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Seamstresses stitching masks for medical community

by on March 27, 2020 2:03 PM

STATE COLLEGE — Rachael Huxford looked around at everything that was going on with the coronavirus pandemic over the past few weeks and asked herself what she could do to help. She saw the need for face masks in the medical community and after doing some research, decided her sewing skills could help make a difference.

“I think we can all identify with that helpless feeling you get when drastic events take place around you. The common theme for dealing with these events that I’ve always heard is, ‘Look for the helpers.’ So I did,” said Huxford.

While looking for helpers, she stumbled upon several different groups across the country making face masks for not just themselves and their loved ones, but also for hospitals and nursing homes.

“That’s when I knew I had found my way to become a helper,” she said.

For the past week or so, she started doing research into patterns and fabrics for making face masks. She found several Facebook groups organized to make masks for their local areas, but she couldn’t find one based in Centre County. After connecting with other crafters, and with the help of Elaine Wilgus from Webster’s Bookstore Café, she started a Facebook group called State College Mask Makers, and got to work.

“Our biggest goal is to simply connect those who need masks locally to those who can make them,” said Huxford. “We’re really trying to generate a local community resource where people can connect, so the masks can make it to those who need them most.”

She started the group on March 22 and had 16 seamstresses active by March 23 with more requesting to join as we talked.

“I can promise that we are hard at work,” she said.

People who are requesting masks or wish to donate supplies are more than welcome to join the group, she said.

“We’re looking to connect sewers to those in need, so everyone interested should join,” said Huxford. “The masks we make will go to whoever needs them locally. Currently, we are working on sending 190 masks to Country Meadows, a nursing home in Mechanicsburg. They put out a call in another Facebook group, and we responded. However, we are always open to more requests and are more than happy to make more for other local institutions. Previous to yesterday’s request, I had been sending them to Charleston, West Virginia, as several facilities there had requested them.”

She said the difficulty and time it takes to make a mask varies largely based on the pattern that the facility is requesting.

“There are many different patterns currently out there, and different facilities request different varieties based on their needs and supplies. However, there are few simple and effective patterns out there that anyone with an iron and a sewing machine could make,” said Huxford. “We are currently using one such design for the masks being sent to Country Meadows, so I encourage any interested party to give it a try.”

The current batch being sent to Country Meadows can be used as an emergency replacement for a medical mask, as it has a pocket where you can put a replaceable filter.

“I want to emphasize that hand-sewn masks are not a true replacement for the personal protective gear typically recommended by the CDC, but have been approved to be used in an emergency situation such as the one we are currently in,” said Huxford.

Anyone can get involved by joining the State College Mask Makers Facebook group or contacting [email protected] .

“Even if you aren’t a sewer, you can donate supplies, make requests, or find useful information. We not only have tutorials and resources to make the masks themselves, but other general information on the usefulness of face masks, how to wear them, and how to care for them appropriately,” said Huxford. “Educating ourselves on their appropriate use alone is half the battle, as we are seeing a shortage of elastic and other necessary supplies, perhaps partly due to misinformed well-wishers making masks to be used in inappropriate situations.”


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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