When the University of Nebraska–Lincoln needed hundreds of cloth masks for essential workers, Chancellor Ronnie Green knew whom to call.
“Knowing our volunteers have mad skills when it comes to sewing, the chancellor’s office contacted us and asked if the International Quilt Museum would be willing to reach out to our network for assistance,” said Leslie Levy, Ardis and Robert James Executive Director of the International Quilt Museum. “We made the call and our volunteers responded almost immediately.”
Setting aside other demands, the volunteers broke out fabric reserves and sewed more than 600 masks that are being used to protect the campus community from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To coordinate the effort, Quilt Museum staff shifted a monthly newsletter to a weekly schedule. And, in just a number of days after the first newsletter went out, masks started to be dropped off in a special tub on Levy’s front porch.
“They would just appear, sometimes with great little notes,” Levy said. “Everyone was just anxious to be doing something positive, giving back in a way that relied on their expertise.”
Levy estimated a core group of more than 70 people worked on the project. Many within that group also assisted with other community requests for masks. Levy said one of the volunteers has crafted more than 1,400 masks for local hospital workers.
“Our volunteers, who are also members of other local quilting groups, self-divided to meet community needs,” Levy said. “Some of the masks ended up here on campus, while others went to hospitals, churches and areas where they were needed.”
Joy Shalla Glenn, a public programs and membership assistant with the museum, said she quit counting when her work hit 900 masks — 250 of which went to meet the university’s request. She continues to make face coverings for first responders and other key workers in the community.
“It was important to me to make masks for UNL workers and others as I wanted to support those who were doing essential jobs during this difficult time,” Shalla Glenn said. “As a graduate of the university and an employee of the International Quilt Museum, I am grateful for the opportunities both have given me.
“I’m also glad to be a part of something that is helping the community move forward.”
While functional today, Levy said the masks may find their way into future quilt designs.
“If you look back at quilts over the centuries, the designs often reflect back on what is happening — from turmoil to joy — at that point in history,” Levy said. “It will be exciting to see what happens during this time. There could be quilts made entirely from masks. There will definitely be reflections of this time because people are mostly at home and quilters love to create.”
The International Quilt Museum is home to nearly 7,000 pieces in its collection. While currently closed due to the pandemic, the museum does offer online exhibitions. It has also partnered with other organizations across the nation to offer free textile talks every Wednesday. Learn more about the museum and its online opportunities here.