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Column #38

Katrina Recovery Quilts

Broken Borders (19.5” x 29.5”). Left over from the border of a previous quilt, these bruised and fragile red fabric pieces, recovered from the sand, have to be held in place by fine netting.

Buried Treasure (19.5” x 29.5”). The quilt that started it all. Quilted in swirls to mimic the hurricane. Bleached parts left to look like fluffy clouds. Background and backing is Solveig's bed sheet that she found tattered in a tree. The top was once a single color—sand and water “tie-dyed” it.

Broken Hearted (20” x 26.5”). These hearts symbolize broken hearts and dreams of Katrina survivors. Hearts are pant pockets buried in the beach. Pink and blue background from the filing cabinet. Backing from the beach.

Hopes and Dreams ( (14.5” x 20.5”). "Bubbles, beads and hearts flowing on light and dark curves with fanciful stitches like dreams that interpret our hope."

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi with a 28-foot storm surge. Solveig Wells watched the storm coverage on television as she lay in a hospital bed in Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada, recovering from hip surgery.

Solveig and her husband, David, divide their time between Canada and Mississippi, since David—Professor Emeritus in Geodesy and Geomatics in the Engineering Department at the University of New Brunswick—still teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Marine Science near Bay St. Louis. The couple calls both locations home.

Katrina reserved its full force for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The eye of the hurricane passed right over Bay St. Louis, killing 12 people and completely destroying half the homes in the small Gulf Coast resort town. Solveig and David were unable to see the damage firsthand until December of that year, when they made their way south toward Bay St. Louis.

“As we turned onto Highway 90 toward Biloxi and saw all the destruction—debris everywhere, trees gone, only porch steps where entire houses used to be—that’s when it really hit me,” Solveig recalls. “I started to cry.”

Although the house in Bay St. Louis where they spend part of each year was not as badly damaged as most others in the community, no home was left un-flooded or unscathed. Anything remaining was subject to the horrible mold that proliferated in the brutally hot weather that followed in the wake of the storm.

Adding insult to injury was Solveig’s discovery that crews cleaning up the rubble had discarded all of her quilting fabrics and supplies.

Weeks after the Wells’ return to the Gulf Coast, while walking on the beach, Solveig noticed something sticking up out of the sand. On closer inspection, she realized that it was the frayed edge of some of her own material, and she started to pull on it. Fifteen yards later, she had recovered the border fabric she’d been saving for a project. Looking around, she found still more buried treasure—some in a wheelbarrow and some in a filing cabinet— and she eventually retrieved most of the quilting fabric she had assumed was lost forever.

Some of it was discolored and faded in a tie-dye like manner, and although weathered and still wet, much of the material was intact and happily mold-free. Who knows how it got there? Perhaps it was washed away during the storm or fell out of a trash truck. Whatever the means, it’s difficult not to ascribe the discovery to fate.

Finding her fabric triggered a creative frenzy that helped Solveig deal with the raw emotion and sense of grief and loss caused by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. For the next 12 months, she became what she describes as an “obsessed lady who spent a year making 55 wallhanging-sized quilts out of my Katrina damaged fabrics.” She calls them her Katrina Recovery Quilts.

Stitched into the quilts are not only her own fabrics, but also things such as vintage men’s ties and quilt blocks, made as Christmas ornaments, and rescued from the mud in the remains of a friend’s store, salvaged scraps of embroidery and yarn, and Mardi Gras beads and flip-flop ornaments found on the beach.

Also stitched into the quilts are Solveig’s expressions of appreciation for all those who volunteered to help in the aftermath of the storm, her sympathy for those who lost loved ones, and her awe at the magnitude of nature’s power. And channeled was her sorrow and frustration shared with friends and neighbors whose homes, businesses, and communities were destroyed or damaged and whose lives were irreparably altered.

The quilts have helped Solveig deal with the catastrophic effects of the storm, and they have served to help others as well. They have been displayed at libraries, museums, art galleries, and quilt guilds both in Canada and the southern United States and at the Gulf States Quilting Association’s quilt show.

The Canadian Quilter, a quarterly publication of the Canadian Quilter’s Association, did a feature article about them, as did the alumni magazine for David’s alma mater. They have been exhibited as part of fundraising efforts to restore libraries in Hancock County, Mississippi that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Taken together, Solveig Wells’ Katrina Recovery Quilts form a jewel with 55 facets, each one representing an aspect of the artist’s effort to come to terms with a tragedy that affected not only her own life, but the lives of millions. Her creation is a moving tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Such is the healing power of quilts.

Click here to see all 55 of Solveig Wells’ Katrina Recovery Quilts.


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Archived blogs:

Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here