Wow, are you all creative — and productive! Last month, we put out a call for readers to tell us about personal projects they worked on during the pandemic. Over 100 entries came in, from miniature houses to model ships, from artworks to sewing projects and more. They were filled with creativity, dedication and obvious love for the projects and the people, places and things that inspired them. Quite a few of them also captured something about living in these strange times.
Here are some of the projects — and the stories behind them — that particularly caught our attention.
(Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.)
The Lemonade School
This summer, my 80-year-old retired dad worked with my family and me to build a one-room schoolhouse in our backyard. It was a family affair and my kids learned about construction, patience, perseverance and flexibility, as various parts of the project were challenging. We used many repurposed materials in order to keep the cost as low as possible (including 62-year-old cedar from a remodeling project we did 11 years ago; the colorful flowers in pots were made from recycled pop bottles). This one-room schoolhouse has become my first grade class. I teach in the Bellevue School District and have done so for the past 28 years.
My students and I call this little creation The Lemonade School. We call it that because this is where we are all doing our best to try to turn lemons into lemonade, challenges into small triumphs, and work into joy. It is colorful and whimsical, and is a sweet place for me to work and pass the time with my 23 first graders who are all learning virtually for the year.
It is decorated with string lights, pale pink paint, puppets, children’s book covers, encouraging quotes and the children’s drawings that they send to me through the mail. It is nestled under the trees where I can hear the birds singing and sense the changing seasons from the view out my window. It is simple and has no electricity or running water. There is a little hole covered by the lid of a peanut butter jar through which I can temporarily run an extension cord into the room if I really need power, but I charge my devices up in the house at night so I don’t usually need external power. Wi-Fi reaches me most of the time. It will likely be cold in the winter, and when the sun sets, my work has to end.
Before school started, I made sure each of my students had a lemon for our first-day experience of tasting lemons and making lemonade. On that first day of school we talked about what it meant to “turn lemons into lemonade.” We talked about what it meant to be brave and to do something for the first time. My students watched as the Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and Neil Armstrong set his foot on the surface. I told my students that they were like those astronauts because they were tackling enormous challenges that had never been tackled before. I’m trying to teach them to do so with optimistic hearts!
— Kelye Kneeland, Bellevue
“Thank you” and memorial displays
Project No. 1: One of our daughters stayed with us a couple of months and taught me how to make flowers out of craft paper. The crafted cherry blossoms I made became the backdrop for a 3D “thank you” display created for the staff at Sunrise of Edmonds assisted living facility, which had to close their doors to our visits with Mom and Dad. I used scraps of wood to make a scale model of the entrance to Sunrise, along with some hidden surprises inside. It was presented to Sunrise and, as far as I know, it is still on the puzzle table in the activity area.
Project No. 2: My father passed away at Sunrise of Edmonds on July 4 at the age of 97. Family members were finally allowed to see him, briefly, during his last few days. The funeral home service was limited in size and only five of us were allowed to the cemetery. He was a Merchant Marine veteran of World War II and I wanted to do something to honor him. So I used recycled fence boards to make an American flag and also used them, plus other improvised items from the garage, to create an “outdoor-capable” scale model of one of the Liberty ships he sailed on in 1943 at the age of 21. Then I realized that the rest of the story of that particular ship could be of interest to the neighbors, so I added some signs that might last until the next rainy period.
— Doug Subcleff, Edmonds
Paintings of Seattle businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic
I’m a self-taught folk artist. My project is a series of pandemic-related paintings I started in March after reading an article in The Seattle Times about Canlis starting a drive-thru service. I saw how much Seattle was already changing with businesses trying to adapt by going all-virtual, offering delivery or curbside pickup. I also wanted to document those businesses who had to make the tough decision to close up shop. I have made at least 50 paintings and will continue this project until March 2021, which will mark one full year of documenting how Seattle is reacting to the pandemic.
— Mark O’Malley aka Marko, Maltby
We’re 16-year-olds from Richmond Beach. We were inspired by the Giambattista Valli Fall 2019 couture collection after seeing pictures on Pinterest. The process started by us drawing out what we each wanted in our dresses, and then buying 240 yards of tulle online. Then we began the long process of teaching ourselves the art of dressmaking. We worked over the course of a month and a half, putting at least 50 hours into them. They turned out better than we could have ever imagined.
— Ada Franey and Grace Hansen, Shoreline
Miniature room dedicated to grandfather
My lockdown project, made randomly over several months this summer, was a miniature room dedicated to my Irish grandfather. The scale is 1 inch equals 1 foot and it is built in the top of a very old, wooden sewing machine lid that I refinished and stained.
My grandparents emigrated from Ireland in 1912 to settle in Edmonton, Canada. It was there that my grandfather practiced law until the age of 82, which was when our family emigrated to the United States. Within the room are many pictures that would have meant something to him. Trinity College in Dublin was where he was educated. A picture of the college is on the fireplace wall. There is a window also on the back wall of our Edmonton home where I was raised until the age of 16. At the top of the room is a miniature of his wooden shingle that hung in his office his entire career. There are various pictures that I miniaturized. In the 1950s he attained the high honor of Queen’s Counsel and his certificate is hanging on the wall behind his chair, along with an old picture of a map of Ireland. This was such a fun project and I spent many hours enjoying the memories that it brought back to me.
