Local Mask Makers Do Their Part for Healthcare Workers

By Sue Moore

Have sewing machine, will work to make masks!

It didn’t take long for local seamstresses to volunteer their skills to make masks protecting Kalamazoo County health care workers. Here’s how a couple of people got started.

Sue Opalewski of rural Vicksburg found a mask pattern on a web site, printed it, then ordered elastic and flannel for the inside when it was still possible to pick up materials at the store. She was able to secure 10 yards of flannel in Battle Creek, then cut it into 6×9-inch pieces, which netted 280 mask backings. Then she went into her own stash of fabric and cut the outside pieces. She ordered elastic online, 289 yards of it; now it’s almost impossible to find elastic anywhere. She has made 536 masks thus far and has joined with nine others from her church, St. Edwards in Mendon, who are now making them. They would love to get together for a sewing bee but that is not possible under present “stay home, stay safe” rules.

One parishioner is a pharmacist at Bronson who took them to work to distribute. Another is a nurse at Borgess; she sent some there. If they don’t have N-95 masks available, they are just using anything they could get their hands on, Opalewski said.

Having turned out 536 so far, she will keep making them as long as the elastic holds out. At first it took her about 15 minutes to make one at a time. She told herself this was silly, so she ganged them up in a production line. Now she figures it takes maybe 10-12 minutes per mask.

It takes 14 inches of elastic for each mask. They can be washed. She has made them for friends and family too and wears one of her own creations when she goes out. Working from scraps, some masks are just basic and some are pretty. Some she makes for guys have stripes because she knows they don’t want to wear flowers on their face.

Marti Moore of Vicksburg is another production-line mask maker. “I really don’t pay attention to how much time it takes me for each mask because I do them in batches, meaning I usually start cutting enough elastic for a large group and continue by cutting out at least 25 or more masks from the material each time,” she said. “Then I sew the center seam on all of them, then start making each mask separately. So it’s kind of like a production line for my process.”

She has finished over 425 and had Christine Butcher take the first batch to Bronson. Since then, Ellyn Curtis from Vicksburg takes them in. She’s a nurse in the emergency unit at Bronson.

They use them for hospital staff and also patients that are coming into the emergency rooms.

Sue Hunt is close to making 40 masks. Kathy Corella made a bunch and both sent them to Bronson Hospital with Hunt’s granddaughter, Heidi Furney, who is an ER nurse there.

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