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Post-COVID Quilting

One year from now,

Five years from now…

One generation from now…

How will you tell your story?

For the most part, it’s over.  The CDC has changed the mask rules.   According to some statistics, approximately 64 percent of Americans have received one of the vaccines, and there’s plenty of vaccines left for everyone who still wants to be immunized. 

In short, we’ve made it through the COVID-19 pandemic.  And just like our ancestors who lived through the Spanish Flu, 2020-2021 altered our lives in more ways than one.  Most of us still keep one mask in our car, bag, or pocket.  Hospitalization numbers are still reported.  This recent pandemic will continue to cast a shadow on our lives for some time – and for some of us, permanently.

Quilters (primarily women) have a long record of recording history in their quilts.  Elections, assassinations, AIDs, 9/11 – all of these earth-altering events have been immortalized in needle, fabric, and thread.  COVID-19 was no different.  A 14 year-old woman name Madeline Fugate was determined to remember those who died in the pandemic.  She is a young textile artist in her own right.  Madeline put out a call for blocks made in memory of loved ones who passed away from COVID.  She and a few others are turning these blocks into quilts.  Where did she get this idea?  Her mother worked on the AIDs quilt. 

As quilters recording events, we create context.  Much of this context incorporates our own feelings and thoughts, but doesn’t make our quilts less valid than any other essay, news report, blog or vlog.  Our quilts are real and raw and necessary to create calm during chaos.  I had so many quilters tell me they couldn’t have made it through the isolation and fear of early 2020 without their fabric and sewing machine.  I attest to this.  Sewing kept me sane.  Making masks made me feel as if I was making some kind of difference and helping out in some way.   Other quilters chose to record their feelings in a quilt.  There’s Disappearing Act by Linda Colsh.

Home by Maggie Vanderweit

And What’s Your Excuse? By Wendy Starn.

Lots of other quilters incorporated the spikey virus into their quilting.  Some pieced or appliqued it into their quilt.  Every quilt I completed during COVID had some mention of the pandemic.

But COVID changed so much more than just our quilts themselves.  It changed our quilting world.  There were no quilt shows.  I watched as shows ground to a halt in late 2019 and by the Spring 2020 they completely stopped.  In-person classes ceased.  My guild had no retreat.  There were no quilt groups (such as bees), either.  My local guild met in March 2020 and didn’t meet again until January 2021. 

All of our personal universes were upended.  I watched my son-in-law homeschool my two granddarlings (and he’s done a terrific job).  I worried about my daughter who in the midst of the pandemic took a new job which required some travel, long hours, and contact with lots of people.  I saw my 80-something mother at Christmas 2019 and then not again unless I was wearing a mask and the visit was brief. We didn’t get to spend significant time with each other until I was fully vaccinated – May 14-16, 2021.  I watched my son and daughter-in-law spend hours searching (and finally finding) disposable diapers for a friend who is a single mom.  I worked from home, ordered groceries and food delivery online, and like everyone else, hunted down toilet paper and hand sanitizer until supply finally met demand.

And as much as COVID is a horrible sickness and as much as 2020 flipped us on our emotional and mental rear ends, some truly good things came out of a very dark time.  Great things…amazing things.  We learned we could meet by Zoom.  My local Sit and Sew meets via Zoom on the same night we met in person.  I was able to join two guilds in two different states because of Zoom.  I was able to take classes from internationally known teachers because the instructors decided if we couldn’t come to them, they would come to us via the internet.  Under normal circumstances, I would never had the opportunity to take classes with these teachers due to distance issues.  However, with the aid of cameras, software, and the world-wide web, I had a front row seat to instructors in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Arizona, California … and a few more places I’ve forgotten.  I was able to join an applique group for monthly online meetings via The Applique Society.  Suddenly a host of women whose names I knew became “real” because I could see them at least once a month.  Friendships which at one time were linked only by a newsletter became steadfast because of Zoom. 

