making masks

Dottie Jeffries sews a face mask for Montgomery Place as she stays in her apartment during the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Sew to specifications and always prewash and dry your fabric to eliminate shrinkage later.” 

Sage words of advice from Hyde Park seamstress Leslie Travis who has done extensive research on making face masks for those working on the front lines of the health care and essential services industries in this time of COVID-19. 

Travis emphasized the need to get patterns, material needs, and processing information from the institution or organization for which the masks are intended.

There are numerous variables, Travis said: With or without pockets for filters, with or without metal nose clips, materials that can be cleaned in autoclaves or those that can be washed only in a washing machine, etc.

Many large institutions have posted online the patterns and material requirements for the home-made face masks they are willing to accept. Some of the institutions include links in their posts to YouTube videos showing how to sew the masks. 

Smaller organizations may not have the resources to do this, but they too would have specific needs for masks; and so, those organizations should be contacted by mask makers by phone or email for the details of their needs.

Dottie Jefferies is one of a group of women in Hyde Park who have made contact with Montgomery Place, a continuing care community in Hyde Park that has independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services, and is sewing for its needs.

Saturday morning, sitting in her apartment at a table that holds a computer monitor, a keyboard, and her sewing machine, which she had recently dug out of a closet, Jeffries looks over a sewing pattern for a mask that she had downloaded.

“So now, I have to figure out how to do the tops,” she says. After studying the pattern, she gets up and says, “I just need to look at a video a minute.”

The video narrator speaks, “Now what we’ve got, is we’ve got basically a rectangular piece of cloth on both sides. And then we have our elastic on the end. So, this is the part that sometimes I struggle with.”

Jeffries interjects, “Yeah, me too.”

The video narrator continues, “And whenever you do the tucks, you need to do them all in the same direction.”

Jeffries again interjects, “Very important detail.” 

Jeffries listens some more and then says, “Okay, okay, I think I’ve got it now.”

She moves back to the sewing machine and starts to sew two rectangles of brightly colored t-shirt fabric together.

“So now I am doing the tucks,” she says, speaking over the quiet whine of the machine. She leans forward and feeds the fabric under the machine’s presser foot; she remains focused.

Jeffries started getting materials together for the mask-making project after seeing a posting on Facebook about the Evansville, Indiana, Deaconess Health Care System’s request for face masks, which included a pattern for making the masks.

“I just thought, that it was brilliant, because, you know, it was coming from a … health care system. And I just thought, you know I’ve got a sewing machine, I can sew. And so, that’s how I got the idea,” said Jeffries.

“And once, once there was word that at least Montgomery Place was interested in masks, I felt like it was a worthwhile project.”

Montgomery Place C.E.O. and President Deborah Hart confirmed that Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Drive, needs face masks.

"Face masks are a scarce commodity right now,” she said. “When the virus hits, we must have the masks in a health care setting.”

Hart welcomed the donation of face masks to the residential facility. 

We’ll take “the old version of surgical masks,” said Hart, “muslin, poplin, cotton, but no man-made fibers such as polyesters. Just put them in the vestibule of our front doors. Our concierge will pick them up. We can wash them, disinfect them and put them into service,” she said.

“If another supply becomes available, then we will donate our face-mask supplies to other healthcare providers that need them,” said Hart.

Other organizations and businesses in Hyde Park are responding to their own need for or their own ability to supply face masks.

Dearborn Denim, which has a storefront on 53rd Street, is using its production facilities to produce surgical masks for medical professionals only.

“We plan to get them out at cost,” wrote a Dearborn Denim customer representative in an email. “We do not plan to profit from this endeavor, but we do expect to pay our employees.”

“We believe we can produce between 3000 and 6000 masks per day,” wrote the Dearborn Denim representative. “We can start shipping Monday (March 23rd). If you are in need of other sewn products we can prototype.”

Medical professionals can contact Robert McMillan of Dearborn Denim by phone at (847) 707-6365 or by email at rob@dearborndenim.com for more information.

University of Chicago Medicine posted a request to the University of Chicago’s wider research community for donations of a list of items including face masks that are used in many different kinds of laboratories.

The Hyde Park Herald has also been told by a few medical professionals, whose names are being withheld by request, that “until more information is known, doctors at UChicago Medicine, and across the nation are researching various versions of cloth masks to extend the life of the scarce but efficient N95 respirator masks respirators (that are used in hospitals).

“Also, these cloth masks are being requested by nursing homes, group homes for the disabled, and may be a good option for patients and citizens that need to go to essential approved places. This way we can conserve the real surgical masks and N95 masks for healthcare workers.”

People who have the skills to sew masks and who wish to do so, should contact the institution or organization for which they would like to provide the masks and get all the details on how to do so, before they start sewing.

At press time the Hyde Park Herald did not know of any organization, website, or Facebook page that was coordinating mask-making efforts in the neighborhood or on the South Side. A lively discussion exists on the subject along a thread in the GoodNeighbors email list serve. The Facebook site Rosie the Seamstress- Fight COVID-19 is quite active nationally, with discussions and many links. And the website WeNeedMasks.org was launched on March 21 with hopes of coordinating information and efforts on a national scale.

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