Once New York was given the order to shut down schools, restaurants, and non-essential industries I saw a way I could help. It made my heart beat faster when I heard I could make cloth masks for hospitals in our area. I couldn’t move fast enough. This was a way I could cope and contribute even though I was a retired microbiologist and 73 years of age. I rearranged my living room and put my sewing machine on an end table, got out my old left over quilt material, and all the elastic I could find (not much). I could sew and listen to briefings all at the same time. This was early in March.
I received a basic three-pleat pattern from a local sewing shop that was easy. It was made by a 15 x 7.5 inch piece of material that I zig-zagged the short edges, sewed two top outer edge 1 1 2 inch seams, folded, pressed, and then sewed a twist tie in the top inside for the nose crimp. The double layers made a pocket in which one could put a filter later of some sort: filter material from a furnace filter (clean), an ordered charcoal filter, or in my case a square of a clean, bleached old cotton bed pad cut to fit and zig-zagged so it was washable without unraveling. After pressing, and pinning three pleats, I basted the pleats, and bound the side edges. The last thing to do was insert a 10 inch 1/4 inch elastic on each side of the mask to fit around the ears.
I made all sorts of prints into masks and I was moving along sewing at least 8 each day while taking care of the necessary household tasks, and walking my dog. I found myself running out of elastic because all the sewers across the state, and in other parts of the US were doing the same thing. Even using Amazon I couldn’t get a delivery of elastic until the end of May….way too late. So invention took over and I started using thin nylon covered hair ties as a substitute. When I ran out of those I started using spools of nylon/plastic monofilament dabbed with clear nail polish to prevent the knot from untying!
After delivering a bunch to our local hospital drop-off, I found that not only had they had such a tremendous response that they don’t need more, and Hickey Freeman (suit manufacturer) began making masks of the hospital grade special fabric. At that point I could see the need for masks for the elderly and folks with underlying conditions in my area, so I began making masks for them.
Although listening to the updates about the number of cases, deaths, and need for all sorts of supplies, and the wonderful coverage by the new media, I felt less scared and more able to wait this thing out. This was especially due to the daily 11am updates by Andrew Cuomo. He has displayed all the different aspects that have made me feel that we are doing the best we can given our late start: forward thinking to meet our expected demands, organization, calm, and emotional empathy for families.
I have wound down in the making of masks, but also tried a different face covering design. I imagine I will be making them a few at a time for the next few months. This has helped to ease my apprehension some, and made me more comfortable staying at home, and distancing myself to do my part.
All I have to do is think of the sacrifice that was made by all people in WWII, and realize although this is tragic and unprecedented in scale, it puts it in some perspective. I feel very blessed that I am in good health right now, retired so I don’t have to worry about my next paycheck or food, and isolation in place is the least I can do!
This is something very few of us have experienced before, but if we follow our head doctors and the science behind the outbreak, we will come out the other side weathered, but so much more knowledgeable to heed the our short falls so we can better cope the next time when another virus threatens the world.
Thank you to my late mother for teaching me how to sew and giving me a way to feel needed and wanted.
Be safe my friends, and watch over friends, family, and those near us who might need help!