Latest News from Arena

Latest News from Arena

  • Spotlight on Janice Gunner

    Our leading quilting expert Janice Gunner speaks to us about her love for Japanese and African fabrics, how she feels lost without her much loved sewing bag and how she funded her first home made quilt through pocket money as a child!

    Janice, you are an award-winning quilter, author and teacher. Tell us how you discovered quilting and how you first became passionate about it.

    I began quilting in 1974, not long after I got married. I had made most of my own clothes for many years and couldn’t bear to throw away the left-over fabric, although my first ‘quilt’ was made from fabric samples I had bought from a local market stall as a child with my pocket money! I joined 8” squares together to make a big enough piece to cover the bed. No pattern, just instinct!
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  • Philippa Naylor Q&A

    Philippa Naylor is an award winning quilter and textile artist. She combines her technical expertise and designer training to produce intricately pieced, applique or whole-cloth quilts which are heavily machine quilted often utilising trapunto. This week we speak to Philippa about her first love of garment making, how she can’t live without her Bernina machine, and how she ended up selling hand made Christmas decorations in Saudi Arabi!

    Hi Philippa, we are very excited about you leading your first ever quilting trip to Italy. Tell us how you discovered quilting and how you first became passionate about it.

    I'm not sure there is an easy answer to this. I have always loved textiles of all kinds, and have sewn from a young age. After finishing A' levels I trained at Manchester Polytechnic, for 4 years, to become a clothing designer. I worked in industry as a lingerie designer and then moved to Saudi Arabia in 1989 with my husband (who was an English language teacher) and set up a wedding and evening dress business. I was in Saudi selling Christmas decorations (that I had made) at a bazaar. The lady on the next stall was advertising her quilting classes and 'encouraged' me to sign up for one (she did this for several hours). In the end I gave in and agreed to go on one of her courses. And of course I loved the whole process. That was in 1996.
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  • Crafty New Year Resolutions

    With the New Year approaching here at Stitchtopia HQ we have decided to make a resolution that is easy to keep; to be more ‘crafty’!

    Our experts have had the same idea and between them plan to learn new techniques, knit more and use their stash of supplies on making fun projects. Read on to see what other crafty New Year resolutions our experts are promising to keep!

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  • Mandy Shaw Q&A

    This week we have been speaking to the fantastic UK textile designer and quilting tutor, Mandy Shaw on how she fell head over heels in love with quilting, her plans for Christmas and she spills the beans on her crafting plans for 2017.

    Mandy, you are a well know personality in the world of crafting and are the owner of an internet based company Dandelion Designs. Tell us how you discovered quilting and how you first became passionate about it.

    I have always made things since a little girl. My dolls and teddy bears were very important to me and I would make their clothes and bedding. I made my first patchwork quilt in the early eighties, while my friends were out dancing I was sewing! And then as soon as I started my family I adorned my home and children with homemade crafts of all varieties.
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  • News From the Bridge Room in Madeira

    Host report by Barry & Maggie Watts

    Have some madeira, m'dear
    You really have nothing to fear
    I'm not trying to tempt you, that wouldn't be right
    You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night
    Have some madeira, m'dear

    Madeira, roughly 500 miles south of Portugal and 500 miles west of Morocco, was one of the first discoveries of Henry the Navigator in 1419 but it is now discovered by over a million tourists a year. The Capital, Funchal, historically a safe port for vessels heading to South Africa and South America is today a popular stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises between Europe, the Caribbean and North Africa. Continue reading

  • Get Hooked in Florence - report by Carol Meldrum

    What more could you ask for, a trip to Florence with like minded folk, dedicated to crochet and knitting, chatting and swapping stories, passing on skills and generally having a good time!

    We flew into Pisa from London, then a short coach trip on towards our luxury hotel in the heart of the city where we would be based for the next 5 days. Not wanting to waste any time we ventured out to explore our surroundings, track down a few yarn stores and grab a bite to eat.

