Quilting in the Time of COVID

*NOTE:  This is an opinion blog. 

If all goes according to my plans, this blog will post on June 10, 2020. At this point, North Carolina should be well into Governor Cooper’s modified phase 2 opening schedule. I say modified, because in the original phase 2 plans, places of business such as gyms, bars, and dance studios should have been able to open. They were not allowed to do so. But that is neither here nor there. What I want to really talk about today is how COVID has changed and will change the face of quilting and our quilting reality. Some of the changes I like. Some of them I don’t. Either way, this is a pretty personal blog (consider it part of knowing me better). It’s definitely an opinion piece, but keep in mind this is coming from someone who has quilted for well over thirty years and has done a reasonably good job on watching for trends and troubles in the quilting arena for the past 15 years.

It goes without saying COVID has changed everyone’s life.  No matter if you’re shopping, grabbing a meal out, or going to the doctor, the entire way of doing everything has been totally upended.  And I was able to deal with this upending for a while. Until…

Until it took weeks for my daughter (who has had cervical cancer) to get her last Pap Smear results back.  Her appointment was in early April.  We did not get her test results back until Thursday, May 22.

Until I got up and began to do office work on a Sunday because I couldn’t remember what day of the week it was (I’ve worked from home since March 9).

Until I got sick and tired of not finding items my family needed at the grocery store when we needed them.  Please note: We did not hoard.  We did not purchase things like paper towers or toilet paper or hand sanitizer in bulk because we were keenly aware  others needed more than our two-member household.  But when I can’t find a four-pack of Charmin for Bill and myself after I’ve shopped at four stores, something is wrong. 

I’ve said before that I am stick-a-fork-in-me done with a lot of this.  And while, yes, I realize what I’ve written in the preceding paragraphs is a rant (I own it), my frustration does nothing to negate the fact that COVID has changed everything from the way we eat out, to the way we work, to the way we shop, to the way I get my hair and nails done.  But to add to my … frustration… about the situation, COVID has also messed with my Holy Grail of quilting and to be frank…well…that pisses me off.  Quilting is my place of solace.  Quilting and quilters are my lifelines to sanity in my world of an insanely high-pressure job.  Fabric and everything that comes with it calms me at the end of my day, when most hours in that day have been stressed, pushed, and more hectic than I can adequately describe.

I am tired of living in fear of this virus.  For years I lived my life in the shadow of “What Might Happen.”  I refuse to do that ever again.  I am over this over-hyped virus anxiety.  Do I believe the virus is real?  Yes.  Do I do things to avoid coming in contact with it or spreading it to others?  Yes.  I social distance, wash my hands several times a day, and wear a mask.  It’s not that I’m unaware of COVID and its possible repercussions, it’s that I’m virus-fatigued.  You would stand a much better chance of me acknowledging new information about COVID if it would stop being all the news all the time

However, let me tell you something I do know.  I was born in 1961 (do the math if you want to know how old I am…I’ll wait).  My generation – the folks that I grew up with – have seen and dealt with some major events throughout our lives.  We’ve lived through:

  • The start of the Cold War
  • The Bay of Pigs
  • The Construction of the Berlin Wall
  • A Presidential assassination and at least two other assassination attempts on other Presidents
  • Watergate
  • The resignation of a President
  • The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Putting a man on the moon
  • Integration and Civil Rights when seemed both would tear our country apart
  • Women’s rights and finally getting a woman on the Supreme Court
  • Challenger and Columbia
  • The Collapse of the Berlin Wall
  • The End of the Cold War
  • Vietnam
  • 9/11
  • More wars in the Mideast than I can keep up with
  • A recession and The Great Recession
  • Corrupt political leaders
  • Gas rationing

What I’m saying is this:  My generation has lived through times which have upended our way of life.  We’ve done this several times.  And you know what?  We’ve gotten through it.  We’ve pulled ourselves up, worked together (most of the time), and developed solutions which have allowed us to raise our families, educate ourselves and our children, and create a society that – for all its faults and problems – is one most people would risk their lives to have.  Maybe it’s because our parents didn’t hover.  Our parents (for the most part) were the children of World War II society.  Our grandparents instilled in our parents the desire to make sure the next generation (us) had it better.  That we grew stronger.   That we were smarter and better educated.  But they sure as heck didn’t hand it to us.  They allowed us to struggle our way through some really difficult situations.  But the struggle instilled in us this supreme belief: No matter what was in our way, we could overcome it.  I have absolutely no doubt in my mind we will do the same thing to this virus…

If everyone would quit whining and work together.  Seriously. 

