Deb in Shetland
Photo by Mary Macgregor.

In February/March and in November, I facilitate four-day fiber retreats in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Each is a relatively small gathering for which I spend a year or two planning, and then collecting and preparing fibers. These are retreats: they are structured to include a bounty of information and fiber within a daily plan that allows everyone (including me) time to relax. We have structured time in the morning; afternoons are flexible (spin, knit, hike, nap, shop in town, get a massage), and evenings are low-key, sometimes with a program and sometimes just visiting and sharing inspiration.

Each of the retreats takes place at the fabulous Lakedale Resort in Friday Harbor, Washington, and each is catered by an outstanding island chef, using fresh, local ingredients. The format for each retreat is unique, but the atmosphere remains the same: a gathering of fiber-loving folks, excited to learn more and unwind for a week of exploration and fellowship.

Deb Robson

Covid-19 notes

Due to my own vulnerabilities and those of some regular participants, for the time being all retreats have the following covid parameters:

  • All participants, facilitators, and lodging and catering staff, must be fully vaccinated and boosted. If you are not fully vaccinated, please wait for a future, safer-for-all time to register for a retreat.
  • Masking when indoors with others, with a mask that covers both mouth and nose.
  • As much physical distancing as is possible; our options here are somewhat limited, but so far we’ve done really well at spacing ourselves out.

Note: I know some people cannot be vaccinated and/or have conditions that mean vaccination does not evoke a strong protective response. I look forward to a time when enough of us have been vaccinated that more moderate practices, like simply masking and physical distancing as needed, will be adequate to bring us all back together freely.

Are you ready to explore more?

Each of the retreats I facilitate takes on a different theme.

As always, if you can independently

  1. spin a singles yarn that holds together (lumpy is okay!) and
  2. make a two-ply

you have the necessary skills for my retreats or workshops. Some participants are newbies and some have been spinning proficiently for decades. We can all learn something by encountering new fibers in new ways.

For registration information, see “What next?” We do keep waiting lists as needed.

As usual for Explore 4, we meet at Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes (with special off-season rates), have a balanced schedule of structured, informative and flexible, restorative time, and (ferries permitting) enjoy a visit from Island Fibers one afternoon (with freshly shorn fleeces from the region’s sheep, hand-dyed yarns, great buttons, and more).

Friends or partners are welcome to come explore the island while you’re enjoying the retreat, and may join us for meals as long as we get them in the count three weeks ahead of the gathering.

Complete counts for the optional (but excellent and very convenient) lunch/dinner catering need to be submitted by three weeks before each retreat; gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options are readily available. Catering is provided by the San Juan Island Inn Collection, which operates the Coho Restaurant among other excellent island resources, and features fresh, seasonal meals. If you do not participate in the meal plan, Lakedale is about four miles from the town of Friday Harbor. There are also full kitchen facilities in the cabins and in the Lake House.


Costs are à la carte to accommodate different needs and preferences.

  • $600 for retreat fee and materials;
  • meals—breakfast is included with Lakedale lodging, 2023 rates for lunch and dinner for all four days are $264 if paid by check or $275 by PayPal (to cover the processing fees)  plus optional tip on the final day (accompanying friends or family can choose lunch-only [$110 check/$115 PayPal] or dinner-only [$154 check/$162 PayPal]); people with significant dietary constraints can cook for themselves in the cabins or Lake House;
  • lodging costs vary depending on chosen accommodations—the Lodge is least expensive; sharing cabins works well to economize if you come with a group; dogs can be with you in cabins but not in the Lodge.

For information on getting to and from the retreat and other details, see the boldface link below that leads to a series of pages of additional details.

Explore 4 Fiber Retreats

2023 Autumn Special Topic Retreat: Shetland Wools

Explore 4 Fall Fiber Retreat Friday Harbor, Washington

Session 1: November 6–9, 2023
Session 2: November 13–16, 2023
Please note: The two sessions will cover the same material.

Shetland sheep provide a wide variety of wool types. It’s said that for any fiber
project, there’s a suitable Shetland fleece, and vice versa.

In 2018, the Autumn Explore 4 featured Shetlands: they’re back in 2023 by
popular demand, although because the available fleeces differ this time, so will
the approach. We’ll begin with a foundation in the sheep of the Shetland Islands
but will spend most of our time exploring the diverse fleece types available in
North America.

We’ll look at Shetland sheep from a lot of different angles while spinning at least
a dozen varied samples.

Want more information on what the retreats are like, where they’re located, and what the accommodations are like? Please see the Explore 4 pages.

Session 1: November 6–9, 2023

Arrive the 5th, depart the 10th.

This session is waiting-list only. Join the waiting list.

Session 2: November 13–16, 2023

Arrive the 12th, depart the 17th.

As of 6/2023, there are spaces in this session. Register here.

2024 Spring Four-by-Four Retreat: Four days, four compare/contrast breeds

Explore 4 Spring Fiber Retreat Friday Harbor, Washington

One session: March 18–21, 2024

This was the original Explore 4 format and is how the gathering proceeds for
most spring sessions. Over four days, we explore four breeds, selected for their
variety, history, and/or rarity, with several fleeces from each so that we can
experience both the consistency and the variety within the breed. We’ll look at
the history, fiber characteristics, and uses of each.

It often takes a year (or three) to gather enough appropriate fleeces and conduct
the necessary extensive research to feature a breed in a spring retreat. As a
result, details can change up to the last minute (I once had to change breeds
while en route to the event because the fleeces being delivered under the wire
weren’t of good enough quality—!), but feel free to get in touch to learn what’s
looking likely. As of June 2023, two of the possible (but not guaranteed)
candidates for Spring 2024 are Border Leicester and North Country Cheviot.

Want more information on what the retreats are like, where they’re located, and what the accommodations are like? Please see the Explore 4 pages.

March 18 – 21, 2023

Arrive the 17th, depart the 22nd.

As of 6/2023, there are spaces in this session. Register here. 

If you’re not sure if Explore 4 is you, or you’d just like to learn more about these events (including inspiration, history, location, and cost), look here for all the details you’ll ever need about Explore 4 or get in touch through the contact page.