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  • 2017 Journeys of Remembrance Preview


    North East India - 29th March - 10th April
    Monte Cassino, Southern Italy - May
    Centenary of Passchendaele - July
    Centenary Tour - Passchendaele, Cambrai & Arras - September
    Sicily - September
    Egypt, 75th Anniv El Alamein - October
    The NMA at Armistice - November
    Remembrance Sunday in London - November


    The following dates for LIBOR funded Normandy Tours are planned for 2017:

    31st March - 4th April
    21st April - 25th April
    12th May - 16th May
    21st May - 25th May
    5th June - 7th June
    15th September - 19th September
    29th September - 3rd October

    If you're interested in any of the above, please call the reservations team on 01473 660800 to pre-register.

  • News from the Bridge Rooms in the Balearics

    Host report by Nigel & Pauline Durie

    Menorca October 2016:

    What a beautiful island Menorca is and S’Algar resort is in a wonderful location that offers everything needed for a bridge holiday. A first-class hotel with staff who couldn’t be more attentive to our every need. The playing room is spacious and overlooks the pool and the sea, so when the bridge is tough it is easy to remind ourselves of the finer things in life! Two excellent excursions were enjoyed by many of the guests enabling people to see interesting places in and around S’Algar and the capital Mahon. One of the excursions focused on visiting parts of the island not on the usual tourist route and a knowledgeable and interesting English speaking guide was greatly appreciated. John and Marjorie organised a popular afternoon trip to a stable for a demonstration of the skills of the beautiful black horses of Menorca.

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  • Bob Baker RIP

    Bob Baker RIP

    It is with great sadness that we report the death of our dear friend Bob Baker on Saturday after a short illness.

    Bob and Jacky have been an integral part of the First for Bridge family for many years. Arena Travel took over the business in 2012 and along with others Bob and Jacky offered great advice and support to ensure we maintained the high bridge standards of First for Bridge. They have been very popular with customers who booked any trip they led and Bob will be greatly missed by us all.

    We extend our sincere condolences to Jacky and the family.

    The family have asked not to receive phone calls at this difficult time. We would be pleased to gather your memories and condolences and pass them to Jacky in due course. Please address any messages to

    We would like to introduce The Bob Baker Memorial Challenge Cup next year in honour of Bob's memory.

  • Quilters Retreat to Portugal September 2016

    Report by Karin Hellaby

    On a Sunday 18th September, 19 of us flew from London to Lisbon for the start of our 8 day quilting retreat.

    The first couple of nights were spent in a luxurious 5* hotel in Lisbon's historic area, perfect for exploring on foot or catching a nearby tram. Arena had sight-seeing tours arranged for us and the most memorable included a tour of the famous tile museum and afterwards, the costume museum. Both were filled with beautiful displays and gave us an enormous amount of inspiration.

    From Lisbon it was an hour's drive to a Marriott Resort Hotel situated on the Atlantic coast. We had a large sunny conference room overlooking the pool and beach, set up with 12 Bernina sewing machines, ready for four days of sewing.

    What a perfect venue for a retreat! After classes we took the opportunity to swim in the pool and walk along the beach. The exercise was needed as we ate breakfast and dinner from the most fabulous buffets, with good wine included.

    Obidos, a quaint walled medieval town was close by, so one morning Helen our tour manager arranged for four taxis to take us there. We browsed the shops with frequent stops to admire the views and taste the local cherry liqueur served in small chocolate cups. At only one euro each many of us indulged more than once!

    Our evening flight from Lisbon meant that we could take in the lovely town of Sintra on the way to the airport. We visited the colourful Palacio National del Pena, atop the hill and shopped for last minute souvenirs in the pretty town.

    This was a really fabulous relaxing week with a marvellous mixture of sights, culture, sewing and excellent food in super hotels. Thank you Arena Travel for the excellent itinerary, Bernina for providing machines and Helen for her good tour managing skills.

    More photos and a daily blog can be viewed on

    I hope one day to return to Portugal with Arena as the quilters on this tour are keen to explore Porto next. In the meantime, why not join me and escape from the cold and miserable UK next February and join me for a sewing retreat in Madeira.

    Karin Hellaby

    Karin Hellaby is an internationally known quilt teacher and author of 10 quilting books and numerous patterns. She is a regular teacher at the Houston International Quilt Show and has also been invited to teach at quilting symposiums in New Zealand, Dubai and the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in Oregon.

    Read more about Karin

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