In the early 1930s, Dorothy Lucille used whatever she had on hand to patch and mend her family’s clothes during the Great Depression.
Nine decades later, her great granddaughter Angie Adam has picked up some of her ancestor’s skills — by sewing together medical masks using materials left behind after Dorothy passed.
“It feels special… like I’m not doing this alone,” she said. “My sewing machine is from my mother, my scissors and my rotary cutter are from my husband’s grandma — everything is coming together in such a wonderful, beautiful way that I wouldn’t have expected.”
Adam, who lives in Enumclaw, got the idea to start sewing together masks when a friend who works at St. Joseph Hospital made a social media post about “desperately” needing masks, and that workers are re-using the same disposable masks for their twelve-hour shifts.
She already knew of the global need for various personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks and gloves specifically — but having someone Adam knew being affected by the sudden lack of access to basic health care items made it all the more real for her.
“It’s not just a news story. It’s not just something you’re seeing go viral on Facebook,” she said. “It’s something really personal, and you feel called to take care of people you love and people you care about.”
Adam first went through her home to find any unused gloves and masks from various house projects and quickly gave them to the medical center, but knew that wasn’t going to be enough, so her next stop was a craft store to get some supplies.
“I’m not a seamstress by nature. I don’t do a whole lot of sewing projects,” she said. “But I know how to sew straight lines, and that’s all you need to do for this.”
At first, Adam attempted to get mask kits through the the 100 Million Mask Challenge, a program hosted by the Providence Health Care System that provides mask materials to the public, who then assembles and donates them back. However, by the time she contacted the health care provider, a “local manufacturing companies [had] stepped up to rapidly produce masks and face shields for us on a large scale,” Providence’s website reads, meaning the need for volunteers was being met, and no more kits would be mailed out.
Undeterred, she then got behind her sewing machine with her great-grandmothers materials to begin working.
“It’s been really cool to see this outpouring of people in the community that, whether they know how to sew really, really well and crank out 20 masks a day, or they are not super great seamstresses that can do a few a day,” Adam said, adding her own friend group has about eight or 10 people doing this work. “Collectively, we’re staring to make a difference.”
While she works, her son Zeke is right at her side, pinning and unpinning masks and coming up with his own patterns to use, and she’s taken advantage of his attentiveness to this project, hoping to instill some historical perspective.
“I was telling him how, when I was a kid, I used to hear stories about ‘When this war was happening, the women all sewed their pantyhose together,’ and you feel like it’s this old-fashioned, unreachable thing,” Adam said. “I never thought I would be in this position, in the 21st Century, to be sewing masks for medical providers. It didn’t even occur to me that this need for this domestic skill…would be used in this way.”
Volunteers like Adam have not gone unnoticed by the higher-ups, like Renee Yanchura, vice president and chief operating officer at Enumclaw’s St. Elizabeth hospital.
“We can’t thank the volunteers in our community enough for their hard work and generosity,” Yanchura said. “Their efforts will help us provide our health care workers on the front lines with high-quality washable masks, which helps us to continue to use our hospital-issued PPE for direct patient care.”
FROM SOUTH TO NORTHWEST
When Brandi Rider saw a callout to the public to help sew masks for a hospital in Indiana, she saw it as a way to contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I can sew a straight line,” she said.
Originally from the Seattle area, Rider now lives in Arizona but still has family in the region. She is sending the masks she is sewing up to the Pacific Northwest to hospitals that may need them including EvergreenHealth in Kirkland.
For her masks, Rider has included fabric with “kids’” prints. Her thoughts are that seeing adults wearing masks with fun prints on them could make children more comfortable. The pattern she is using to sew the masks are from the hospital in Indiana, which instructed people to use “tightly woven fabric.” Rider said the fabric masks members of the public are making for health care workers are meant to be worn over the N95 masks, which are able to filter out the virus. The cloth ones can be washed and add layers of protection so the N95 masks last longer.
When Rider spoke with Sound Publishing on March 20, Arizona had not been hit as hard by the outbreak as Washington. But she said there would be a need for masks eventually and she would be there to do her part.
