The Quarantine Quilt Project

We made three quilts out of squares that when displayed, form an installation. Over 150 patches were stitched together to represent two external walls of a home and one internal one, with quotes from the patchmakers.

We provided free kits to people who were nominated to receive one, in the first instance by social and pastoral workers. Unexpectedly and beautifully, many recipients in turn nominated others: it became a kind of pay-it-forward. It opened up people’s abilities, not just in craft, but also to talk about challenges they saw others facing, and felt concern about.

We were finally able to invite patchmakers to come together to see the quilts in person in September 2022.

In the early days of the pandemic, we developed and delivered a project called the Quarantine Quilt Project. We quickly recognised anyone and everyone was mental health vulnerable and we all needed to a means to express ourselves and connect despite lockdown.

We used our reach to invite people to make a patch for a collaborative quilt to tell stories of their experience(s) of the pandemic. We provided guidelines for three types of patches and also signposted people to other textile projects and collaborative quilts around the country (including Arthur+Martha in Manchester, Claire Wellseley-Smith in Bradford, Tamsin Seibold in Liverpool, Glimmer Theatre in Cambridge, Ovada in Oxford, the Brightlingsea Quilt Project in Essex, and Envisage Arts in West Yorkshire). We commissioned new artwork about the timeperiod from four artists. We developed eight inspirational and tutorial videos now on our YouTube channel, and a video story of the project from participants’ perspective.  Along the way we also developed and piloted six remote delivery art for health courses which we now continue to deliver for the NHS. We supplied over 150 creative kits by post to some of the most isolated and vulnerable people in Devon. We led the creation of three Community Quilts that form an evocative installation work – and a video exhibition to share them through ongoing lockdowns. An in-person exhibition is planned for Autumn 2022.

There were lots of unintended benefits. In the process we developed new links with organisations (Memory Cafes, libraries, Devon Carers, Scrapstores), social prescribers and link workers. Our team developed a range of skills and a ‘community of practice’ of lay makers, health practitioners, artists, and associated community professionals. The project revealed remote delivery can powerfully reach and engage rural populations and more vulnerable ones. Our pilot work with the NHS successfully engaged new, extremely vulnerable participants in both the arts and in mental health services. The implications and potentials of this continue to emerge.

The project is a case study in a new book called The Creative Instigators Handbook by Leanne Prain.