This was my second trip to Mackinac Island, MI, to teach at the Grand Hotel’s Annual Needle Art Seminar, and I’m happy to report that this time the ferry didn’t have to dodge icebergs on the trip to the island. Three years ago there was still some ice on Lake Huron. This year the weather was cool as well but at least I didn’t have to worry about reenacting “Titanic.”

Even without the ferry ride, a visit to the Grand Hotel is a memorable experience. You are met at the ferry landing by horse-drawn carriages. There are no cars or trucks allowed on the island. Most people get around by bicycle. The carriage delivers you to the front door of the massive hotel. Your bags meanwhile have made their way on a separate conveyance and meet you at the door to your room.

The hotel’s decor is opulent, bright colors and bold prints both in the wallpaper and rich carpets. There are chandeliers everywhere, including the classrooms. Greeting you in your room is a bouquet of fresh flowers. Each morning an itinerary of the day’s events is delivered. After six-thirty p.m. proper attire is required: jackets and ties for men; dresses, skirts, or dress slacks for women. Dinners are five courses long, followed by demitasse and ballroom dancing (if you so desire). Guests are well taken care of by the attentive staff.

Elegant dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Spending some time with Needle Art Seminar coordinator Jackie Compton and her husband Jerry, along with my new teacher friend Susan Cleveland.

The Grand Hotel Slideshow

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Wow, I sound like a five-star review! Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I don’t stay in places like the Grand Hotel very often.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot I was there to teach and give an evening lecture.

I had two groups of students this year, a two-day Fish, Bug, or Butterfly (FBB) class and a three-day Serendipity Turtle class.

Fish, Bug, and Butterfly Class Slideshow

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The FBB class mostly worked from my designs, a handful creating their own designs. This is best for short classes, where students need to get started quickly, rather than ruminating over their design. Most students were ready to hit the ground running. Again, I had assigned them some homework of reading a few of my more technique-oriented blog posts. I’m starting to be convinced that the blog is helping students prepare for class. They had the right fabric, had good designs, and were ready to jump right into it.

Since I do get a little pre-occupied with teaching my classes, I’d like to give a special thanks to the Grand Hotel for providing me and my blog with the following classroom photos.

Serendipity Turtle Class Slideshow

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In the Serendipity Turtle class everybody worked from my turtle pattern. I offered two different sizes, and it seemed that the ones who had the smaller size did get a little farther along. Those working on the larger one, however, said they were happy because it gave them more room to arrange the fabric pieces in each individual shape on the turtle shell. Many of them were working with determining where the light was coming from. Highlights on the shell can come from different directions. Deciding that helps with the selection of value. As you’ll see in the slideshow above, some started with the highlights and some with the shadows.

I don’t often teach these shorter classes, so it’s a nice change of pace. It’s also nice to be able to focus on the limited subject matter, rather than 20 different subjects, as is often the case in my Fabric Images class. Despite starting out with similar and even the same designs, I always find it fun to see how different each quilt turns out in the end. The results are deliciously varied and unique.

Each class has its own personality—with students of different gifts and challenges, combined with the varied locations I teach at. I enjoyed my walks with students and my teacher friends along the boardwalk at Asilomar. I’ll always remember with fondness the accents of my Australian students who taught be me to pronounce Melbourne as Mell-bun instead of Mell-born.

The Grand Hotel has its own particular flavor which infused itself into the classes. It is a “destination” retreat. It takes awhile to get there. From the tiny Pellston airport, to a shuttle, to a ferry, to a horse-drawn carriage, you seem to be traveling not only in space but backward in time to a less hurried era. Because there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, the pace is slower. Everyone seems more relaxed, less stressed. The hotel’s service puts you in a different world. The staff is so gracious, it sets a tone that carries over into the classroom. You are taken care of and in return you want to take care. Even the way you dress for dinner is an expression of gratitude to the staff and other guests.

Sightseeing on Mackinac Island

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Because of the no vehicles rule, Mackinac Island is a walker’s paradise—and I’m particularly fond of morning walks. Even though I didn’t find a walking companion I managed to get out and wander the pathways and thoroughfares that passed along houses with no driveways and parking lots full of bicycles. While it was cool overnight, it warmed up just enough during a couple of the days to make it a pleasure to sit out on the world’s longest porch at the world’s oldest summer hotel.

Time passed quickly at the Grand, but after a full yet relaxing six days it was back to the real world. From horse-drawn carriage, to ferry, to shuttle, to airplane—I accelerated back into the 21st century and the real world of the hustle and bustle of everyday modern life.



  • Really nice description of your experience at Mackinaw. Love the photos of hotel and classes. Thanks for taking me, ” on the road.”

  • Hi Susan,
    Having spent some time on Mackinac Island, I was dying to read about your trip! The photos are lovely. We visited at the height of summer– crowds everywhere. And, the weather was hot and humid, but I simply loved it! The horses, the beautiful lake views, historic homes and the Mackinac Island fudge…thank you for sharing.

  • This looks like the makings of a dream-come-true. Learning from you would be the main purpose, but in such a setting–it is mind-blowing. Thanks for all the pictures. Seeing the pieces come alive from the basic pattern makes the process look more possible. I have your fish pattern (from being a Patreon person), and I may soon summon up the courage to give it a try. Meanwhile, thanks for all the inspiration!

  • Thanks for sharing the island and the classes with us. My, what lovely fish and turtles! Oh, and the island is pretty nice too! 🙂

  • What an awesome trip for you. Beautiful hotel and surroundings. I hope you someday come to Georgia to teach!

  • Can you plz show how you sew these glued down pieces? I’ve never seen that part. It’s important. Do you use a satin stitch to fill in all the cracks?

  • That looks like so much fun! Thanks for sharing all the great pictures. You are such an inspiration in so many ways! Cheers! 🙂

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