CHARLTON – Cathy Racine, owner of the Charlton Sewing Center, got the call Friday: A nurse at UMass Memorial reported she was ripping up gowns to make face masks and they needed elastic- did she have any?
Racine said elastic is in short supply, but there was something related that might help: scores of sewing enthusiasts who could be called on to make masks from their own supplies.
“Several people sort of had a stash of elastics for other projects, and they donated their elastic to me,” Racine said. “I have thousands of bolts of fabric, and access to hundreds of sewing enthusiasts, so it just works.”
And work they do.
For three hours Saturday morning, Racine and several volunteers put together and distributed sewing kits with materials to make about 1,000 masks for health care workers at UMass Memorial. Melanie Dumas cut and delivered 600 sets of elastic, which translates into 300 masks, with about two hours’ notice. Carol Upgaard of Oxford spent the morning cutting and packing kits.
And sewing enthusiasts came to Christ Church in Rochdale from as far as Framingham to pick up the kits, which each contained instructions and materials for 10 masks, Racine said. Monday, Racine will collect the completed masks and deliver them to her contact at the hospital. Next week another effort is planned to benefit Harrington Hospital in Southbridge.
“They’re going home to sew them and they are going to deliver them by Monday, and they will because that’s just the way sewing enthusiasts are,” Racine said.
The effort is meant to relieve a major shortage in protective masks for healthcare workers dealing with an influx of patients due to coronavirus.
“With people staying separate, nobody knows how to love, and this was a true act of love,” said Rev. Aileen E. DiBenedetto, rector of Christ Episcopal Church and Dean of Worcester Corridor.
The masks are made of high-quality quilting cotton on the outside with a 200-count white cotton for the inside. Each mask takes an experienced sewing enthusiast about 15 minutes to complete.
“Until the real masks show up, these have been approved because nurses are using bandanas at this point,” Racine said. “They’re calling this the first generation masks, the first wave. The next ones will be made with a slot for disposable filters, but they don’t have those filters now … so we’re getting these out fast because they’re better than a bandana or a piece of fabric.”
It is the latest effort from sewing enthusiasts to do their part to help in a disaster.
“Quilters jump right in whatever the need might be,” said Holice Turnbow of Sturbridge, who assisted with the effort. “Anytime there’s a local event, people with these skills step in.”
But those efforts haven’t always gone as smoothly as anticipated.
Racine noted that sewing enthusiasts sent so many quilts and blankets to relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina that organizers didn’t know what to do with them and disposed of many. During the Australian wildfires this winter, many made gloves for koalas – except that the animals got their claws caught up in the fabric.
And for this effort, hospitals can’t just have people with boxes of face masks showing up at their door; things need to be organized and coordinated.
But being organized and coordinated is Racine’s forte. She has previously marshaled her contacts of sewing enthusiasts to provide neck coolers for the Middle East and valor quilts to veterans.
“Anytime that there’s been a call, because of where I am here, and my database, I can put out a call, and they know I really mean it and it’s going to happen,” Racine said. “It’s what I do.”