People throughout the Hudson Valley are dusting off their sewing machines, digging into their piles of fabric, trading patterns and watching videos all in a grassroots effort to make protective masks in high demand during the pandemic. To slow the virus, the CDC has suggested that all residents wear cloth masks when out in public It’s like a wartime effort, being done inside homes and shops and shared via baskets and curbside pickups and delivered to hospitals, nursing homes and essential businesses interfacing with the public. A significant portion pf the population that wants to feel protected.
A guerilla movement of seamstresses ready to do battle against the viral enemy. These mask-makers and local organizations continue to blossom via Internet.
“A friend of mine who works in a neonatal unit asked if I could make some masks for the unit,” said Jen White, a social worker from New Paltz. White began to reach out to friends who also liked to sew. They looked online to watch videos and read articles on how to make masks that were safe, reusable, comfortable and up to the best standards.
“I became obsessed with different patterns and standards and looking for the highest-grade filters online that I could find,” White said. She discovered two Hudson Valley collectives on Facebook: Sew Masks Hudson Valley (email@example.com) and Circle Creative Collective (https://www.circlecreativecollective.org/mask-initiative) where people were sharing information and supplies. The masks were being donated to all kinds of local organizations.
“I’ve had neighbors drop off beautiful fabric for me, and someone gave me 100 yards of elastic,” she said. White makes surgical masks that have filters inside that are not washable, but the outside cloth can and should be laundered. “I have been using vacuum cleaner bags, furnace filters, any kind of filters that have a high rating, and then I stretch them out, cut them and insert them into the fold of the mask,” she explained. “There is so much great information out there/ People are sharing it and supporting one another, and it feels good to be doing whatever I can to help.”
Nineteen-year-old Mirabai Trent of Accord is part of the Facebook group “Sewing Face Masks for Ulster County,” an initiative led by Circle Creative Collective, an organization that promotes and teaches traditional fiber arts. “It started about two weeks ago when we realized that there was such an urgent need for face masks,” she said. “We had been posting helpful things on our Facebook page that people could make at home during this time, like soaps and hand-sanitizers or crafts to do with their children. Great stuff. But then an interest in making masks came up and it just took off,” she said, noting that they had to come up with a separate Facebook page dedicated solely to mask making.
“There’s such a need for them and we know how to sew, we have sewing machines, and so this initiative started and we have over 50 people making face masks,” Trent said. “We’ve donated over 500 face masks to local hospitals, Hudson Valley Hospice, the YMCA, senior-care facilities and businesses that need them for their employees — all kinds of healthcare workers.”
Trent has been so busy making masks, fielding inquiries, answering emails, and doing dropoffs and deliveries that she hasn’t had much time to reflect on how this effort has made her feel. “It speaks to the mission of what Circle Creative Collective is all about,” she said. “Using these traditional arts to connect us and there is no time like right now where this matters so much. It’s really providing a sense of community and togetherness.”
“We want to donate them to those who are on the frontlines and exposed or vulnerable to the virus,” added Trent. “But if people want them for themselves or their families, we’re doing that as well.”
Michelle Elise, a Kingston-based costume and wardrobe designer for film and television, has been busy making masks for the Covid 19 Hudson Valley Protective Mask Making Initiative, organized by Hudson Valley Actors and Film Creatives. The members of the group are putting their skills together to meet the growing demand for face masks.
“At first we were all digging into our own stashes to see if we had masks for people we knew in the city,” said Elise. Many of her fellow creatives have masks from various shoots and productions they’ve worked on. “Then I started hearing about a need right here in the Hudson Valley, so I went online and found all of these instructional videos and articles, and we were all exchanging hundreds of emails until we finally put together this Facebook group to centralize everything.”
A lot of the face masks (100 percent cotton and surgical mask-styled) go to healthcare workers like nurses, doctors, midwives and technicians who can put them over their N-95 fitted respirators “to help protect the life of those very precious pieces of equipment.”
Elise said that she enjoyed making the masks “beautiful and using highly woven, good-quality cotton, and cool designs.” She even sews flannel on the inside to make them more comfortable.
The mission of the Hudson Valley Protective Mask Making Initiative is to make and disseminate masks to those who are “most in need, working in clinical settings,” as well as infrastructure workers such as grocers, mail carriers and delivery workers.
Elise said her group seeks only a donation to help them pay for the costs of materials.
A lack of elastic is a problem. Kenny Diaz, a fashion and design graduate of SUNY Ulster, said that he has been to every store, and now no one has elastic. “I have friends giving me whatever they can, and you have to wait until like May to get an online delivery,” Diaz said.. He is busy at work on his sewing machine to make masks that he both donates and sells, depending on the customer.
“I’m one in a family of five, and I’m the only one working right now,” he explained. “So, it helps bring a little money into the house, but it also helps to keep people protected and stop the spread of this awful virus. I get orders from local businesses that want their employees to have them and from families that want to stay safe in public. I’ve had so much great feedback and support and encouragement and it feels so great to be working and giving back to the community. His masks can be found @kennymasks Instagram account or Kenny Masks on Facebook.
Thirteen-year-old Riley Burdick, an eighth grader in New Paltz, has already put her home-and-careers classroom skills to work making masks for her family and healthcare workers. “She originally made them for her siblings when she heard that having asthma put them at a higher risk for developing problems from the virus,” explained her mother, Dawn Burdick. “A few days after the start of this health crisis, Dr. Terranova from the Northern Dutchess Birthing Center put a post on Facebook asking for the public’s help in making masks for the birthing center. When I told Riley about it, she was all for it, so we dropped off some there as well.”
Her mom said that this was all her daughter’s idea. “I don’t even know how to sew! She learned it from good ole home and careers. We thanked her teacher [Susan] Ehrlich for teaching her how to sew!”
Suzi Brassard of New Paltz said that she was asked by a friend to join NY Mask-Makers Supporting Our Covid 19 Avengers, which has organized distribution of handmade masks to organizations in the Hudson Valley and New York City. “My mother had taught me to sew when I was young, and I was currently teaching my own children to sew as well,” she said.
The learning curve has been made much easier by the links and patterns on the Facebook page. “They also had requirements listed in terms of material use,” said Brassard. “We used new cotton fabric we had at home and cotton twill tape for the ties.” Her Facebook group has donated to organizations that directly request the masks, including hospitals, nursing homes, and not-for-profit charitable groups.
How did it it feel to be doing something in such demand during these pandemic times? “It makes me happy to know we could help in some small way,” said Brassard.