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#MaskSewingBee: Community action and creativity


Due to Covid-19 everyone is required to wear a face mask in public places. There is a need to help those who cannot afford them. For some it’s a stark choice between food and masks. Other people have particular needs that off-the-shelf masks don’t meet. As someone who loves sewing, I have been mask-making to meet the needs of the people in my community who have asked for my help. I simply do not have time to meet the demand. I have set up the #MaskSewingBee in the hope of activating the people who love to sew and linking them with the people who need masks. In this blog, I will share my learning from mask-making, along with some simple instructions for making masks, hosting a virtual #MaskSewingBee, and connecting makers and wearers safely.

The #MaskSewingBee can work on a micro-level (you see a tweet from someone you know and you work it out together) or on a bigger scale (you join in with a virtual sewing bee making for a big organisation that is distributing to the people who use their services).

The joy of my cunning plan, if I can pull it off, is that people will connect with each other within their communities and all I need to do is support that by tweeting and re-tweeting under the hashtag #MaskSewingBee. However, people must connect safely and ethically. I will act as a safe go-between helping people to manage this.

So, some basic rules are needed:

  • Never give out your details (full name, phone, email, or address) to individuals you don’t know.

  • Use your existing contacts or go through reputable organisations and charities in your area that are needing or making masks.

  • If you have a need for masks or you want to make some, and you don’t have a link in your community, you can connect with others via me at caroline.aldridgesw@yahoo.com or on Twitter @CarolineAldrid5

  • Think carefully about how you will safely deliver or collect masks. Postage can be expensive. It is only safe to give out an address if you know the person or you are using an office address. It is best to set up collection points (eg. foodbank or an organisation’s reception.

  • Be Covid-Safe. Make masks hygienically. I wash my finished masks on a 60 degree wash before sending them out. To be on the safe side, recipients need to quarantine masks for 72 hours before touching and/or wash them.

  • Everyone involved in #MaskSewingBee must agree not to charge for the masks or to sell them on.

The instructions for making the masks are on the bottom of this blog. I have a 'word' version with photos that I can send if you email and request it.

How to set up a virtual sewing bee

The act of making masks can be therapeutic and it can help people feel less socially isolated if you find ways of doing this together safely. Think about how you might ‘do with’ rather than ‘do to’ or 'do for' people. My guess is that a lot of people who cannot afford masks might be able to make them from an unused item of clothing (and a needle and cotton) if they had support and guidance. It can be fun and very satisfying to be the maker.

Here are some virtual sewing bee ideas:

  • Use Twitter and the #MaskSewingBee hashtag to show people your creations or to encourage others.

  • You could set up a Twitter chat using a hashtag and agree a time to go on Twitter. This requires a facilitator who can offer guidance or discuss what people are up to.

  • Use the virtual platforms you are comfortable with, like TEAMs or Collaborate, to set up a session where people can chat and sew. You might want to start people off, go off to sew, and return at a specified time. These require a facilitator.

  • You might be part of a group or organisation already using platforms like Zoom where you could make one of your meetings a sewing bee. Be aware that Zoom is not the safest or most ethical platform. Never give out a public link.

Keep it personal (not corporate)

This project is about communities taking care of each other not about saving money for large organisations. People want to know who they are making masks for and why their efforts are important. People receiving masks don’t want to feel like ‘charity cases’ they want to feel valued. I have found that rather than batch making, it helps to keep things more personal. So, ask for small, achievable requests such as, “masks for a family (1 large, 2 small adults, and 1 younger child)” or, “masks for a team of 6 who need child-friendly masks for their home-visits”. Without breaching anonymity, it is really nice if mask makers include a message of encouragement. For example, “I hope these masks helps you and your children feel safer when you go out, Caroline”.

Something I have discovered is that mask-makers are motivated by two things: They like to be creative and they want to do something to help their communities during these tricky times. It costs time and money to make masks so people need to feel appreciated. Don’t forget to say thank you.

