Life Goes on – Live

GAAQG Enters Virtual Reality

Lulu. Contemplating whether she wants to sign up for membership…

No, this is not about our cat. It’s about our new normal, the world we live in right now. And about how we cope. Especially how quilters cope. And, let’s be clear: a whole bunch of my beloved fellow quilters belong to that group of very vulnerable folks, that need to be especially careful to not catch that lousy virus. But these very quilters are also darn smart, upbeat and openminded. And that’s what this post is all about.

The Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild is known for the freakin’ cool quilt-weekends that happen every other month. National teachers come to town, give workshops Fridays and Sundays, and a lecture during the guild meetings at the ‚Quilt Days‘ Saturdays. You might wanna read about all that here.

Well, they used to, of course, in the these good ol’ times, when we could gather and hug – remember?

But quilters (and, may I say, Midwesterners?) wouldn’t be quilters if they’d threw in the towel. Backing down from a pandemic? Huh, of course not. Instead, they accepted the challenge and worked feverishly to come up with new ways to keep our guild connected and vital.

YOU are GAAQG!

Or, to put it in current president Susan Schwandt’s words: ‚Instead of dwelling what we can’t do during this pandemic, we focused on what we CAN DO and Zoomed full speed ahead!‘

As soon as in May, the first virtual guild meeting was held. And meanwhile, it already feels kinda normal. 124 participants, I’d call that a success. With breakout-rooms, you even have the possibility to socialize with some of your fellow guild buddies. And thanks to the random room assignments, you might end up chatting with someone you’ve never talked to before and get to know new quilters. What a treat!

Now, members send in photos of their recently finished quilts for the virtual show-and-tell, because that’s easier than trying to dance with a kingsize quilt in front of your screen camera.

Small groups started to meet via Zoom in no time. Quirky first, but it’s definitively doable. And it’s just worth an inconvenience to be rewarded with seeing the familiar faces, talk and sew together.

Oh, sewing together, for a good cause? Why would you stop doing that just because of a worldwide catastrophe? The SafeHouse sewing event drew in 22 happy quilters (four of them brand new guild members, imagine that!), willing to sew even more quilts for SafeHouse, adding to the 292 that have already been made during the stay-at-home time earlier this year, dubbed ‚quarantine quilts‘.

Canceling our bi-annual quilt show because of a creepy crisis? Excuse me? Let’s bring the eye-candy home and do the quilt show online. But, don’t we loose the money for SafeHouse that is generated by the show admission fees? Nope: In lieu people contributed deliberately, bringing in more than 10.000 donation-dollars – donations and sold quilts – combined.

Now, workshops was the next step. Let me tell you, there’s some good to this situation:

  • No need to haul your machine
  • Never forget your power cord
  • All supplies and your entire stash ready and at hand
  • You get to peek into your friends’ sewing rooms
  • No worries about blizzards or black ice
  • Keeps us all flexible and makes us leave our comfort zones
  • It’s a steep learning curve for all, and it’s actually fun to pick up some new tech skills
  • Our homes are quite cozy
  • You can chitchat with your mates, during lunch break or via private chat
  • Commuting time becomes sewing time
  • Everyone has a seat in the front row, no need to elbow your classmates out of your way
  • Zoom provides the names (Jane’s iPad or so) to pair them with the faces

That’s quite something, right?

OK, I admit, there’s some downsides, too:

  • You stay in the reach of kids, pets and husbands, who are all at home ALWAYS because of remote school and home office. It’s hard trying to focus on the creation of big art with ‚what’s for dinner‘ in the artist’s ear. I get that, believe me.
  • No sharing – of fabric, notions, food, meaningful looks…
  • No hugging
  • It’s just not the same. Period.

But we chose not to complain, we just do what we can do. That’s how Ellen Lindner became our pioneer. She’ll go down in our guild history as THE FIRST. Ellen held our first ever guild workshop online. A bunch of tech-savvy, courageous and curious guild members who jumped into the cold technology waters of Zoom, Go-to-meeting and what not, made it possible and should also be mentioned in our chronicle.

So, how do virtual classes work? Fear not, it’s easy. Whoever organizes the event (either your guild or the teachers themselves) will just send you an email with a link. Click on it and you are almost there. (Some very nice guild president may even set up a genius tip-sheet, that won’t leave any questions unanswered.)

Sometimes, you’ll be prompted to type in a code that was also in your email, or your name and email address, or you are asked to choose if to join the meeting with or without video on (always with, it’s so much more fun to see you!). Sometimes you’ll need to wait until the workshop host will let you in.
Once in, you’ll have some options, like muting yourself (which helps to avoid too much accumulated background noise from all participants), video on/off (see above, who wants to talk to a black screen?), the chat box (allows you to send texts to either all participants or (if enabled) private messages to selected individuals (you might wanna double check whether you mean to send ‚Our teacher is stupid‘ to your bestie or the entire audience…just saying) –  and some others that you will easily learn as you go.

Intimidating to you? If you can send an email, you got this! I promise it’ll feel completely normal after your third virtual meeting. If not: let’s practice together and have a meeting. As I now know, you can shoot me an email. Do so and I’m happy to set up a practice-Zoom-call with you.

The rest is history: Once kicked off, the class starts to feel more normal by the minute. Teacher talks, shows and explains. Most of them have two cameras set up, one for their face, one for whatever they want to show you on the cutting board or sewing machine. You can see your classmates, you can ask questions, you can basically do whatever you’d do in any in-person workshop. Just no hugging, meh.

Back to the pioneer. Ellen did the first GAAQG workshop, but it was not the first online workshop that I took. And here is another really big plus: you can go all over the place! I ‚was‘ in Albuquerque to take a class with Angela Walters for the AMQG. Or in Portland to meet and quilt with their own Christina Cameli. I ‚went‘ to Denver to listen to Melissa Averinos. And I even had finally the chance to take classes in German! With the German Patchwork Guild. Thank you, Zoom!

Plus, you can of course sign up for workshops wherever you want, together with friends, that’s great. But: there is nothing like taking a class with a whole flock of friends. It’s great to expand your range without limits other than times zones, but seeing a bunch of your mates – and even it’s just through the screen – is just the very best! Did I mention I miss the hugs? I do!

But until we’ll meet again: I am so, so grateful for all these smart women, organizing and holding online meetings, lectures, workshops!

It’s just hard for her to stay focused. She might miss the hugs?

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