Working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These last six months have been strangely surreal.   Restricted to our homes, communicating electronically, feeling very lost, slightly frightened, and a little lonely.  The divisive political climate in the United States has certainly not helped reassure us.  Our anxiety level is very high.

It has been a strange, sad summer for Brian and I.  All travel plans were cancelled, most significantly our annual trip to Cape Cod in May to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday, his ninety-sixth.  A very unfortunate cancellation, as my father-in-law died two weeks after we would have returned from our planned trip.  Which brought on a new set of stressors:  dealing with the grief of the loss of our last remaining and highly cherished parent, and dealing with settling his estate, both without the ability to actually travel to New Jersey to take care of things.  That has been the theme of the summer for us, time spent on the phone and the computer, trying to organize and settle things and hoping for a time when we can gather the family to celebrate Pop's long and wonderful life.

As an artist, I probably found the isolation of the shutdown much less stressful than many people.  I can't think of anything that I would rather do than spend endless days in my studio, working on my art.  Of course, it wasn't that easy.  At first, I was restless and unfocussed.  I had spent the previous two months getting ready for two shows, one a solo show, the other a two-person show, that were to take place in March.  One cancelled, the other hung for months in an empty gallery in a closed art center.  So I had, unfortunately, an empty design wall and a pretty much empty head.  For several days I sat and stared at the empty design wall.  Then I decided to just start cutting, piecing, and slashing and see where it would take me.  It took me here:

Descending into Chaos, 15" x 33" © 2020
Very jagged.  My anxiety, depicted in fabric.  And it felt strangely good!

I hung this piece on my design wall and decided to spend a few days cleaning up my studio.  I found a large pile of printed fabrics stashed under the cutting table.  I had taken a class called "layers upon layers" from Carol Soderlund last summer, and during the class I had created quite a few printed, stamped, batiked, dye-painted fabrics.  (NOTE: if you ever have the chance to take a dye  class from Carol, do so.  She's a fabulous teacher and you will learn a lot!)  Plus I had a number of pieces I had printed and stamped at home.  Just looking through the pile gave me comfort.  I decided to use the fabrics, my own hand dyed solids, and a commercially dyed black fabric, to make a series of quilts.  So, hooray, I had a direction.

I spent the next four months piecing quilts exclusively with my restricted set of fabrics.  And, yes, the quilts were for the most part very spiky.  
Viral Spike #1, ©2020
Viral Spike #3, ©2020
Viral Spike #2, ©2020
Reaching Out, ©2020
Isolation, ©2020
Tähkä, ©2020
Connections, ©2020
These are a few of the pieces I made.  There were a total of 20, two of which were large enough and, I think, good enough to enter in Quilt National, the prestigious biennial art quilt show.  I can't show you pictures of them right now.

I also spent weeks making a new quilt for our bed.  A king sized improv log cabin.  It is still in progress.  I used some of my hand printed fabrics for the centers of the blocks, and pieced it in four 50" x 50" quadrants.  Three are done, one is still a pile of blocks.  Here is one of them:

And here is a totally gratuitous picture of Kippers helping me make the bed quilt.😄
I have also used this time of isolation to work on my own health.  I have been trying very hard to exercise more (mostly walking and yoga) and to eat well.  I feel very good, and am down 24 pounds.  I have also managed to clean out quite a few cupboards and closets.  That also feels very good.  Taking control of my health and my environment makes me feel much less helpless.

So life goes on.  I have felt a bit of a letdown since I finished my pieces and entered Quilt National.  I often feel that way when I work hard to accomplish a goal, but I know it is only a temporary feeling.  I took last week off completely from the studio, working in the garden and working on my website.  And spending a part of each day reading some very good books.  But I think it is time to get to work again.  I feel the beginnings of a new idea forming in my head.   Or, maybe, I'll finish that bed quilt!  I'll let you know.


Maria Shell said…
Awesome quilts! Strange, but maybe not so strange, our circumstances are different, bu they are also so similar. The pattern of productivity, dispair, and reflection seems to be a cycle for so many of us. Glad to see so much new work! Amazing.
Mary Kirwin said…
Hello Heather, that's a lovely blog post and very impressive work that you've done. My condolences to you and Brian. Losing my parents and in-laws was cathartic at the time for each one. I've done a usual amount of quilting for me during the pandemic. But you should see my house plants. Theyve been getting extra love. Ha! Mary
Norma Schlager said…
I love what you are doing in this new series, especially Viral Spike and that glorious red king size quilt.