Column | Piecing social fabric back together as pandemic wanes: Quilts at convention center

Friday morning sometime after 9 a.m., I’m heading to Monroe County’s convention center at 3rd and College to check out the quilts. They’re displayed as part of the “Quilts from the Heartland” show hosted by the Bloomington Quilters Guild.

The show runs two days, Friday and Saturday.

In my pocket I’ll have the $7 admission, plus my proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and a cloth fabric mask.  I picked up the mask from the Bloomington Mask Drive a year and a half ago, when the pandemic started.

The requirement that a mask be worn inside the convention center is a county health regulation. The proof of vaccination is a quilters guild choice.

It’s worth remembering the connection between the quilters guild and the mask drive. It was guild members who stitched together many of the masks for the drive. The total number of masks produced so far is over 70,000.

Just as guild members helped us get through those early months of the pandemic by stitching together face masks, they’re helping Bloomington’s in-person social scene bounce back with their “Quilts from the Heartland” show over the next two days.

The triennial show was actually supposed to take place last year, but was put off due to the pandemic.

If you were fortunate enough to receive one of the beautiful masks hand-stitched by a guild member, you already know they are like works of art the size of your face.

If you thought those masks were gorgeous, wait til you see the more than 200 quilts on display, all made by guild members. I stopped by for a quick preview on Thursday afternoon.

It’s easy to sum up my sentiments about the quilt show: Be there or be square!

To get you warmed up, here’s four of the crew from the guild I met on Thursday. Quiz: How many masks do you count in the photo?

From left: Natalie Kubat, Nola Neher Hartman, Karen Levay, and Tara Babcock.

If you said four, go back and check again until you can find a fifth.

The guild’s role in the Bloomington Mask Drive gets a nod in the physical layout of the show. There’s a scavenger hunt of sorts to find some masks, which guild member Natalie Kubat described to me as “hidden in plain sight.”

The idea is not to collect the masks, but to write down the letter that’s attached to them. The letters spell out a word, which you can suss out once you’ve found all the masks.

Of course, the name of the show is not “Masks from the Heartland” but “Quilts from the Heartland.” So there’s plenty of quilts that will make you stop and stare. Even folks (like me) who would not count themselves as quilt fans will be stunned by what they see.

Say you’re an elections nerd. If you stand in front of any of the quilts, squint, and let your imagination take over, what will emerge is a bunch of geometric shapes that remind you of precinct boundaries. You’ll be in redistricting heaven. If you’ve been tracking the current work of the county’s four-person precinct boundary advisory committee, you know exactly what I mean.

Or say you’re a math nerd. Then you might have heard of the Mrs. Perkins Quilt Puzzle. There’s a specific quilt in this show just for you—a quilt design that’s based on the Mrs. Perkins Puzzle!

Or say you’re just a rank-and-file Hoosier with a heart that can be warmed by a great story. Look for the quilt with the title “Connecting Through Time.” The quilt was entered in the show by guild member Karen Levay. The quilt connects Levay to her grandmother, a woman she never met.

The top of the quilt was pieced together by Levay’s grandmother. And the quilt top was kept by Levay’s aunt in a drawer for decades. But her aunt let Levay complete the quilting—that’s the stitching of the top to a back, with batting sandwiched between.

What’s hanging in the show is a quilt that connects the two women across a half century.

The pandemic seems to be waning. But the current decline in positive case numbers is slow.  Monroe County is a good while away from hitting the benchmarks needed for the mask mandate to be lifted.

In the meantime, a visit to the quilt show this weekend could be a chance to start to reconnect to some other human beings in real life, instead of through a videoconference screen.

Times are Friday (Oct. 29) 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday (Oct. 30) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mosaic of quilts from “Quilts from the Heartland” 2021

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