Seamstresses Mobilize to Sew Masks to Fight COVID-19

Dallas County mask ordinance
Sew You Care Masks Photo by Jessy Gillespie

When Jessy Gillespie heard about healthcare workers wearing trash bags and bandannas to protect themselves from COVID-19, she knew she had to do something.

“I’m a professional costumer,” said Gillespie of Bossier City, La. “I said we can do better than this.”

Gillespie created a Facebook page, Sew You Care, hoping to get 100 professional or amateur seamstresses to sew masks. What she got was a nationwide movement with more than 4,500 seamstresses creating 15,000 masks in the first two weeks.

Sew You Care
Photo Credit: Jessy Gillespie

“People are quarantined at home looking for things to do,” she said. “They are helpers and a lot can sew. A lot of old-school seamstresses are like ‘Let me show you how it’s done.’”
One such instance is an 88-year-old family matriarch who has mobilized four generations of her family, Gillespie said.

“She came in and said ‘you will be cutting, you will be sewing and I will be ironing,’” she said.

People are learning to sew, or remembering how

A lot of people are digging out their sewing machines, while others are discovering a new craft, Gillespie said.

“A lot of first-time seamstresses are picking it up because of this project,” she said. “And a lot of people are picking it up again.”

For a first-time sewing project, masks are pretty easy, Gillespie said.

“It’s 9 inches by 7 inches of cotton fabric, it takes 15 minutes to sew,” she said. “It’s just a rectangle with elastic.”

Mansfield quilter Carol Ann Grantham agrees. Mansfield Mission Center reached out to ask her and her quilting group, Quilting With Heart, to make some for their employees.

“The ones I make are real easy,” Grantham said. “You can get real complicated if you want. The biggest problem is finding elastic. I found some on Ebay. I was able to buy some at JoAnn’s before they had to close.”

And the need is there, Grantham said. One member of her quilting group made 95 for hospice patients.

Need for masks is international

Gillespie has had requests come from South Africa and Germany hospitals, looking for cotton masks.

“They have nothing,” she said. “The first ones to run out were the clinics, now it’s hospitals.

“If a hospital has 10,000 masks and sees 2,000 patients a day, the masks only last five days,” she said. “There’s an international shortage.”

Gillespie and Grantham point potential mask makers to their groups’ Facebook pages for sewing instructions. Grantham makes double-layer cotton masks, while Gillespie has instructions for two kinds of masks: the double cotton layers that go over the N95 masks to extend the life of those masks and masks with a pouch to insert a filter.

Grantham likes to give her masks some personality, too, matching the fabric with the person who will wear it. So far, she’s made masks with baking utensils, cats and Cajun cuisine.

Sew You Care
Sew You Care

It takes an army of volunteers and the needs continue, so if you want to join reach out via the Facebook pages for more information.