Sewing for the Apocalypse

If you follow a lot of sewing blogs, you’ll know that some people have used the new reality to ramp up their sewing practice.  Not me.  I was already in a sewing slump before Covid 19 changed our lives.  Standard patterns weren’t coming out well, and my efforts to create a better fitting pants block had stalled.  Then came the lock down and I wondered why I should make more clothes when I had plenty for my quarantined life. I don’t know about you, but this global pause has made me grapple with what “enough” means.

What about sewing for others?  At first I resisted the mask making frenzy, wondering if it was not just a kind of feel good make-work, covering up our general lack of preparedness with homemade bandages.  But as it became clear that we were in this for the long haul, I have also revved up my sewing machine.  First I made masks for family and friends; now I’m sewing for the university hospital.

I can’t say that this activity brings me joy.  Although I’m following the hospital guidelines, it is hard for me to imagine that my hand crafted creations are as effective as something made by professionals from materials designed specifically for this purpose.  The masks seem more like good luck charms than real protection in a crisis. 

But who doesn’t need a good luck charm right now?

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7 Responses to Sewing for the Apocalypse

  1. Rachel says:

    I am with you on every single point here. Thank you for all of it, because I don’t see anyone else saying these things.

    The immediate and universal assumption that home sewers’ efforts will (and should!) compensate for manufactured PPE is utterly exasperating to me. My costumer’s Union has even written letters to 3m etc demanding they share materials so our members can make masks for hospitals with legitimate filters— as though such companies aren’t already ramped up to maximum production for real, proper masks.

  2. Judith says:

    Absolutely agree with your comments regarding cloth mask making. Early on, many of the hospital, etc., posts clearly stated that the donated cloth masks would not be used medically, but given to patients “for a sense of security” (one post I read). I held off, because it seemed to be pandering to false hopes and bad science.

    When the CDC guidelines changed and recommended everyone wear masks in public to try to prevent (no promises, they were clear) infection, I jumped in and outfitted everyone in my condo complex and as many friends/relatives who asked. Not because I can compete with large sewing operations, but because “my people” would likely not have access to those products.

    But, I have to be done now because repetitive motion injuries are threatening. I do get a kick, when out on walks around the complex, seeing folks wearing masks made from my mom’s quilting scraps…some in her/my stash for 30-40 years!

  3. JS says:

    I haven’t pitched in to sew masks because it would require me to get out my dust-covered sewing machine and I’m also not convinced homemade masks are the way to go. Get the healthcare workers proper PPE. On a sewing forum I read, there have been discussions for weeks about masks and a sewing campaign is underway. I don’t dare say anything for fear of being accused of negativity. Some home sewers are insufficiently skeptical.

    Masks aren’t a pressing need for me right now because I have an old box of masks I bought years ago when I was using a kitty litter that raised clouds of dust.

  4. Katrina says:

    Same! I hadn’t been able to get interested in sewing for months and I DEFINITELY was not going to be a million-mask maker. Then when some counties started requiring masks, I had to do something. And that something was limited to the very minimum number of masks my immediate family will need. People have suggested they are simple to make, but between the multiple layers, the interfacing and pressing, and the miles of topstitching, it’s actually a very difficult process – for my hands, back, and sewing machine.

  5. Thank you for this post – it describes my feelings as well. I was so skeptical that home-sewn masks would actually help at all. But now I know the masks DO help.

    My stepdaughter put me in touch with one of her friends who is a resident in a local hospital. She wanted each resident in her unit to have a mask – and I’m not sure how they use them but I’m guessing they use them to cover the medical masks (she wanted pockets in the masks).

    I work in IT for Johns Hopkins and I watch weekly “town hall” type meetings where they tell their staff what they are doing to prepare for the surge. At JH, they want pleated masks (no pocket) and they give them to staff not in direct contact with patients. They showed pictures of the DIY masks and, omg, it just made me so proud. If only we weren’t in quarantine! I would go into the hospital to see people wearing our masks and that would be heart-warming.

    And now, the governor says we all have to wear cloth masks when we go out to shop.

    So, in the end, it was needed and my efforts were worth it.

  6. Nann says:

    I made 200 masks using quilting cotton. I sent them to friends out-of-state. (“Sewing is NOT in my wheelhouse,” said one. “I tried but I’d get a D- from a home ec teacher,” said another.) I gave them to friends in organizations in which I’m active. I gave them to local agencies. This week I’m making blocks for a quilt to “commemorate” the pandemic — they’re houses, each different, and the quilt has already named itself: “Shelter in Place.”

  7. Susan says:

    In some areas there are online bulletin boards which allow organizations that need non-medical masks (from hospitals and rest homes to food deliverers and homeless shelters) to connect with volunteer mask makers. In Indiana,
    and in the San Francisco Bay Area it’s

    It’s important to know exactly what kind of masks are needed, since some facilities won’t accept elastic (it can deteriorate in very high temperature washing….) and some want triple layer masks only.
    It raises my spirits to feel useful — even if my hands aren’t up to couture sewing any more.

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