For this to work, we need people already working within their communities to get involved and get people safely connected at a local level. There are already groups on social media doing similar things so please link in with them if they are operating in your area.

An example is: Patrick Grant (from BBC's Sewing Bee) has set up www.bigcommunitysew.co.uk (@bigcommunitysew)

Other ways you can help

  • Use #MaskSewingBee on Twitter to connect people who have suitable fabric, elastic etc. with those who need it.

  • Host a virtual sewing bee using a platform that you are familiar with and where you already have connections.

  • If you don’t like sewing, consider making kits with the materials needed for those who would like to join in but don’t have the resources.

  • You might be able to be a safe ‘go-between’ collecting and delivering masks or offer a drop-off collection point (eg.at a school or foodbank).

  • Encourage people to join in by re-tweeting or sharing via your organisation or social media.

  • If you are in a position to be a ‘safe person’ to connect people in your area, please get in touch with me. I have a feeling #MaskSewingBee could take off and I have a job, studying, a family etc. So help will be appreciated!

  • If you belong to an organisation that might have some willing mask-makers why not ask for their help and give them this blog link and/or the Twitter hashtag.

  • Keep it small and simple. For example, contact your local food bank and ask if they need any masks put a post on a local community group offering some.

  • Be kind to each other and respect this is a grass-roots initiative with no funding, constitution, or political affiliation.

This idea was born this morning and there might be a few difficulties as we work things out. I have great faith in the power of communities to find solutions and take care of those who need a bit of help. We all need a bit of help from time to time.

P.S. By tea time people were getting involved!

Instructions: How to make a cloth face mask

You will need:

  • Some soft cotton or polycotton fabric. Shirting, sheeting or close weave cotton for dressmaking is ideal. Upcycled fabrics are lovely and soft but make sure you was them on 60 degrees first.

  • Some thin (but not to thin) elastic (ideally 1/8” – 1/4“ or 2-5 mm). If you don’t have elastic you can use ribbon, tape or fabric to make ties.

  • Cotton a sewing machine or a needle and cotton if you are hand sewing.

  • Scissors

  • A dollop of care and concern for others. This bit is important!

Method:

  1. Cut two pieces of fabric (1 for the outer and one for the lining). Cut two pieces of narrow elastic. These are the sizes:

  • Large adult: 9” (23 cm) x 8.5” (19 cm) fabric, 7.5” (19 cm) elastic

  • Small adult: 9” (23 cm) x 7.5” (16.5 cm) fabric, 6.5” (16.5 cm) elastic

  • Older child: 8” (18 cm) x 6” (15 cm) fabric, 6.5” (16.5 cm) elastic

  • Young child (2-5 years): 7.5” (19 cm) x 5” (12.5 cm) fabric, 6” (15 cm) elastic

  1. Lay the right sides together and pin the elastic in-between the layers. The cut ends of the elastic should peep out of the shorter edges.

  2. Sew around the edges about 1/4” (.5 cm) in. Leave a gap of about 10 cm in the middle of a long side (so you can turn it inside-out). If you are sewing by hand use a back stitch. Go over the elastic a few times to ensure it is securely attached.

  3. Turn inside out.

  4. Fold the fabric lengthways to create two pleats about 1cm deep and pin in place.

  5. Top stitch around the edges to seal the gap and further secure the elastic in place. If you are doing this by hand, running stitch is fine.

NB: If you do not have elastic you can use tape or bias binding to make ties. Cut 2 x 40”. You can even use a strip of fabric. Make your mask steps 1-5 without the elastic. Then sew over the short ends to secure the pleats. Then sew tapes across the top and bottom.

Enjoy making your masks!

You might want to look at my blog, www.learningsocialworker.co.uk or my Twitter, @CarolineAldrid5 for details of how you might mask make for your community via virtual sewing bees.

Caroline x

Email: caroline.aldridgesw@yahoo.com if you would like a version of these instructions with photos.

United Kingdom

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