A leaping fish with a steely gaze, a tally of days in lockdown, and the lyrics to Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” are among the motifs that adorn author and illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s Blue Quilt, a singular diary of life in the pandemic. Tamaki began embroidering the quilt in March 2020 when stay-at-home orders went into effect in Toronto, where she lives. “I guess it says something about my personality that my first panic response was to start a big project,” jokes Tamaki. She says the project offered both engagement and respite in a moment when focus on her book-in-progress felt impossible. “Needlework, while requiring a lot of attention, I view as much more ‘brainless.’ I mean that in the best way possible—it’s meditative, instinctual, in-the-moment,” she says.
The resulting quilt is both a literal document of the events of the past year and an articulation of feelings that transcend those more granular details. “I think objects and things you make are imbued with a lot of meaning regardless of any artistic intention,” says Tamaki. “It doesn’t matter what images or words I put on there; looking at it will always take me back to those months sitting on the couch—fearful, angry, bored, grateful.”