Photo: Chancie Adams created a YouTube tutorial for face masks. He is setting up a face mask “factory” at the Martin City Event Space. Photo by Kathy Feist. 

Filling a demand, mask makers hit a snag

By Kathy Feist

Proud of her young daughter’s sewing efforts to create homemade surgical masks, Stacey Moorehead offered them for free to anyone in need on a community Facebook site. 

Her post was immediately bombarded by requests. A nursing home facility needed several. A daughter concerned for her elderly, immunocompromised mother asked for one. So did several hospital employees, a couple of  home caregivers, a mother concerned for her children going to doctor visits, a janitor, even a gas station employee. 

Moorehead tried to put on the brakes. “We had NO idea how many people would need/want masks! We have been overwhelmed in just a few minutes with requests!” she warned. But the requests kept coming. 

Even with the refusal of homemade masks by some local hospitals, the demand for surgical masks is high. The high grade N95 masks are in short supply, especially in hard hit areas like New York City where many health care workers have resorted to wearing the same mask throughout the day. On March 17, the Centers for Disease Control even suggested the use of bandanas or scarves when no facemasks are available during the care of patients with COVID-19.  

This suggestion set off an explosion of “army sewers,” those who have taken to their sewing machines to help with the global shortage of face masks. They come from all walks of life: young, old, male, female, business owners, school children, amateurs and professionals. 

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Kathy Williams-Griffin answered a call to sew masks for a nursing home. Photo by Kathy Williams-Griffin

Kathy Williams-Griffin, a member of Calvary Lutheran Church, was quick to join other members answering an urgent call from Beautiful Savior Lutheran nursing home.  “I am not an amateur. My grandmother taught me how to sew when I was young. I count it as one of my hidden talents!” she says. “Since I posted a picture and said I was making and donating face masks, I am getting requests from family and friends who are essential workers.”

But she only had enough material for 30 face masks. Her sewing is at a halt until her order from Amazon comes in. That might be awhile. 

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Professional seamstress Margaret Clark started making masks for KC Hospice. Photo by Margaret Clark

Shortage of Supplies

Many enthusiastic sewers have come to a screeching stop in production. Ironically, their zeal  to help make masks has created a shortage of face mask materials, primarily elastic. Elastic is attached to the masks to create ear hooks. 

Margaret Clark, who lives in Verona Hills, posted on NextDoor.com asking for elastic. “The people here are just wonderful!” she said. Within a day, enough elastic was donated to help her make 25 masks for KC Hospice House. After that, the seamstress plans to order mask kits from Million Mask Mayday, a national campaign with regional outposts. Sand Lot Goods, known for their Kansas City promotion t-shirts, is the local volunteer arm. 

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Chancie Adams at the Martin Event Space. Photo by Kathy Feist

One very enterprising man, best known as a partner at Martin City Brewing Company, discovered his own way to get around the shortage.

Chancie Adams immediately set up a “sewing factory” at the Martin City Event Space after hearing of the face mask shortage from his wife and sister, both hospital health care workers.  Adams, who was taught how to sew as a young man, usually sews boat covers or sails on his commercial sewing machine. He posted a YouTube face mask tutorial via Martin City Brewing Company and urged volunteers and laid-off employees to join him in his cause. But he was out of elastic after the first dozen face masks. His venture was about to become a boat without a sail until someone mentioned paracord, a light nylon band used for parachuting and hook-up attachments. 

Adams found the material readily available and decided to use it to tie the mask from the back of the head rather than hook around the ears.

“We’ve found this works better. It’s easier to sew,” says Adams. “Also the biggest complaint is that the elastic bands around the ears start to hurt when you wear them all day.” 

Martin City Brewery has drop-off bins for face masks and donated materials at all three locations: Martin City, Mission Farms and Lee’s Summit.