Quarantine Quilt: A Journal, A Meditation
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.
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.”
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?”
Copyright © 2021 Kathleen McLean
Kathleen McLean is a mixed media artist and a museum exhibition designer living and working in Berkeley, California. Her work focuses on recurring patterns in nature and notions of deconstructing human processes, devices, and values, reconstructing them into seemingly natural patterns. Much of her work has taken shape as social practice, from organizing art interventions to collaborating with community on constructing new realities and new social bonds. Her work has been included in a number of juried exhibitions across the country.