GENERATIONS: Sue Bruns: Quilters turn their skills to mask making
As a retired operating room nurse, Linda Engesether knew, as soon as she learned about the coronavirus, “that things weren’t going to be good.”
Linda started making masks as soon as the stay-at-home orders came. Some masks went to her daughter, a nurse at the Sanford clinic in Bemidji. Others went to her daughter-in-law, a nurse in Connecticut. As Senior Vice Commander for the State of Minnesota Disabled Veterans Auxiliary, Linda recently answered a call from the VA hospital in Minneapolis asking for masks.
“Being a retired nurse,” Linda said, “my heart goes out to the nurses. I’m trying to do as much as I can. It’s my way of contributing.”
A longtime quilter, Linda laughed when I asked if she had trouble finding material. When Linda needs fabric, she just goes to her supply shed where there is no shortage of right-sized material remnants to make into masks that are now being used to an extent she could never have imagined -- nothing like anything she ever experienced as a nurse.
Linda estimates that she and her daughter, Sara Gast, have made around 200 masks and have donated them to various individuals and organizations.
Like Linda, Marge Mack of Bemidji also has a daughter who works for Sanford and started sewing masks with her daughter's safety in mind. Once she got started, friends wanted masks, and Marge obliged. As of mid-April, she had sewn about 75 masks. Her husband Andy helps with the metal inserts for the nose bridges.
Retired chemistry teacher, Jackie Lund, another quilter, says her first two dozen masks went to a friend’s daughter who works in home health care and hospice.
“Word of mouth has made the mask-making project a community event,” Jackie said, with neighbors and friends spreading the word, requesting masks, and finding and donating materials.
Jackie’s husband Pete cuts out the fabric for the masks. Jackie estimates that by mid-April she had sewn over 250. Among the fabrics in Jackie’s stash were several Harry Potter prints that ended up as face masks for her son’s friends who work at Starbucks in Duluth.
Bonnie Lundorff, owner and operator of Willow Wood Market, a quilt shop/wool studio just south of Bemidji, has donated yards of fabric, lining and elastic to mask makers.
“I provide a pattern if they want one, but there are lots of videos out there,” she said.
Last week, after Gov. Tim Walz called for Minnesotans to make masks and deliver them to their local fire departments on April 25, Bonnie sent out an email to everyone on her mailing list, offering to give them pre-washed fabric to make masks. She also offered masks to anyone who needed them. She has sewn about a 100 herself and has put together and given away kits for others to sew.
“I think we’d be astounded by the number of folks who are quietly sitting at their sewing machines making masks for friends and family or donating them without a lot of fanfare,” Bonnie said.
She invited sewers to share their mask-making experiences. Several did, and the tally includes people who have sewn anywhere from 10 to over 300 masks (totaling about 1,400 masks) for family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, hospitals and businesses. Most have been making masks for about a month. Some just sew masks upon request; others have a veritable assembly line set up and coordinate with friends or family members and husbands, who cut out, pin, or turn the masks.
Masks from the greater Bemidji area have gone to resort workers, assisted living facilities, the sheriff’s department, school staff in Bemidji and Blackduck, and the REM home in Bemidji. Workers at Dairy Queen, Minnesota Nice Café, Goldpine, the Forestry Service, Allina home care and hospice, and area pharmacies are wearing locally made and donated masks.
Karen Spargo and her husband James have made and distributed about 40 masks, mainly in the Bemidji area. Rose Erickson says she used farm animal prints for kid-sized masks, “so it wouldn’t be so scary for them.”
Pat Addler of Tenstrike has sent masks to a missionary group in Houston. “Sewing makes me feel like I’m doing just a little to brighten someone’s day during these crazy times,” she said. Susan Roberts of Laporte sent masks to a niece who volunteers at a food bank in New York City, where workers were provided gloves but not masks. Susan also sent masks to another niece who is a maternity nurse in St. Paul. The nurses wear the cloth masks over their N95 masks to extend the life of the N95s.
Margaret McNea’s masks have gone to nursing staff in Chicago hospitals and as far away as Cape Cod, Mass. Her husband and daughter, Jackie Jung, are part of Margaret’s assembly line. Annette Bjoraker has made masks for her family and has sent some to her daughter and her partner in Minneapolis where they run a Chinese bakery and restaurant that is still open for take out and delivery. Susan Sether’s church group from Calvary Chapel has sewn about 125 masks for the United Way. They call themselves “Sowers for the Savior” (pun intended).
Area mask makers have produced and donated hundreds of masks in the past few weeks and continue to do so. Many are retired, and several fit within that “higher risk” age for COVID-19. Sewing masks is a way to contribute and to keep family members and friends safer. Pam Hudson says, “I will make more to deliver to the fire station. Glad to be able to help.” Traci Christiansen echoes that sentiment: “Always willing to make more as people need!”
Thank you, also, to Teresa Holaday, Janice Parish, Joy Barclay, Mary Pietruszewski, Leah Sletten, Robynn Youngren, Evonne Sumsky, Angie Lauderbaugh and all the other unsung mask makers of the area for donating your time, materials, and talents to make everyone a little safer.