How does this virus and all of its press and social media coverage affect our quilting? Besides the obvious shortages of some supplies (think ¼-inch elastic for masks – lots of us quilters are making masks), shopping was the first major area it touched. For a while some North Carolina brick and mortar quilt stores couldn’t open.  Once they were deemed “essential” (for mask making), they could re-open.  But it was primarily curb-side service.  Once our Phase 2 came into play, retail businesses could “get back to normal,” but with strict social distancing, mask-wearing, deep cleaning, and hand sanitizing stations in place.  It’s a different retail world out there right now.  Most quilt stores are not huge establishments like Hancocks of Paducah.  The average quilt store owner is lucky if they have a couple of thousand square feet of shopping space.  This means only so many customers are allowed in the store at a time.  Which may also mean you come with a list so you can shop quickly and don’t browse too long. The owners must let other customers into the store in a timely manner.  In my mind, all this adds up to more on-line shopping and possibly even more brick and mortar quilt shops closing (I personally know two long-established stores that closed this week).  And there goes another piece of our quilting culture.  But at least we can still buy supplies. 

For me, the next quilting boat COVID sunk was guild meetings, bees, sit and sews, and classes.  Right now, none of these are meeting.  I imagine once we’re given the okay to meet in large-ish groups again, guilds will plan their meetings.  I am using the High Point Quilt Guild as an example because that’s the group I’m most active in.  I’m also on the executive board so I kind of have an idea of how things may work.  In one way our guild is blessed.  We’re small (but mighty).  We have around 40 members, of which about half show up at meetings.  So, the next meeting we’re allowed to have (hoping for July here – we had our last meeting in March) I anticipate we will have approximately 20 folks.  Fortunately, the fellowship hall we meet in is large enough to handle at least 30 members and keep social distancing in place.  We’re blessed.  However, I imagine serving refreshments may be out for a while.  It will probably be BYOS (bring your own snack).  But what about larger guilds or guilds that have smaller meeting rooms?  Will they look for another meeting place? A task certainly easier said than done.   Or will they split their guild into two groups, with the groups alternating the months they can meet, and Facebook livestream the meeting for those who aren’t meeting that month?  There’s not a whole lot of options out there for large guilds.  This has me worried because Quilt Guilds are a huge part of our quilting community.  The charity work they do, as well the education and preservation of quilting arts, is phenomenal. 

Quilt bees and sit and sews will also probably need to restructure.  Most of these groups aren’t too terribly large, but they generally meet in peoples’ homes.  Many of these groups may need to find alternate meeting places until the virus dies out or we get a vaccine.  Many, I’m afraid, may disband all together.  And that’s sad.  Really, really sad. And while I do think that quilt shops will continue to have classes, I imagine the class size will be limited due to social distancing rules.  The shops may need to have more classes to accommodate those who want to attend.  If a normal class size is 10, but social distancing dictates the store can only have four students plus the instructor in the room, offering the same class in two different time slots may be the answer. Of all the issues the virus has touched, classes may be the most workable. 

As COVID swept across our landscape, quilt show after quilt show cancelled – both small and large.  And this is understandable.  While a lot wasn’t known about the virus, we did know it spread easily.  If you’ve been to any quilt show (especially large ones such as the Paducah AQS Show or the Houston International Quilt Show and Market), it’s a fact the foot traffic through the quilts and vendor areas is shoulder-to-shoulder.  Given the social distancing guidelines, we know we can’t do this in the future.  At the present, the only solution I can see for larger quilt shows is to spread  the attendance out over more days.  I have a good example to back this up.

