On March 17, the CDC released guidelines for healthcare providers to optimize the use of facemasks and suggested using a scarf or bandana as a last resort. For many sewers and stitchers across the country, this was a call to put their skills to quick use and make washable, reusable masks to provide for frontline and essential workers in need of protection.
Artist Jenn Gooch is one of many in Pittsburgh who's brought her sewing community together to help make masks. She posted a tutorial on YouTube on how to sew a mask at home, and a week and a half later, the project has a name — Operation Face Mask Pittsburgh
— and a website where volunteers can sign up for washing, stitching, and driving, as well as donate money and materials. The masks use cotton fabric, a non-woven polypropylene for a filter, ties, and a nose wire for a tight fit.
"I think having this kind of community project has been really helpful to a lot of our volunteers who just want to have something they feel like they can do," says Gooch. "Everyone feels helpless and is full of wanting to help."
She notes that many other Pittsburghers are rallying to make masks, including Nisha Blackwell of Knotzland, who has used her stock of upcycled fabric for mask-making, Firecracker Fabrics, who sold mask-making kits, and Protohaven, who are laser-cutting face shields.
"It's unfortunate that it takes misfortune to realize how strong your community is," says Gooch.