Certain of my staff give me a hard time about quilts—perhaps the assumed gentleness required of stitching together bits of fabric to create design and comfort doesn’t fit with the personality they see in the office.  But thanks to my mother, I’ve been stitching on something since I was about six or seven years old. (Yup, that first piece of embroidery was pretty pathetic—and I still have it tucked away in a drawer of childhood keepsakes.)  

I’m just one seamstress in a long history of individuals and sewing clubs who respond to crisis with needle and thread. From ripping cloth to make bandages during the Revolution to fundraising quilts to raise money for the Red Cross during World War I, needlewomen have responded by making useful things.  The tradition continues in the 21th century: Comfort quilts for children with cancer, narrative quilts offer protest and make statements.  Visit the Mariners Museum in Newport News for a brief history of Red Cross quilts.

As quickly as the news spread that US hospitals couldn’t procure enough N95 masks for health care workers, the needle-and-thread community jumped into action. This time, we’re opening the doors to closets filled with stashed fabric, making masks to keep our families and those who care for others in clinics and hospitals.

The internet is awash with instructions for making face masks.  Joann’s website offers tutorials and patterns, and their retail stores are accepting finished masks for distribution to facilities where PPEs are most needed.  If you’re not handy with needle and thread or don’t have a sewing machine, Farhad Manjoo’s column in the New York Times includes a video showing how to rip a t-shirt to make a dust mask.

Mask up, Ohio!

Making a mask with Ohoi Chautauqua t-shirt

Masks under construction using last year’s Ohio Chautauqua t-shirts.