“Chief Quilt Coordinator” Gert McMullin is sewing 80 masks per day out of unused AIDS Quilt fabric that dates back to the 1980s.
There have been a number of haunting parallels between the current coronavirus pandemic and the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s, and the two deadly viral outbreaks were connected locally when April’s scheduled 150th anniversary of Golden Gate Park was postponed, which also delayed San Francisco’s largest-ever AIDS Quilt display. (We’ll hope that still happens if/when this all passes.)
But now the AIDS epidemic is touching the COVID-19 pandemic — literally in the face. The Chronicle reports that the longtime AIDS Quilter Gert McMullin, dubbed by the AIDS Quilt’s conceiver Cleve Jones as “the mother of the quilt,” is making protective masks from leftover fabric that went unused on quilt squares dating back to the days when that virus was still called “GRID” (gay-related immune deficiency).
McMullin’s title of “Chief Quilt Coordinator” seems to have been dubbed by the PeopleTV video above, the 64-year-old’s actual title is “chief quilt production coordinator for the NAMES Project Foundation.”
“I would have never guessed that sewing would come up again,” McMullin told the Chron. “When you think about a pandemic, and what are the kinds of things that people can do, sewing would not have been on my list.” McMullin moved to Atlanta with all 48,000 panels of the quilt when it was relocated there in 2001, and came back here with it in late 2019.
Cleve Jones credits McMullin with being the quilt’s driving force since its inception in 1985. “She just pretty much turned over her whole life to that project,” he said to the Chronicle. “She’s very funny, she’s very strong, and she’s a workhorse. She would work all day, and then climb up into one of the shelves and fall asleep with the quilt, and then get up and start over again.”
Despite the depressing subject nature of the article, the Chron turns the story into a pretty uplifting rollicking read, describing a “sewing machine graveyard” of discarded 1980s contraptions that still sit in the quilt’s Alameda warehouse, along with vintage disco balls “including one enormous sphere retired from the legendary Trocadero Transfer nightclub.”
The masks are of a caliber that they can be used in hospitals, and some have been, which is quite moving for staff who were around during the HIV crisis. The Chron describes the masks as “double-lined with comfortable, cotton quilting material, they can be worn alone, but also have a sleeve to hold an N95 mask.”
“That fabric helped people heal before,” McMullin told the Chron. “Maybe it will still have some magic.”
Image: AIDS Quilt Touch