“I’m just going to keep making them,” Rider said, “because they’re going to need them.”
PPE in 3D
Federal Way residents Ryan Schwalb and Jason Vandervlugt, along with more than 50 others in the local area, have teamed up to produce face shields for frontline health care workers using their own 3D printers.
As the COVID-19 health crisis swept the globe, Vandervlugt said he first saw reports of health care workers in Italy running out of personal protective equipment (PPE). Then the nearby cities in Washington began to report similar concerns.
Inspired by seeing other 3D printer groups make PPE, the two friends got confirmation from local health care directors that the facilities would, and could, use the face shields.
Then it became “let’s start printing them, who else has other printers and who wants to help?” Schwalb said.
One of the most asked questions you hear after first purchasing a 3D printer, Schwalb explained, is: what are you going to print with it?
Vandervlugt initially got his printer to create custom tubing for his saltwater fish tank to grow coral and also print practical items, like a GoPro holder on his motorcycle.
He then convinced Schwalb to buy a 3D printer about six months ago, and now, Schwalb owns two printers to make custom, personal trinkets and kids’ toys.
“The last six months, my printer has not turned off,” Ryan said.
Over the weekend, the two made their first deliveries to local hospitals , supplying more than 140 shields. The group started operations just one week ago on March 23.
“If I could do something that means something to people, then I should be doing it,” Schwalb said of the logic behind printing PPE.
The shields, made of plastic transparency film with a mask frame, protects the entire face of an individual which allows the N95 masks to last longer and allows for safer reusing of the PPE because the shields can be sterilized.
Each shield takes roughly an hour to an hour-and-a-half to make, and most printers can make two shields at a time. After printing and assembly, the shields are sterilized, packaged into sterilized bags, and then delivered.
“As we’re printing here, we’re all using our own supplies,” Schwalb said.
Most materials and plastics are secured locally, although they are still looking for other films and acrylics for different variations of shields, or individuals who can contribute plastics, additional materials, laser cutters, visor shields and more.
“The reaction is huge,” Schwalb said, noting that one doctor was almost in tears when they talked about delivering the shields.
This process also allows those printing shields to retool and change direction on the fly if another need becomes a bigger priority.
“Masks are the right thing to be making today, but if they, the health care workers, need something else, it’s very easy to shift gears for their needs,” Vandervlugt said.
The 3D printing group has received approximately 3,000-4,000 requests over the last several days from local hospitals in the Puget Sound region to facilities in Bellingham to Chehalis to Spokane and everywhere in between, wrote one member on the page on Sunday.
For more information or to join the 3D printing group, visit the Washington State 3D Visor Mask Hub on Facebook.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN MASKS
We won’t include full instructions here, but CHI Franciscan has published step-by-step directions online at www.chifranciscan.org/patients-and-visitors/covid-19/covid-19-donations, or at the end of the online version of this article. To-scale patterns can also be downloaded for men and women.
Those who have limited access to the Internet can call one of multiple CHI volunteer coordinators between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., including Vanessa G. ( stationed at St. Elizabeth Hospital and St. Clare Hospital) at 253-985-6415, for instructions.
CHI estimates about 100 masks can be made from five yards of patterned material (100 percent cotton) and five yards of solid material (60 percent cotton and 40 percent poly or linen blend); “Studies show that using two different types of fabric is more effective in stopping microbes,” the instructions read. “All masks must have a solid side and a patterned side. Solid for the inside—patterned for the outside.”
In addition to the cloth, other materials include corded elastic and twist ties so the masks can be worn and fit around the bridge of the nose. Adam said elastic is becoming scarce in craft stores, so once her supply runs out, she plans to use Bias Tape.
Finished masks can be donated in person at various hospitals or medical centers or by mail, but all donations must come with a completed in-kind donation form.
Mailed donation should be sent to the St. Joseph Medical Center, Attn: Supply Chain Donations, 1717 South J Street, Tacoma, WA 98405.