As people around the world are commemorating the anniversary of the start of the global pandemic, library staff participating in our Stitching the Curve project have been working on the final rows of our long swatches. For those new to the project, Stitching the Curve was started by a group of library staff back in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. We found ourselves working from home and decided to take a try at a data physicalization project that would keep us connected and teach us more about the data. Our aim was to use data from Health Canada that reports the number of COVID-19 cases in each province. Each member of the team has been stitching one province’s case numbers, using different colour ranges of yarn. In the end the hope is to bring all of our swatches together, thereby capturing the entire COVID-19 experience of Canada in a patchwork blanket.
Since our last update, many of the areas of Canada have been struggling with a resurgence of COVID-19 and some of our swatches shifted in colour again. Some have shown recovery, while some still linger in the higher range (the lighter colours of our project). In the fall of 2020, our group of stitchers decided to end our knitting and crocheting at the end of February. While we recognize that the pandemic is not over yet, we also had to consider how long the swatches were getting, and how our supplies of yarn and time were dwindling. We felt closing the project at the one-year mark was the best course of action. While the blanket that comes from our work will not represent the entirety of the pandemic, it captures the first year from March 1st 2020 to February 28 2021.
I asked our stitchers to once again send images and their thoughts so here are some of them:
“The fact that the year ended with an outbreak in NL gives the project an unfinished feel to me—I would have liked to see cases decline further, but I also appreciated that we did one full year.”
– Kara Blizzard, Librarian, who crocheted Newfoundland and Labrador, finished her swatch just as the province was having an outbreak. Kara’s swatch measures almost seven feet long!
“I can’t believe we have been knitting for a year. I have to say that most of the year has been very depressing for Ontario, as my piece is almost all light blue. The past two months were especially hard as many days were over 1000! It is almost sad to have to stop because I want to be able to begin knitting in more of the darker colours to signify the end of the pandemic in Ontario. I know the end is in sight, but the talk of needing to continue wearing masks and social distancing for many more months is causing me a bit of anxiety. I think we are all ready for this to end but I am wondering just when that will be a reality. ”
– Christine Brown, Head, Faculty Engagement (Humanities, Social Sciences & Law)
The swatch for British Columbia is not yet complete (I’m behind on my knitting!), but with about a month and a half of data to catch up on, the swatch is very long (5.7 feet). BC has had a second wave and I have been knitting mostly in the lightest (highest colour) for months. I devised a change in stitches to symbolize days that had more than 500 and 1000 cases, so the fabric will be a little textured at the end. I hope to catch up and finish soon.
While the actual stitching may be done, the project is not over yet. It is my sincere hope that the next time I write, we, as a group of stitchers, will be able to take a group shot together. With vaccines rolling out slowly, it is becoming increasingly plausible that sometime in the summer or fall we will be able to bring our swatches together in a real life meeting. This will be an impactful moment for us. Over the course of a year, this project has changed from being an experiment to learn about how to physicalize data, to something much more. As we have worked from home with our own personal struggles, we have had to cope with the sadness of being physically separated from our colleagues. To be able to come together to finish the project will not only mean that the pandemic is behind us, but, for most of us, creating the final blanket will be quite cathartic.
It is also my hope that what we have learned from this project will translate into future learning experiences for students that involve data physicalization, through the Digital Scholarship Centre.
The symbolism of our swatches becoming a blanket is not lost on us. We want our work to become an object that is synonymous with comfort and kindness. As so many in our country have suffered illness, loss, anxiety and economic struggle due to the pandemic, we want the final object that represents Canada’s journey to be something that counteracts that pain.