The Pandemic Quilt Guild: How PhxMQG is Thriving During COVID-19

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The First Signs of COVID-19

PhxMQG meeting before COVID-19

I remember the first message in early March from a member expressing her concern about an upcoming meeting. Like every other second Saturday of the month, we planned to join in a community room at a nearby library. We’d have 45-60 members and likely a few guests. Our winter and spring meetings are well attended before many of our members leave for cooler vistas during the gruesome summer months.

I read the email as cautionary, if not alarmist. We’d had a handful of cases in Arizona at this time, and I wasn’t worried. Even though many of our members fall into high-risk categories, and I work in public health, I shrugged it off. I reached out to our executive team and we agreed: the meeting would stay scheduled. I remember being so confident (and arrogant, in retrospect) that I reminded members of the importance of social bonds and fellowship by attending meetings. 

It took less than 48 hours, many more cases of COVID, and a new mandate from our governor prohibiting meetings of 50 or more to backtrack. We shifted our sails and would reschedule the meeting online for a later date. We’d (optimistically) reschedule our planned speaker for later in the Fall, pay for a premium Zoom account, and send out the details for our first online meeting. 

Our First Online Meeting

The Phx MQG Executive Board includes Kelli Donley Williams (President), Francine Taylor (VP), Meya Cox (Secretary), and Kate Gunther (Treasurer). 

I was surprised how well attended the first meeting was because of the sudden change, and everyone being reasonably worried about what was happening in our community. There were 60 members or so in attendance, and we followed our typical meeting agenda. There were a few bumps in the road with people learning how to use the technology, and when to hold up projects to share, etc. But by the end of the 90 minutes, it felt like an exercise in patience and friendship. We’d figured it out!

And anyway, by summer this whole pandemic would be wrapped up and we’d be back to our regularly scheduled community center meetings. Right? 

Obviously not. 

How Our Guild is Staying United During COVID-19

Our March Instagram post featuring the schedule of activities for guild members to participate in and interact with using the social media platform.

When we hosted our August meeting online, and a few things have changed since that first adventure into Zooming with my PhxMQG friends. Without question, our guild is a stronger group as a result of the pandemic. We’ve had to be creative to keep things going, including using the talents of guild members wisely, shifting to online resources, and being strategic and consistent with communication. 

A few examples:

  • Pattern designers On Williams Street are members of our guild. We asked for their help early on, and they designed a quilt block to celebrate our time physically apart, but together as friends. 
  •  We canceled in-person programming and reached out to national speakers who were establishing their online trunk shows and lectures. This has included Timna Tarr in August, and Blair Stocker in September.
  • At the request of a member, we established informal Zoom meet-ups every Saturday at 1 pm (in addition to our regularly scheduled monthly meetings.) Members can drop in and say hello. Some use this as an excuse to escape to their sewing space every Saturday. We typically have a dozen or so who join, and it is a nice way to keep up with membership without any formal agenda or programming. It is especially nice to keep up with our “snow bird” members this time of year, who have joined from Kansas City, Minnesota, and other much cooler locations. 
  • We encouraged participation on Instagram by hosting several month-long themed posts. We sent out a schedule and corresponding hash tags, and then picked winners for prizes. (Examples included: favorite notion, current UFO, favorite pattern designer, favorite quilting hack.) This brought new membership to the guild. 
  • We organized a swap between members to foster new friendships. Participants were paired with another member and instructed to send 2-3 of our current swap projects. Again, we encouraged use of specific hash tags so we could watch as members received their packages and encouraged everyone who was playing along. 
  • And perhaps most importantly, we are making an extra effort to communicate. We email the guild once a week with updates. This includes celebrations, like members having quilts selected for shows, and practical matters, like how to order your t-shirt, pay for a lecture, or support supply drives. We keep our website updated, including block lotto squares and other projects. Further, for those members who haven’t participated lately, we’ve made a point of trying to reach them by email or handwritten card. 

This guild is much more than quilting. It is a fellowship of likeminded friends, and we are thankful we’ve been able to keep it going during such uncertain times.

We hope by the time you all come to Phoenix in 2022 for QuiltCon, we’ll be back at our community center for meetings, and at the doors to greet you at the conference! 

- Kelli Donley Williams, PhxMQG President