— Heather Adams, Mukilteo
Homemade guitars, built with confidence and terror
I made both of these guitars from scratch. One is mine and one will be my son’s for Christmas.
I had never built a guitar but I thought, “I can do all of the operations needed, I have some flamed maple, and I have time.” I had serene, total confidence I could pull this off.
Then, there were several cycles of uncertainty, deep thought, sheer terror, relief and pride.
Finally, after four months, they were done. But completion elation was followed by a setback! The truss rod in my guitar was stuck. Disaster; a gut punch. Fortunately, I performed successful open-neck surgery. Once again, relief and good feelings. The guitar now has another back story and character. Celebrate mistakes.
(Many thanks to Dagna of Silesia Guitars for her beautiful and meticulous fret-wire installation and final “tuning.”)
— Denny Vidmar, Seattle
Birdhouse styled after historic home
This is a birdhouse I fashioned after a house in the Strawbery Banke Museum, an outdoor history museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is the Thomas Bailey Aldrich House built circa 1797. Our son was married in the garden of the home in 2003, and requested a birdhouse for his home in Colorado. So I spent a few months drawing plans and building the house from pictures available online. Always fun to have a project. Now we will drive it to Denver!
— Larry Williams, Normandy Park
Turning weeds into a vegetable garden
My lockdown project was more of a necessity than a hobby. When the pandemic started becoming more of a reality for people in March and there were lines at the entrances of grocery stores, I started to worry about food shortages. I also have asthma so I wanted to limit my exposure to other people as much as possible. On top of all that, I usually teach an in-person, hands-on urban farming class at the University of Washington during the spring and summer quarters that I had to now figure out how to make virtual.
Faced with these dilemmas, I decided to transform my neglected, weedy front yard into a permaculture vegetable garden. I grew a diversity of nutrient-dense and highly productive fruits and vegetables that could also be used for instructional purposes, including lettuce, arugula, spinach, basil, cilantro, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, beets, chard, pole and bush beans, summer and winter squashes, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, grapes and an array of edible flowers.
— Jonathan Chen, Seattle
Comic strip inspired by family pets
My project has been creating a comic strip nearly every week. It is called “Corgi and Cat” and is inspired by our pup who we just happened to bring home right before the shutdown last spring, and our cat of many years.
I am normally a freelance fine artist, but with my daughters home from school and a new puppy to train, I found it nearly impossible to spend time in my art studio. I’ve also been low on work. To retain a creative outlet, I began sketching quick comics every week of our pets and sharing them with family and friends. My daughters help create the stories each week that I then sketch. The entire project has been surprisingly cathartic, and has helped me have a goal to work toward every week.
— Rachel J.E. Sprague, Seattle
Fabric houses symbolizing things that bring joy
Here are photos of a project that grew out of this period of lockdown. Each house, which represents being housebound, symbolizes one of the things that has sustained me during this period. They are words, music, flowers, humor, junk food, coffee and Zoom. Each one is a fabric collage about 8 inches high. I tried to identify things that are positive aspects of my life during this period, focusing on the things that are bringing me joy and a sense of continuity with my life before the pandemic.
This summer, this project placed second in a nationwide competition of COVID-inspired art held by the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in California. I am not a professional artist and this was the first competition I had ever entered.
— Cynthia Blair, Seattle
Welded steel artworks
I started welding when I was about 7 years old, taught by my dad, using his oxygen-acetylene welding set, which I still use today, 63 years later. Over the years I’ve made quite a few art projects, but this pandemic and the stay-at-home time got me back in the shop with more frequency, and since February, I’ve made about a dozen different things. Some are from my own ideas, and some, like most artists, are inspired by the work of other artists I follow on Instagram.
During the COVID isolation, I upped my occasional amateur welded steel projects to include something I’d never attempted before. This piece was inspired by a Dutch artist I follow on Instagram whose skills far exceed mine, but for a first try it came out OK; it is now in an Anacortes home on display. She’s made entirely of about 45 feet of 3/8-inch steel rod that was cut, welded, ground and polished over 60-plus hours in the shop. Her broad shoulders remind me a little of an athletic swimmer, so she’s tentatively named “Esther Williams.”
— David L. Webster, Anacortes
Quilt made out of mask scraps
At the beginning of the pandemic, when commercial masks were unavailable to many essential workers, my daughter and I got out our sewing machines, aiming to help. Using nothing but scraps and leftover fabrics from prior projects (some pieces were as old as 30 years!), we made 525 masks (most were donated to UW custodians as well as to a local nursing/rehab facility). As we were making them, the pile of newly created scraps and threads became problematic, so we started collecting them in a bin as a part of our daily ritual. On my way to empty the bin into the garbage, I spotted several small pieces that reminded me of our project, and thought they perhaps deserved more. My sewing machine ended up in the sick bay as a result of overuse, but my hands still worked, so I created a small quilt (24 inches by 24 inches) by hand, as a memento for my daughter, of the hours we spent creating them.
— Patti Mincemoyer, Seattle