It started with one quilter & a dream.
Tabatha Smith, a quilter for more than 20 years, always dreamed of owning a quilt retreat center where women could getaway for a few days, develop friendships, and connect over quilting and all types of crafting.
That dream became a reality in 2019, when she purchased a historic home in Florala, Alabama from 3,000 miles away in Seattle at the time, and opened it as a quilt retreat center.
Tabatha had no idea that opening her small business would lead to weathering out Hurricane Sally, the Covid-19 pandemic, and bring in an incredible wave of other quilting & creative boutiques in a 60 mile radius, creating a true getaway destination for quilters.
Camellia Palms Quilt Retreat Center welcomed just 8 small, private groups of women on their own quilting, crafting, or scrapbooking retreats in 2019.
By March 2020, word was getting out and the retreat center was looking forward to a successful second year with around 30 retreats booked.
When Covid-19 hit, Taylor Smith, daughter and co-owner, says, “We lost around $60,000 worth of client bookings in one day. The phones were blowing up with canceled reservations.”
The venue managed to stay open by diversifying their offering, shrinking retreat group sizes down to just 4-5 women on retreat at a time, and sewing face masks to keep the lights on.
Things started looking up by that fall and groups were coming back, even though business was still slow, and then Hurricane Sally hit. Although their small town of Florala, Alabama, is not directly on the coast, the retreat center, a historic lakeside home, was hit by high winds, 20+ inches of rain, and severe roof damage.
“2020 was a rough year, but we refused to give up because our clients, quilters, kept telling us how special their time on retreat was, and that there was nothing else like it available to them within a 6+ hour drive,” says Tabatha.
Rebounding from 2020, the retreat center’s popularity has skyrocketed, and now, Camellia Palms Quilt Retreat Center hosts around 110 private groups on retreat each year. “We welcome in about 1,000 retreaters a year,” says Tabatha.
“I have been coming here since of February 2021,” says Nita Hern, repeat guest and quilter from New Orleans, “and every time I come, I have a fabulous time and meet really nice people. I have enjoyed myself every time, and I’ve always felt like I was coming home when I walk through the door.”
As the retreat’s popularity grew, quilters came from all over the Gulf Coast and even as far away as Washington State, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Other quilting and creative businesses in Florala and the surrounding area started taking notice too.
Since Camellia Palms Retreat Center opened its doors in 2019, there are now 6+ quilt and fabric shops within an hour’s drive on both sides of the Alabama and Florida state line. Make than an hour and a half? You've got nearly a dozen quilt shops.
“That’s more quilt shops within a 60-mile radius than the number of quilt stores in Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando or just about any other major urban area,” says Tabatha.
In October 2023, Camellia Palms also launched a new Recommended Quilt Shop Program, awarding badges & special recognition to their local quilt shops, and making it even easier for retreaters to find their favorite new places to shop for fabric & other quilting & crafting supplies.
Keep reading below to learn about the 2023 Recommended Quilt Shops!
Stitch by Stitch Fabric Boutique
938 N Ferdon Blvd, Crestview, FL
Shop their specialities: Art Gallery Fabrics, Moda, Riley Blake, Kona Solids, Kaffe Fasset and Tula Pink!
Oh Sew Kountry
8085 State Hwy 83 N, DeFuniak Springs, Fl
Shop their specialities: Freespirit, Timeless Treasures, Riley Blake, Maywood, ByAnnie patterns, lots of Tula Pink, bag making, YKk Zippers. Known for bag making, Zipper by the yard and wide assortment of Tula Pink!
My Sewing Barn
5201 Dogwood Dr. Milton ,Fl
Shop their specialities: Moda, Kaufman, Hoffman, Free Spirit, Timeless Treasures, Riley Blake, Henry Glass, Oasis and more!
Additional great quilt shops close to Camellia Palms Retreat Center:
Oh Sew Pretty, Opp, AL (18 miles)
Andalusia Sewing Center, Andalusia AL (30 mins)
Margie's Sew Much Fun, Crestview FL (30 mins)
Make it a road trip:
A & E Fabrics, Pensacola FL (2 hours)
Stitcher’s Quest, Fort Walton Beach FL (1 hour)
Sewing & Training Center, Fort Walton Beach FL (1 hour)
Front Porch Quilt Shop, Ozark, AL (1.5 hours)
Craft World, Papercrafting boutique in downtown Florala!
The Big Wooly Dog, yarn boutique in downtown Florala!
Michaels, Fort Walton Beach FL (1 hour)
JoAnn, Fort Walton Beach FL (1 hour)
Hobby Lobby, Destin FL (1 hour)
It’s not just quilt shops either. The quaint small town of Florala also supports a handmade soap boutique, a local yarn shop, a scrapbook store, a fudge shop, antique malls, and other gift boutiques in downtown Florala.
“We love the way our guests, quilters and crafters, have been able to have such a huge economic impact in our small community, and also the way we’ve begun to develop a well-known getaway destination for quilters, similar to that of Branson, Missouri (where Missouri Star Quilt company is located) and Paducah, Kentucky (where the National Quilt Museum is located),” says Tabatha. “We’re not that large, but we’re become the most well-known quilting destination for all quilters within the entire Gulf Coast region.”
Camellia Palms Retreat Center now books 6 months to 1.5 years out for popular dates.
Retreats are held in a beautiful 1880s Victorian home, overlooking Lake Jackson, Alabama’s largest natural lake.
Retreat groups of up to 14 women can book a 4 day/3 night package to come on retreat and quilt, sew, scrapbook, or do any other kind of craft in the dedicated retreat room, relaxed on the back deck in a rocking chair while looking at the lake, and enjoy the light, airy 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms the 4,000 sq. ft. home has to offer.