Meet Jane Gaffrey, DO

Child Psychiatry Physician, Sanford Health

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin Museum of Quilting and Fiber Arts sent out a request. They asked for handmade 12-by-12 inch quilt blocks from creators of all skill levels for a new exhibit. The project, dubbed the Quarantine Quilt, received an overwhelming amount of submissions.

The museum collected over 500 blocks from more than 400 artists around the world. They ended up with the material to create 27 unique quilts.

One of the quilting artists was Jane Gaffrey, DO, a child psychiatrist at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota.

Dr. Gaffrey started sewing when she was 5 years old and her passion and skill grew from there. She got her first sewing machine for Christmas when she was 8 years old.

In high school, she was drawn to designing quilts, but she wouldn’t complete one for many years. Dr. Gaffrey has now finished several sewing projects and four quilts, three of which she created for her daughter, Abigail.

“The designing part is the best,” she says.

Dr. Gaffrey made and gifted a Blue’s Clues-themed quilt to Abigail when she turned 2 years old. She also joined a project called Row by Row where participating quilt shops design themed quilts. Her quilt theme was Sew Musical. Recently, she’s designed pet portrait quilts, including one of “a majestic cat named Sylvan” that she’s working on now.

Her love for designing is part of what pushed her to join the Quarantine Quilt project.

“I decided to participate for two reasons – my love for quilting design and the historical significance of the project,” Dr. Gaffrey says. “This project was a way to tell people’s stories of the pandemic that will be available for future generations to see.”

Quarantining for the pandemic reminded Dr. Gaffrey of a piece of her family’s history.

“My grandmother told stories of quarantining when she had diphtheria as a child,” she says.

Diphtheria was once a serious concern in the U.S. The highly contagious disease required infected individuals to self-isolate. Like COVID-19, it is now a vaccine-preventable illness.

Dr. Gaffrey wanted her square to be relevant to the pandemic.

“With his permission, I used a picture of one of our COVID-19 unit physicians,” she says. “I drew his picture on silk with Prismacolor markers and sewed on a border.”

Her daughter designed a quilt square as well. Her square has a rainbow-colored mask and a cartoon picture of the coronavirus.

“Abigail wanted to inspire people to wear a mask and wash their hands. She also picked rainbow colors for LGBTQ pride because she wanted to let people know that it’s okay to be different,” Dr. Gaffrey says.

Seeing the finished quilts ended up being bittersweet.

“We were excited to see it all put together. I enjoyed seeing how creative people got with it,” she says. “But I had to settle for seeing it in the printed catalog as the pandemic kept us from traveling there while it was on display. That part made me sad.”

But for many, the project still completed its purpose.

“I think the point of the project was to bring people together in a way that was permitted and safe during a time that was very isolating,” she says.

Dr. Gaffrey has firsthand experience with the power of creativity during hard times.

“I’ve been able to use drawing to help me cope with depression,” she says.

During a hospital admission for her depression, Dr. Gaffrey drew a picture of a quilt she wants to create one day. It features several blocks with sunsets that are partially obscured by black.

“The point is that there is more to life than a depressed mind can perceive,” she says. “Around the border, it’ll have the expression ‘when life gives you scraps, make a quilt.’”