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Woman creates quilted cover for her SUV

Jan Kendall stands outside her car quilt called "Shelter in Place" that covers her vehicle. (Photo Provided/Mike Simons/Tulsa World via CNN)

TULSA, Oklahoma (Tulsa World) — Think of it as one of life’s little ironies: If the biennial Quilt Tulsa show had not been canceled, Jan Kendall probably would not have been able to complete the epic project she had planned to promote the event.

“I had the idea to do something like this about four years ago,” Kendall said. “I just thought it would be a great come-on for the show, which was going to take place in May last year.”

That idea was to create a quilted cover for one of her cars that would be equipped with a special pocket containing information about the upcoming quilt show and a notepad where people could leave a comment, if they wished. Kendall would park it at area quilting shops and other public places to help generate interest in the show.

“I started working on it in January,” Kendall said, who was to serve as co-chairman of the 2020 show. “In March, we did a walk-through of the space at the fairgrounds where the show would be set up, and within a week, we had to cancel like everything else because of COVID.

“It was a very emotional thing because everyone had been working so hard to put the show on,” she said. “But at the same time, all the things that usually filled up my usually busy life were gone — poof! — like that because of the shelter in place restrictions and everything. And I realized that I could devote myself to getting this done.

“And once I really got into it,” Kendall said, “I realized I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish it by May.”

Kendall’s original plan was to make the quilt large enough to encase her 2017 Toyota Sienna mini-van.

“But that’s a big ol’ thing, so I changed my plans and made the quilt fit my 2007 (Toyota) Highlander,” she said, laughing. “For one thing, this car’s about 2 feet shorter than the other one.”

Even with the shortened wheelspan, the process of piecing together individual blocks — some made from cast-off clothing her children have worn, others from past projects that never reached fruition, or that were given to her by friends as mementos of loved ones — for a small SUV, and then quilting the finished product, was daunting. And time consuming.

“Almost all the blocks had been pieced together before,” she said. “That helped save a lot of time. I did some original blocks that represent my children and my grandchildren, but most of the piece work had already been done.”

Kendall said she has a special sewing machine that she uses for the quilt stitching — the patterns of threads that give quilts their puffy texture and which can be an art form in itself — and while it is designed to handle large pieces, the car quilt turned out to be more than a match for the machine.

“I had to break it down into six pieces to be able to get it on the machine,” she said. “This involved a whole lot more engineering than I ever imagined. There so many fittings and re-fittings to get everything to fit.”

Kendall set up her car quilt at a Broken Arrow sewing store about a week ago, and a passer-by made a video that he posted on Facebook.

“Supposedly it’s been seen 1.5 million times,” Kendall said, shaking her head at the thought. She also has been approached by the organizers of Tulsa’s annual Art Car Parade about taking part in their next event.

“I’m going to have to figure out a way to make it so I can see out the front window,” Kendall said. “As it is now, you can’t drive with this thing in place.”

Her cousin Mary Beth Marquiess, who describes herself as Kendall’s “head cheerleader,” often helps Kendall to set up the quilt.

“I’ve been looking at this thing for months,” Marquiess said, “and every time I see something new. Like today — I had never noticed this panel on the driver’s side with a ‘Family Circus’ cartoon.”

And that is why, for Kendall, this project is more than just a way to demonstrate her love of quilting and to promote a potential quilt show.

“To me, this is really a scrapbook of my quilting life,” she said, running a hand over a panel pieced together from her children’s shirts. “Every one of these panels tells a story or contains a memory.”