Leftover fabric from the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is now being turned into face masks for coronavirus.
Seamstress Gert McMullin helped create some of the first panels for the quilt in 1987. As a cure for AIDS has never been found, McMullin’s work never stopped; she has made hundreds of panels, more than any other seamstress.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt now consists of over 100,000 names. This year, it made its grand return to San Francisco’s National AIDS Memorial, where McMullin is an employee. The quilt was supposed to be part of a grand display to celebrate its homecoming; it’s about 1.3 million feet large. But the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted those plans.
Now, McMullin is once again using her sewing skills to do her part to fight a global pandemic.
She’s using leftover fabric from the quilt to create face masks for Bay Area Community Services, a not-for-profit group that serves the homeless and people who suffer from addiction.
“During the AIDS crisis, I could go and do something,” McMullin told People. “But now, I can’t. I’m not used to sitting around and not helping people.”
Both employees and residents will use McMullin’s face masks.
Meanwhile, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is being securely kept in a warehouse in the Bay Area, overseen by McMullin. LGBTQ activist Cleve Jones first came up with the idea for the quilt in 1985. During a candlelight vigil, Jones asked friends to write the names of their deceased loved ones on poster board to place on a wall. That’s where he got the idea to make a quilt instead. At the time, the epidemic had claimed 1000 lives; the Reagan administration refused to publicly acknowledge it until four years after it began.
The executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, John Cunningham, tells People that there’s still a lot to be learned from the AIDS pandemic today.
“The quilt is a reminder of what we all have lost,” Cunningham said. “But also, how far we have come — and where we need to go.”