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Mask Maker, Mask Maker, Make Me a Mask...


June 18, 2020

What started as a few masks for Matthew, our oldest son, who was finishing his Master's Degree in Economics at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, has become a labor of love and provided purpose.

When our three boys were younger I enjoyed making their Halloween costumes, other clothes or projects, and searched for the perfect fabrics. I also enjoy making quilts, so I have a two-tote fabric collection.

When Matthew was one, I made an elephant costume complete with a Slinky in the trunk and a carefully beaded edge framing his face. The fabric I used was a gray upholstery fabric, lined with a soft gray fabric. And, of course, there was extra fabric.

The first masks that I sent him included one made with the gray upholstery fabric, lots of love and some of the same beads from the elephant costume; another one was made from an orange and brown snake-skin patterned fabric from a dinosaur costume; and another, a fun Pokémon print from his Pikachu-loving days. Sent in early April, this box has yet to arrive.

A few weeks ago, a friend who is going back to the office asked if I'd make her a gray mask. The gray upholstery fabric and soft, gray fabric lining was perfect once again.

As the Safer-At-Home order continued and I found it challenging to sleep, I made more masks to keep my hands busy and heart happy to offer masks to friends and family.

Most mornings while others slept, I'd cut pieces for the masks and then at night, I'd sew the pieces together. I had a good supply of elastic, sewing machine needles and thread from other sewing projects and three sewing machines.

In addition to making masks for family and friends, I provided some masks for the School District of Belleville staff who were delivering meals to district families, teachers, Belleville's public library and senior center, our local coffee shop and my co-workers at the Farm Bureau.

I sent a cow-patterned mask to a friend and former Farm Bureau co-worker in Florida, and other patterns to friends and family in Madison and Fitchburg, including a Clifford, the Big Red Dog-patterned mask to a friend and former U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center co-worker who used to feed me apples and cheese.

Her license plate is BG RD D0G. The fabric was from a preschool backpack for Michael, our middle son, who loved to read and adored Clifford.

Around Easter, I sent a friend and former co-worker a colorful jellybean-patterned mask. He is wearing it in his Facebook profile photo, and it makes me smile. I reserved one of the same masks for myself.

I made masks for a former daycare kiddo and his mom who trek to UW Hospital and Clinics for an all-day treatment once a month. The masks didn't fit perfectly so she made minor adjustments.

About the same time, I saw a Facebook post where people were using monkeys from the Barrel of Monkeys game, a piece of material with a button on each end or paper clips to hold the elastic and reduce pressure on their ears. We certainly are a creative crew.

Is It OK to Pray for Elastic?

Sometimes if there was a specific request for color or pattern of fabric that I didn't have in my collection I'd offer an alternative, but the day came when I didn't have any more elastic. I even raided the wooden drawers of my Grandma Mabel's antique treadle Singer sewing machine.

This was the sewing machine that I learned how to sew under Grandma's watchful eyes and with her feet working the treadle since mine couldn't reach. It was the same sewing machine I used to sew my wedding dress.

In one of the drawers, was a never-opened package of 1/4-inch elastic purchased from K-Mart for only 97 cents. Thank you, God.

Not realizing the extent of the elastic shortage, I asked nearby sewing friends if they had elastic to spare. An hour later, Beth and Charlie Campbell delivered a bag of elastic with a handwritten note. Beth has sewn more than 350 masks (and certainly more by now) and has donated them to hospitals, senior living centers, schools and friends and family.

Beth also included a beautiful lilac-patterned mask for me knowing my love of flowers and that sometimes while doing for others, we don't always do for ourselves.

I also saw a Facebook post that mentioned that some bungy cords have strips of elastic in them. My curiosity and quest for elastic cost me a good bungy cord.

Sewing Machines, One, Two...Three

With all of the sewing, my newest sewing machine decided it was time to retire or at the very least, wait for a tune-up.

My back-up sewing machine is one I received as an eighth-grade confirmation gift. My mom and dad purchased it used from Swiggum Sew-n-Vac in Stoughton.

Next up, if needed, is Grandma Mabel's treadle sewing machine. I can feel her helpful presence guiding me once again.

When Two Face Masks Meet

A friend's daughter works at Miller and Sons Supermarket in Verona. When the owners decided that employees would wear masks, I made a few for Ellie. One day when she was wearing her frog mask, which was from a quilt that I made for Benjamin, our youngest son, another person from Belleville went through her check-out line. They laughed when they realized each was wearing the same frog-patterned mask.

Ever-Evolving Mask Patterns

When the next elastic scarcity struck, I contacted another friend who has been sewing masks and quilts during the Safer-At-Home order. I met Ronna Morton Ballmer when she and WFBF's District 2 Board member Arch Morton Jr. drove through Belleville and stopped at the former Patches and Petals quilt shop on the way to a UW-Platteville football game.

Ronna has sewn hundreds of masks. She started making masks for health care workers in California who requested the Olson-pattern mask with pockets and ties. She made masks for nurses traveling to New York to help, election day workers and food pantry workers; and on most days, has a basket on her porch for friends and family to pick up masks.

Ronna provided me with the pattern she uses, along with her suggestions for ties. The masks she makes are beautiful and inspiring.

I'm still using a similar pattern and I have found a somewhat constant source for elastic, though not always in the color or width I'd prefer. But we adapt. Some people have requested an extra layer of fabric or provided measurements for a different size.

One of the most recent requests, a checkered race-flag pattern. Why yes. It's blue and white and it was from Michael's race-car themed birthday party when he was five years old. Every piece of fabric has a story of a past project and provides a wonderful memory.

Your Choice

Right now, I know wearing a mask can be a controversial conversation. Whichever path you choose, is fine.

I will continue sewing masks and enjoy each treasured memory that comes along the way. It provides me purpose...and wonderful memories.


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