On becoming a maskmatician

tamrawilson Uncategorized

I got on the mask-making bandwagon about two weeks ago.

Thirty-six masks later, I realize that I will never catch up with my son’s mother-in-law who has made 300 in Florida. But if more people made masks—even a few–there wouldn’t be such a shortage, especially now that the CDC recommends that all of us wear cloth face coverings in public.

I’m making cloth masks because it’s the right thing to do and because I have the time, the ability and a lot of fabric scraps. I’ve given my finished products to neighbors, family members, friends and a nurse who took 18 of them to the hospital.

Of course these homemade masks don’t meet N-95 standards, but they are better than nothing for medical staff who have run out of surgical masks.

I rifled through boxes of fabrics from sewing projects over the years. The sight of them is like visits from old friends: floral chintzes, nursery calicos, white cotton spangled navy stars.  One sample of polished cotton was the border of a nursery quilt I made for my son in 1985.

Green striped remnants came from bathroom curtains crafted in 2008. 

A scrap with of fish swimming across a blue background was what remained of a pillowcase sewn more than 25 years ago.

One unique apron print depicted supplies for a crab boil with illustrations of paper towels, graniteware pots, tongs, crab mallets, tins of “Crab Bay” seasoning, crab mallets and corn on the cob. It was the perfect choice for my friend in Delaware.

A yellow honeybee calico was trimmings from a dress I made my granddaughter last year. I used it for my own mask as a kind of defiance; I’m allergic to bee stings.

My scraps have followed me through several moves and purges.  You crafters know the drill. Totes assorted fabrics hefted from place to place because you can’t part with cloth that could become something else–maybe a quilt or doll clothes or trim for a future garment. Or face coverings in a pandemic.

Begin with an 8” x 9” piece of cloth, an old t-shirt and interfacing—that material used to stiffen collars and such. First, you cut an 8” x 9” square of cotton fabric and a piece of interfacing and old t-shirt fabric of the same size. Make three pleats on the left and right sides of the fabric. Fuse the interfacing to the backside of the top layer, sew three pleats on the left and right side of the entire piece. Attach seven inches of narrow elastic on the pleated sides or, if elastic isn’t available (it isn’t) attach an 18” tie to each corner before you sew the right-sides together leaving a gap large enough to turn the fabric inside out. Press. Topstitch the entire piece and voila! A mask is born.

I’ve been creative with the ties. I’ve used everything from hem tape to single-fold bias tape to shoe laces and grosgrain ribbon.

Maskmaking also requires a working sewing machine. My 33-year-old Bernina model refused to sew just as I was ramping up production. Yes, this very machine that had seen me through quilts, curtains, wedding attire, Halloween costumes, dresses and countless garment repairs, decided to lie down the job. Bobbins threads tangled, sewing needles broke, feed dogs jammed.

I took the bobbin mechanism apart, cleaned the lint, lubricated the places that needed oil, just as I‘ve done for more than three decades. No sooner had I asked a sewing friend about borrowing a machine, I heard that Joann Fabrics was about to be shut down because such stores are “non-essential.”  

Then along came the rumor about Walmart closing off its non-food/non-pharmacy aisles which would eliminate purchasing of sewing supplies. This news was particularly troubling to us maskmaticians. How could a sewing supplies retailer be “non-essential” while ABC stores, athletics equipment outlets and golf courses are allowed to remain open?

Thankfully, the rumors about Joann and Walmart were only rumors.

Meanwhile a few naysayers have scoffed at my homemade masks. A cloth mask—even one with three layers of cloth–won’t prevent Coronavirus, they say.  Maybe not, but a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. A mask reminds us not to touch our face, which is how we get Covid 19—touching our eyes, nose or mouth. A mask will remind us of where we are and when this is. As if we could ever forget.