The pandemic altered the world. It changed our lives. It certainly modified mine, in more ways than one. Some changes are hardly noticeable, like a slight shift in the wind. Others are more drastic, like a devastating earthquake.
The pandemic robbed us of plans, for example. So many plans that we can’t even keep track. It robbed us of past plans, all those made for 2020 and 2021. It also robbed us of future plans, like the summer plans we find ourselves hesitant to make. The pandemic made holes in our schedules.
The Covid lockdowns damaged our sense of time. Before the pandemic, our lives were ruled by the cycle of the year: seasons, holidays, school calendars, family celebrations. The lockdowns erased all of that. For two years, all the days felt the same. I don’t know about you, but I’m now finding it extremely hard to remember when things happened. Events that feel as if they occurred only yesterday turn out to have happened a year or more ago. And vice versa. My concept of time is now divided into “before the pandemic” and “after.” When, exactly, a specific thing occurred is much harder to pinpoint. The pandemic cut holes in our sense of time.
The last couple of years brought upon us incredible levels of stress. We stressed over Covid itself, over the inconveniences it brought about, over its economic and social impacts. We stressed over politics, policies, wars. And then there were all the natural disasters and the looming mother of them all–climate change. These heightened levels of stress increased our forgetfulness, fogged our brains, pierced holes in our memories.
Worst of all, the pandemic robbed us of loved ones. The lockdowns temporarily stripped us of the company of family and friends. The disease permanently snatched members of our community. Earlier this month, the United States alone crossed the grim milestone of one million dead. Covid 19 tore holes in our social fabric and punctured our hearts.
A Befitting Name
This quilt is about all these and more holes. It’s about two years of living with a global disease. It’s about that shady background that now accompanies us wherever we go, the unshakable shadow that follows us around. I decided to call it “Cut Up,” a name that describes how the quilt looks as well as how many of us feel. As an adjective, “cut up” means “very distressed,” “anguished.”
Because the last couple of years have left many of us shaken. The pandemic, the natural disasters, the political and social upheavals, the wars. Together, they pulled the rug from under our feet, destroyed our sense of safety, jolted our wellbeing. Anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, a profound feeling of loss, are but some of our collective symptoms. We are left distressed, anguished, and saddened in a dangerous, threatening world. We are humanity, cut up.
Unlike most of my State of Human quilts, which start with an idea, this piece started with a failed experiment.
A few years ago, I can’t remember exactly when (though I’m pretty sure it was after the pandemic started), I played with some scraps. I wanted to experiment with reverse appliqué, and with layering fabric. I made a long, narrow strip composed of three layers of cloth, with holes cut into some them, revealing the layers beneath. Then I used my then-new 12-weight thread to stitch around some of these holes. I didn’t like the result. It was quite thick and hard to handle. The stitching, subsequently, didn’t go smoothly. Needles broke and thread snipped. I didn’t finish it. It wasn’t going anywhere, and I thought of tossing it out. But, being dedicated to a zero-waste studio that I am, I couldn’t get myself to actually put it in the trash. So onto a pile it went. And waited.
Earlier this year I moved some things around my studio, and that long, narrow strip in gray, black and red landed near one of my State of Human quilts. Even the size perfectly matched. A lightbulb went on. Call it inspiration. I just wasn’t sure what to make out of it yet. Weeks went by, then months. Ideas cooked in the back of my mind. One day, Cut Up emerged.
Looking at this half-sewn strip two years into a pandemic, something felt missing. I thought it needed more volume. I wanted to try something I never tried before, giving it more texture. So I took some leftover stuffing and shoved it between layers of the holes, sealing it inside with hand stitching.
Some holes were already sewn shut, so I cut a little slit in the back to squeeze the stuffing from behind: my version of Trapunto.
The result was a slightly raised surface, interesting, swollen, diseased.
There they were: those floating, round circles. We’ve seen a lot of those in the last couple of years, haven’t we?
The photoshoot for this quilt was simple. It took two tries just because the first time I wore the wrong-colored clothes.
In the end, it came together just the way I hoped it would. Cut Up, like all other quilts in the State of Human series, is 16″ x 20.”