Quarantine Quilt: A Journal, A Meditation

By Kathleen McLean | April 23, 2021

On March 8, 2020, the cruise ship Grand Princess was headed toward the Port of Oakland, California, six miles from my home. Passengers on board the ship were suffering from a strange new Corona virus that seemed to be spreading like wildfire. On March 9, passengers infected with the virus were allowed to leave the ship. That day, I decided to create “Quarantine Quilt,” stitching together one teabag a day for the duration of our self-imposed quarantine.


Kathleen McLean, Quarantine Quilt, mixed media, 32” x 62,” 2020-2021

Facing a quarantine of unknown duration, I found comfort in the cup of tea my husband brought each day. It gave me focus, continuity, and gratitude. I imagined a small rectangle of used teabags, seven days wide, each with dates and notations on the particular nature of the day, the peculiar feelings, and world events witnessed from isolation. The first weeks were filled with worry and fear: “frantic orders of groceries online,” “European borders are closing,” “Clorox on doorknobs.” Then came the unbelievable: “empty streets,” “global silence,” “wild animals move into the cities.”


Kathleen McLean, Quarantine Quilt (detail), mixed media, 32” x 62,” 2020-2021


As the weeks turned to months, the quilt became skinny, long, and difficult to handle. I dismantled part of it and reassembled it two-weeks wide. By then, a slowness had set in: “I don’t have any pertinent thoughts,” “how much food do we need for six months?” “guess this must be ‘blursday’.”

This long, slow time was consistently punctuated with horror: “Breonna Taylor shot and killed in her home,” “Armaud Arbery shot and killed while jogging,” “George Floyd murdered: ‘I can’t breathe.’” Say their names. And woven throughout was the persistent whining of Trump (recorded on the teabags but not repeated here).

What started as a journal and a marking of time became a witness of patterns, a meditation on stitching disparate moments into a life: “wildfires still burn,” “sidewalks littered with disposable masks,” “fresh garden and a vaccine ships,” “we are all immersed in the in-between.”

By January 2021, after my dear friend Roger died of Covid-19 and the virus was again on the rise worldwide, I decided to end the quilt when my personal quarantine was over—two weeks after my second vaccine injection. That day turned out to be March 18, 2021, one year and ten days after I started. The last entry: “What’s next?”

Kathleen McLean, Quarantine Quilt (detail), mixed media, 32” x 62,” 2020-2021


Copyright © 2021 Kathleen McLean
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  1. Ann Mintz on April 23, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    This is wonderful, Kathy. I would so love to curate an exhibition on art in the age of Covid…….

  2. Marsha SEmmel on April 24, 2021 at 10:07 am

    This is powerful and moving, Kathy. So glad to learn of this. Much love to you.

  3. Lydia on April 26, 2021 at 10:20 am

    What a unique art project!

    My condolences on the loss of your friend.

  4. Ruth Begell on April 26, 2021 at 7:21 pm

    A profound response. Love it!

  5. Maureen Robinson on April 27, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    You made tangible a year of loss, grief, tedium. Something beautiful at first look and heartbreaking at the longer look it invites.

    Thanks, Kathy

  6. Sienna Wildwind on May 10, 2021 at 12:20 am

    I would love to see it. It’s beautiful!

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