The quilt panels are among 450 made by people from across the country and sewn together as part of the HOPE Quilt, an effort started by a Loudoun County woman to show gratitude for doctors, nurses and other front-line health-care workers. It also honors those who have become ill or died of the virus.
Diane Canney, an artist and founder of the HOPE Quilt project, came up with the idea this summer after she asked her 95-year-old mother what she wanted for her birthday. Her mom said she didn’t need anything but challenged Canney to help others. Canney recalled the AIDS Memorial Quilt that started in the 1980s to honor those who had AIDS. She modeled her idea for the HOPE Quilt after the AIDS quilt.
Quilts, Canney said, are often used as a way to “comfort, honor and remember” people — a goal she has for her own quilt.
“Our front-line health workers are fighting a war against an invisible disease,” Canney said. A quilt “tells the story of this central thing that we’re all affected by. It’s a gift to my mom and to the nation. I wanted to be sure we captured this moment so we will know what it looked like 30 years from now.”
Phyllis Liedtke, Canney’s mother and a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., said it’s been shocking to see the devastation created by the virus.
“I thought we’d seen it all,” she said. “I lost my grandfather to the flu in 1918. I’ve lived through the Depression, which was grim, and there was the smallpox scare in New York.”
Liedtke and her friends at the senior living community where she lives have made about 15 of the quilt’s panels. She said her daughter’s quilt is a way to show appreciation for those working in health care.
“Where would we be without people who are so willing to put their own lives on the line?” Liedtke said.
Canney said she sends kits of cloth and other art materials to groups, private schools and people around the country who ask to participate. To stitch the panels together, she relies on volunteer quilters, taking several sections from one house to another in a socially distanced way.
Canney, who also owns two wineries in Loudoun County, said she and her husband spent about $60,000 to put some of the quilted panels on eight-foot letters that spell “HOPE” to display them around the Washington region. The project has been on display at the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, Freedom Plaza, in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood and at spots around Loudoun County.
At each event, she displays candles to represent those who have died of covid-19. Canney said she hopes to have the quilt displayed at a Smithsonian Institution museum, and for the first two weeks of December, it will be on display at Reston Hospital Center.
Each panel is unique. One shows the name of a woman’s 89-year-old friend born in Ukraine, who survived harsh situations in World War II before becoming a community college professor in New Jersey. Another was made by a nurse who visited the project when it was on display in Washington.
“She burst into tears and told me, ‘It’s so important to me to know that people care,’ ” Canney said of the nurse.
One woman wanted a panel painted of her father, who had gone to a rally for President Trump in Arizona and died days later of the virus. Another woman wanted a panel made to honor her mom, who was a respiratory therapist working at a hospital in Texas.
Angela Devin of Gaithersburg made a panel to honor her 39-year-old sister, who died of the virus in May. Her sister, Nitsa B. Devin, had lived with multiple sclerosis since being diagnosed in her 20s. The panel is made with light lavender — her sister’s favorite color. One patch is of the “Yellow Rose of Texas” to honor the state of her birth, and another is a Dungeons & Dragons symbol, one of her sister’s favorite games.
“I feel like people will know her and it will allow her to live on, and in some way that’s comforting,” Angela Devin said. “We’re all alone and working on these panels individually, and then they’ll all be put together in this tapestry that will tell of this difficult time that we’re all going through together.”
Thomas Ali Fields Sr., 51, of Northeast Washington, heard about the quilt project from his son’s fiancee. His 32-year-old son, a Navy veteran and a diabetic, died of covid-19 in March, leaving behind a 6-year-old son. Fields took some of his family members, including his mom in a wheelchair, to see the project and a panel that honors the son who shares his name.
“My mother broke down and she was crying when she saw that panel with my son’s face on it,” Fields said. “Just to see the love people put forth and to take the time to do that. For me, to have his face on something that people can see for years to come is something really special.”