Quilting for Pulse

The UCF Art Gallery exhibited "Resilience Remembering Pulse" through the month of June.  Two of our members (and UCF professors) wrote an excellent article on the Quilts for Pulse project.  It is shared below with permission.

Quilting for Pulse: A Crafted Community Response to Tragedy

Anne Sullivan
Anastasia Salter

On June 12, 2016, the Orlando community was shocked by the horrific shooting at the Pulse Nightclub. Many looked for ways to respond, which led to long lines of donors at local blood banks, and an outpouring of support and donations for the LGBT Center of Central Florida and the Pulse Victim Support Fund. Looking for a way to respond to the tragedy, the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild, an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting modern approaches to quilt design, launched a charity drive with the initial goal of making and acquiring 102 quilts -- one for each person killed or injured in the shooting. The guild posted a call on social media and the Modern Quilt Guild, the guild’s parent organization, helped spread the word. The response was overwhelming. 1,785 quilts were collected, and the finished quilts, quilt tops, supplies, and blocks represented contributions from 23 countries and all 50 states.

The Orlando Modern Quilt Guild is relatively small, with approximately 100 members who possess a range of experience levels and interests, but quilters have a long tradition of participating in charity work. Quilt-making is one of the ways guilds support their communities, and guilds regularly make quilts for children’s centers, disaster relief, and other causes. Physical embodiments of comfort, quilts have been made for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and their making has often been a community event.

There are many types of quilts, including memorial quilts, which are created to remember those who have died. The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is possibly the best known and largest community memorial quilt. The Project invited community members to submit 3’ x 6’ quilt panels, each personalized in memory of a friend, lover, or family member who lost their life to AIDS. The panels are the size of a standard coffin, and the blocks often include clothing from the deceased or other meaningful symbols that connect to the person being memorialized. Many of the NAMES Project quilts represent the work of people who learned quilting techniques just to contribute to the project, and the range of techniques, approaches, and aesthetics is vast and powerful. Evidencing the immensity of the epidemic, the AIDS Quilt has over 48,000 panels, and is rarely shown in its entirety due to its size and weight.

The Quilts for Pulse project was a little different from other memorial and charity quilt projects, as the scope of the project expanded quickly and there was no way to know who would receive each quilt due to privacy concerns. Therefore, creating personalized quilts was not appropriate for this project. Instead, the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild chose rainbow hearts as their unifying symbol. The rainbow refers to the PRIDE Flag and the hearts show support and love for the victims, families, organizations, and communities affected by the tragedy. The call offered suggestions for a type of heart quilt block, but individual quilters imagined and drew on a range of designs and quilting practices to develop their own imagery. Different quilters chose to express the theme through various combinations of fabrics or through finding rainbow-covered fabrics to use as a centerpiece for their quilts.
Guild members contributed time piecing, quilting, and finishing quilts assembled from donated blocks, as well as working on our own quilts for donation, working individually and gathering collectively during sew days to tackle the immense logistics of the task. Each quilt was labeled by the guild with a rainbow heart pulse graphic over the words, “You are loved,” and a QR Code that leads to a website with information about the project. Each quilt was hand signed “Stitched with love, Orlando Modern Quilt Guild.”

Many of the quilts and blocks came to the guild with letters and several guilds and community centers around the world came together to make their donations. Each quilt was numbered to help track it through the creation process, with many quilts passing from hand to hand for piecing, quilting, and binding before being donated. The Orlando Modern Quilt Guild coordinated with many different organizations to distribute the quilts to families, employees, doctors, officers, emergency response workers, city and county employees, and mental health care providers impacted by the Pulse shooting.

No one expected the Quilts for Pulse drive to grow to the size that it did, and it is currently the largest drive coordinated through the Modern Quilt Guild. It speaks strongly to the number of people who were touched by the Pulse tragedy and what a community can accomplish when they work together.