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May 26, 2016 | EDOT Staff

Needling to be at Camp Allen

[Diolog Magazine Camp Allen June 2016] Weekends fill up fast at Camp Allen with conferences and groups coming on retreat, but weekdays are often quiet. How could Camp Allen find groups to come between Monday and Friday?


Longtime board member Julia Case had some ideas. An expert needlepointer, Case works one day a week at Chaparral, a well-known needlepoint and supply shop in Houston. Groups regularly gather to “stitch” together at the shop and often book retreats at hotels in resort-type areas. "Why not invite them to Camp Allen?" Case asked. Her idea has proved a resounding success.


Four years ago, Case planned a needlepoint retreat for 11 women. Today, the group is limited to 50 and gathers quarterly, Wednesday–Friday, at the diocesan Texas camp and conference center. “When registration opens, we are sold out in a day,” Case said. People come from Mississippi, Kerrville and Dallas and, while they reflect ecumenical and interfaith diversity, many are Episcopalian.


Celeste Martin’s grandfather was an early Texas settler. Martin was christened at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, and she and her husband owned Southwest Fertilizer in Bellaire for 40 years before retiring several years ago. She wouldn't miss the needlepoint retreat.


“I started stitching when I had to wait in long carpool lines,” Martin said. “You had to get in line early to get a good spot!”


Martin has stitched 23 Christmas stockings and is working on a beautiful cuff for #24 at the most recent retreat. The canvas is stretched in a frame attached to a bracket on the table’s edge. A hinged and lighted magnifying glass is adjusted above a corner of the canvas as she turns her attention from chatting with neighbors to a basket stitch on her piece.


The long tables are covered with other essential accessories, such as decorative magnets that hold extra needles on the canvas and a handy receptacle that clamps conveniently to the table and holds a small trash bag and drink caddy. Along the wall small hand carts are stacked with bags of accoutrements, canvases, frames, boxes of threads and magnifying glasses or large decorative bags bursting at the seams with handiwork.


Martin takes a break to give a hug to Charlotte Haralson, one of the kitchen staffers at Camp Allen. The staff is a large part of any group’s embrace of Camp Allen, but the feeling here is mutual. Camp Allen’s staff donated a paver in the sidewalk in honor of the Needlepoint group.


Kate Cook, a member of Good Shepherd, Kingwood, loves the casual atmosphere. “Camp Allen is fabulous! I even wear my house shoes sometimes,” she laughed. “They take wonderful care of us and we don’t have to pack all our things up when we leave the room for meals or happy hour. It’s very comfortable.” Cook said similar retreats at hotels are more costly and lack the “retreat” atmosphere the group enjoys at Camp Allen as well as the hospitality of the staff.


Two women from Austin who have attended the last 16 retreats recognized a photo of their great grandfather hanging in the hallway on their first visit. Annie Judice and Mary Gray grew up in the Diocese of West Texas, so were unfamiliar with Camp Allen until they learned of the needlepoint retreat during a class in Austin. They were delighted to see Bishop Alexander Gregg’s photo among the former bishops of Texas and find a wing of the conference center named after their ancestor.


“We were surprised to find the connection here at Camp Allen,” Gray said, adding her praise of the Camp’s staff. “Everyone who works here is great,” she said, “They spoil us.”


The stitchers bring more than their projects to Camp Allen. They have contributed more than $31,000 to the scholarship program. Participants bring unfinished canvases and bags of unused thread for a silent auction, Case explained. “People bid $50 for a Christmas stocking canvas and give us $100,” she said. “I think one of the people who has donated the most is Jewish. We have people from all denominations and faiths, and they all love Camp Allen.”


Some work on pillow cushions, others on Christmas ornaments or floral arrangements to be framed. They share their knowledge and often have master stitchers who teach new techniques.


“We eat and socialize a lot,” Case said. “And, we don’t have to get up and make dinner. Our group enjoys it so much, some come a day or two before the retreat even starts, just to get in an extra day in this beautiful place.”


Case, who has volunteered at summer camp for 20 years and served on the Camp Allen board several terms, said she hopes other groups will follow the needlepointer’s example. “This is a perfect place for small or large groups who want to take time during the week to gather with their particular affinity groups,” she said. “With the lakeside cabins, a small number of people can gather for a writer’s retreat, or a larger quilters group can spread out at the conference center. Anything is possible at Camp Allen.”