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COVID-19 on quilters' minds while they make a group keepsake

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As with many hobbies, interest in quilting surged as people found things to do during their COVID-19 home confinement over the past year.

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While health concerns limited activities outside the home, sewing machines, cotton and thread for quilting grew more scarce, said Susan Warkentin, one of more than 100 members of the Bluewater Quilters’ Guild.

The club responded to restrictions on gatherings by exploring now-familiar Zoom video-conferencing technology. It has offered advantages club members may never otherwise have enjoyed, Warkentin said in an interview.

Saturday was “Worldwide Quilting Day” and 24 guild members gathered by Zoom for a “sew along.”

Some in the club are each making a quilt block, reflecting their personal experience with the pandemic, later to be sewn into a quilt that will be displayed at the Owen Sound Artists’ Co-Op this fall.

Warkentin’s 12-by-12-inch block will feature a fox, one of a few she’s seen regularly on the Bruce Peninsula. She moved in with her father north of Dyer’s Bay because of the pandemic.

June Sparling’s block will feature a likeness of a round sticker that says “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!” given to her after receiving a COVID-19 shot. She noted during an interview over Zoom she’s 91 and has been quilting since she was 18.

JoAnne Dewhurst’s “friendship block” celebrates her friends’ support and comfort during COVID, its varied colours representing her friends’ varied personalities.

Janet Price’s red and white block features a stylized red maple leaf symbolizing Canada. “I am so glad that I live in Canada through all this COVID mess, ’cause you see what goes on around the world, in other countries . . . .”

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Debi Gill’s quilt block features a figure peeking over a wall. “That’s how I feel. This is the Wall of COVID, this is me peeking out.”

Bluewater Quilters’ Guild members discuss their COVID-inspired quilt blocks during a Zoom virtual breakout room interview Saturday, March 20, 2021 in Owen Sound, Ont. (The Sun Times/Postmedia Network)
Bluewater Quilters’ Guild members discuss their COVID-inspired quilt blocks during a Zoom virtual breakout room interview Saturday, March 20, 2021 in Owen Sound, Ont. (The Sun Times/Postmedia Network)

Health concerns that put Gill at more risk of contracting COVID kept her on edge and at home for the past year.

“I used to be out every day, I volunteered all over the city,” she said. The Zoom gatherings and her quilting have helped her a lot, she said.

Price agreed Zoom has been good but “I truly miss going to our Pauline’s Place downtown, where we get together and work on community projects and the camaraderie is so important down there.”

They call their gathering place “Pauline’s Place,” where they make quilts, sometimes to be given to fire victims or babies at the hospital. “We used to be together and have a cup of tea and just take it for granted. And now you realize how important that is in a person’s life.”

Warkentin said Zoom’s impact on the guild has been “very exciting” because it has allowed members to view presentations during monthly club gatherings beamed in electronically that it couldn’t otherwise afford to provide.

A Calgary quilter talked about setting up an efficient sewing space, a quilter from Collingwood did a retrospective slideshow of his quilts, and a prestigious show quilter in Texas supplied a recorded presentation of quilted and embellished vintage linens.

Warkentin joined a second quilting guild, in Guelph, becoming one of about 10 new members a month joining it from across Canada, she said.

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“The pandemic’s been horrible in so many ways but it has also opened new avenues of thinking that we just never would have gone to otherwise. And now our discussion in both guilds has been, what do we do going forward?”

Bluewater guild members anticipate keeping Zoom gatherings through March 2022. If public health concerns abate by November, some members may feel safe to gather again in person. But the streams will continue for others until March at least.

“We were quite concerned with COVID that we would lose members; our demographic is a little on the older side, let’s call it wiser side,” she said. Since they’re more vulnerable, the concern was that they’d just leave the club.

Instead, many joined the video-conferencing wave. Typically about 30 or 40 join the online meetings. The same number watch recordings of the meetings later.

It may seem an unlikely juxtaposition: the ages-old pastime of quilting and 21st-century conferencing technology.

“That’s what people think, and yet quilting itself has evolved incredibly,” Warkentin said. So when I say quilting to you, you are imaging a whole bunch of old ladies sitting around a quilting frame, hand-quilting,” Warkentin said.

“When I say quilting, what I’m thinking of, is a person standing at a 12-foot-long frame long-arm, which is a big sewing machine — it has a throat on it that’s 30 inches — and she’s quilting stuff that you can’t even imagine.”

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