We learned to make masks.  Lots of masks.  We learned what we could use to make nose clips and how to scrounge elastic out of the least likely places.  All of the stash we were hopelessly and endlessly teased about became worth its weight in gold.  It seemed as if everyone wanted to learn to sew.  For the first time in my lifetime, I walked into a Walmart and there was no fabric, no elastic, and no sewing machines.  I understand at some point during the pandemic, the wait time to have a machine shipped to you was over eight weeks.  Manufacturers couldn’t keep up.  And neither could fabric stores and quilt shops.  After years of declining in-store sales, brick-and-mortar establishments reported an uptick in transactions and foot traffic.  I hope our LQS’s are now in a better place financially and the number of closings stop or at least slow down. 

We worked hard at ways to keep in touch.  Until COVID, I was the type of person who thrived on the personal interaction with other people.  I needed it to be creative and to flourish as a person.  The pandemic squashed most in-person meet-ups for a while.  I mentioned my mother and my guild.  I didn’t get to see much of my brother, either.  However…necessity is the mother of invention.  We all had to get creative and work to keep in touch.  I went from calling my mom three times a week to a daily 20-minute or so conversation.  I think I learned more about her during COVID than I ever have.  I found I looked forward to those conversations, and even though we’re now post-pandemic and can see each other, you know what?  We still talk every day.  I feel lost if I don’t hear the sound of her voice. 

My quilty friends and I texted and Zoomed.  We had two guild members who offered their house as a pick-up and drop off point.  We were in the middle of the guild’s BOM.  Susan generously offered her front porch as a place we could pick up our blocks.  Karen offered her front porch for everything else.  As so many of us took advantage of the isolation, we cleaned out our sewing areas.  Texts flew back and forth. ”Do you need this?”  “I’m looking for…”  Karen’s front porch bench served as the “post office” for everyone.  Drop it off…pick it up… And somewhere along this, we learned her mother needed Cream of Celery Soup but couldn’t find it at the grocery store.  I think three of us made sure she had plenty.  And while Eric and I only rarely saw each other, we texted several times a week.  Mostly puns or really bad jokes or memes.  We talked, too.  Worried about our mother.  Kept up with his blood counts. 

So, despite all the isolation, I am happy to report my relationships thrived.  We all had to get creative (as I know you did, too), but we came out of this okay.  But I found my quilting changed.  The first aspect I made sure changed was my quilt labels.  I’ve been called the quilt label queen, not because my labels are outstandingly beautiful, but because I’m fanatical about making sure my quilts have labels.  I still did this during COVID, but I added one more line on my label to put the quilt in historical perspective – “Made during the COVID 19 Pandemic.” 

Every quilt I gifted in 2020 had this line added to the label.  As a matter of fact, I only stopped adding it to my label when the CDC announced the change in the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people.  I was vaccinated.  In my mind, the pandemic is over for me.

I found my quilting evolved in 2020.  There were no in-person classes and my Zoom classes dealt more with technique than another project.  For the first time in years, I felt free to make the quilts I wanted to make because I wasn’t hindered by class deadlines.  I not only made these quilts, I made a lot of them.  I finished six quilts during the pandemic – I mean from start to the last binding stitch.  This was a record for me.  And I used whatever techniques I wanted to in order to finish them.  Instead of fawning over the pattern’s preferred technique or construction method, I just made the quilt the way I wanted.  I regained some quilty courage – the kind I had when I first started quilting and didn’t know any better.  And that feeling is amazing. 

I don’t think any of us have come out of COVID the same person we were when the pandemic started.  I’m certainly not.  I have never been a particularly anxious person, but I find myself doing battle with it daily now.  I don’t take in-person moments for granted.  I relish every second.  I have also developed a low-tolerance for politicians, news, and so-called medical experts.  BS tolerance level has reached an all-time low.  My creativity has re-evolved and I’ve engaged with so many other quilters all over the world.  It’s hard to look at any of that as negative.

Maybe COVID-19 has served as a sort of chrysalis or cocoon.  Maybe after hunkering down for nearly an entire year, we’re all emerging as different people and different artists.  If you find this is so about yourself, then this is your story.  This is the tale you will tell in a year…five years….and to the next generation.  We will tell it in words.  It will outlive us in our quilts.  We survived.  We’re loved and we love others.  We’re valuable.  On so many, many levels, we’re all brave.  Now we have a new normal to conquer.

Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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