Graduating MBHS is next for Will Stich-Smith — then another trip?
WHATCOM — This all began a year ago as Will Stich-Smith wanted to spend more time with his mom.
It became a whole lot more than that as a global pandemic unfolded. The Mount Baker High School senior, of Acme, made a “pandemic quilt” and then went on a cross-country trip with it for what became the experience of a lifetime.
“Because the 2020 Pandemic will be known throughout history ... I wanted to make something to commemorate the impact on the world it has and will have,” Stich-Smith says on the gofundme page created for pandemic quilt.
He would make local news on the road in New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Alabama and Florida, to name a few of his stops.
Stich-Smith moved to downtown Seattle early in 2020 to be with his mom, Candice Leonard, for her job, but within two weeks the country was being shut down by COVID-19 and the pair headed back up to Whatcom County.
With the impact of the pandemic slowly settling in on everyone, Stich-Smith and his mom — who is a digital designer and a craft trainer in her work — came up with the idea of making a quilt to spend time together.
“There’s always that risk of losing someone,” Stich-Smith said.
The quilt’s pattern is an embroidery design package turned into a quilt, with all elements of it representing aspects of the pandemic, he said.
They first thought of taking it around the world, but figured out pretty quickly how expensive that would be. So they settled on just traveling the United States.
Stich-Smith said it’s still a goal to take the quilt internationally. “Maybe after I get done with the states, some big companies will be able to sponsor or I’ll get more donations and be able to go to other countries,” he said.
For the most part of this trip, Stich-Smith was by himself driving from state to state, although his mom flew in at some points.
Stich-Smith said he made the quilt with the idea of it hanging in a museum, so he actually made three in total. The big one is on display at the Tangled Threads shop in Lynden, another is hanging at the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta, and the third is in the process of possibly heading to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Once he got to a state, Stich-Smith would take a photo at the state border crossing if it was convenient and then head to the state capitol building for another photo. He said he was able to get a lot of his senior photos done on the trip as well.
Stich-Smith saw most of the country, leaving only 12 states still to visit. He said he appreciated being able to witness other ways of life in different areas.
“I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve always gone to big tourist areas,” Stich-Smith said. “We have the luxury of having big malls and stuff like that. You’re out in the Midwest and you have five hours to kill because you ended up getting into town early and you can go to the zoo, but after you’ve been to 10 zoos they all start to look the same. There’s no malls to go to until you get to Minnesota. It’s definitely different going all around the country.”
Stitching and embroidery were introduced to Stich-Smith early on. He said his mom has been sewing since she was a kid and had been wanting to open up a store for some time. Candice Leonard ended up buying Tangled Threads in August after Will had completed his cross-country trip; she had been operating out of Acme.
“She’s wanted to open up a fabric/quilt store for a while,” he said. “I’d also help out with her embroidery business, so I was just always around it.”
The whole trip wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his mom’s business, which includes Green Roof Farms DIY, established in 2018, Stich-Smith said.
He expects another trip will cost at least $8,000 and he’s hoping to get some sponsorship help to lower the price tag and do it in the summer of 2021. He’s also looking to add a companion for the second trip.
“There were some parts where it was so boring,” Stich-Smith said. “There’s no one to talk to and you’re going on a straight road through fields with no mountains or trees and you’re all by yourself.”
Besides planning for another quilt trip and securing a sponsor, the other main thing ahead for Stich-Smith is just finishing and graduating from Mount Baker High School.