With shortage of masks, some turn to homemade


April 3, 2020

As the coronavirus marches across the United States and Minnesota, officials have been telling the public to leave the N95 masks to healthcare providers on the front lines of the pandemic.

For the rest of us, a homemade cloth mask - whether sewn from a pattern or a T-shirt cut and tied to fit - is better than nothing in the fight to stop the spread of the virus.

Cloth masks can help prevent both the wearer from spreading disease - remember, a person might not even know they have COVID-19 in some cases - or from breathing in airborne


And it doesn't take an army of people to produce such masks, which are suddenly in high

demand in Carlton County.

Cloquet High School administrators have asked for cloth mask donations for the 70 district employees who are delivering homework and grab-n-go lunches to students, along with food service staff and other employees providing child care for health care workers. Community Memorial Hospital wrote a letter "welcoming" fabric masks for the hospital and Sunnyside Health Care Center, to be used "as a crisis response option when other supplies have been exhausted." Fond du Lac Human Services would like masks as well and probably anyone who has to head to the grocery store might want to wear a mask.

A look at Facebook shows evidence that many people have been busy sewing across Carlton County.

In Wrenshall, Ann Carlander has made a few masks, using bias tape for ties on top and bottom and sewing a double-folded pipe-cleaner into the top edge. Her masks are cut and ironed with three folds and have a picket for filters inside. Some people use a brown coffee filter, others use tissues or a paper towel, Carlander said.

Down in Holyoke, Teri Henderson said she found a pattern online and has been sewing masks from leftover quilting fabric for anyone who needs them. She sent a few to a friend in Milaca, Minnesota, who breeds puppies and has had people coming to her home to pick them up, and another friend in Florida, who works as a biochemist.

"She's been given one mask that is supposed to last them for weeks," Henderson said, explaining that her friend can put the homemade fabric mask over the N95 mask they were given, or can wear just a cotton mask for the work they do.

She expects to have between 60-70 cloth masks done very soon.

"I line them with flannel, so they're soft against the person's face, and the outside is cotton, so they can be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer and reused," she said.

Now retired, Henderson worked in the garment industry at one time, then ran a custom sewing shop and recently retired from her last job as a secretary.

"Now I'm living the dream of making quilts," she said with a chuckle.

Except when she's making masks, that is.

Although the Quilted Dog quilt shop in Cloquet closed Friday because it's not considered an essential business under the governor's Shelter at Home order, co-owner Mary Thompson said she had a lot of people come in and buy fabric and elastic.

"They were buying superhero and balloon fabrics, fun things," Thompson said, adding that she was giving away the pattern to anyone who asked. "I also collected about 100 masks and took them to the hospital, along with some treats, because I figured they needed some chocolate."

The masks aren't difficult to sew, she said, adding that they take maybe 20 minutes.

Thompson and her husband Gerry hope they can reopen the quilt shop after April 10. They can fill phone orders through the mail for now, she added.

She is encouraging people to drop off masks at CMH, as there is a drop box just inside the main entrance.

Dr. Charles Kendall, the CMH doctor and hospitalist in charge of the hospital's planning efforts, said they've been discussing how to utilize the donated fabric masks.

Of course they're not medical masks, but they can provide protection," Kendall said. "We may be protecting our N95 masks so we can keep reusing them more safely by covering them with a cloth mask every time we see a patient. So we appreciate those donations we've received from the community."


Plenty of advice for mask makers

Homemade face masks should be made from pre-washed and dried cotton blend fabric. If you know how to sew, making the masks is not difficult.

At Community Memorial Hospital, they prefer masks with elastic ear loops but tie masks will be accepted. Please place masks in a plastic bag with a note including name, address and phone number of contact person. Drop them off in a container located just inside the main front door between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Contact Laurie Korby with questions at 218-878-7652.

At Cloquet High School, please place donations in the plastic bin outside of Door No. 1 during business hours. Cloquet Community Ed is also collecting donated masks for middle school and high school workers; drop them off at the Community Ed office at the middle school between 8 a.m. and noon.

The Fond du Lac Reservation is also seeking sewn face masks along with other supplies. Call the FDL Community Hotline at 218-878-7175 to have them picked up or mail to 1720 Big Lake Road, Cloquet, MN 55720.

Area nursing homes and assisted living facilities and other senior living facilities are also accepting donated masks. Call them directly for information.

Find patterns online by searching for “face mask patterns” or head to JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store in Duluth for free kits.

The New York Times recommends this online pattern: https://freesewing.org/designs/fu/ or to make one from a T-shirt with no sewing involved check out youtu.be/pJaVBt8q6g8.

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