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Museum displays COVID-19 commemorative quilt

A visual history of life during the pandemic


April 21, 2021

A QUILT WITH A STORY, JUST LIKE IN THE OLD DAYS – “The COVID Commemorative Quilt: piecing life together during the pandemic of 2020” covers a bit of Washington state’s coronavirus year. This group project has 16 contributors, including Simme Bobrosky and Ester Woods from La Conner. Stanwood resident Denise Long’s vision, made real, will hang in the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum through May. – Photo courtesy of Michael Wooten

Back in March of 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses, isolated families and caused a run on toilet paper, something else a little quieter was taking shape.

A group of 16 quilters from around Washington state began sewing, at home, alone. They were brought together by Stanwood resident Denise Long’s vision to create a quilt and visual story of life during this challenging time. She called it “The COVID Commemorative Quilt: piecing life together during the pandemic of 2020.”

The finished quilt is on display at the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner.

The quilt’s inception, for Long, was similar to the AIDS quilt designed during that 1980s epidemic as a memorial to those who died of the disease. She conceived the project as a visual representation of life during the pandemic, offering a message of hope and how people managed for future generations to view. “Quilts are visual art, representing what happened at a time in history,” Long explained.

Long started gathering ideas and fashioning blocks when she heard about a project the Washington State Historical Society was launching. They were looking for contributions to a COVID-19 collection of memorabilia. Long wasted no time becoming the first to apply.

She began designing more blocks and recruited friends and quilters. Several of the quilters she connected with through the Pacific Northwest Quilters group on Facebook live in different parts of the state: Vancouver, eastern Washington and two quilters came from La Conner: Simme Bobrosky and Ester Woods.

Even though each quilter worked at home, alone during months of the pandemic, this project kept all of them feeling connected to a community as well as to something bigger, something which will always have meaning.

The quilt’s design is of four columns, each depicting an aspect of the pandemic life. Column one shows various supplies needed like groceries, column two displays the essential workers and the other columns depict staying healthy, with pictures of masks and hand sanitizer and, finally, problems needing solving, such as creating a vaccine.

Woods sewed the block titled, “6 feet apart,” reflecting a vital way we all could help each other remain safe and healthy. There is even a block for the toilet paper crisis.

Long sent all the quilters a pattern for their blocks, similar to a black and white coloring book page. She included a square of white fabric with the pattern, which helped maintain unity to the overall design. The sewers set to work, either embroidering their square or employing appliqué.

But the meaning behind the quilt does not stop with the blocks. Long specifically chose fabric scraps donated from Days for Girls to create the borders, edging and backing of the quilt. These scraps were leftover material from the 10,000 masks Days for Girls sewed during the pandemic and distributed to first responders and essential health care workers.

What began in March came to fruition that August, a five-month endeavor and labor of love. Long collected the completed blocks and put the finishing touches to the quilt. “Being creative during this stay-at-home period helped us stay sane. It also helped us to do something for the world”, says Long.

“It’s a historical testimony. We made it through and we created something beautiful”.

The quilt can be seen displayed in the library of the Museum through May. It will then make its way down to the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma, where it will become part of their permanent collection.

Tickets to the Museum are $7. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. Bring the whole family!


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