Billy and Margaret serving dinner
Billy and Margaret serving dinner

I spent a wonderful week in May teaching at The Spanish Experience. Sally and Billy have a large villa in the mountains above Valencia with a lovely swimming pool. Sally has a passion for patchwork and Billy for cooking; together they offer a perfect package holiday. There are eight ladies and a tutor, scheduled BA flights from Gatwick, with pickup at Valencia, all meal inclusive, (and what food, more later!) a half-day at a market and a day sightseeing in Valencia. The main purpose of course, is the quilting, with classes from 10am to 4pm but as it's a holiday this can be altered to suit the group; some like to have a walk after lunch along the beautiful mountain tracks and then work in the evening; others like to sit round the pool and sew till their hearts content.

Three amigos; students take time to relax
Three amigos; students take time to relax

In the large sewing room Sally has thought of everything. Each student has a sewing machine, mini iron, cutting board, crayons, note book, folder, and an office-type chair. There's a huge table for cutting larger fabrics with a good selection of cutters and boards. The sewing room leads onto the Chill Out Room, with sofas and comfy chairs, a help yourself kitchen area with tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes readily available. (Be warned - this is not a slimming holiday!) Outside the sewing room is a lovely courtyard garden with palm trees, a large stone table and chairs around a fountain full of gold fish. There's also a shady area of ferns for when the sun gets too hot. The swimming pool is on a higher level with sun loungers and a stunning view of the mountain. Sally even supplies bathing towels and sun hats.

View from the pool
View from the pool

During my class I did a session on Log Cabin Spanish Villas, made out of inch strips of fabric. It was great to see that they all turned out really well – one even had a swimming pool in the garden. Some students used the stained glass windows, as there were many in the villa. The splendid walls and gates all around us provided instant inspiration and we used black lace to depict the ironwork .We also did some hand log cabin on the gridded fabrics and all the ladies made a heart and a butterfly. I had planned some hand sewing into the course so that those who wanted to combine sewing and a suntan could be accommodated too. The best thing about the whole week was simply that it was so nice to have the time to put one project aside and start another without the confines of a day class.

Sewing in the sunshine
Sewing in the sunshine

The Patchwork courses vary according to the tutor of the week. Past and future tutors include Dawn Cameron Dick, Anja Townrow, Angela Madden, Lynne Edwards, Pat Nichols, Patricia McLochlan, Gail Lawther, Nikki Tinkler, Maggie Davis. Sally also does ‘private’ weeks, where eight friends can get together and either have a tutor, or just sew on their own. Arrangements to fly from a different airport can be made and Sally will meet at either Alicante or Valencia.

Finished villa quilts
Finished villa quilts

Our day to Valencia was very interesting. We were taken to the station by car and taught how to say "there and back" in Spanish, before purchasing our tickets – superb value at about £4 for a 40-minute ride in a super air-conditioned clean train. The station in Valencia is amazing with glazed columns with moulded oranges all over them. And when we arrived, we found there was a patchwork shop very near the station! I'm sure the owner must delight in the groups of mad English ladies who come each Saturday and spend a small fortune. The fabric was pretty much the same as we could get anywhere but the trimmings – well, that's another story. There were racks which slid along the walls with an amazing selection – even better than John Lewis in the good old days. I succumbed to some giant rick rack in three colours; goodness knows what I'll use it for, but I just had to join in with the buying frenzy. We then found a shop which sold fabric by weight, mainly for curtains, but we had to indulge ourselves there too. Luckily the next stall sold large wicker bags, which of course we needed to purchase to put all our new fabric into.

The well-equipped sewing room
The well-equipped sewing room

Eating at The Spanish Experience is a true experience in itself. The meals at the villa are served in the dinning room with a large table seating ten. Breakfast is continental with hot croissants, cereal, yoghurt and lots of fresh fruit. Lunch is a table loaded with salads of all sorts and usually a hot dish, tortillas, pasta and a wonderful potato and chorizo dish. Oranges and strawberries form dessert. Chef Billy uses all locallysourced fresh ingredients and third portions were not uncommon. By the end of the week we had convinced ourselves it would be rude to leave anything on our plates. Billy’s daily shout: “Have you had enough ladies?” was greeted by groans of approval. Dinner at 7pm was a fill three courses and all Spanish specialities; rabbit stew, swordfish, gaspachio and lemon chicken to name a few, and on the final night, a huge paella cooked outside as is traditionally done in that region of Spain. The puddings were just as memorable; a bread and butter pudding with raisons soaked in Baileys, crème caramel, and pears poached in red wine. It’s such a treat to finish a hard day’s sewing, and then eat a lovely meal prepared by someone else. And to top it all off – no washing up

Dee with her work of art
Dee with her work of art

I had a lovely week and many thanks to the ladies who made it so enjoyable. I’m due back this October and then September next year, so I must work off that expanded waistline before then. Special thanks to Sally, Billy and Dee – I can’t wait to return.

To contact The Spanish Experience, call Dee on 01903 767337 (UK) or visit Quilting Holidays

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 13 Issue 9 - September 2005