As we approach a year since Quiltcon 2022, I’m finally feeling the need to document for more permanence the story of my quilt that won Best In Show.
To say I was surprised to win this honor is an understatement. I knew before the award ceremony that I had won something but honestly I was convinced it was a consolation prize of sorts. Because I didn’t want to disturb precious time with a friend (we had not seen each for two years!) we were sipping margaritas in our Airbnb when my phone started blowing up with texts. I remember saying to Bianca that we would figure what all the ruckus was about in the morning. Of course she would have nothing to do with that idea and captured my shock in the moment.
How to explain the story of this quilt I have a love/hate relationship with?
(This is a bit of my family and my story and is not an official position of my employer.)
I experienced the year 2020 like many throughout the world, rushing to the stores to find toilet paper, welcoming home kids who had to convert to online expensive Zoom College (with our iffy rural internet access no less), making lots of homemade bread and sewing up masks galore. I also experienced the year 2020 as an Emergency Medicine Physician who works at two of the biggest ERs in California, a place where the first recorded Covid death in the state came through our doors and as the spouse of another ER doctor who was experiencing the same thing at his hospital
In March of 2020 as the news of Covid in China and Italy was rampaging and taking down so many doctors and nurses with it, I went to every paint store and Home Depot within a 60 mile radius and bought as many N95 masks I could find. I actually found a hospital administrator for another health system doing the same thing on my scavenger hunts.
Many of my colleagues moved into their garages or moved their families to inlaw’s homes to keep them safe. We all would come home from work and strip our scrubs in the garage or at the entry way to our houses so as not to carry anything harmful into our living spaces. We initially didn’t know for sure how covid was spread and we were very careful about every interaction.
In the early days “Healthcare Hero” signs and stickers showed up everywhere somewhat to our surprise because just like all folks we were just doing our jobs. My wise husband said at one point “be careful about taking on the moniker of Hero because today’s Heroes are often tomorrow’s enemies”. With the ongoing politicization of this disease his warning in retrospect feels scarily prescient.
Like for most people, the days of 2020 felt long and similar either at work or glued to a screen inhaling nonstop news about covid, watching the devastating death of George Floyd, awakening more to institutional racism and experiencing all the craziness of a very political year with a high stakes election.
A light in the midst of the year was a gift from another modern quilter I knew only online. Her family who are proud immigrants to this country sent my colleagues and I over 1000 KN95 and other masks for free! I distinctly remember giving some to a fellow physician who was pregnant at the times. She broke down in tears of gratitude because we knew all too well from experience the special risk those initial covid infections held for pregnant people.
This anonymous donor and her family generously gave us these masks even while they were subject to anti-asian hate that has been another plague of covid times.
Amidst the stress of this year, my father, an amazing photographer and incredibly fit hiker suffered an accident while on a hike and unexpectedly lost his life.
To help process all I was experiencing, I designed a quilt of eyes, full of tears looking out at the world . I drew out and paper-pieced/inset circle eyes and covered them with appliquéd tears. To reiterate what the year meant to me I quilted in repeated 2020s like the Groundhog Day experience of the year along with important phrases or abbreviations of the year from my perspective as a health care worker, a daughter and as a citizen. I literally would come home from my shifts in the ER and hand quilt for hours. It was hard but somehow felt necessary. And at the end of it, I hated this quilt that held so many hard memories. In truth I wanted to burn it in a dramatic, cathartic fire (along with all my saved N95 masks).
Gratefully with the urging of others I held on to the quilt and submitted it to Quiltcon.
After my surprise win, I donated the $5,000 winning prize to the charity “Save the Children” as it felt right that a quilt made from sorrow should help allay the sorrow of others.
I ended the hand quilting in my quilt with 2021 instead of 2020 as I wanted the lessons I learned from a hard year to be remembered in the next years forward; that healthcare work even in challenging and scary times is important, that living too much online is not good for ourselves or our country, that systemic racism is a scourge worth fighting against and that resilience in hard times is possible.
The first time I cried real tears for the year was when I received the Best In Show win, a catharsis that I think was the best prize of all.
To all those healthcare workers who lived through this time I see and appreciate you and to all those whose lives were affected directly or indirectly by covid, my heart is with you.