A New “Handmade” Item: Masks for Healthcare Workers

Of the many different arts and crafts I’ve tried, fiber arts and sewing have never been my forte. I was given a new (at the time) Euro Pro sewing machine about… 15 years ago? and after a short-lived period of time where I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer (and at least one poorly-executed skirt which made it clear I had no idea what I was doing), I put the machine in a corner and left it unused.

My classic Euro Pro, which I knew next to nothing about how to operate.

I have, more recently, had it in the back of my mind to learn how to sew, and how to use my sewing machine (with some level of actual confidence). Before the library shut down for the initial two-week period (which has since been extended), I checked out a sewing instruction book so I could learn how to hand stitch. Then I saw a call on Facebook from our local hospital, looking for people to make cloth masks for their non-clinical workers. I emailed them, telling them that “I’m no seamstress,” but they took me up on the offer to help anyway and even dropped off all the materials.

I soon discovered that when a sewing machine sits anywhere — even the relatively controlled environment of our living room — for 15 years, you can’t just expect to plug it in and start using it again. There was a moment that I thought I might have to actually hand-stitch the masks after all, and I got out my library book (it turns out I do know a few types of stitches, even if I didn’t know what they were called).

Masks after the first round of stitching — the first step is done with the fabric inside out.

Thankfully I still have the instruction manual for the sewing machine, and a mother-in-law who made a living in the fiber arts and who was able to do some troubleshooting via video call. Two broken needles and a couple drops of lubrication oil later, I managed to stitch up most of my first batch of 24 masks; after another bent needle, I managed to get the right type for the job and finish up the rest. Then, a few masks into the second batch, the whole machine started to seize up completely. Given that all the service shops are likely closed, I am especially fortunate to have a partner who can figure out how to take the machine apart (two different times) and where to oil it; as of right now, at least, it’s running beautifully.

Masks with their pleats pinned in, ready to be sewn.

In the meantime, the CDC has recommended that everyone wear masks when they go out in public, so I spent Saturday morning digging through all our closets for cotton and flannel to make a couple masks for us (and mentally kicking myself, just a little, for donating a bunch of my fabric stash when we moved last year). I’ll use the same pattern as requested by our hospital for their masks; it’s by an organization called The Turban Project (the first video on that page is the tutorial I used). It is, of course, not particularly effective against viruses specifically, but it helps block bacteria, as well as dust and other particles, so it’s better than nothing.

First batch of masks, finished and ready to go.

The masks have been a great (and relatively easy, considering) project to get me reacquainted with sewing, and a good way to force me to stay at it — even when it was frustrating and I wanted to chuck the whole machine out the back door — since I’d committed to a project for someone else. I don’t think I’ll ever like it more than drawing or painting, but it’s very satisfying to make something with a practical use. I’m obviously nowhere near ready to start attempting my own clothing again, but who knows, maybe someday.

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