Posts Tagged ‘masks’


Photo: eBay
Vintage Singer sewing machine. More people are turning to sewing — or returning to sewing — during the pandemic.

Did you have home ec in high school? Did you ever finish your sewing project? I’m afraid I never did. My project was a puffy cotton skirt in a beautiful shade of blue. I still have the thread on its wooden spool.

I wonder if my wooden spool collection will ever be valuable. After all, as Jura Koncius reports at the Washington Post, sewing and other such homely skills are back in style. Maybe wooden spools, too.

“When the pandemic shut down businesses in mid-March,” says Koncius, “people who ran sewing stores, sold sewing machines and did workshops were in a panic about how they would stay afloat.

‘Then the mask thing happened,’ says Heather Grant, executive director of the Strategic Sewing & Quilting Summit.

“ ‘The mask thing’ began in early April after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear face coverings when going out in public to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. They were not suggesting the hospital-grade variety (which were in short supply and were needed for health-care workers) but basic cloth masks that could be sewn at home.

“ ‘People dragged machines out of their closets or went online to buy new ones,’ Grant says, and stores started selling out of sewing machines, dark fabrics and elastic.

“Bryan Morris, co-owner of the four Washington-area Brothers Sew & Vac stores, says each of his stores was getting 10 or 20 calls a day from people looking to buy or repair sewing machines.

” ‘I was also getting calls from some medical facilities looking for people to sew masks,’ he says. Even now, he says, demand hasn’t slowed down.

“As the stay-at-home weeks wore on, novice and expert sewers alike found themselves with more time to work on projects. ‘People were finishing quilts they had in a drawer for years,’ Grant says.

“Mathew Boudreaux, who lives outside of Portland, Ore., (instagram.com/ misterdomestic) designs fabrics and gives classes all over the country. He has started finishing projects, such as crocheting afghans, that he had never had time to get to.

“ ‘It was a way not to have to think,’ he says. …

“Singer, which sells 56 models of sewing machines ranging from $99 to $400, saw an immediate spike. ‘Our business grew quickly during the pandemic, resulting in almost every model being out of stock in early April,’ says Dean Brindle, chief marketing officer of SVP Worldwide, Singer’s parent company. …

“The company has attracted younger customers and more male customers since the pandemic began, including boys who have taken up sewing to make masks. ‘Roughly 20 percent of our consumers have been men,’ Brindle says. …

“At Bernina, the entry-level Bernette machine (about $199) sold out in a few weeks, says Paul Ashworth, chief executive and president of Bernina of America. …

‘By the end of April, you really could not find a single sewing machine below $500 in the United States,’ he says. …

“Joe Cunningham of San Francisco, who has been quilting for 40 years, lost all of his teaching gigs and seminars for the rest of the year. … He did a lecture and studio tour on Zoom, and then he hosted his first online class. He was skeptical as to how many people would pay $35 for it, but he was thrilled that 268 people signed up for the webinar. ..

” ‘This pandemic could sure change my business,’ he says. ‘This forced me to learn online teaching, and now I actually have more time to quilt.’ …

Latifah Saafir, 44, who has been sewing since she was 10, designs fabrics and patterns for children. ‘There’s not too much out there in product lines for kids, so parents are happy to find these,’ says Saafir, who is co-founder of the Modern Quilt Guild.

“She says stores have increased their orders of her designs, hearing from parents that they needed ways to keep kids occupied. ‘I have one customer who ordered three patterns directly from me so she could teach sewing to her grandkids on Zoom,’ she says. …

“Industry executives are betting people are not going to pack away their machines anytime soon. ‘People are not returning to life as normal for a while,’ Brindle says. ‘We are already in month four, and a lot of people who did come back to sewing will continue.’ ” More at the Washington Post, here.

I got my lovely mask from a talented woman I know on Etsy, here.




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Image: Phantom of the Opera

It may sound like a scenario for a Phantom of the Opera sequel, but a month in a mask factory, nights included, is what 43 workers at Braskem America in Pennsylvania experienced when their company tackled a rush order of a key ingredient in personal protective equipment (PPE).

Meagan Flynn writes at the Washington Post, “At his factory just off the Delaware River, in the far southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, Joe Boyce clocked in on March 23 for the longest shift of his life.

“In his office, an air mattress replaced his desk chair. He brought a toothbrush and shaving kit, moving into the Braskem petrochemical plant in Marcus Hook, Pa., as if it were a makeshift college dormitory. The casual office kitchen became a mess hall for him and his 42 co-workers turned roommates. The factory’s emergency operations center became their new lounge room.

“For 28 days, they did not leave — sleeping and working all in one place.

“In what they called a ‘live-in’ at the factory, the undertaking was just one example of the endless ways that Americans in every industry have uniquely contributed to fighting coronavirus. The 43 men [worked] 12-hour shifts all day and night for a month straight, producing tens of millions of pounds of the raw materials that will end up in face masks and surgical gowns worn on the front lines of the pandemic.

