Member Spotlight: Andrea DiOrio

Page Content: 

Trigger warning: this article talks about infant death.

Andrea DiOrio was sewing baby blankets on the late summer evening before expecting her daughter, Gabriella Grace, to arrive. The family had decided to sell their home and live with Andrea's mother as they waited for a deal to close. They expected their daughter to be the first happy news in an otherwise unsettled time. However, immediately after her delivery, Gabriella Grace, lovingly nicknamed Gigi, was rushed away due to breathing problems. The doctors told DiOrio and her husband that Gigi had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a severe congenital heart defect that is often difficult to catch early on. The medical staff took Gigi to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, and the family had to wait as the doctors did what they could do. Unfortunately, she had several other complications, which made any intervention a challenge to perform. Eleven days later, the nurses placed a butterfly on Gigi's hospital door, and with that, everyone in the hospital understood she would soon transition.


Members of the Chicago MQG at their retreat in Fall 2016.

 

Among the attendees for Gabriella's wake was a member of the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild who took DiOrio into her arms and told her that if she wanted to come, there was still room in that year's fall retreat. Faced with the sudden grief of her daughter, DiOrio had been indoors for nearly two weeks, and so she decided that when the retreat came around later that year, she would go.


Quilt made by Andrea DiOrio using the Lepidoptera quilt pattern designed by Elizabeth Hartman.

 

"The butterfly became a beautiful symbol that I held onto," said DiOrio. "I learned they were a signifier for death, which makes sense, but this was my first time I experienced the traumatic death of someone I love, so I had a new relationship with it." When DiOrio discovered Lepidoptera, an Elizabeth Hartman quilt pattern, which had butterflies and moths of various colors, she decided to begin a quilt for Gigi, for herself, for the memory of the sweet girl her family had lost.


Detail of Andrea’s Lepidoptera quilt.

 

She split the process of sewing the quilt into two parts: one complex task and a straightforward task. For her complex task, she would piece the butterflies, and for her simple task, she would create little bags with the colors of each butterfly. "When I was ready, I could take a bag and make one butterfly," said DiOrio. "It was very therapeutic." By the time the retreat rolled around, DiOrio had her bags of butterflies to take along with her. Every member received a sleeping room at the retreat, and the group met in the large sewing room for two to three days to sew all day and night. "I knew I would be safe with them," said DiOrio. "We had plenty of conversations, and I had the space to vent, and I worked on my butterflies." For four years, DiOrio sewed butterflies together individually. Though the quilt top is now complete, she continues to give herself the grace to finish the project on her time.


Andrea’s daughter Penny sitting on Gigi’s quilt.

 

"My daughter would've been four now," says DiOrio. "What I tell people is that when they have experienced trauma and grief, they should have something super easy to work on and something more challenging." She hopes to become a support system for other mothers who are dealing with their grief early on. "I'm launching a website, Flutterby Hope, that will raise awareness of infant loss and help those who are grieving through the process of finding something creative as they heal."


Andrea’s first quilt was made with her grandmother.

 

DiOrio is a professional clarinetist and performs with Picosa and teaches at Elmhurst University. "As a musician, I face a lot of rejection, failure, and it's soul-crushing, but now and then, you have a lovely performance, and you feel a beautiful experience that goes beyond the moment." Since DiOrio was a young girl, she had a rigorous academic schedule and disciplined musical training. Throughout middle school and high school, she was already using sewing as a creative outlet to cope with her life stresses. "I learned to quilt in sixth grade with my grandmother and her best friend," said DiOrio. "In the summers of Northern Wisconsin, I tried my hand at a Nine Patch Quilt." As the oldest of five children, she would work in the craft room on her mother's Bernina machine throughout the academic year, entering a couple of shows and competitions.


Detail of the hand quilting on Andrea’s first quilt.

 

"Now, I usually give away my quilts to my daughter, Penny (2), and family," said DiOrio. Out of college, she had to work aggressively to establish a career as a professional musician, so the idea of having time to quilt is new. "Here's what I do: I make a schedule, and then I set times to weave through those items," said DiOrio. "With a timer, you free yourself from having your conscious brain focused on several different tasks and feelings; you just know you have thirty minutes to yourself to sort or to sew, and that is incredibly calming." Perfection is something that DiOrio has had to strive to achieve in music for most of her life, and she's very much satisfied with quilting occupying a much more comforting role in her life.