On the podium…

I like this picture.  Matthias Steiner of Germany – circa 2008.


Matthias won the Gold Medal in the Heavyweight Division for Weightlifting in Beijing.  There’s a sweet, sad story that goes with this picture – I think you know I love a good story.  But before I get to that, we’ve been chatting about what the Quilting Games would look like.  What sort of events there would be – and who we knew that might excel.

Let’s start with Matthias and his expertise – how many 30 gallon tubs of fabric do you suppose he could lift?  Every quilter who stores bins of fabrics on the top shelf of a closet would have experience in this kind of competition.  (Seriously, it is a most excellent hiding place storage solution.)

Speed events?  How about a 42-inch Dash?  The winner is the person who can un-sew a 42″ long seam the fastest.  Ripping is not allowed – some sort of tool must be used.  Tears in the fabric will result in automatic disqualification.  This could even be a relay event – four quilters, four seams… no starting until your teammate is complete and passes the tool.

I’d be a contender there – I’ve had enough practice that I am quite fast at un-sewing.

Clover Seam Ripper

Clover could be my sponsor.

Instead of the 400-meter hurdles, we could have the 400 Four-Patch race.  The first person to piece 400 four-patches accurately – that’s the hurdle part of this race – wins.  Lisa Bongean, Sherri McConnell and Tammy V. could represent Moda – we’d be medal favorites.

Then I got thinking about a Retreathlon.  Ten separate events that comprise a “retreat decathlon.”  Points are awarded based on performance in each event – it will test skill, versatility and endurance.


We’d get to wear stretchy pants – though maybe not this tight.

(That’s Ashton Eaton of the USA.  He won the gold medal for Decathlon in London in 2012 and is a favorite to win the gold in Rio.)

Packing.  The first event for anything retreat-related is packing.


Competitors start with the same amount of stuff and the same vehicle.  Points are awarded based on speed in packing the vehicle, neatness and how much leftover space there is.  The vehicles get smaller and more stuff is added in each successive round of competition.

Most Items Brought to Retreat.  If you’ve ever been on retreat, you know that there are a couple of requirements – 1.  Bring what you need.  2.  Bring what you think you might need.  3.  Bring what you probably won’t need but might want.  4.  Bring what you’re pretty sure you don’t need or want but are bringing “just in case”.  5.  Then add ten more things because there’s a teeny bit of room left in the car.  (Local competitors will always have a home-field advantage in this event.)

Forgetting an essential item – needles, thread or the power cord for your sewing machine – will result in automatic disqualification.

Projects.  You’ll need something to work on.  Points are earned based on the quantity, variety, difficult, and the amount of stuff related to said-project.  Contestants who do not actively work on every project they bring are disqualified.  Bonus points are awarded for projects that are finished during retreat.

Bobbin Vault.  Ten points are awarded for every bobbin used during retreat.  Adjustments are made for bobbin size – 100-meter bobbins earn twice the points as a 50-meter bobbin.

The competition to make the Moda-team for this event is fierce, there are some seriously fast sewists here… the Juki-effect.

Chain-piecing.  Think of this as a 1-mile race – competitors race to finish 260 – 6″ sawtooth-star blocks.  Blocks must be pressed and accurate to count toward the total. Broken needles, rotary cutter wounds and turning pieces around the wrong way are false-starts that require the contestant to start over.


Hand & Machine Skills.  Just as there are different apparatus in gymnastics, there are different apparatus in quilting.  Contestants will demonstrate their versatility by bringing hand- and machine-projects.  The level of difficulty – skills required – will be considered in awarding points.

Lisa Bongean, Joanna Figueroa, Edyta Sitar, Brenda Riddle, Sandy Klop and Anne Sutton are among Moda’s top competitors – all excel at a variety of hand- and machine skills.  Embroidery, applique, piecing and quilting.

Endurance.  Come on, part of the reason to go to retreat is to stay up into the wee hours.  This isn’t about sewing so much as not sleeping.  Whoever stays up the most – sleeps the least – is the winner.  (They are also not allowed to drive home.)  Anyone who is the first to go to bed and the last to appear in the morning for two days in a row is disqualified.

Doping is allowed in this competition – caffeine is the only substance approved.

Yes, you may bring your own coffee-maker or espresso machine.

Snacks.  Of course it’s a competition!

Points are awarded in the following categories:

  • Quantity – enough for you and enough to share.  And enough to last the retreat!
  • Variety – salty & sweet! Fancy and anything that falls into the old-fashioned, comfort-food category.
  • Uniqueness – bonus points for every person who has never heard of what you’ve brought
  • Share-ability – if nobody else wants to try your snacks… you’re out!


(Yes, I had the most fun searching for these pictures.)

