Stitching Community, One Mask at a Time

By Shawna Gamache (Estimated reading time: 4 mins)

A six-year-old family friend plays in her mask

In the early weeks of the pandemic, I scrolled like my life depended on it. I devoured articles from across the globe, reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I scoured press releases and twitter feeds, and surveyed all manner of internet rabbit holes. I’m not sure what I was looking for — besides evidence that this had all been a colossal misunderstanding and everyone could go to bed and wake up in the morning, anvil miraculously lifted from our chests.

Even after it became clear that the outbreak was real and here to stay, I kept scrolling. I couldn’t stop. My work sat abandoned at my desk, my children idle at home and waiting for me — ME! — to educate them, dishes and laundry accumulating by the minute. I was still searching.

By early April, the articles about masks had mounted: the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage among healthcare workers, mask use cutting cases of coronavirus in Singapore, South Korea, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, and then, just as I clicked on a pattern that looked easy enough, my sister texted from California that they had to wear face coverings, starting that night.

My sister and her boyfriend wearing masks to run errands

A mask isn’t much; two scraps of quilting cotton traced and cut wrong sides together, sewn and ironed and pulled right side out, seamed and top stitched, a pipe cleaner forming the nose, and straps pulled through the sides. I already had everything I needed to get started. Making a mask is about 90 minutes of work for me now, though the first two took longer. My husband donned the pink pineapple mask I made him, still warm from the iron, and shipped masks down the coast.

A few days later, tropical-print masks for my parents were ready. I was getting bolder now, adjusting the template to fit faces I knew by heart but couldn’t touch anymore, snipping elastic for the ears without measuring. My eight-year-old helped me cut polka-dotted fabric for masks for her school mates, my five-year-old at our feet running the foot pedal. My 10-year-old sewed some of the seams, choosing a leafy embroidered top stitch.

My five-year-old traces a mask for a friend

In this way, a quarter of quilting fabric and bobbins of leftover thread became something much bigger: a project to unite our family in an uncertain time. We pored over pictures of loved ones wearing the masks we made, our scraps and stitches forming an amulet for them to wear into this new world.

Now, I make masks as I move through my day. I stop scrolling to trace a pattern with a sharpie, cut fabric as I switch the wash to the dryer. I sew as I guide my fourth grader through multiplying fractions. When the masks take form, I leave them on porches instead of a hug. This summer’s project: making masks for local food bank workers, and a box full of masks in our front yard, free to anyone passing by. I dream of building connection, one stitch at a time. That’s what I was looking for all along.  

Making masks 

Kindergartner mask

This pattern is suitable for personal use. I print the template at around 80-85 percent for toddlers and preschoolers, 90-95 for children, 100-105 for smaller adults and 110-115 percent for larger adults (especially those with beards). I add a three-inch strip of pipe cleaner at the top channel for forming around the nose. I’ve made it with elastic ear straps (pictured on my sister, above) or longer knit straps to tie around the head (red mask at right). You can leave a slit at the top for a removable filter or additional fabric layer, if desired. Buy fabric online from local shops like Drygoods Design and Quilting Strait

Interested in making masks for essential workers and others in our community? Awesome! Providence, United Way of King County and GiveWellLocal of Snohomish County are coordinating mask needs among local community organizations like homeless shelters and food banks. Most organizations let you use whatever pattern you want, but some might have specifications, like an opening for a filter and pleats like this pattern.

Other ways to help Donate blood through the American Red Cross or Bloodworks Northwest. Volunteer — either from home or in the community —through the American Red Cross. Donate money or food to a food bank near you. Volunteer with Sound Generations or No Kid Hungry to help get meals to people in need. Online volunteer work is available!

About the Author
About the Author

Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter who occasionally catalogs her personal chaos at Critical Playdate. She is mama to Quinn, 10, Ruby, 8, and Nora, 5. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading, and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.


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