FEATURE - "Medical Masks: Seamstress has it covered"

HONEYVILLE – By Ellen Cook – April 4, 2020

Katherine Wilson, Honeyville, has always been a lover of fabric and an avid seamstress. She confesses to having a “stash” of quality materials available for any project.

That is why, more than two years ago, she started sewing for an international organization called Days for Girls, making essential and reusable feminine hygiene products for worldwide distribution.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, she turned her fabric fetish in a different direction and another critical need.

Masks for medical use.

“Days for Girls leaders asked us to start making masks,” Katherine said. “They even sent us some tutorials about different styles of masks.”

Katherine was a little concerned about getting started, however. She was well aware homemade cloth masks were not the medical grade protection needed for hospital use.

She had read the information stating that homemade cloth masks do not provide the appropriate level of antimicrobial protection for caregivers in close contact with patients with COVID-19. Story continues below...

Katherine Wilson - Courtesy photo

But she, like so many others, still wanted to help. She watched the tutorials, practiced sewing up a few and even tweaked the pattern to what she thought would be useful and acceptable. Then she waited.

“I just wanted to see what the need was going to be and what I could do to help,” she said. “Other friends began sewing masks and I could see they weren’t going to work. The thing is everybody wants to donate what they can, but if they (the medical community) can’t use them, they will be thrown away.”

She soon got her chance to put her sewing skills to use. A friend who works in a medical clinic asked if Katherine would be willing to sew up specific masks for her and some co-workers.

“I designed my masks based on her requirements,” she said. “I made a prototype and she said it would work. She suggested I make them in two sizes, one for men and one for women.”

Then the sewing began in earnest. Story continues below...

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Relying on the room full of fabric she already had, Katherine went to the 100 percent, high quality cotton.

“It has to be good quality fabric,” she stated, “because it is tightly woven. That means it offers an added protection against the virus. Cheaper fabric lets in particles through the weave. It just won’t work.”

The material is also prewashed as an added precaution. “I’m sure if they were going to a hospital, they would be sanitized,” Katherine said, noting that some of the bigger hospitals that can’t get masks right now might take homemade ones. “But contact them before you make any. It would be sad to have them be the wrong thing.”

Katherine’s masks are made from two layers of cotton, with a pocket, she noted, as “the person who asked for them is going to insert a filter layer.” Knowing that, she wanted to make sure the sewing was exceptional and would last through several washings.

She also added a piece of pipe cleaner across the bridge of the nose section to help keep the mask in place, an idea she garnered from another tutorial. “It’s sturdy and will hold up after being washed.”

Luckily, this mega seamstress had a stockpile of elastic on hand, as well. “Elastic is becoming the hardest to find,” she said, as so many aspiring mask makers are buying everything in sight. When her supply is gone, she plans on sewing ties on her creations to continue the project. These will be made from material that will hold tight and not come undone easily. Story continues below...


But that is a long way down the road. Currently, she has fabric cut out and elastic available for about 125 masks and a goal to stitch up about 10 a day. This self-proclaimed fabric hoarder modestly played down her finished pieces with a critique of their “scrap fabric” origin.

“They may not be pretty,” she laughed, then added, “but I guess pretty isn’t the most important thing right now. It’s all good in the end if my fabric goes for this.”

She offers these tips to others who may want to put their sewing skills to use to help with the mask shortage:

* It is important to note that fabric masks, by themselves, only provide partial protection for the virus.

* Fabric masks can be used to encase and protect a filter mask or other filter insert from becoming soiled, so it can be used longer.

* Anyone who is going to make masks needs to contact the facility where they want to donate, because different places have different requirements.

* A mask for personal use helps you keep your germs to yourself. Saliva droplets become airborne when we cough, sneeze and talk. A fabric mask prevents your saliva droplets from becoming airborne and being breathed in or landing on those around you.

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