Six months ago, I was working through my second MLIS core class, struggling to concentrate as the world seemed to change overnight due to COVID-19. Libraries, museums, restaurants, and schools closed, and everyone was scrambling with mixed messaging on how to keep the virus at bay. Among the various strategies were face masks, and while messaging on their effectiveness was mixed at various levels of government, it seemed like different face mask patterns, methods, and material suggestions swirled regularly through the news cycle. One evening, I saw a news article about an Ohio shop owner issuing a “Million Mask Challenge,” trying to mobilize the sewing community to create masks and fill PPE shortages in hospitals nationwide.
I am what you might call a “functional seamstress,” who learned how to sew from my much more capable mother-in-law, a retired nurse working her way through chemotherapy treatments. Making masks was something we could get behind, but both my MIL and I had questions about which mask patterns were the most effective, what materials to use (or substitute, given sudden shortages), how to attach, fit, etc. We quickly became overwhelmed trying to keep up with it all.
LIS skills to the rescue! Having just taken the Information Landscape class, I was comfortable creating websites in Google Sites, so the idea of creating DIY Face Masks was born. I realized early on that there were many right answers where face masks were concerned, so I created a digital collection of patterns, material options, attachment methods and videos, where users could explore and figure out what approach worked best for them.
Photo: Screen shot from the website.
It took me a while to figure out how to organize the site. I went through many versions, eventually settling on pattern (Pocket, Pleated, Florence, Measure to Fit, and No Sew) as the chief organizing principle. I included attachment methods on the home page, including a video on my favorite method (pony beads on ear loops for maximum adjustability). I learned as I went, trying out many of the approaches on my own sewing machine, and ended up being enlisted by my own library to sew for fellow employees. My MIL pitched in too, sewing masks for one of our local hospitals. I posted the website link on my library’s Slack account, so that other sewers in my organization would have a collection of patterns and options to choose from when making their own face mask construction decisions.
Photo: Pocket Mask, Craft Passion Design made with quilter’s cotton, pipe cleaner nose wire, and t-shirt yarn ear loops secured with pony beads.
Strengthening community by bringing together people, information and ideas is one of the things that information professionals do. I am delighted how my budding LIS online curation skills played a small but significant role in helping ease the stress my family and community was feeling about face masks. The face mask shortage has passed, as you can now purchase them just about everywhere. I still use the site, however, and continue to experiment with mask construction ideas. (The CDC finally posted a design, for example, which I have yet to classify). At the very least, the site serves as a time capsule of sorts, representing one small slice of daily life during a time in history when priorities changed radically for us all.
Do you sew and have a favorite face mask pattern, material, or attachment method? Feel free to email me with additions or suggestions for the site!