Community Members Sew Masks
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Katie Pippin, Christine Beidel-Weiss, and Melissa McHugh
With an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become even more important for healthcare workers, the elderly and the immunocompromised. People throughout the country have begun to sew masks for those that need them due to a shortage of PPE. Four members of the Rutherford Community, Katie Pippin, Karen Masullo, Melissa McHugh, and Christine Beidel-Weiss, have been using their sewing skills to help sew almost 300 masks during this very difficult time.
TIR: Where did you find the patterns you are using to sew the mask covers?
Katie Pippin: I used the Deaconess pattern. There's a Facebook group called "Sew the Curve Flat" that has been communicating with hospitals about approved materials and patterns. The Deaconess pattern is one of their two approved designs.
Karen Masullo: I initially learned about the idea from a Facebook post that was shared by Katie Pippin. It was from Deaconess Hospital in Indiana describing how they were coping with the mask shortage through home-sewn fabric masks. Their post included a pattern courtesy of The Turban Project. That is the pattern I started with but have since tweaked it a bit; mainly to include a wire to form fit the mask around the bridge of the nose. This is the link to the Deaconess page and video instructions.
Melissa McHugh: I found several YouTube patterns but went with the one recommended by Bergen Mask Task Force as I'm a reasonably competent seamstress. This is the link to the YouTube video that I used.
Christine Beidel-Weiss: There were several patterns available online. The one that people started sharing was from Deaconess.com and it seemed to be very easy to follow and a good jumping-off point. Then we realized that the healthcare workers wanted to have a metal piece over the nose to make it more secure, so we added one and my friend, Victoria Pero, did a new video (see link above in Melissa's response) incorporating how to add the metal piece.
TIR: Where did you get the supplies to make the masks?
KP: The fabric I'm using is from my personal stash. People in town have been donating elastic. When I run out of elastic I plan to make fabric ties. (If anyone wants to donate, we are looking for any type of braided elastic that is a half-inch wide or narrower.)
KM: I had enough supplies on hand to get me started but quickly ran low on elastic. I put out a request on Facebook and received a few donations which kept me going. Just yesterday I had a resident reach out to me to say he ordered elastic from eBay specifically for this purpose and it will be mine when it comes in - how great is that? Additionally, Christine Beidel is working with Bergen Mask Task Force, they have been amazing with organizing this effort on a larger scale and sharing their supplies with us.
MM: I've been making costumes for my kids since they were in pre-K (now 16 and 19) and costumed a few Union School productions, as well as made the kids comic-con costumes. You never know when you'll need that last yard of fabric, so I have a lot of random, colorful material and a box full of sewing supplies as well as a machine. I found a spool of floral wire in my catch-all drawer but no elastic so I bought all the elastic headbands from Rutherford's dollar store and they worked perfectly. When I told my friends, they gave me what elastic they had. When that runs out I'll go through my old fitted sheets and use that. Where there's a will, there's a way.
CBW: My son goes to the Bergen County Academies and is in the theater program there. We have all kinds of donations of fabrics that we incorporate into the costumes that we build for their shows, so we grabbed as much of that as we could. The theater teacher, Victoria Pero, is keeping a constant stream of supplies flowing! We have gotten donations of fabrics from a friend of hers, and elastic from everywhere! Even Margaret Turso, a seventh-grader here in Rutherford, gave up her entire spool of scrunchie elastic so that we could use it to make masks! Victoria’s front porch is currently a veritable craft store!
TIR: What is your sewing background?
KP: I have been sewing since I was a kid. I have a BFA in theater design (costumes) from Rutgers and have been sewing professionally for over 15 years. Ten of those years I spent sewing costumes for Broadway.
KM: I grew up with a sewing machine in the home and a mom who sewed for small home projects. My first formal lesson was in Home Economics class in high school - a skill I have continually used ever since. My sewing has mostly been for the home and making the annual Halloween costumes for my kids when they were younger. This was the perfect opportunity to bring my machine out again and give it a good workout.
MM: Both my mom and sister sewed, and my mom taught me at a young age. I picked it up again when I was shopping for Halloween costumes for the kiddos and wanted something that was more durable for dress-up playtime. As they got older it felt great to make what they wanted and I continue to do it for Comic-con cosplay costumes. I also costumed some of the Union School productions.
CBW: I took home economics in seventh grade and I have enjoyed sewing ever since. I am still working on my Brother sewing machine that was a Christmas gift my senior year of high school! Now I sew costumes for high school musicals and community theater productions whenever I can.
TIR: How many masks have you made?
KP: As of today I am up to 59 masks. During the week I only have time for 5 a day. On weekends I have time for more.
KM: It's been almost a week since I've started and I've probably made about 40 masks. A lot of that time was spent on scrounging for supplies and a good handful of the initial masks were considered failed prototypes. Now that I have connected with Bergen Mask Task Force and supplies are a little more accessible, I believe my output will increase significantly.
MM: As of today about 40.
CBW: I have personally made about 125 so far.
TIR: Where have you donated the masks you've made?
KP: So far I have mailed some to my friend who is a nurse in the Boston suburbs. I have given some to a Doctor at Montefiore Hospital and a Doctor who works at both John F. Kennedy and Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. I have also donated some to Rutherford EMS, Holy Name Hospital, and a few to a midwife group. I've also sewn a few for family members who are older or immunocompromised. Today's batch is going to Steve Way.
KM: My first masks went to a Rutherford resident on behalf of herself and her co-workers who were going out on calls for family and child services. I also provided some for a hospital worker who had no PPE available to him. The last bunch I made was for the respiratory department at Englewood Hospital. The ones I'm working on now will be for the Bergen Mask Task Force and will be delivered to Hackensack Medical Center.
MM: I hooked up with Christine Beidel-Weiss via Facebook. She has been collecting and distributing them to area hospitals through Rutherford residents that are either a part of the healthcare industry or have close friends that are in need. I also gave one to a friend that works at the front desk at a local medical office.
CBW: I am working very closely, and was a co-founder of Bergen Mask Task Force (their page can be found on Facebook). We have so far donated to Holy Name Hospital, New Bridge, Sloan Kettering, and Englewood Hospital, among others. I have made them for some local people personally who have special needs for protective gear. I am also sending a batch to Savannah Georgia where a friend of mine is an ER doctor.
TIR: Why do you feel it is important to make and donate these masks?
KP: I feel like it's important to sew and donate masks. It replaces all my usual community volunteer hours that are now canceled, and it's helping other people. How could I sit around doing nothing when I have the supplies and ability to help, even in a small way? Initially, I was going to sew a "quarantine quilt" by doing one square a day for every day that we've been home.
KM: This effort is important for way too many reasons. The main reason for making and donating these masks is because the need is real, it is critical and it is urgent. Health care workers, first responders and people on the front lines already dedicate and risk their lives to keep us all safe and healthy. It is not acceptable to ask these people to put themselves and their families at added risk for lack of adequate equipment. These masks are not an ideal solution but my hope is that they will mitigate the risk of exposure for those using them. I think everyone wants to help out, have a purpose and make a difference where they can during this crisis; this is my way of doing that.
MM: My respect and concern for the First Responders and Healthcare workers are immense. I am so thankful that they continue to selflessly put themselves out there in these surreal times. I can do this small thing to give back. It's a no brainer for me.
CBW: I feel privileged to be able to give even this little bit back to the community. The healthcare workers are the most important people in this battle and we really have to take care of them as best we can.