A local sewing group’s work is being commemorated as part of Guelph’s ongoing pandemic history.
In 2020, Village by the Arboretum’s EmPower Sewing Group created over 1,800 masks for community members.
The group is part of Days for Girls, a social program that provides menstrual products to women in developing countries. But when COVID-19 shut down the country, the sewers saw a need for other items.
“I found it very distressing that people in Canada – the elderly especially, were not being taken care of well and felt there was a shortage of the PPE that was needed,” said Anne Parsons, coordinator of the Sewing EmPower Group. “I felt maybe we could help fill that need by sewing the masks.”
The pandemic halted any get-togethers in the retirement community, however, that didn’t stop members from staying connected, looking for materials, finding new patterns and sewing face masks.
“It was one of the greatest things that we had going for us here in the village because it kept us all in contact with each other with an exciting purposeful project,” said Jean Hume, EmPower Sewing Group member.
Parsons, an avid quilter, had an idea that used the leftover fabric from the project.
“I asked the team of sewers to send out an email and said ‘Don’t think I'm crazy but I want all your scraps’,” Parsons said.
The group then used the leftover fabric to create the Our Vibrant Village quilt, which is now on display at the Guelph Civic Museum as part of the Rapid Response: Collecting experiences as they are lived exhibit.
Dawn Owen, curator for Guelph Museums, said the museum jumped at the chance to include the quilt in their collection.
“We were thrilled in the museum to be to meet and to learn the story of the EmPower Sewing Group, and to know that this quilt was born out of a project that really was a response to a very serious need urgent need in the community,” Owen said.
Owen explained the exhibit focuses on telling the stories of people living during this historical moment in time.
The exhibit has community curated pieces documenting events during the pandemic, including the death of George Floyd in May 2020 as the exhibit was a collaborated effort with the Guelph Black Heritage Society.
Owen also said the exhibit is empowering people to share their personal stories about the Black Lives Matter movement and life during the pandemic.
“It is a really powerful space,” Owen said. “The community voices are so strong that really what I'm most excited about is just to bring all of these voices together into that space.”
That collective community voice is something that Parsons and Hume were particularly thankful for during the pandemic.
“Well I see it as such a wonderful community builder for the whole community but especially for our senior’s village community,” Parsons said. “It was hard to stay positive when you're locked down for a year and a half, it was really hard. And this was a really positive initiative … So, it was good for mental health, and good for community spirit.”