made new friends. I was inspired. I didn’t want to leave. And I was a teacher! I can just imagine how much more fun it would have been if I could actually have taken the classes instead of planning for them and doing the teaching! There are two days of classes, and this year’s offerings included intuitive painting, multimedia embroidery, crochet, photography, food styling, letterpress printing, and sewing. With some really impressive teachers, too! You can see this year’s class offerings here. How can anyone choose, given all those amazing options?


photo by Teryn


The sense of community at the retreat was what really grabbed me. One evening we had a panel discussion about creativity, and several of us teachers continued that conversation well into the night when we got back to our cottage. I had so much fun getting to know many of the people who attended the retreat, and it was amazing to see how many friendships grew. I know that I’ll be staying in touch with quite a few people, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard.


photo by Teryn


You know I’m a sucker for details, and Ali’s attention to detail is disarming. The tone was perfectly set at check-in and continued all the way through the weekend, with adorable little class signs, the most amazingly packed picnic lunches, and a wonderful lounge area filled with craft books and snacks and comfortable chairs to sit around in while we chatted and spent time together.


photo by Teryn


Will I be going back? You’d better believe it! I’m already making plans for next year. And if this sounds like something you would enjoy, I would encourage you to put your name on the Makerie’s mailing list so you’ll know when enrollment opens for 2013. But start planning now, because the size of the retreat is limited, and I’m certain that as word gets out it will fill up quickly. This is something you don’t want to miss!

If you’d like to see more photos from the Makerie, you can find a whole bunch of them here. Thanks so much to Teryn and Linda for letting me use their wonderful shots!


  1. May 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm Link

    What a wonderfully inspiring event!

  2. May 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm Link

    That sounds amazing… I wish I could go. I think you should all replicate the event here in Australia pronto… it’s only a 22 hour flight!

  3. May 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm Link

    Leisl that sounds so fantasitc! Word comes to mind of “Creativity camp” but then I read on about the discussion on creativity itself. That would have been fabulous to sit in on and listen to. There is a place in Adelaide (Australia) that holds a “stitching event” every two years that I attended the last time it was on (they just had one a couple of weeks ago but I went to the one before). This sounds very familiar to what you have told us about Makerie. They are crucial for us who stitch and sew to get together and stitch, sew and socialise. So glad you had an amazing time.

  4. May 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm Link

    Ok. tears. Just kidding:) But honestly…with the throws of market prep happening, this was like a songbird. I need to go!! Those picnic blankets were calling my name:) Good for you!!!! You deserve every second. Yay for getting away!

  5. May 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm Link

    How fun, the Makerie looks like beautiful place. I live near the Chautauqua Institute which is a large cultural retreat founded about 100 years ago and named for nearby Chautauqua Lake. I didn’t know that all the cultural retreats were called chautauqua’s.

  6. May 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm Link

    Since you enjoyed the Makerie weekend, check out the John C Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. They offer weekend and week long classes that are outstanding! http://www.folkschool.org
    I’ve attended 5 week long classes, from flute making to cheeses to paper marbling and bookbinding.

  7. May 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm Link

    It was such a fantastic honor & opportunity to have you there Liesl! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful words about your experience. ~xoxo

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