When the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold and schools closed, business scrambled, and hospitals and public officials prepared for the worst, Lucinda Aragon asked herself what many in Santa Barbara County have asked themselves over the last few weeks: What can I do to help?
A lifelong seamstress, Ms. Aragon always looks for ways to use her talents and love for crafts to lend a hand in moments of crisis, so when she saw local producer and Youtube influencer Rebecca Brand asking for designs for homemade cloth masks on Facebook, she immediately offered her services.
After a few weeks of trial and error, Ms. Aragon and Ms. Brand finally came up with a design they felt would be useful, and on Friday, dropped off ten hand sewn cloth masks at the Goleta Valley Hospital donation center, where locals have been dropping off thousands of faces shields, hospital gowns, N95 masks, and other much needed medical supplies throughout the week.
“I found a way to help. I think that’s what this allows me to do,” Ms. Aragon told the News-Press.
“There’s something I can do at least. When we hear about people suffering so much, I’m very concerned about the safety of our health workers. Think of the exposure that they’re dealing with!”
Cottage initially was not accepting cloth masks at their donation center. However, to provide Cottage employees every available option while care continues for patients who require hospitalization unrelated to COVID-19 care, Cottage has begun welcoming sewn masks at its drop off center, although its most pressing need continues to be N95 masks.
“If supplies across the U.S. become depleted and medical face masks become unavailable, we want to ensure we have planned for alternatives,” said Cottage spokesperson Maria Zate.
“Cottage Health would exercise caution and discretion in where non-medical grade masks would be used, but we understand that options may become limited if the national need for supplies outpaces future supply chain capabilities.”
While a variety of material and pattern options can be found online for sewn masks, Cottage said it is not endorsing or recommending one particular design.
Ms. Aragon’s design, which you can find at https://bit.ly/39nbMMx, went through a bit of an evolution. She and Ms. Brand’s original mask was made out of a bra, and while that went viral, it didn’t quite fit the CDC’s recommendations.
“There’s such conflicting information about whether they really want homemade masks or not,” said Ms. Aragon. “What I’ve been trying to do is follow what the CDC recommends. They have certain guidelines, and I finally have my design to where I like it, so I posted it on Facebook to ask for more seamstresses that might be interested in doing it.”
Ms. Aragon’s final design doesn’t replace the need for an N95 mask, but instead allows healthcare workers to use the cloth masks over the N95s.
“The deal is that the N95 masks then could be reused, because they would be covered with these homemade masks that are fabric, so they can be laundered and they can make their N95 masks last longer,” said Ms. Aragon.
While she has plenty of materials stockpiled due to her sewing hobby, Ms. Aragon said items like elastic have been difficult to find.
“You have to be a bit more creative,” said Ms. Aragon.
If you don’t want to cough up the cash for expensive “coronavirus mask elastic” online, Ms. Aragon suggested gift wrapping string or even the large rubber bands used for produce.
The key is to make sure the masks are form-fitting, said Ms. Aragon.
“When you put a mask on the bridge of your nose, if it doesn’t have elastic or some kind of shape to it there’s little holes in the top,” she told the News-Press. “Those are not good because that allows the virus to get in there. The whole idea is to cover those spaces.”
In addition to elastic, Ms. Aragon and Ms. Brand have found that folder fasteners, which can be found at Staples, work best to mimic the soft metal of N95 masks that fits to the user’s nose.
“This is what I came up with, and it’s worked really well so far. It’s been easy to do and Staples is one of the few stores that’s still open where you can go and buy these, or you can order them online,” said Ms. Aragon.
Ms. Aragon said designing the mask was easy and fun, but that its probably best suited for medium-level sewers because it incorporates pleats.
“Pleats are like an accordian. You can stretch them out, so when you put a mask on someone’s face, if it’s got pleats, you can stretch it out and it fits your face more snuggly,” said Ms. Aragon.
“Anyone who is interested in sewing can probably figure it out. It’s not really hard but you have to understand how to make a pleat. A crafty person could do it.”
Ms. Aragon is waiting to hear back from Cottage as to whether they need more masks, but in the meantime she is sharing her work on Facebook and reaching out to her friends and sewing groups to recruit more mask makers.
“It really is rewarding to be able to feel like you’re doing something to help with this situation,” said Ms. Aragon. “If there’s something I can do to help it makes me want to stay up and sew all night!”