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Embroidery retreat attendees hold up their makes

Friends create UK’s largest embroidery retreat as a #BrotherBiz

Michelle Schofield and Cheryl Caskey, from Sheffield, are pioneers of the UK embroidery community.

After meeting at a local sewing workshop, they went on to organise the UK’s biggest embroidery retreat, bringing together hundreds of embroidery enthusiasts over a weekend of creativity and fun.

Here, we talk to Michelle about their joint venture.

Michelle Schofield and Cheryl Caskey

Michelle, tell us about your venture?

Cheryl and I met at a local sewing workshop learning to stitch knickers! We thought we were learning to make fancy knickers, but it turned out to be pants you could buy at the shop for 99p. It was this funny experience that brought us together.

We’d both recently bought a Brother Innov-Is V3, but mine hadn’t been out of the box yet so Cheryl invited me round to her house to learn and practice and we just hit it off! 

Over the years, we were both in different embroidery Facebook groups. But we got frustrated by the restrictions on what we could post and promote, so we decided to set up our own group named UK Machine Embroidery Group & SDX2250D, where we share videos, tips, and tricks. We now have more than 8,000 members.

We noticed that there were regular embroidery retreats in the US but none in the UK, so in 2018 we decided to organise our own.

What happens at the retreats?

It’s a full weekend retreat with a packed itinerary based around our shared love of embroidery.

There are around 60 specialist demonstration workshops, including some run by Brother Educators, along with stalls from local retailers and suppliers. It’s also a great opportunity to see all sorts of machines in action. Most attendees own Brother embroidery machines and bring these along too. 

Sheffield’s Woodseats Sewing Centre are also on hand to provide technical advice on machine maintenance and repairs.

In the evening, we have food, chat, and Cheryl and I even put our entertainment hats on – running quizzes and playing games. It’s really good fun.

We also have a chosen charity for each retreat. Items are donated by local shops and suppliers, then we have a charity tombola on the Sunday to raise funds for the charity. Everybody is very generous. Our latest charity was BEE Community Minded.

For our first retreat we limited the tickets to 50 and they sold out within hours. From there, we’ve run two retreats a year and have welcomed more than 450 guests. People travel from all over from the UK, Ireland, and Jersey - and this year, we’ve even got a lady who has timed her holiday from Australia to come along!

Michelle Scofield holding embroidery charity bag donations

What do you and your attendees get out of the retreats?

The biggest benefit to attending is making lifelong friends with people who are like-minded.

We have everyone from beginners to people who have embroidered for decades, aged anywhere from 20 to 80. A large proportion of attendees were classed as vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdowns, so the retreats have been a real lifeline for them.

Lots of people come on their own, but nobody is ever alone. It’s fascinating to watch how people arrive feeling anxious and by the end of the retreat, there are big groups of them laughing together. Many of them go on to meet up locally afterwards.

Attendees also get to take home a USB with lots of designs that digitisers from the UK and US have gifted for the event, so they can keep developing their skills long after the retreat ends.

brother sewing machines on lines of tables

What equipment do you use?

Both Cheryl and I love to use Brother machines – even with the lower end machines you can create some amazing projects.

When we were in our 20s, both Cheryl and I had the Brother PE-150 Disney as our first embroidery machines. It was recommended to me by my sewing teacher at the time as a great lower cost option that suits beginners. And being a big Disney fan, the designs had huge appeal.

We now both have a Brother Luminaire XP1. It’s the Ferrari of the sewing, embroidery and quilting world! It’s so quick and there are so many useful tools and features. The projector takes the guess work out of embroidering; it’s great for helping with placement on things like T-shirts as it projects the design onto the fabric in real size. I also love the My Connection function to send designs from my XP1 wirelessly to my Brother ScanNCut SDX2250D and turn them into patterns I can cut out.

I have a Brother PR1055X 10 needle embroidery machine too, which is an amazing embroidery machine. I’ll use it to personalise things like teddies and heirloom quilts – mainly gifts for my family and my children’s friends. The free arm allows you to hoop more products, so embroidering complex items like bags and caps becomes simple.  

Cheryl uses her Brother Innov-is NV2600 to take to sewing classes as it’s more easily transportable.

A Brother Luminaire is the dream for most people. But my advice for anyone looking to invest would be to go for the machines with the biggest embroidery hoop your budget allows, it gives you much more freedom.

Do you have any advice for other small businesses starting out or hobbyists wanting to monetise their craft?

To hobbyists I’d say - just go for it! My main tips are - spend time with your machine, have a go at it, press the buttons, use a good thread like Marathon, Isacord or Sweet Pea, ask questions, and join our Facebook group.

A lot of our members run successful embroidery businesses. It’s just finding a niche in terms of your local area or what you’re passionate about.

I see lots of businesses do well where the embroidery is centred around mental health. I think a lot of people go to crafting as part of self-care and wellbeing practices. The amount of people that attend our retreats who suffer with mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, is really high.

What’s next for your business?

We’re always looking at ways to expand and provide new opportunities to our attendees, including new retreat locations in London and Scotland.

For each retreat, we have different workshops, demos, shops, and suppliers. So, Cheryl and I try to meet new people to bring onboard and make the retreats even better each year. 

Where can people find you?

To stay up to date on the retreats and meet likeminded people, join our Facebook group. Shop for embroidery supplies here. Check out our YouTube tutorials here.

Do you run your own #BrotherBiz? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not tag us into a post about yourself on Instagram, or drop us a message on Facebook. You can also follow us on Pinterest and Youtube.

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