Campus News

Creativity in captivity

In announcing a new series on how Carolina staff and faculty have been spending their free time during the pandemic, let me tell you about my Pandemic in Pink Sweater.

Here I am in the Pandemic hat and sweater that started it all.
Here I am in the pandemic hat and sweater that started it all. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

We all respond to crises differently. I pick up my needles and yarn. Not only has knitting gotten me through my own dark hours in hospital waiting rooms, but it has also helped me respond to the troubles of others. Knitting magically transforms love and prayers into everything from cozy shawls for chemotherapy patients to warm hats for premature babies.

So last March when the country went into lockdown because of the coronavirus, the knitter in me saw the opportunity to finish up some current projects and start some new ones. I got out a kit I had ordered months ago and planned to add a Pandemic Sweater to a collection that includes a Hurricane Scarf, a Power Outage Hat and a Snowstorm Shawl.

But not long after casting on, I began to wonder how I could make this a REAL Pandemic Sweater, one that captured this moment in time with some of the images we have all become familiar with, starting with the iconic electron-microscope closeups of the spiky virus itself. I began to build a chart that would fit into the yoke pattern of the sweater, starting with a 10-stitch repeat. Working from the bottom up, there’s the virus, the “flatten the curve” graph, a hospital mask and the stock market crash.

Because the dominant color I had chosen for my sweater kit was a shade close to bubblegum, I christened the pattern Pandemic in Pink.

To quickly see if the chart worked, I whipped up a hat using scrap yarn, then posted the pattern and photo of the hat on Ravelry, a popular knitting website. In the first few days, the pattern scored about 200 pageviews, not exactly “viral,” but satisfying. I returned to my sweater, adjusting the colors of the Pandemic in Pink chart to fit the colors — pink, lavender, salmon and burgundy — I had previously selected for the kit. Then I posted a photo of the finished sweater with the pattern.

a collection of knitted items

So far, I’ve made six sweaters, four shawls, four hats, three baskets, two cowls, a pair of gloves, a pillow, a pair of booties, a big bow and a hanging basket for a potted plant. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The Pandemic in Pink Sweater was just the beginning of my pandemic knitting experience. With all the extra time spent inside for the past 10 months, I have produced shawls, sweaters, hats, gloves, booties, cowls and even a couple of baskets made with super bulky yarn. I have also learned new stitches and, more important, made new friends as I participated in online “knit-alongs” on Zoom — another way to break the enforced isolation caused by the virus.

Because of my experience, I decided to send an email to my fellow communicators to see if other University employees would like to share their pandemic hobbies. The response was overwhelming! The photos and stories behind them are so interesting that The Well will feature them in an ongoing series on Fridays.

To give you a taste of coming attractions, I have included a couple of responses below. We’d love to hear your stories, too. Please email them to me at and put “Pandemic Hobbyist” in the subject line. Thanks! And happy hobbying.

Access all stories in the Carolina’s Pandemic Hobbyist series.


Brett Phillips: clinical research program supervisor, Blood Research Center, School of Medicine

My favorite hobby is making sourdough bread from scratch — two loaves a week. They make great gifts! I love making bread because, in this remote working environment, it helps me remember to take regular breaks from work to “stretch and fold” the dough. If I can briefly take my mind off work, I think I’m much more productive and happier in the long-term. I also enjoy making sourdough pizza from scratch using the same starter that continuously grows if you feed it each day. And I have been making kombucha from scratch (a fermented tea made using a culture of bacteria and yeast). Similar to the sourdough starter, it constantly grows, and you can give the cultures away to friends and family if they want to get into the habit.

Brett Phillips holds out a loaf of bread that he baked.

Brett Phillips has been making two loaves of sourdough a week. (Contributed photo)

Folk art

Deborah J. Bousquet, assistant director facilities management, Carolina Housing

I have been creating folk art birds from cedar and found materials during the pandemic.

My beloved Grandmother Isabelle introduced me to the world of birds. Love of these wonderful creatures has remained strong into my adult life through watching them, reading about them and providing numerous feeders in our yard. During the early days of the pandemic, I was able to enjoy them more through walks and bike rides.

This time at home ignited an artistic spark, and I began creating folk art birds from cedar. I use a bandsaw to create the birds and then paint them. My father-in-law was an avid wood worker who built clocks, so we have many various types of nuts, bolts, screws and fasteners. These embellish most of the birds that I have made, along with pine bark, downed cedar branches and abandoned bird nests found during walks in the woods. Each bird has its own personality that develops as I begin to create it. This hobby has brought me immense joy during the turbulence of 2020. I have given two away thus far to friends and one was photographed for the front of our 2020 Christmas card.  

Deborah J. Bousquet holds one of her folk art wooden birds.

Deborah J. Bousquet has been creating folk art birds from cedar. (Contributed photo)