Breathe, stay calm, sew a mask

homemade cloth masks

In light of what has been happening these past weeks, I felt I needed a short break to help out some of my friends in New York, where the virus was taking on the bizarre proportions of a science fiction film, with bodies stacking up like cord wood, hospitals overrun with patients on ventilators, surgeons using week-old masks and gloves, and nurses donning garbage bags in place of proper PPE.

With a dearth of equipment, and the little that could be scrounged and rounded up for health care personnel and first responders, N-95 masks were all but nonexistent for the rest of the city’s residents. When I saw that friends of mine were venturing out for groceries and other essential trips without any face protection, I hauled out my rusty sewing machine from my closet. And fortunately, due to a “hoarding” gene I inherited from Mom’s side of the family, I located the scrap material I had intended to donate but couldn’t bear to part with in one of the many plastic bins I’d stored in the garage.

I’d forgotten how soothing the ritual of sewing can be. There’s something comforting about the sound your scissors make as they cut through a piece of fabric and the hum of the machine as you join material together. While my sewing skills will never win any prizes, I was able to get the job done. Using up my last bit of elastic and strips of cloth for ties and material scraps for the masks, I made almost fifty.

Rising from my chair, though, after spending four days bent over was another story. Ever read the story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame? You get the picture.

The next day I mailed my packages to various friends, wondering if they’d shake their heads over some of the crazy patterned material I’d used–bright green and orange bird-of-paradise, Pepto-Bismol pink designs that eerily resembled giant-sized coronaviruses, and white dragonflies buzzing on a palette of bright blue. I’d also sewn in tiny pockets on the inside of every mask where I’d inserted a felt circle infused with essential oils. Breathing in the scent of lavender or vanilla is known to provide a sense of calmness and relaxation. Anything to help reduce stress, I figured, was worth trying.

What I didn’t expect was the response I received when I posted the photo (above) of my finished project on Facebook. I felt embarrassed that people thought I had charged for masks and, even worse, that they nonetheless were requesting them. That meant that there were a lot more people out there who desperately needed them.

When I received a private message from a woman who worked at a nursing home in SC where they had no protective equipment for some of the staff, I knew where the remaining masks I’d made had to go. I thought about my mom, who’d spent the last four years of her life in a skilled nursing facility near my upstate home in NY (which, by the way, had its first coronavirus case) and all the staff who cared for her, and experienced a profound sense of appreciation and gratitude toward this woman and the personal risk she and her fellow staff members were taking by caring for our nation’s most vulnerable.

Cutting through politics and finger pointing, isolation and sickness, and sorrow and grief, I find that people remain full of grace and gratitude, which leads me to believe that through all of our challenges, we will continue to press on and get through this.

One thought on “Breathe, stay calm, sew a mask

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