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Letters from the Homefront: Quilting in Quarantine

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Examples of floral quilt blocks sewed during quarantine.
Four quilt blocks for a Baltimore Album Quilt. Photo courtesy of Susan.

March 21, 2020 – On this day, Susan from Pikesville writes:

As a fiber artist in Baltimore, I am following a long tradition of needleworkers in this town who create beauty as well as give back to the community.

I belong to a quilt group, Quilters by Design that has been in existence for 40 years and still going strong. Our group has made baby quilts and blankets and hats for over 200 children at the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital as well as other organizations and donated countless hours to other quilt organizations in the area. We have also donated many quilts to charities to be auctioned and to Veterans hospitals, like Baltimore women did in during the Civil War and throughout our country’s history.

I am currently keeping busy putting together a Baltimore Album quilt, whose blocks I designed while learning the craft from Mimi Deitrich who taught a master class at Seminole Sample, a local quilt shop in Catonsville. I took that class around 1996 and subsequently made these 4 elaborate blocks of my own design, incorporating things I had learned as well as other things I saw and liked.

These 4 blocks sat in my studio for over 20 years until I attended Mimi’s stunning quilt show at MDHS in 2019 where I was inspired to finish it. So I am on my way!!!

Quilt fabrics lined up in a plastic container.
This photo shows the blocks before I sewed them together.

March 23, 2020 – On this day, Susan from Pikesville writes:

Well, the 4 blocks are sewn together with a light blue & white flying geese sashing. I saved all of the fabrics I used in the original blocks in a box, so they will match the fabrics in the blocks and I can make a floral border with them. So now it’s time to quilt and quilt and quilt. This piece will be completely hand-made and hand quilted.

A needle going through a quilt square.
The stitches used to cover the off-white background and hold the quilt together. Photo courtesy of Susan.

March 24, 2020 – On this day, Susan from Pikesville writes:

Well, here I am sitting in front of my bay window looking at lots of birds attending to the feeders right outside. This is a scary time, you don’t know who carries the virus and there’s no way to know since the testing is so limited. Interestingly, my son, aged 30 asked me whether I was more scared during 911. Absolutely!! I felt I had no control over my destiny then, at least now I can choose to self-quarantine and feel that I can protect myself!

So, I’m back at the quilting, hours of tiny white stitches, “stippling” to cover the off-white background and hold the quilt together. I quilt silently for about an hour each morning. The silence is comforting and I watch the birds come and go while I work.

Other times during the day I quilt listening to music or during the evening in front if the television.  At that time I feel like Madame Defarge, who, in Dickens novel knit the names of the aristocrats she planned to send to the guillotine. In my mind I’m quilting remembrances of what I hear on the news or during these insane “Daily coronavirus briefings” by the aristocratic White House.

[Above] is a picture of the stitching I am doing. Each stitch measures 1/8 of an inch or smaller. I use a technique called “rocking the needle,” where I hold the fabric and stitch through it up and down for about 2 to 3 stitches at a time. I smooth the fabric as I go. The three layers of the quilt are held together by pins.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions or edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story and/or photos of your own, click here.