I live in High Point, North Carolina.  If you Google High Point, NC, one of the very first facts you’ll find is  we are the International Furniture City.  Twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, we host the Furniture Market.  Literally thousands and thousands of furniture buyers from all over the world descend on our city to purchase all the latest in home dec.  Due to COVID, we couldn’t have the spring market.  However, the market and city leaders decided  the fall market must go on…but differently.  They extended the normal market time from five days to nine, thus allowing more time for buyers to get in and out safely.  Of course, there will be other stringent measures put into place – mandatory mask-wearing, temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, and announcements reminding folks about social distancing. 

It will be different, but the show will go on

I think the larger quilt shows may have to implement similar measures in the future if no vaccine is discovered for several more months.  Smaller, local, guild quilt shows may face an entirely different scenario.  I imagine the first issue will be actually finding a venue that A) will let you have a quilt show and B) be reasonably enough priced to let the group stretch the show out to another day if necessary.  This is super-tricky for guilds, who can tell you no venue is cheap and all of them can be hard to come by.  Usually, foot traffic at local shows is much less than at large ones, but part of paying for the show comes from the number of vendors you have on the floor.  If the vendors themselves not only have to social distance and have the space in their booth to allow their customers to social distance, you have to ask how many vendors can we put on the floor space available? How much will this impact not only the number of quilts that can be shown, but also the number of vendors we can have?  And how does this affect our net profit? 

And worst of all, is it even worth it to have a show?  Most guilds (mine included) raise the bulk of their operating funds from their bi-annual shows.  If possibly adding an extra day or limiting vendors bites away too much of the bottom line, guilds will have no choice but to look at other fund-raising options.

Lastly, let’s talk about quilt retreats.  I’ve always encouraged my readers and every quilter I know to attend at least one quilt retreat in their lifetime.  Some retreats are huge.  Again, we may have to extend dates and rotate one group in when another group rotates out.  We may have to limit the number of people that attend.  Or we may have to offer several retreat opportunities throughout the year.  Smaller retreat groups may not be affected at all, unless they cannot find a place to meet.  I do think that quilt classes and quilt retreats will be the areas least affected by life post-COVID.

Like everything else, the quilting landscape has now changed.  And despite my earlier rants, some of these changes I like.  As a former teacher, I’ve always manically wiped down things because cold viruses can live on surfaces, light switches, doorknobs, etc., for a good while. I’m completely on board with that.  And as far as making events less crowded, I’m good with that, too.  At times I’ve felt nearly claustrophobic at large quilt shows due to the press of people.  I’ll also add that washing your hands several times a day prevents a lot of viruses from spreading – not just COVID.  And I have absolutely zero problems wearing a mask.  I also have a hunch – based the number of sewing machines and yards of fabric sold during the Stay at Home orders – we may have a new bunch of quilting converts descending on guilds in the future.  I surely hope so.

But letting fear run and ruin the rest of your life?  I’m not good with that.  For my mental health, my quilt life must return to some semblance of normal now.  Shopping may be different.  Meetings might be different.  But if we wait until our quilt lives can return to complete normalcy, we may be waiting a long time.  I’m not willing to do that. 

The last issue I want to discuss is the politics of this entire event. I realize I’m probably dipping my toe in some boiling water at this point but please hear me out before clicking out of the blog.  If there is any area that absolutely should not be politicized, it’s quilting.  Quilts, quilting, quilters…they’re all an oasis for me.  All three soothe my soul and make me happy.  Unfortunately, the more I read on social media and interact in other arenas, I’m finding this no longer probable.  Quilts, quilters, and quilting have always been my safe space.  Political arguments may occur on the news (it never stops here), on some social media platforms, and in other group settings, but most of the time these differences haven’t raised their ugly heads in my quilt groups – either in person or on-line.  If differences of opinion have been raised, usually those differences have been respected.  I’m afraid COVID has split the camps even more divisively, even in my Holy Grail of Quilting.  I’m putting this advice out here from Thumper:

It’s okay to have different opinions. That’s part of what makes quilting and America great.

It’s not okay to be ugly to someone who has an opinion that’s different from yours.


Be nice.

Be kind. 

And love each other.  Life is too short.

Love and Stiches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Quilting in the Time of COVID”

You describe my feelings so well. You’re right, life is short-just be nice. It takes a lot of effort to write and maintain an awesome blog. I appreciate all you do!

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