Gold Quilter.  I like that better than “Iron Quilter” but the gist is the same.  This is a start-to-finish competition.  Contestants start with the same pattern and the first to cut, sew and complete the project wins.  Fusibles and glue-basting are disallowed for this competition – as is machine-stitched binding.

And finally… the nitty-gritty.

Up Close & Personal.  Who has the cutest t-shirt?  The coolest socks?  The best pajamas?  (I’m sorry but as adorable as they are, enough people have the sewing pajamas from Tar-jay that they are the retreathlon equivalent of doing a cannonball in the springboard diving competition. They’re great but you won’t get any points for wearing them.)

Do you have the newest gadget that nobody else has even heard about?  A piece of some out-of-print, everybody wants it fabric?

And because this is still a retreat, contestants who make an appearance with their make-up and hair totally done will receive a lifetime ban from retreathlon competition – and perhaps, from retreats.

All that said… none of the competitions matter.  The Gold Medal winner at every retreat is the person who laughs the most.



The young woman in the picture is Susann, Matthias’ wife.  She’s the reason I remember his name and story – this column by Ron Judd in the Seattle Times will tell it.  Grab a tissue first.

It’s also why I will always like watching the Olympics.  Life is messy and there are parts of it that aren’t neat, pretty or particularly rational.  There is corruption and greed, cheating and commercialism.  But there are always stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things – people who shine more than a gold medal.  Even if they win one.

Happy Friday.






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21 thoughts on “On the podium…

  1. As always your posts grab my attention and you really did it this time! Let the Quilting Games begin!
    And thanks for sharing the article about Mathias. I am not an Olympic watcher but now, I think I will set my TV to record and see what I am missing. Ron Judd is an excellent writer. Thanks again – for all you do.

  2. I don’t remember when I have laughed as much or yes, cried as much over any article written. I will print this one out “for the books” and sign up for the next retreat I hear about. I have always wanted to attend a retreat but never get brave enough to actually “sign up”. Loved this one.

  3. Ugh…make me cry at work why don’t you? What a heartbreaking, heartwarming story. As I read, I did remember reading about this in 2008. I hope this young man is doing well now, I can’t imagine getting over losing your spouse. Thanks for the reminder not to take anyone for granted!

    1. Matthias is doing well! He retired from competitive weightlifting and after realizing that his weight was not sustainable outside of his sport, he lost about 100 pounds. He’s now an author and speaker about nutrition, exercise and an active lifestyle. And he found a new love – he married a nice German girl in 2010. 🙂

  4. oh my gosh – our friends retreat is coming in 7 weeks so your timing is perfect! I am laughing so hard!!! But the true story is the Olympian – great post!!

  5. This post is why I always check your blog. You never disappoint ……unless you don’t post. It’s entertainment, information, inspiration and just plain fun. Please keep writing and posting.

  6. Just read the article about Matthias glad he has foubd happiness again. I will be supporting the Aussies in the Olympics!

  7. You had me in stitches with this blog. I have a friend that I’m going to share this with. We have mentioned some of these things before at one of our retreats.

  8. I love your posts and I our competitions sound like lot more fun then the Games. And as german myself I know about Matthias story and yes it’s a bittersweet one. But I think this life is good now with his cute wife and their two sons. If you ask me true life is way better then the games will ever be:-)

  9. Ugh, You gutted me there.
    Great post, Carrie. Loved the retreat olympics.. maybe the DMQG should incorporate a few categories for our Fall retreat. Thanks for the update on Matthias. I’m a sucker for HEAs.

  10. Wonderful post Carrie. Glad to hear Matthias is doing well now. By the way, I would add Gummy Bears (lg. bag, think Costco) and Swedish Fish (red only) to the snack mix. Maybe you could start the Moda Retreat – I’d buy a ticket to attend and watch it all unfold!!

  11. You are hilarious. Love the stretchy pants comment… Haven’t read about Matthias yet–I’m a crier so I’ll read after this posting. My daughter is getting married in October and I frankly, I should make a bag to put over my head to hide my happy tears.

  12. You didn’t even mention team uniforms! What about an award for the cheerleaders? There has been quite a bit of hype for the fans (athletic supporters) who are going wild this year – like the Hungarian husband (swimming) and the English dad (diving) and the American parents (gymnastics). We have supporters, too – family and friends. Of course, we could have a grump award. One of our swimmers called out a Russian who is a known doper and Michael Phelps didn’t appreciate a competitor dancing around in front of him prior to the race. They each were a little bit ungracious about the issues. Quilters are never that way – “Where did my rotary cutter go?” etc., etc., etc. Sometimes it makes one’s better behavior come out when one knows that (s)he is being watched for a possible negative award. I know from experience when I’ve been in a less than good place. Thanks for the ideas for an imaginary Quilting Olympics.

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