“No one told them they had to do it, Braskem America CEO Mark Nikolich said. All of the workers volunteered, hunkering down at the plant to ensure no one caught the virus outside as they sought to meet the rocketing demand for their key product, polypropylene, which is needed to make various medical and hygienic items. …

[Said] Boyce, an operations shift supervisor and a 27-year veteran at Braskem America, …’We’ve been getting messages on social media from nurses, doctors, EMS workers, saying thank you for what we’re doing. But we want to thank them.’ …

“Nikolich said the company has shifted its production lines to focus on making that key ingredient, polypropylene, given the high demand due to covid-19. The company then sells the product to clients that turn it into a nonwoven fabric, which medical manufacturers ultimately use to make face masks, medical gowns and even disinfectant wipes, among other items. …

“Nikolich said the plants decided to launch the live-ins so employees could avoid having to worry about catching the virus while constantly traveling to and from work, and so the staff at the factory could be closed off to nonessential personnel. They were paid for all 24 hours each day, with a built-in wage increase for both working hours and off time, the company said. …

“Boyce said some guys brought their Xbox consoles and TVs, and even a cornhole set, to stay entertained. They stayed active at the on-site gym, which ‘has never been used so much before,’ Boyce said, and stayed extra busy in the kitchen. A skilled cook, Boyce and others asked corporate for more pots and pans and a stove. …

” ‘We had to kind of adapt. We came up with a chart for housekeeping chores so we could all clean the bathrooms and clean up after meals,’ Boyce said. …

“But being separated from family got harder as time went on, said Boyce, a father of two teenagers. Some guys counted down the days. One missed the birth of his first grandchild. Visitors weren’t allowed.

“So on Day 14, the families organized a ‘drive-by visit.’ ”  Read more at the Washington Post, here. Although the Washington Post is typically behind a firewall, you can sign up for the Coronavirus newsletter for free here. It’s really good.

Photo: WPVI
Greeting local news station WPVI staff, Braskem America workers finally clock out on Sunday after living and working inside the factory in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, for 28 days.


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Photo: Elias Marcou/Reuters
Migrants from the Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece, use their skills to sew protective masks.

A friend posted on Facebook a Patch.com request for people with sewing machines who might be willing to make surgical masks. This particular call to arms is local to Massachusetts (read), but you might find a similar opportunity near you. All Hands on Deck!

In Greek refugee camps, residents who have already known a ton of hardship are on the case: they know that they’re not likely to get much protection from outside.

Katy Fallon has the story at the Guardian: “In some of the most dangerously overcrowded Greek refugee camps, it has become a race against time to raise awareness about Covid-19 and ensure an outbreak does not spread among an already vulnerable population.

“In the infamous Moria camp on the island of Lesbos close to 20,000 people live in a space designed for just under 3,000. There is is already limited access to running water in the camp, and toilets and showers regularly block due to overuse. The first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on the island last week when a Greek woman from the town of Plomari tested positive. So far [March 18] this the only confirmed case on the island.

“There is an increasing sense of urgency in Moria about hygiene and handwashing. In the absence of support from the Greek authorities, residents are taking matters into their own hands.

 ‘The conditions were out of control and so we knew that we needed to do something by ourselves,’ said Deen Mohammad Alizadah, 30, originally from Afghanistan.

“The members of the team are a snapshot of the diverse population of Moria, heralding from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and the Congo region, each dispensing advice to their own communities. …

“Due to high demand, face masks are currently in short supply in pharmacies in the local town of Mytilene, and since there is no current mass distribution of masks to the camp, industrious Moria residents have come up with their own solution.

“In a small building around a kilometre from Moria, a group of four Afghan women have volunteered their time to sew face masks for the camp’s population. Stand By Me Lesvos, a Greek NGO, realised that they could make use of the sewing machines from a previous project.

‘It was set up within six hours on Friday,’ said Mixalis Avialotis from Stand By Me Lesvos. ‘One of the Afghan women used to be a tailor in Kabul and said she’d have no problem managing the operation.’

“The women are working at a rapid rate and in their first day made approximately 500 masks, which are fashioned from cotton fabric bought from local shops. The masks are then packaged into plastic wrappers purchased from the local Lidl supermarket and boxed to be brought to the camp. The masks, which will be given out for free, will initially only be distributed to camp residents who start to feel unwell or exhibit symptoms of the virus, such as a cough. …

“On the island of Samos where the refugee camp hosts nearly 7,500 people in a space designed for 648, conditions are similarly cramped. … Guilia Cicoli, co-founder of Still I Rise NGO, which runs a youth centre for children living in [camp], told the Guardian that they had spent a lot of time speaking to the children about Covid-19. The children have also produced posters about hand washing and hygiene in class.

“ ‘Most of us are Italians so we took it very seriously and started awareness raising before Greece even had any confirmed cases,’ she said. ‘Before we had to close last week we had already replaced handshakes with elbow or feet bumps.’ More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile in the US, some hospitals feel like they are on their own, too: “Medical staff in one of the nation’s epicenters of the novel coronavirus outbreak have resorted to creating makeshift masks to care for patients, Bloomberg News reported.

“Washington state hospital workers, part of Providence St. Joseph Health system, are improvising protective wear by crafting masks out of marine-grade vinyl, industrial tape, foam and elastic bought from craft stores and Home Depot, the outlet reported.

“Washington state has the highest death total from covid-19 and the second highest total of confirmed cases.” Read this.

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